Once I met with two parents, who wanted to evaluate me as a possible therapist for their troubled son. His mother began first, by going through a laundry list of the misdeeds this young man had being engaged in, from stealing from them and stores, being arrested, being suspended from school to being verbally abusive to both parents. Then the father spoke next, he was to the point. He wanted to know how my therapy would help improve his son's grades in school.
I intentionally waited about five seconds before answering his question.
"You are more concerned with your son's grades than his recent arrest, suspension from school, and routine disrespect towards you and your wife?"
"Well.. no. I think his behavior will get better if his grades improve," the father said quietly.
"You think if your son's grades improve, his behavior will get better?"
"Yes! That's right." The father said as he leaned forward on the couch.
"I am sorry sir, however without having met your son, I suspect that your son doesn't value his academics as much as you do."
"Look, Mr. Ugo, my family values education, my wife and I are both college graduates, and we intend for all our children to receive a college education, and I am looking for a therapist who can drum this into his head."
"Have you tried drumming this into his head?"
"All the freaking time!"
"And you want to pay me money to do the same thing? The same thing you've done, time and time again with no results?" At this point, the father gave a small smile and sat back on the couch.
What I would later share with both parents is that my therapeutic approach would be beneficial in helping their son's grades in the long run, so long as they both kept an open mind towards following through on my therapeutic suggestions and assignments. It's all about emotional unmet needs. It is truly is amazing that sixty-seven years after Abraham Maslow's ground breaking paper on "A Theory of Human Motivation", most educators and "parents" seem to feel that all children and adolescents are motivated by the same things.
Nothing could be more farther from the truth, in fact it is significantly complicated. Once a person has gotten his or her physiological needs met, needs pertaining to safety, love and belonging, esteem and self actualization come next. Unlike physiological needs, these needs are not concrete and are more challenging to measure in a child. So it is understandable how a parent may not realize how his consistent and seemingly innocent words or actions may negatively affect his child.
In the process of emotional growth, how each emotional need is met or not met influences how the child or adolescent goes about getting the other hierarchy of needs met. How people go about getting their needs met are influenced by a combination diverse variables, from social-economic status, culture, health, parents and guardians, friends, education and the list could go on. However one thing is constant, children and adolescents who are routinely unsuccessful in getting needs they prioritize met, will resort to detrimental behaviors.
What I shared with this father was this, "if you want your son to succeed academically, you need to understand what his unmet emotional needs are. Then you need to understand how you unintentionally play a role in enabling his acting out behaviors, so you can consciously learn to stop playing this role. Then you need to learn to play a new role, one that enables your son learning to get his needs met through healthier means."
Most children and adolescents, who do well in school are usually well adjusted, meaning that their daily interactions with the environment is facilitating a consistency in their ability to get their needs met. Children and adolescents who are well adjusted, usually have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, such is the natural law of reciprocation with human beings. Having a sense meaning and purpose is what creates the motivation for most children and adolescents to excel academically, even for those who don't like school.