When Push Comes to Love

I feel like I’m using wet matches trying to light a fire under my 12-year-old to take up an extracurricular activity. If it doesn’t involve a small digital screen, she’s not interested.

I want her to become more well-rounded and have a social life that is grounded in reality rather than in the “cloud.”

When she was little, I could dictate her activities. I put her in various things hoping something would stick. After all, you can’t know what you like till you try it. I approached every new activity with enthusiasm that I hoped would rub off. You’re going to ballet class — how fun! You’re playing soccer this fall — yay! You’re learning to play the piano — that’s so great!

Nothing ever stuck, though. After two years of dance, for instance, she announced she already knew how to dance and didn’t need a teacher quashing her creative expression. She was 5. I didn’t push it. Soccer ended after a few seasons when it became clear her only goal was the post-game snack.

I decreed that piano, however, was a mandatory sentence with no possibility of early release for good behavior. She wouldn’t have earned it anyway. She served five years, kicking and screaming.

It felt like I was the one doing time, and I’m sure her teacher felt the same way. I kept pushing it, though, because I love her and want what’s best for her — and in my world, learning to play music definitely qualifies. There were successes when she mastered a melody, but rather than feeling a sense of accomplishment, she felt punished with the introduction of every new song.

I finally released us all from the torture, with the stipulation that she take up a different instrument. She chose drums. Of course she did. But it did seem like a good fit. Then her drum teacher quit, and we have yet to find another.

Now that she’s in middle school, it’s harder to get her to join anything. Her school doesn’t offer any activities beyond a few sports, which she has no interest in. Every suggestion I make is met with “no way” or “that’s dumb.” She’s shot down 4-H club and library activities.

I’ve suggested the Wheeling Symphony Youth Orchestra. Her best friend literally begged her to join, to no avail. She did it for one semester last year but was bored because crashing a cymbal once during an entire piece isn’t as exciting as it sounds. It’s still the obvious choice, in my opinion, but the more I push, the more she pushes back.

Another suggestion was the Crazy 8s improvisational comedy group offered at Towngate Theatre in Wheeling. But despite her penchant for drama (ha!), she has no confidence to participate. Most of the adults in her life have encouraged her to join, but what do we know?

She does attend a weekly church youth group and volunteers in the church nursery once a month. She also just agreed to join me in baby-sitting for the teen-mom ministry called YoungLives once a month. But that’s church — it’s not the same as an extracurricular activity.

It’s now the second week of school and she has yet to pick something. Is it more loving to let it go or keep pushing?

I don’t know, but I told her if she didn’t pick something, I would pick for her. Now I can’t let her call my bluff.

I could motivate her to choose by cutting her screen time from one hour per weekday to weekends only — or at least by threatening to.

That could be just the spark we need. Here’s hoping it doesn’t blow up in our faces.

Betsy Bethel is the Life editor of The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register and the editor of OV Parent magazine. She can be reached at bbethel@theintelligencer.net.

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