Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Scientific Method of Raising Teens

Nullius in Verba.
On no man's word.

Motto of the Royal Society

The girls performed well in school this year. In the last semester, we finally found the switch that ignited self-motivation in the youngest to remember to:

a) do the homework
b) turn it in
c) turn it in, in the right box
d) turn it in on time

This news could be disheartening for many parents, but I feel compelled to share the hard-earned wisdom that no amount of friendly cajoling or demonic yelling actually penetrates the preteen mental defensive system protecting its hidden moral core. Imagine, if you will, a scientist logically explaining to the contents of a petri dish how it should progress, or, conversely, screaming at the experiment when it heads in the wrong direction. I have conclusively found that fighting intense frustration with further frustrating tactics leads one to certain insanity. I do not recommend it.

No, one must take into account every conceivable variable with the rigour and perspicacity of a mad scientist following the scientific method. (Because, let's face it, parents completely lose their ever-living minds in the three weeks following the birth of their little experiment. All parents are, sadly and irrevocably, mad.)

First, when implementing the scientific method for raising teens, the question must be formed. For example, "How does one motivate preteens/teens without daily floggings?"

Second, background research must be accomplished. This research includes delving into the immediate and extended family history. Does the subject behave like one of your sibling's spawn? If so, what methods seemed to work with it? Also, one must strive to create an exhaustive mental catalog of all past parenting failures, detailing what almost worked, what didn't work and what was an abysmal failure resulting in buying screw-top wine by the case and locking oneself in a closet after swallowing the key.

Third, construct a hypothesis. This is tricky. One should be extremely careful in the wording, as neither to create more burdens for the scientist nor to offend the subject and cause it to shriek shrilly and slam doors: i.e., "I hypothesize a sack of hammers in the sixth grade would be organized enough to turn its homework into the right box on the right day." (Although counter-intuitive, it is exceedingly difficult to prove that a sack of hammers is smarter than your subject.) Refrain from adding, "Jeesh" or "Good God" to the end of ANY hypothesis.

(A better hypothesis: If I dangle this particular carrot without having to use tedious sticks, this behavior will result.)

Fourth, test your hypothesis by doing an experiment. The experiment should account for as many variables as possible, such as age of subject, temperament, emotional volatility, size of laboratory, weather conditions, etc. (For example, do not start a restrictive experiment in a 900 square foot apartment with a premenstrual female during a blizzard.) Keep in mind that, although you may have one main experiment in mind, that many might be needed in the end. If the mad scientist isn't stubborn enough, this will lead to ultimate failure and, even worse, a condescending smirk on the subject's face. AVOID THE SMIRK by having a plethora of back-up experiments and an evolving knowledge of how to mix carrots and sticks.

Fifth, analyze your data and draw conclusions. This part is easy. Did the subject exhibit desired behavior with nary a word from the mad scientist? Victory! My hypothesis is true. Did the subject lose interest in the experiment and escape the lab? Partial Victory! My hypothesis is inconclusive. Did the subject lose interest and the unwanted behavior returned with a vengeance? Failure. My hypothesis sucked. (Repeat the fourth step ad nauseam until victory is attained OR they create their own little experiments outside of your petri dish. Mock them relentlessly from afar. Encourage your grand-experiments to defy the scientific method.)

Sixth, communicate your results:

Come to find out, the youngest is easily compelled to "excel" with the promise of a $20 ticket to the local amusement park with some BFFs. Cheap, easy and simple. Why had I not thought of this before? Grades came up by at least 10 points--all A's, and strong ones at that. I only had to say, "Hope your grades are good. You know the deal. No A's, No Amusement Park." (I will not list all the failures leading to this victory or I will again suffer the debilitating effects of PPTSD--Parental Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It could trigger the reader's, too.)

In communicating my results, I should also mention some unintended consequences for the scientist in charge: Partial blindness and temporary dumbfoundedness from all the fleshy, dimpled boobs, butts and bellies on view at the amusement/water park. Egad.

No experiment is without its dangers, afterall. It is also important to note that, in the case of parenting, results may not be able to be reproduced in a different lab under the same conditions. And, unfortunately, the same results cannot oftentimes even be reproduced in the same lab with the same subject. Alas, the emotional conditions rarely remain constant or predictable. Parenting a teen may therefore be considered an "art" rather than a "science".

In any case, take no man's word! Go forth, and experiment. Gird your loins. I wish you luck.

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