My son supposedly writes a story every day. We didn’t start this way. We started when he was supposed to write essays to practice for the European AP history test and instead, he wrote essays about how the topic is inherently racist and imperialist and we probably need another French Revolution.
“This will get a very bad score. Save it for a creative writing class,” I told him.
Now we do creative writing.
I told him he can’t just rant.
He told me, “You always tell your writing class there are no rules.”
I give him Howl by Alan Ginsberg and say, “If your rant is this good then you can just rant.” And later, more rules: “No meandering pages that have no point. Readers like stories.”
His stories became more and more about violin and Spanish. That progress is slow or it’s useless. Or that the only thing he’ll ever do in life is violin and Spanish. Or that he’s terrible. Or that I’m terrible. I could have said, the world doesn’t want to read a teenager’s missives to his mom. But we were both learning so much about how he feels that I let him keep writing that way.
And slowly the stories about walking for an hour so he didn’t have to hear me yell turned into walking for an hour and seeing a woman he knew from his volunteer work and sitting down with her on a park bench, next to her very full shopping cart of belongings, and talking to her.
We were getting somewhere. But then college applications were due. So he reverted to writing about imposter syndrome, and shame, and working so hard only to feel like he has no control.
I could barely reply to these pieces because I have to work hard to not feel all those same things. Homeschooling is also hard work for a parent. It’s hard to do everything so carefully and not feel personally responsible for the application process going well for the kid.
Then I found r/ApplyingToCollege. I read it furtively as an adult interloper. The kids express their anxieties in such relatable ways.
My friend got into our first choice and I didn’t. How can I get over being sad for myself?
The replies are perfect. Sometimes, Kill her. But often, I’m sad too. I would like to go to college with all these kids.
Today my son couldn’t work on applications. He was too anxious. So I sent him to r/ApplyingToCollege. He is smiling for the first time in days. I forget how important it is to feel part of a community when you are doing something difficult.
Homeschooled kids often face hurdles alone. I mostly think this is good – at least preferable to facing hurdles in school where it’s more like hoops you jump through for teachers. I want my kids to be able to set their own goals and decide for themselves if they did a good job. But the inherent loneliness of a self-directed life is too much.
If your kid doesn’t feel alone in their studies then they are probably doing someone else’s curriculum and only learning to jump through hoops. If your kid is worried and uncertain then they are learning what it’s like to be engaged at a deeper level and risk going down a wrong path. Which is what adult life is.
Those kids need support, just like those adults do. And I really believe Reddit provides that. Most subreddits I read are people trying to make sense of their world. It’s easy to find people trying to do what you’re trying to do.
And this applies to grownups as much as kids. if you can’t find a subreddit that relates to your interest, then it’s a wakeup call for everyone: you don’t have an interest that’s important enough to care about the conversation around it.
So I guess Reddit is a parenting tool to help your kid to feel supported. But it’s also a life test: are you pushing hard enough to specialize? We don’t have a choice in life — we have to do that. We can learn when we’re young, and it’s safe to make mistakes, or we can wait until we’re old, and it’s terrifying.