Honesty and teen tribes

The other day, I found this on the floor.

School, Note, Teenager, Honesty

I doubt many teachers would be fooled by it. They weren’t actually born yesterday (I know for a fact this one wasn’t – as he was a teacher at the school when I was there). They wouldn’t expect a parent to write a letter on the smallest scrap of paper ripped off the bottom of an exercise book page. Nor would they believe many parents would be so inept that they couldn’t wash a PE kit that had allegedly got dirty on Saturday in time for Monday.

I’ll admit, I was disappointed in my son. I thought we’d brought him up better than that.

In his younger years, he would have panicked and called me to take his PE kit to him. Now he knows I would probably refuse as he’s old enough to take responsibility for himself. He also knows he would get in trouble at school for having no kit. So he was caught between a rock and a hard place, but this really isn’t the answer.

Later that very same day, I got a text from him saying orchestra was cancelled as the teacher was ill. If I hadn’t seen the dodgy note, I might have believed him, but I didn’t. Should I call the school to check the teacher was ill? No. Would that be because she wasn’t actually ill? He admitted she wasn’t and that orchestra was actually on.

I’m very proud that he’s been picked for senior orchestra, but he went to the first rehearsal and was thoroughly underwhelmed. Of course it’s full of ‘geeks’ who were boring and didn’t speak to him. He didn’t want to go again. But did he make the effort to speak to people, or did he just judge them?

It’s a long time since I was at secondary school, but I remember exactly how it is – there’s the cool kids, the naughty kids and there’s the geeks. Then there was me and my friends – too cool to be geeks, too geeky to be cool. That’s where my son is too. You put yourself in a box and you put everyone else in a box too. You think you can’t get on with anyone not in your box because they’re not like you. But the reality is, you don’t even try. You don’t try to find out if you have things in common or a similar sense of humour. You just dismiss them.

I persuaded him to give orchestra one more try. He’s always saying how we’re proud of his siblings and we’re not proud of him (that’s not true, I was especially proud of his Scouting achievements). But when his brother is doing brilliantly in football and rugby and his sister is doing brilliantly in dance, that’s something concrete. Something we can look at and say ‘yes, they’ve made us proud’. It’s harder to be proud when someone is lying on their bed, watching a film.

Which is why I wanted him to do orchestra. I wanted him to achieve something and know that we were proud of him – and hopefully to feel proud of himself. His teacher had faith in him by putting him forward, I didn’t want him to let her, himself or us down.

So he gave orchestra a try. It was better. He will stay until at least the Christmas concert.

I’m disappointed in my son’s defeatist attitude towards the orchestra and the way he judges people without getting to know them, but I’m pleased he’s going to rise above that and give it a go.

Now I just need to know I trust him. Because every time he tells me something that seems even remotely out of the ordinary, I’m going to question whether he’s actually telling the truth.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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31 Comments

  1. Betsy didn’t do this, but I did! I remember Betsy asking me is she could bunk off college one day and me saying ‘aren’t you supposed to lie about this? Make up a training day or sit next to the radiator so it feels like you have a temperature?’ – but while I thought at 17 she should take responsibility for her own choice to bunk off rather than gaining my complicity, I am also pleased she didn’t lie! I generally lied to my parents when I thought they wouldn’t support my choice or to get out of trouble. If it is some consolation I was and am very close to my parents, it was no reflection on them and I was always mortified if they found out and were hurt by it – it was just some poorly thought out fledgling independence! Xx

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    • That’s really sweet that she asked for your permission to bunk off! I must say I’m not overly concerned about my son doing this as I know so many teenagers do it, but it would be good if he didn’t do it again! x

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  2. Good read! Being a secondary school teacher I have seen some brilliant letters like this, but they are becoming rarer with more home/school communication done via email. What makes me sad is sometimes parents do actually give kids a reason not to do something! I am really glad that you are encouraging your son not to give up on Orchestra straight away. Hope he shines at the Christmas concert!

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    • Thanks very much, I really hope so too!
      It’s always interesting to hear from teachers – I can’t believe parents would let their kids get away with this stuff!

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  3. Oh the joys of children who have other ideas. It is sad in some ways as we bring our children up to think for themselves, and think outside the box, to be their own person and do their own thing, and then when they use their initiative we have to do something about it.
    They do have to learn the consequences of their own actions. My children as teenagers were responsible for their own washing, and this day Son No1 had gym but no clean matching pair of socks, so he bunked off school. Pissing rain, howling gales, swollen rivers, a truly awful day. We thought he would either be under the bridge at the river or walking to his birth mums ( 30 miles down a bypass) so we looked and we drove but no luck, so we called the police. When he came home that day and I asked him where he had been he told me school, so I said to him – go tell your lies to the 2 policemen waiting in the living room, ha ha funny says he says – till he walked in and saw them – he never bunked off again ( that we know about)
    As you say the schools are a lot more up front savyy than they were when we were there. I do feel children often feel they dont fit, but orchestra is good as you immediately have something in common with them all. Hope you enjoy the school concert.

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    • Oh my goodness! That must have been such a shock to him (and such a worry to you). It’s crazy that kids would think bunking off school would be the solution to not having socks for PE!

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  4. I actually did something like this as I didn’t want to go to swimming and bizarrely the teacher let me get away with it for weeks. He’d had enough of school or teaching I think. Eventually I got caught by the headteacher and mum got called in for a chat. I’d been doing it because I couldn’t swim and was really anxious about falling behind. And of course I was falling even further behind. They gave me a good talk about not giving up and it stayed with me forever! I’m still a crap swimmer though.

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    • Wow, I’m amazed you managed to get away with it for so long! It’s good that the talking to stayed with you. (Swimming is over-rated anyway!)

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  5. Good effort from your son but perhaps he needs to think of a more plausible excuse, sorry reason, next time. 😉 On a serious note, I never did anything like that when I was younger because I couldn’t forge my mum’s handwriting or signature and I was convinced I would get caught. It sounds like you did well, trying to understand why he did it as it is easy to forget we were once that age too! I was the same at school; I was too geeky to be in the cool club but too cool to be in the geeky club and it’s a really hard place to be. Secondary school is all about fitting in and frankly I loathed it. I hope your son grows to enjoy orchestra.

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    • It is definitely hard to fit in at secondary school, but I think my son has found his place and he’s happy there. He’s obviously too cool for the orchestra though 😉
      He definitely needs to think up a better excuse next time! The writing looks nothing like mine, but I guess the teachers wouldn’t know what my writing looked like anyway!

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  6. Oh bless him, I remember doing this many times and wanting to flunk out of groups because they or I just didn’t fit. School years are hard, I can’t imagine how they are for a boy but I’m guessing they have their own issues we, as women, just can’t identify with.

    It’s good he’s learning early, and painlessly, the consequences of his actions, trust is earned and he’s obviously got some work to do, hopefully it wont take too long.

    As for orchestra, I guess it could be he’s just grown out of it or that style. Is there a band or something less orchestra like where he could play music but in a less ‘geeky’ way? I know many who started music in a formal setting and moved on to garage bands when they outgrew the style of orchestras.

    Whatever happens, you’re doing wonderfully well in what is a trying and new experience for you both.

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    • Thanks very much, that’s such a lovely thing to say!
      It’s reassuring to hear how many people did this themselves – and they all turned out OK in the end!
      My son plays violin, so there’s not much of a cool alternative to orchestra. It’s actually his first time playing with the orchestra, so it’s something to be proud of.

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  7. Oh dear. This is one thing my two (so far) haven’t done. My daughter is quiet responsible anyway but my son would rather just get told off and have a detention than actually make a little effort. So it’s not great what your son did but at least he didn’t just not care 🙂 X

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    • Thanks! Even though my son will pretend he doesn’t care, he would actually hate to get told off and get a detention!

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  8. Ha! That’s a great description of our social life at school – and it’s pretty much where I hope my kids end up!

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    • It’s not a bad place to be, I reckon. I think all of my kids fit in there (possibly middle one might be classified as cool owing to the sort of school he goes too).

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  9. Making mistakes (and sometimes choosing the wrong route out of them) is part and parcel of growing up, I guess. Some kids have a great internal compass that points them the right way while others need to make every mistake in the book to work out where they are headed. They often both end up in the same place in the end….. (but their parents have more sleepless nights en route!). Making good decisions takes practice!

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    • I like that – my son does tend to be drawn towards the wrong decisions sometimes, but I have no concerns that he won’t turn out OK in the end! 🙂

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  10. Oh gosh Sarah, this is just the sort of thing my kids would do. In fact ALL kids will try this on at some time or another. My eldest is in the orchestra at school and she doesn’t like it either. I think you’ve done the right thing by suggesting that he try it until the end of term. You can’t decided on something that quickly. My daughter has a few like-minded friends who do music and there’s the odd person in the orchestra who is more like her – not a geek but not cool either (mine ALL fall into that category!). I hope that he does too. As for the lying? I think it’s par for the course but needs to be acted on as it can get out of hand. Adult liars are the worst kind 🙁

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    • I’m so relieved to hear that all of your kids would do this! I thought it was pretty normal, but it’s good to hear that it is! I fully intend to have him snap out of dishonesty way before he reaches adulthood!
      At the moment he’s so impulsive – he does what he wants to do and doesn’t do what he doesn’t want to do, but at least he’s agreed to stick with orchestra for now.
      It seems like so many kids fit in the geeky/ cool category – it’s probably the biggest tribe of the lot!

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  11. The worst thing is that now you feel like you can’t trust him isn’t it?

    Parenting is so tough. My son is driving me crazy with not wanting to do things because his friends don’t and vice versa..I really want him to see that following the crowd isn’t the best option and you should stand out for being you…but I suppose that’s hard for kids to understand.

    Well don to your son for being picked to join the orchestra though!!

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    • Thanks very much. I’m going to be questioning everything he tells me for a while now. He might have got away with the orchestra lie if I hadn’t found the PE letter only a few hours earlier!

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  12. I can remember trying to fool my teachers with handwritten notes from my mum, trying to get out of PE, homework and whatever else I possibly could – I must admit that it did work on occasions.

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    • It seems like so many people have done it. Impressive that it worked! You must have made more of an effort than whoever wrote this one for my son!

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  13. It’s s hard, isn’t it? One of my kids is ‘the little one who calls wolf’ and we really have trouble trusting her. The amount of times she has heard this story from us is unreal but talking it all through if so important and they will all get there in the end. Mich x

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    • It is hard! My other two are honest and I thought he was too – clearly not as honest as I’d hoped! Hopefully they will grow out of it soon enough. x

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  14. Such a tough one. I know I’d be the same as you, give it a go, stick it out until x date.

    I remember doing similar about my wind band at school. I didn’t learn an instrument in school so wasn’t obliged to go, but I’d told my mum I went. I did for a while but it was boring. It was too easy, although I did know pretty much everyone there so the social side was fine (probably too fine, we clarinets spent most of the downtime chatting while we waited for people who had to keep going over their bit. Like you and your son, I wasn’t cool, but I wasn’t the nerdy people (I was probably thought of as a boffin but also did sport and everything else, and I think there apart from the cool gang, the rest were just that, the rest). I stopped going, but didn’t tell my mum. I still had my instruments that day because orchestra was after school.

    My mum found out at parents evening I wasn’t going and flipped because I’d not told her. Lying by omission. She cancelled me going on the christmas school ice skating trip, and I wasn’t allowed to go on the school adventure week either (bit OTT really!). And I had to apologise to the music teacher. I was mortified (I was really shy at school), but she allowed me to play in the wind band again for the Xmas concert.

    By that stage, it just seemed to be better, or maybe I just took it for what it was.

    It’s difficult when there are other options and when you see siblings doing things. I know my brother always used to say I got to do everything, but then he had the chance for sport and music and gave most up. But sometimes kids need a bit of pushing into things to learn to stick with them. They can’t always give up everything when they get bored with it. If we could, I’d not be doing this job still!

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    • Wow, that’s an extreme punishment! It’s the dishonesty that is the worst thing. I guess if you’d asked not to go your parents would have considered. It will be interesting to see whether my son decides to carry on after the Christmas concert, although I guess he probably won’t!
      I think the not cool, but not geeky group is probably actually the biggest group at secondary school! It seems like everyone fitted there!

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  15. My son forged my signature on his homework diary for over 6 months.He was so ashamed and cried when I found out.He doesn’t know why he did it and and has never done it since.It sounds like he’s chosen wisely to give orchestra another go.

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    • Bless him! That’s so sad that he cried, but shows that he cared. It’s water off a duck’s back with my son at the moment. I’m glad he’s decided to stick with the orchestra a bit longer though.

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  16. It can be so difficult when one child feels they are being treated differently or aren’t achieving as much as their siblings, can’t it? We have had similar issues at times with Toby. Some of it is classic middle child syndrome but he has also struggled a little bit being the younger brother of an academic star at school. We dreaded him going to school and suffering by comparison, but we’ve been so lucky that he has matched his brother stride for stride. What we are very conscious of is trying to give him a little one-to-one time – we’re getting better but it’s still not enough and it’s so hard to find that right balance when you’re juggling three, isn’t it?

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