I'm sure I might seem like the kooky "SAT lady" -- but if the truth be told, my obsession actually started out as an attempt to motivate my son (possibly ill conceived, I now realize). From the get-go though, the question of how to engage a teenager in this universally loathed experience has been my driving force.
Here's what I was thinking:
A) A little competition from mom couldn't hurt. Ten months in (and incidentally, the evening before his PSAT), I'll confess that I'm not sure the "competition factor" has had any impact whatsoever (though I don't think it hurt).
B) If I stayed a few steps ahead of him on the course, I might spare him some wheel-spinning, which I'd say has held true.
C) And then (I'll admit it), there may have been a hint yearning involved when I cooked up the plan -- i.e. wouldn't the chance to bond over this brief, yet momentous experience be profound. (Thought bubble: "Before he's launched into the world......F O R E V E R.")
Unfortunately, I'm not sure I'm any closer to answering the question of how to motivate a teenager (beyond "good genes") -- though I guess we'll never know if he'd be less enthused by this process had I not stayed one step ahead of him in the trenches.
At the end of Talent is Overrated, Geoff Colvin attempts to answer the "what drives people" question:
"World-class achievers are driven to improve, but most of them didn't start out that way."
"Most significant, we've seen that the passion develops, rather than emerging suddenly and fully formed. We've also seen hints that childhood may be especially important in how the drive's development gets started. Anders Ericsson goes so far as to say, "The research frontier is parenting. Push children too hard and they respond with anger. (Insert From Me: Yup) You have to develop an independent individual who has chosen to be involved in this activity. It's how you as a parent can make individuals feel freed to reach these levels and aware that this is going to be a long process."
The unsatisfying end of this story is that the work on the "parenting research frontier" apparently hasn't been done yet. Colvin concludes that it really comes down to "What do you really want? And what do you really believe?"
I'm not sure I know too many teenagers who could answer these two questions with the necessary conviction and comittment. Honestly, I'm not sure I even started asking myself those questions until I hit my 40s.
Live Market Research: My son is taking the PSAT tomorrow, and I just yelled to him from the next room, "Do you believe?," to which he responded, without an iota of hesitation, or for that matter, without even looking up from Facebook, "Yes Mom."
If Geoff Colvin is even a little bit right about "what it takes," I'll take it!
Illustrations by Jennifer Orkin Lewis