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Lockdown and School -Some kids struggle to Self-Manage

With Lockdown still in effect in lots of places, I wanted to share some of the experiences I had with my son and his inability to self-manage when it came to working on school projects by himself. 

My youngest has a lot of potential but also tends to be lazy or easily distracted by video games. Lockdown seems to have "changed the game" and he feels like he can get away without putting the effort in. 

There's no easy answer but this is our journey.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

The Problems

Before we get into solutions, I wanted to look at some of the problems we were experiencing. 

First of all, my son had been a reasonable student before lockdown. Not brilliant but middling. He was putting in a reasonable amount of effort and was getting work done more or less on time. The only thing that was a bit of a problem for him was assignments that he had to do out of class. 

That should have been a warning sign for us.

When lockdown started, the kids were off school before the adults were ready to start working from home. It was okay though, he was fifteen and certainly old enough to stay at home by himself. After all, he'd been doing school holidays that way for a while and was pretty trustworthy. 

We could trust him not to leave the house and not to trash it. What we couldn't trust was that he'd do his work. 

After the first couple of weeks, we received a few warnings from teachers that work was not being submitted. We talked to our son and he had excuses, such as computer glitches, protests that he had submitted work and claims that he didn't understand the questions. 

We helped as best we could but the next week, and the following week, brought more complaints from his teachers. Fortunately our own lockdown had started by then and we were in a position to deal with the problems. 

Bedtime and Rising 

One of the key problems we discovered was that although he was logging on as required by 8am, he had been doing it from his laptop in bed. He would wake up, login and then go back to sleep. We'd lose at least two hours of class time every single day. 

We fixed this by requiring him to get up and sit at a desk - not in his bedroom. We have a shared computer room for this. It worked to get those two hours back but it didn't guarantee that he was doing the work. 

Fortunately, having the shared computer room meant that I was on the desk next to him doing my work. This cut down on the laughter and the game playing to some extent because there was no way that he could be holding a joystick or gamepad while claiming to be doing work. 

Unfortunately, while the cat is away, the mice will play. Kids simply can't be left to their own devices and assumed to be doing work. This is especially true of kids on the spectrum who may have executive functioning issues. 

Seriousness and Consequences

Another issue that we found was that my son wasn't putting the same amount of effort in at home as he did at school. It's not that he chose to put more effort in at school, simply that without all the distractions he was more focused. 

Short of reading through all his answers, there was little that we could do to ensure that the work he submitted was well-considered and that he put enough time into it. The best we could do was to judge it by the marks he received. 

Given that he's in his senior years, this posed a bit of a problem because a failure at this juncture impacts upon his academic record. Fortunately, there's a difference between "trial" work and actual work. We checked over the actual assignments carefully but left the trial work to see where it landed. 

This gave us both an opportunity to check his work and discuss the seriousness of the situation while also showing him the consequences of not studying or not applying himself. 

One-on-One Tutors are Awesome

We had engaged a tutor for him prior to lockdown but now we weren't sure what to do with the situation. Fortunately our tutor was willing to continue working with him one-on-one via zoom. He sent the tutor his exam papers and assignments and they worked to improve his efforts. 

I've always believed that having a couple of hours of direct one-on-one contact with a tutor per week is far more effective than having 1/20th of the teacher's time for 30 hours per week. 

In lockdown, this proved to be a game changer as the tutor ensured that he was paying full attention all the time. There was no going to sleep, no turning off the video and no tuning out during tutorial time. It was 100% attention. 

Unless you're in a position to directly teach your child, engaging a tutor is probably the best thing that you can do to lift their academic results. 

Gaming Addiction

I could write whole posts just on the subject of gaming addiction. It's a terrible thing and it's incredibly common on the spectrum. As parents, there's a few things that you need to know.

  • There's no shortage of free games: You might think that your kids don't have a console or don't have the money to buy games but the fact is that if they have a phone, a tablet or a laptop, they have games.  Modern gaming works by providing the game for free but charging for the things that you need to do well in it.

  • Games are designed to be addictive: There's a lot of work that goes into the psychology of addiction to ensure that modern games are very addictive. The people putting these things together are experts, so it's no surprise that kids get addicted. It's nothing to be ashamed of either. Gaming addiction is planned. 

  • Modern Games don't end: In the old days, you'd play a game until it ended and then there would be a chance to escape its addictive pull. Modern games don't end however. There are endless "mods" and extras packs being released. Often these are free and quite often they're released within the community itself, meaning that anyone can become a game developer. The games simply never end, they just get replaced by the next addiction when it comes along. 
There's very little escaping modern gaming but it's not all bad news. Studies have shown that gaming develops a lot of valuable skills. Right now however, you're concerned with school work, so gaming has got to go. 

There's no effective way to block gaming. No firewalls, no "net-nannies" nothing. There's always a way around the blocks you put in place. If you block one game, chances are there are a hundred others that will work in its place. 

The best way to ensure that gaming doesn't interfere with your child's education is to block out non-gaming hours and police them with your presence.

Non-Gaming hours should include school hours (8am-3pm), minus an hour for lunch, plus potentially a little homework time (about 1 hour) and late hours (say, from 10pm onwards). There are studies out there which show that gaming just before bedtime makes it more difficult to sleep.

You need to make sure that you communicate these rules clearly -- in fact, if you can get your kids to agree to them, this will help. Keep the rules visible somewhere in your house so that you can refer to them when you need to re-explain them. 

You can't stop your kids from thinking about games all the time but you can at least keep them off games during lockdown... provided that you're around to police it. 

Recommendation: Set these hours as a rule and add consequences for breaking them. 

You should give your kids a chance, for example warn 5 minutes before "lunchtime" ends that they need to save and quit, then go to their computer and ensure that they return to school work. 

If you can work in the same room as them, this will help but if not, be sure to check on them regularly. If you catch them gaming during study time, then you'll need to enact the consequences. 

The recommended consequences would be, loss of gaming privileges for the rest of the day (except if you catch them gaming after 10pm, then they could be loss of gaming for the following day.. or perhaps just for lunchtime the following day). 

To enforce these rules, you'll need to get them to hand in their computer (usually power cords are enough, except on laptops), phone, ipad/tablet, and any other gaming systems that they have. If you're taking them away just for lunchtime, then simply getting them out of the house and on a walk can help.

Do not enforce a no-gaming rule for an extended period. This won't work.

I know that when you catch your kids gaming instead of working, it can be very frustrating and it's tempting to hit them with the highest penalty that you have. Resist this temptation. If you take away everything, you take away your ability to exercise control. They have nothing to lose. 

Take away gaming for short periods, assign extra jobs, fill gaming spaces with other activities such as walking the dog. Just don't play all of your cards at once. 

Work Submission

One of the other problems that we faced with our son was in the area of work submission. Online submission systems don't check the quality of work, they just check that boxes have been ticked or that they contain some text. 

Kids often find a way around this by typing any old answer into the box. 

If your child's teachers raise issues with work submission, talk to your child first and ask them what they submitted. If they claim that they submitted good work, ask to see it. Often this is enough to bring out the truth. 

If you find that you can't trust your child to submit good quality work, ask them to provide you with the work for submission so that you can look it over first. You don't have to correct it or try to make it perfect... in fact, resisting the urge to "fix" small issues will help them to learn. Your aim is to find out whether they're submitting real work or simply ticking the boxes to make it look like work has been submitted. 

It's not Perfect

There's no perfect solution to these problems. Lockdown means that kids don't have to face up to teachers directly and that disappointment and discipline is harder to convey via video conferencing. 

As a parent, it's your duty to stay on top of this. You need your kids to develop independence and to learn to self-manage but you also need to check in regularly to ensure that they're still following the plan.

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