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Thomas McGregor

May I have 12 minutes? - The 80/20 rule applied to parent involvement

September 24, 2013 at 4:37 AM

It was the conclusion of what I thought was an outstanding lesson with one of my brightest students. My student, 14, is a bright young man that has the world at his feet. He comes from a comfortable, supportive and nurturing environment that will prove to be to his benefit in the future. However, direct challenge isn't something that he is accustomed to encountering. So, when struggles began to surface there was resistance almost immediately. Even though he was excelling in many ares, the growth that he was experiencing presented new challenges that required him to climb the internal mountains of his mind. A person grows multi-dimensionally if they stimulate this growth from within. That's why this time for my student was both exciting and invigorating for me to watch as a teacher but can be frustrating for the student. As our lesson came to a tension filled close I gave him some words of advice and encouragement before leaving the piano bench.

As a ritual, I meet with the parent(s) after each lesson to fill them in, in detail, on the progress their child is making, areas they are struggling with and the next plan of action. I structure my briefing with the parent in this way: New material covered. Review material covered. Challenge areas. Strategies of challenge areas. Assignments. Areas of excellence. The reason I structure my briefing in this way is because I want to start and end with a positive tone, sandwiching the struggles in the middle as to not leave the parent thinking the student is always struggling. If the student is practicing, and has sound instruction, you can always find areas of excellence to highlight. This briefing wasn't structured any differently. I went through all the steps in order to inform the parent of what a great job he was doing and some of the challenges he was encountering. When we got to the challenge portion, the parent wanted to know how much she needed to be involved during the week in order to help him in these challenge areas.

This was a good question, considering that, in this time, very few parents are involved during the practice times the student spends during the week. If they are age seven and above, the parent seems to let the child practice on their own trusting that they are doing the homework they were assigned. So when she asked this poignant question regarding her involvement, I immediately applied the 80/20 rule to the situation. If you aren't familiar with the 80/20 rule, it is defined in the following manner: The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, events are constructed in where roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Therefore, in this case I asked her how much time does she currently involve herself with her son's practice time. Her answer spoke volumes; none. "Here is the problem," I thought to myself quietly.

Consequently, I realized that approval and recognition had been the main challenges my student had been encountering. He felt that, even though his parents were massively supportive, that they weren't always approving, leaving him to feel as though he wasn't good enough - when we was growing by leaps and bound. The answer was clear, she needed to spend 20% more time with her son in order for him to get past these internal woes. More directly, she needed to spend time listening and praising him constructively in order to inform him of her acknowledgement of his growth. This would dispel any idea of "babying" him or "looking over his shoulder". By simply spending 20% more time with her son during his practice time he would be able to know approval without feeling smothered. So my next step was direct, I simply said spend about 10-15mins with your son during the last part of his practicing(he practices 60mins a day, for you math nerds). This will ensure that he is warmed up and rehearse before you are there, giving him confidence and security in his own abilities. I also went on to tell her that she should tell him that she is going start participating in his practice sessions. This will also boost his confidence and showcase the recognition he has been looking for.

The result: ten-fold. By the end of the month he was smiling more and performing with more energy. Also a wonderful side effect was a closer mother-son bond, which is extremely valuable amongst today's teens. In conclusion, I wish I had asked about her involvement sooner, in order to gain more insight. Nevertheless, the time my student spend stewing in a negative mindset was quickly relieved by the 80/20 rule, or as little as 12 minutes of a mother's approving attention.

From Thessa Tang
Posted on September 24, 2013 at 9:36 AM
I agree that children thrive on acceptance and approval.

However, "effective" parental participation [whatever the percentage] depends on the particular (1) circumstances and (2) age and temperament of the child in question. For one of ours, it would not have worked or may possibly cause potential friction even if we had tried. She not only started music lessons much later than she had asked, is naturally self-motivated and determinedly stubborn in good as well as unhealthy ways, she simply would not let either of her parents participate in her practice from day 1 - "Don't even think of it" especially since daddy refused her the violin for almost 4 years in preference to the piano and mummy guiltily acquiesced - whereas our second child loves Suzuki-piano supervision and he thrives on it. He sees both my presence and enjoyment and his daddy's supervision as a [much-needed and much more than 20%] sort of approval in itself every time. Kids are so different one from another and in illustrating the contrast by example (just as you are doing in your student's case in this blog), I'm simply agreeing to what other parents have discovered and expressed in the past.

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on September 24, 2013 at 2:05 PM
Very interesting... May the parents be involved in the practicing or not, I think every kid, teen or even adult (!!!) need parental and ideally also siblings/friends approval and recognition of their musical passion.

But honnest approval... when my relatives who do not know violin used to tell me that I was good ennough to get in the symphony or just as X, Y or Z player, I knew it wasn't true and felt inside like "if only you knew how FAR I am from this..."

But still, some approval and recognition of the serious work, that it's not just "a hobby", something "egoistical" or a "second class thing" that should be done on weekends only after prioritary schoolwork...

We need to feel that they know we are not loosing our time and that they enjoy our musical contributions and see it as something valuable and precious.

It's not ennough to just pay for lessons or a great violin (well, it's already very much) but, especially for those like me who do not stem from a musical family, we appreciate that our parents support us in our psychological struggles related to music, in the bad or good performance moments etc. even though they will never understand as another musician...

When parents minimize or don't care about our violin playing, it's just as if they rejected our identity and what we are (in it's way it's just as bad as rejecting a gay son or daughter I imagine)...

Anyway, good blog!

From Jim Hastings
Posted on September 24, 2013 at 3:55 PM
With the kid you described, this approach clearly worked. But with some kids, it won't, due to what another poster mentioned -- circumstances and a child's age and temperament. Knowing my own personality and temperament, I don't think it would have worked for me.

I came to violin in preadolescence. By then, I was already in school, had learned to read and write, and could read music, thanks to early piano instruction. But in problem-solving, I liked to work things out on my own -- with help from the teacher when I got stuck. A few times, I phoned my teacher between lessons to help me clear up a point. My parents' involvement meant paying for lessons and being sure that I practiced. They need not have worried. I was a practice geek, and starting violin had been my choice.

But some kids are quite the opposite of me. I've read accounts on this site of those who look forward to having a parent coach them in daily practice, feeling let down, just not quite right, if the parent isn't there.

About the mother-son bond: I was blessed with a good bond, though I had to get past my brash, flip junior-high years to really appreciate it. I remember Mom saying quite often between practice sessions, "I love to hear you practice." Dad was very supportive, too. They weren't being indulgent, either. This proved to be the right instrument for me.

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 24, 2013 at 4:45 PM
A parent expert whose wisdom I trust very much once said, "Never, but NEVER! Do for a child what he or she can already do for himself." Of course, she was speaking of things like making the bed and pouring breakfast cereal, but the idea applies to many things. Parents can help their children by nurturing them, but at a certain point, they also must nurture their independence. It's often very difficult to determine where the line between "nurture" and "cultivating dependence" lies, or the line between "cultivating independence" and "ignoring your child" lies! One child might thrive with a great deal of interest and involvement from a parent, while another wants to exert independence at an early stage of things. It's worth taking the child's personality into account. In the end, all children need a parent's support and acknowledgement for a job is well-done; but the art is in how and when you provide this as a parent.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on September 24, 2013 at 9:34 PM
I really don't understand why this question of parental involvement is always framed on this site as a general rule, rather than as something that depends on the particular parent and child.

I say this because I know of, and have been in, situations where parental involvement was either not possible or would have been actively destructive if it had been present. I learned violin starting at age 7 with no parental involvement beyond their driving me to lessons and paying for my lessons and instrument.

Sometimes I look back and think that it would have been nice to have had more, and in fact this regret at first led me to try to be more involved with my own kids' music lessons. Surprisingly, however, my involvement turned out not to be very helpful either. It resulted in resentment and power struggles. It also resulted, for a while, in the teacher addressing me and making me, rather than the student, responsible for the student's learning. I had to back off. This caused me to re-examine my own experience more honestly. In retrospect, I don't think my parents would have fared any better than I did. The fact is, I wouldn't have wanted or accepted their help, even if they had tried to provide it.

I don't deny that parental involvement can have benefits, depending on the student and the parent-child relationship. But I dislike seeing it promoted as a general and universal requirement of learning to play the violin. This leaves out significant numbers of kids.

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