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Very sad 14 year old - how to encourage without clashing?

(20 Posts)
Oeufman Sun 11-Sep-11 09:49:15

hi, I have a 14 year old DS who is musically and academically very talented. Academically we have no problems - he is a weekly boarder who loves school and works hard.
However - he plays both piano (grade 8 after only starting lessons at age 10 - no problems though puts in minimal hours re practising). and cello (grade 5).
Yesterday had first cello lesson, as we were leaving teacher stated if he practised he would be her best cellist (she is very highly regarded and has taught at top academies). Drove away and he burst into tears.... WHY can't I just be average at something?
We are not pushy parents - hence why he didn't start piano until he was 10, and the whole boarding/private school was not planned or applied for in advance (we were invited to make an application based on his musicality only 2 months prior to when he started and a place was made available).
How do I encourage him to apply himself to the cello (which he loves playing in orchestra) and realise the satisfaction of conquering something that takes work (unlike the piano in his case) and time to practises - without him bursting into tears and walking away?

motherinferior Sun 11-Sep-11 09:53:33

Perhaps he just doesn't want to play it. He sounds as if he feels a bit under the cosh, to be honest. He's 14. Presumably he wants to hang around pointlessly with his mates, in normal 14 year old manner...?

seeker Sun 11-Sep-11 10:01:15

Drop the cello like a hot potato. Or the piano. Does he do any sport?

motherinferior Sun 11-Sep-11 10:04:36

I played two instruments to a fairly high level at secondary school, by the way. My predominant memory is of being bullied encouraged to practise, and I've played neither seriously since I was 19.

Oeufman Sun 11-Sep-11 10:29:18

Yes he plays hockey and badminton, his school has sports every evening which he loves to participate in. He relaxes with his friends at school during rec time the same as everyone else, and at the weekend spends one day off playing golf or on bikes with his local mates. The only hobby we do limit is the xbox which he tends to get very addicted to, so he earns time on that.
I completely agree he needs time to be a lad.

Sorry - I did not feel it was necessary to outline what he does with all his time - he is a well rounded kid that has a particular musical talent (he is according to the pianist teaching him truly exceptional and talented). He has chosen to have lessons in those instruments. He has being offered the chance to give them up - but does not want to!

I just want to be able to encourage him/teach him some self discipline without the clashes......

gelatinous Sun 11-Sep-11 10:50:06

It sounds as though he enjoys playing cello but doesn't want to take it too seriously. With his talent if he keeps going but does minimal practice he will probably be able to play well enough (grade 8+) for any amateur orchestra he might want to play in as an adult, but won't of course ever be a virtuoso. If this is his objective, and it's a very reasonable one, then he just needs to learn to take his teachers comments with a pinch of salt and continue the instrument with the level of practice that he feels comfortable with. It sounds as though he has enough natural talent to 'get away' with very little practice, so why not let him do that?

seeker Sun 11-Sep-11 10:51:41

I'm a bit puzzled, then. What makes him sad? How often is he sad? Was this a one off, or does it happen often? And what do you want to encourage?

mummytime Sun 11-Sep-11 11:00:08

Well my DH, very gifted musician, learnt the piano from a young age, then the Organ, and did Cello as his orchestra instrument. Does he belong to an orchestra? Because playing with others, messing about with others and orchestra tours seem to be the real motivators. You could also tell him that its a great way to socialise/meet new people when he's older.
BTW do tell him that he doesn't have to become a musician when he's older, in fact he may even enjoy music more if he doesn't (the old advice is to do your second favourite thing as a career).
My DH works in computing, and enjoys music more than some of his professional musician friends.

Oeufman Sun 11-Sep-11 12:05:02

Yes - he does belong an orchestra, and loves the social element of it, which of course we encourage as the piano is a very solitary instrument. Mummytime, we hope he ends up in exactly the same scenario as your DH, we have absolutely no desire for him to be a musician (we work in the music industry and would never wish the life of a pianist on one of our kids - except perhaps as a part time band member for fun).
HOWEVER - we cannot justify the cost of the new cello we have to purchase (he has just moved up to a full size cello) and the cost of lessons (which of course he does require if he wishes to be part of a decent orchestra) if he does not do SOME practise! Now last year as he sat the exams - a month beforehand he had done NO practise, we ended up in the annual drama of tears etc as he regretted not working through the year (I was happy for him to go sit the exams and fail and learn that lesson) and we then suffered a month of him crying and tantruming as he practised the cello, his choice not ours! He sat the exam and came out with a distinction - not really a great lesson learnt there! I almost get the feeling he is afraid to try anything he feels challenged at incase he does not excel (and would rather not try until the panic sets in)
So again my question - is there any way we can educate/guide him in the skills of self-discipline and motivation so we don't have to go through this next May as he sits his next exam. It is so not good for family life (he has 3 younger siblings) and harmony. I believe at his age it must come from him (as the decisions to study/play these instruments do) but as yet he does not have these motivation skills when work is actually required.

mymumdom Sun 11-Sep-11 12:23:41

The kind of behaviour you describe, being too scared to try new things that might end in failure when they usually do well in everything is classic of high achieving children. Does he do anything just for fun? He sounds overwhelmed.
If he's saying he doesn't want to practice enough to be his teacher 'best cellist', maybe he 'just' wants to do orchestra? It's completely reasonable to ask him to do some practice if you are going to by him a cello and I'd stick by that but maybe ask him how much he thinks he should do.
I wouldn't let him get to the point where he's a month away from the exam and has done no practice. The lessons and the cello would be gone way before that!
My 9 year old DD is doing grade 3 piano and double bass this year and I ask her to practice her piano 30 mins a day, and her DB 3 times a week ( plus she has a lesson). She also has 3 younger siblings, so I know where you are coming from.

rabbitstew Sun 11-Sep-11 18:30:58

Can't you take him at his word, find something he's rubbish at and get him to practise it? Has he tried designing and making his own furniture; knitting (most boys are deliberately bad at this...); sewing; gardening; mechanics??????? How about art? Is he the world's best artist, already? Frankly, I only ever got real pleasureas a child out of working hard at things I initially found difficult and seeing myself get better at them as a direct result of all the hard work. As soon as people started telling me I was good at something, I would drop it like a hot potato, or find ways of being dreadfully critical of myself and rejecting of every compliment. I was much happier to be left alone beetling away at something without anyone noticing.

racingheart Sat 17-Sep-11 15:11:28

I'd continue the chat. It's a very interesting outburst. Why does he want to be mediocre? What does he perceive to be the benefits from this? Does he just want to be one of the gang? Is he tired of getting mocked? Does he feel pounced on by adults, keen to eke the last drop of talent out of him? Maybe he's running on empty.

I'd suggest a break, maybe over half term, if he has half term. No practise of any instrument, no academic work, and let him choose what to do, as long as it isn't x-box zone out all day, as that won't help him feel better.

It could just have been a hormonal outburst - that he temporarily felt the pressure but overall is proud of his capability. But if it's a sign of underlying pressure building up, ease off. He's way too young to be feeling that sort of stress. Just wait till GCSEs kick in. He needs to learn to manage his stress, and his talents.

ragged Sun 18-Sep-11 11:06:58

Sorry, but I think you have probably over-estimated him. It sounds like you are being pushy, you want to get back your investment on the cello, lessons, etc. You've not left him much room to experiment with finding out what he's good at or how much pressure he can take.

I found everything overwhelming at age 14. I was supposed to be bright & capable, too. But there was a lot going on, my fears about growing up and coping on my own, that I couldn't verbalise.

I would encourage you to encourage him to be self-disciplined, but just a few areas, those may not include Cello; think small for now, maybe the self-discipline with regard to Cello will come later, once he's mastered Self-D in other areas.

snailoon Sun 18-Sep-11 11:24:31

This is a really stupid comment from his teacher.
Why is she comparing him to others? She should get him to work by introducing him to fantastic music which he really wants to play, and suggesting that he do something more fun with his cello.
My kids have: earned money busking with their instruments, improvised parts to go with his favourite popular music, (Beatles songs, etc.), played chamber music at music festivals and with friends or with us, played in fundraising concerts, and so forth.

Are you sure he isn't being teased/ bullied for being too good at everything? Some kids become aware of this at about his age and decide to dumb themselves down.

Colleger Mon 26-Sep-11 12:20:58

What school is he at? I think if a child is brilliant then they need to be at the most selective school possible such as Westminster where they are no longer top of the heap. Of course if he is at a super selective and he is still top then there is nothing you can do and he'll probably come unstuck at uni when he comes across peers who are more brilliant.

rabbitstew Mon 26-Sep-11 17:05:03

If I were Oeufman's ds, I'd be terrified of enjoying anything too much in case people started telling me I was becoming so good at it that it was time to get serious... It seems to me that the minute he has shown talent at anything, he's been whisked off to a whole new level/new school and basically been given the message that if he's good at something then it's his duty to work hard at it regardless of whether it is enjoyable - which tends to kill all enjoyment. As I said in my earlier post, I was always happiest beetling away at things without oppressive and overwhelming attention being paid to them, because then I had control over what I did and I wasn't made to feel like it was my duty to continue with them, because it was a genuine choice.

housepiglet Tue 27-Sep-11 23:36:12

Hi there,

My experience has been that it's not uncommon for exceptionally bright and talented children to impose high standards on themselves, and to develop perfectionist tendencies. Sometimes parents--whether deliberately or unwittingly--create pressure in a child to try to be the best, but other times that pressure comes from within the child him/herself. Either way, it can be very stressful and lead to exactly what you say you believe you've observed i.e. a fear of having a go in case the child doesn't meet his/her (or others') high standards, and is thus exposed as some sort of 'fraud' who isn't as talented as he/she is 'supposed' to be. Once those fears and attitudes have set in they can be very difficult to change.

Your DS is clearly very talented musically, and I can't really see how you're going to be able to encourage him to work hard at the cello when he simply doesn't need to. He knows he can obtain distinctions with just a month of concentrated last-minute effort, because the standard required to do well in the exams he's taking is much lower than the standard he's capable of achieving. Therefore, unless he suddenly begins to take pleasure from the act of practising itself his attitude probably isn't going to change.

Things could actually be worse, though--at least he has been willing to put in that last minute work thus far. The worst of all worlds (IMO) is when a child gets so fed up that he/she decides to completely disengage, refuses homework and begins to fall behind. It can be very difficult for a child to find a way past the problems that kind of behaviour creates in time to live a fulfilling life later on.

Does your DS actually have to continue with the cello exams? I can see that he's going to need to continue to take lessons if he wants to continue to play in the orchestra, but it doesn't necessarily follow that he has to take the exams. Perhaps if the spectre of having to prove himself (even if just to himself) were to be removed then he would settle down and simply enjoy the instrument.

I wish you the very best of luck in dealing with this situation, because I don't think it's at all easy to find a solution. At the same time, though, it would be such a great shame if your son's choices at this early stage in his life were to deprive him of the joy of making music as an adult. Good luck to you and to him in finding a way forward.

Oeufman Thu 06-Oct-11 23:53:19

Hi, many thanks house piglet for your wise words. It is difficult as I know he loves to perform in an orchestra and he plans to be in one as he grows up. I to feel his ability to then pass these cello exams with flying colours does little to support the ethos of working hard to achieve goals.

Sorry Ragged I do feel you are incorrect in the pushy parent assumption. He was initially sent to a very local country piano teacher (did not start until the late age of almost 10), who spent a couple of years trying to get us to audition him for the national music academy (we do not live in uk). Eventually we gave in, we applied for him, he went for audition (assuming it would be a nice day out in the city, but having no expectation of a place as competing against kids having 3/4 piano lessons a week in large schools of music) and was offered one of 5 places available for piano tuition (over 1000 students applied for those places) We turned it down as the time offered was not possible to commit to.

At the same time he was offered a place at a top boarding school on the recommendation of the schools head of music. He was taught piano by this teacher for a year, who then suggested we try the music academy again as he was not able to stretch him much more. He auditioned again and was again offered one of the places. He has being playing piano for 4 years and just got a distinction in his grade 7! I think we can safely say he is good at, and throughly enjoys the piano - even subjecting the concert pianist who teaches him to regular doses of the boomtown rats and adele.

Racing heart he is doing the equivalent of gcses this year, so yes, that may be adding to the stress

Thank you so much for your (mostly) helpful opinions, I think the message I will take away is to ensure he has a choice in this, but that he needs to recognise the choice comes with responsibilities.

fizzwhirl Wed 12-Oct-11 19:32:44

I read an article (sorry, I can't remember the source) that talked about 2 different ways of encouraging a child: either a) commenting/congratulating them on their effort or b) on their ability. Congratulating them on their effort made them work harder, since they identified with working hard and realized that was the way to get more praise. Congratulating them on their ability often made them work less hard since they were afraid they might then prove to not be as good as people thought - working hard could only work against them.

It sounds like your son has incredible natural musical ability and he's probably fallen into the second category: where everyone compliments him on his ability, and so he's afraid to work hard and possibly be unsuccessful.

You say that he 'earns' x-box time. Perhaps you could try linking a certain number of hours practicing to a reward of some x-box time, and focus your encouragement more around the effort he's putting in rather than the result (e.g. 'I really like hearing how that piece is changing as you keep playing it'). But this this would need more pushing from you at least initially to get him to practice - which contradicts other posters advice to not push him. Wishing you good luck, and lots of courage - I really hope you're able to help him get past this, and start to really enjoy music.

Oeufman Sat 15-Oct-11 22:57:16

Fizzwhirl - thank you for that wise advice.
We seem to have turned a corner for now as he has just been given some big challenging pieces he wants to get to grips on - this means he is on and off the piano all day with no input from me, and he is loving the progress he is making. He came out of his lesson on Friday and exclaimed "that was bloody brilliant Mum".
Hopefully we are learning together, how to maximise his gifts but love his childhood.

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