Friday, September 20, 2013

When Authorites Stand in Your Way

There's a website I grew up with that's aimed at elementary and middle school girls, but I still visit every so often. Part of the website is an advice column, where readers can submit a problem and get advice from their peers. Each question is up for one week, everyone has a chance to write in with a solution, and at the end of the week, someone running the site posts about 15 of the responses submitted (The site has over 1,000 readers, so this is probably a small handful). Sometimes the adults running the site are very good about picking a variety of different responses, including solutions that contradict each other. But other times, the results are biased. There are certain kinds of answers that will never get selected, answers that people really need to hear.
Here's a question I once saw on the site:

"I just failed a midterm! I'm afraid that if my parents find out, they'll make me quite dance, which I love. What do I do?"
-Dancing is my Life

The answers to this question were very biased, and one person even said, "If they make you quit dance, so what? Education is more important than sports." It makes me really sad to see this internalization coming from kids who've already bought into the idea that someone else can tell you what matters to you. (And that out of hundreds of responses, the admins would select an invalidating statement like this). There were other well-intentioned answers that respected this person's desires, but having been in this situation myself, I don't think they would have worked. If this happens to you, here is my advice:

First of all, I respect your priorities. I know from this question that dance is important to you, and that grades are important to your parents. I don't know from this question if grades are important to you. The advice I'm going to give you may seem focused on your grades, but my intention is only to help you stay in dance:

1. This problem is URGENT. You absolutely must tell your parents about the midterm before they find out on their own. You'll be in a lot more trouble if it looks like you were trying to hide it.
2. Before you talk to you parents, go and talk to your teacher about getting extra help, coming up with a study plan, and improving your grade in that class. When you share the news with your parents, let them know what you've already done to fix the problem. This will make you look responsible and like you care about your grades, which will make them less likely to think that you need to quit dance in order to bring your grades up. (Note: if for some reason you can't talk to your teacher soon enough, it's more important to tell your parents before they find out on their own. If this is the case, tell your parents that you are planning to talk to you teacher on such and such a date, and follow through).
3. Don't bring up the subject of dance. Some girls advised that you tell your parents that school and dance are both very important to you, but I would not mention dance if your parents don't bring it up. Your parents would make you quit dance if they think that you care more about dance than about school (even though that's totally okay). So bringing up that dance is important to you while discussing your midterm is not going to help your case.
4. If the issue of quitting dance does come up, you are right to tell your parents how important dance is to you, but you also need to assure them that you are putting school first, whether that's true or not. I don't normally encourage people to lie, but when you live in culture where adults think they can impose their own values on you, this is often what you need to do to ensure that you can keep doing what you love. (Don't worry, all that "Be yourself, don't change to fit in with the popular kids," will become bullshit in a few years when it's time to apply to college, and your parents encourage you to do lots of activities just to put them on your resume and present yourself like something you're not in order to get into school. If you're going to pretend, at least do it to get something YOU want.) If your parents are leaning towards making you quit, tell them how you will manage your schoolwork while also staying in dance. If you really need more time for your schoolwork, figure out where else you could get that extra time from. Maybe you could drop another activity or spend more of your free time studying (not that you should have to give up something else that you love for school, but if your parents don't respect your priorities, this may be what will save you from having to quit dance). If they still want you to quit, offer to have a trial period for a week or two, where you show your parents that you can manage your schoolwork with dance.
5. So, you're still in dance, but you don't feel like you're in the clear just yet. Again, make sure your parents are under the impression that school comes first for you. If you normally talk about dance all the time, cut down on that for a while. Follow through with your extra help and your study plan, and make sure your parents know what you're doing. Talk to your parents about you tutoring sessions. Tell them what you went over today. Tell them how your new note-taking technique is helping you remember facts. This may seem boring, but talking about your academics will make your parents feel like you're focused on school. It's subconscious, and it really will help.
6. If your parents still want you to quit dance because they think you can't handle it with your schoolwork, see if you can negotiate. If you're in several dance classes, maybe you can just drop one. If you have dance five days a week, talk to your dance instructor and see if you can go to fewer classes a week until your grades improve. If you need a lot of extra help in school temporarily, maybe you could take just a couple weeks off from dance until you catch up. (Not that these would be good things to do, but they are a better alternative to quitting dance entirely, if it comes to that with your parents).
7. If your parents are going to make you quit dance anyway as a punishment for your grade, that sucks and it's not okay at all. But keep in mind that this is not the end. Work on your grades so you can do dance again next year. In the meantime, there are plenty of ways to keep up with dance on your own, even when you're not in class. Practice the moves you know. Watch dance videos on Youtube and learn the moves Make up a dance of your own. If you have friends in your dance classes, ask them to show you what they're learning. When you're allowed to do dance again, you won't be rusty and can pick up right where you left off. Always try to work towards what really matters to you, even in a small way. Don't let this setback effect your passion for dance. The fact that you care enough about dance to write in for help like this is really special. No one can take that away from you.

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