Parents of young children in the arts understand the commitment and sacrifice needed to support their endeavors. As children grow, those same parents will face the challenge of keeping a teen engaged and excited about the arts. While some teens will naturally follow their artistic bent, others may need support and guidance to stay on track. Parents can help, but it’s most effective to do it in a positive way.
Adolescence is a confusing time for parents and students alike. Trying to force your teen to continue lessons or increase his artistic activities can cause friction that will push your student away from his art—and from you. As much as you might want to, you can’t make decisions for your teen the way you did when she was younger. Your parental role as arts advocate is changing; it’s less about control, and more about understanding and offering advice.
Respect competing interests
Especially in the early teen years, it’s important to take a step back to try to understand the many other activities competing for your teen’s interest. This will help you define and communicate the reasons why she should stick with her artistic pursuit.
As a music educator and a parent of teens, it’s a joy for me to see how uniquely each teen student develops. Some will struggle, some will soar, but most will discover new interests that directly compete with the arts. Sports, academics, dating, and other social activities can rob time slots formerly earmarked for practice, lessons, or rehearsal. It’s a time of discovery that, much as we try, parents cannot control. However, we can continue to provide good information, facilitate artistic experiences, and advise our teens.
Keep their eyes on the prize—>
Build a social foundation
The most frequent complaint-question combo I hear from parents is: My teen wants to quit her lessons. What can I do about it? In many of these situations, I wish I could rewind the clock to take the family back a couple of years. Then I could ask about other artistic activities the student enjoys. As an example, instrumental students who get ensemble experience in a school or community band are getting a world of exposure outside their lessons and developing a social support structure that revolves around music. It’s a more balanced experience than sitting in a lesson once or twice a week, then practicing alone for hours. Similarly, dancers in ensembles and visual artists who get together as students form lasting relationships and continue to fuel each other’s creativity.
Keep their eyes on the prize
Goals are also important to artistic study. In the arts, this means performance opportunities or, for visual arts, shows and exhibits. The key point here is to keep your teen involved by putting his artistic skills to good use, perhaps to benefit the community or needy. Just as in sports, participation in an art contest isn’t about winning. Rather, it’s about doing, gaining experience, and experiencing the challenges that keep teens engaged in the arts.
Leave the door open
Will every student continue in the arts? We would hope all students have exposure to the arts and experience the joys and challenges of studying art, yes. But not all young people will continue on the same path. If your teen wants to quit her artistic studies and do something else, help her to be sure by suggesting she stick with it, say, another month or until the summer, before making the decision.
Your teen is a young adult. If he’s certain that his focus has moved beyond his art, forcing him to study will seem to him like punishment. Instead, assess the situation together. If it’s about timing, rearranging lesson times could help. Has he outgrown his teacher? One teacher can’t always accompany a student through his teen years; it might be time to explore a new teacher or school setting.
Keeping your teen in the arts is about keeping her options open, supporting her decisions, and encouraging her exploration of ever-changing art forms.
Andy McDonough is a former public school educator, an education consultant, and a writer and musician. He, his wife, and two teen daughters live in New Jersey.