Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Is Your Child Worth It?

Tonight I attended a performance of the Plano Senior High School Chamber Orchestras. There were three different ensembles of four musicians each. They played pieces by Mendelssohn, Ravel and others. The pieces were 9 to 15 minutes long and they were gorgeous! The musicians were very talented and skilled.

As I listened to this beautiful music, I began to wonder about how much practice time it had taken for these musicians to come to this moment in time prepared to play these difficult pieces so beautifully. I began to guestimate that a violinist would practice a minimum of 2 hours a day (although most practice much more than this). I supposed they would begin to practice in the 6th grade, since that is when the school orchestra program begins (although I personally know many of these violinists began to play as early as age three). Since these students are now in 12th grade, I estimated 2 hours per day for six years giving a total time of 4,380 hours. This is roughly the equivalent of working a full-time job for two years. This is a very conservative estimate, but WOW, that is a lot of time and effort! I haven’t even considered the investment of time from their parents—making sure they practice, driving them to/from lessons and performances, attending their performances, etc. The amount of money invested is also considerable—lessons and instruments are certainly not inexpensive.

Was this significant investment of time and money worth the return? It was certainly wonderful for me as an audience member, but it wasn’t MY time or money. I began to look at the parents of these musicians. Amongst the crowd, it was OBVIOUS who they were. They were positively radiant with joy. They were the first ones out of their seats to give a standing ovation. They were hugging their child at the reception after the performance. I even saw a few misty-eyed parents. They were very animated in their conversations. I heard comments such as, “You were wonderful!” “I am so proud of you!” “That was the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard!”

The musicians themselves were beaming. They had done well and they knew it. They were basking in the praise and attention they were receiving. They were enthralled with the music as they performed. This was the culminating performance for their high school career—and they nailed it.

I would have to say the musicians and their parents would whole-heartedly say “Yes, it was all worth it. We paid a price and the return is glorious.”

This was a very enjoyable experience, but it was only twelve musicians. What about the other orchestra members? What about the children who didn’t make the orchestra? What about the children who couldn’t begin to handle such a commitment because they are struggling just to barely make it through their classes? Is someone investing in them? If so, is the return worth the investment?

So many children are not enjoying the glow of success enjoyed by the PSHS Chamber Orchestras. Some of them are barely surviving their classes. They aren’t receiving praise from their parents and teachers. They are hearing “You just need to apply yourself.” “I know you can do this, you’re just not trying hard enough.” “You’ll never get anywhere in life if you don’t learn how to knuckle down and work.” “All the other kids in class can do this—why can’t you?” It goes on and on and on, day after day, week after week, year after year. Just as the cumulative effect of years of practice produced a beautiful result for the chamber orchestra, years of negative messages can produce a child who is downtrodden, self-doubting, or perhaps even angry. The contrast is heart wrenching.

Where are the parents of the struggling children? They’re probably feeling as hurt and negative as the children themselves. They had high hopes and dreams for their precious child. They know in their hearts their child has tremendous potential, but try as they might, they have not been able to unlock that treasure chest. They have been the recipient of many negative messages themselves. Their devotion and parenting skills have been insulted countless times.

Is there a way to bridge the gap between the children who are doing beautifully and those who are suffering? Is medication the only possible way to help? Is the medication even helpful? Isn’t there SOMETHING parents can do? Some way they can invest in their child just as the orchestra parents did? I believe there is. I see it happen every day with families who are working very hard to give their children every opportunity in life to succeed. It is demanding of family resources—just like orchestra or band or football or soccer or Student Council, etc. It requires devotion and investment in the same way EVERY activity does. We just need parents and others working with these students to see that THEY ARE WORTH THE INVESTMENT! The potential IS there and CAN be unlocked—but the work and diligence come before the reward. The practice comes many times before the concert. It is the same principle.

So what do we do? How can we possibly help? I believe the first step is to focus on the root cause of the problem, and that is in the brain. The brain is responsible for auditory processing, control of movement–both voluntary and involuntary, visual processing culminating with reading, understanding unspoken communication, retrieval of information, etc. These are all very important skills for success in the classroom and in life.

We need to focus on stimulating the brain in an orderly and EFFECTIVE way to provide these skills for children who are struggling. We need to invest time and resources into making sure these children have the possibility of succeeding.

Is your child worth it? Can they work two hours per day to achieve these goals of being able to be academically successful, physically coordinated and socially gracious? Will we, as parents, put forth the same effort for them? Will we make sure they are “practicing” and getting the instruction they need? Will we stay in the game when they are not yet succeeding, but making small bits of progress? Will we remain positive and focused on that culminating performance?

Those are questions you must answer for yourself. Is your child worth it?