What does it take to get the attention of a 14-year-old? Vince exchanges over 8000 text messages each month, and the total has reached 10,000 at least twice. His friends don’t seem to have any trouble getting his attention. If only his teachers would SMS his homework assignments. The Parent Imperfect is convinced that the attention drained away by all of those messages could allow more meaningful attention to things such as homework, but how to do the randomized trial?
In the spaces among the texts, Vince was also quite focused on playing soccer for BLS at the end of last summer. We have already shared here the dismal results of that effort. He was not asked onto that team, which in theory, offered him much more time to focus on school work. For whatever reason, that focus did not materialize.
Vince insists that, over the course of the fall, a person who has been a real support to him at the school told him that many BLS students (males, in particular) actually see their grades improve when they begin to invest time in a sports team or other demanding extra-curricular activity. We’d like to see that data, but the idea that the team identification gives the student something more to lose makes some sense. In the PI’s own sample, the two people he knows best who did make the soccer team certainly did not see their grades improve during that season.
Around this same time, Vince got in into his head that he should play basketball. While he had ten years of soccer experience behind him before arriving at that tryout, he has played very little basketball, and none over the past four years. He has often asked that the PI put up some sort of hoop in their yard, but there is no room for such a thing….”if only they had stayed at the old house!!!”
Vince did, however, become quite focused on basketball in the weeks proceeding the post-Thanksgiving tryout. He went to the gym at the Y several times and even spent hours shooting in the dark on outside courts, even after the beginning of Daylight Savings Time. Who says that global warming has no positive effects? Who was doing his homework when he was out shooting in the dark??
Hoping to prepare his son for the likely result of this tryout, the PI sat him down for a “reality” talk just before the big day. Vince listened more politely than usual, but showed no signs of being particularly interested. He had his own sense of the reality, and was not about to be swayed by parental interference.
The tension rose as Day One and, then, Day Two of the tryouts passed. Vince was thinking about very little else. To the PI’s mild surprise, Vince was still in the mix as of the end of Day Two, and would find out his ultimate fate via a list to be posted in the locker room the next morning.
At 6:20 AM, Vince was dressed and ready to go to school, timing that had no precedent. He was so nervous that he could not eat breakfast (this from a boy who generally eats the breakfast of two defensive tackles).
Aware of Vince’s anxiety to get to school, the PI gave Vince and the carpool neighbors a ride all the way into BLS that day. As Vince got out of the car, the PI put his hand on his son’s knee for a few last words of encouragement/preparation, but the look on Vince’s face said, “Please, Dad, no more reality checks right now!” For once, the PI desisted.
As Vince walked toward school, the PI rolled down the window to say, “Text me when you know.” The earbuds provided the perfect excuse for Vince’s failure to acknowledge.
The PI expected he would hear something before he got back to the house. As he left the school area, one of Vince’s friends from b-ball was waiting on the curb to cross the street. Once more, the window descended.
“Today’s the big day, huh?”
No words came back, but the PI did get an early-morning smile (limited) and a “thumb up” sign, which, with no particular justification, he took as a sign of B’s confidence that Vince would make the team.
The text message that came in on the way home was the cruelest of spam tricks. “Need $$$? Talk to us at ___-”
Since he had arrived at school 20 minutes before the bell, there had been plenty of time for Vince to see the list and then go outside and text the PI with the results. Apart from the spam, no text came. This had to be because Vince was under a stairwell, choking back tears. The PI could think only about the aftermath of the bad soccer news, which had not been pretty.
The PI was reading with Connie (who doesn’t have to be to school until 9:30AM) when another text came in at what would have been the end of the first period for Vince. He had skulked off somewhere (perhaps that stairwell) to send a surreptitious text…”Made it,” was the extent of it. War in Central Asia continued, the U.S. unemployment rate remained historically high but there was some joy in Mudville, for something affirming had come out of Vince’s relationship with his school.
He had not been accepted to play the sport he had played all his life, but the sports gods had turned around and asked him to join the team of a sport that was very much a mystery for him. Go figure. Vince’s neighbor–a BLS grad–said it best when she heard the story…”That’s Latin for you!” She had heard it (and lived it) all before.
“Progress reports” came at the end of the first week of practice, putting Vince on notice that he had exactly three weeks to turn things around or his good fortune would be extremely short-lived. He and his family now get to test the claim that having something more immediate to lose can get a young man’s attention…maybe even to the exclusion of the next text message.