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To Quit or Not to Quit: Should We Let Our Kids Choose?

Sue’s son began playing piano at a young age. He made good progress and became “fairly proficient.” And he enjoyed playing. Then one day, he announced that he wanted to quit.

Upon hearing this news, Sue pushed back. She loved hearing him practice. She saw value in putting in the work to get better. And she had a sense that even though he thought he was ready to quit, he would be glad that he didn’t.

With these thoughts in mind, Sue decided to incentivize her son to keep at it—in other words, she bribed him. And later, she got her perfect ending: Her son thanked her for persuading him stick with the piano.

Meanwhile, Mindy’s son loved baseball and played on rec and travel teams through fifth grade. The summer before entering sixth grade, his travel team was supposed to play in Cooperstown, New York at the Baseball Hall of Fame fields. At the start of that summer, he said he no longer wanted to play.

She was surprised and a bit disappointed as she loved the parents on the team and looked forward to a fun summer trip to Cooperstown with the team. After talking about it, Mindy agreed it was his decision.

When school started that fall, a friend asked him to try out for the lacrosse team. He had never picked up a stick. He started lacrosse the spring of sixth grade and ended up playing all the way through college. For him, quitting one activity opened the door to another one.

Everyone has strong feelings about the word “quit.” For some, who may have given up a hobby or been too busy to keep taking piano lessons, shame and regret surface. For others, who have kicked a bad habit, joy and pride reign.

Regardless of the situation, deciding to quit is often stressful. And when you’re the parent who has to give permission to quit, it can be even more complicated as you sift through the whys, the what-ifs, and the what-nexts with your teens.

The Your Teen editorial staff talked in depth about our conflicted feelings about when to quit. From our conversation, we were able to find some common ground about how to navigate these complicated situations.

No Quitting Allowed

There are no hard and fast rules here, but there was general consensus on when NOT to quit:

1. In the middle of a season

Many families have house rules that say teens should finish what they start. For example, quitting during a season lets down others who depend on you. Along these lines, Kamyra emphasizes that if you’ve paid to participate in a series of lessons or clinics, then it is important for teens to “get their money’s worth.” (Plus, it may turn out that if they stick it out a little
longer, they will actually want to continue.)

2. The demands get harder

At first, the lessons or the practices are fun. But then, as your skills improve, the demands increase. And sometimes, what was a fun activity feels frustrating and hard and demanding. Stephanie recollects that all of her kids have come home and told her that “It’s awful. I hate it. I want to quit.” Maybe a coach or a teacher offered some constructive criticism that your teen
does not appreciate. However, after letting them vent and express their emotions, even they have realized that they don’t want to quit.

3. The skill is a high priority

Mindy recounts the story of her oldest son. When he was 5, they lived in a town that bordered a lake. Everyone spent summer days at the lake. She signed her son up for swimming lessons, but he refused to go in the water. Not learning to swim was not an option. He not only ended up loving swimming, but was a competitive swimmer through college. Swimming. Biking. Driving. Talking on the phone. Ordering food. For most of us, learning these skills is not optional. “We’re going to keep at it, and we’ll take it slowly so they can get there. But there’s no quitting,” reflects Sharon.

By All Means, Quit!

1. Safety is on the line

If physical or mental health is at risk, there is no discussion. Simone Biles’ description of the “ twisties” underscores this point. As Kamyra says, “The goal is enrichment and learning, not surviving Hades.”

2. It’s a waste of time

Who hasn’t sat in a meeting or been somewhere and thought, “Here is an hour of my life that I will never get back”? No one likes to have their time wasted, and teens are no different. After all, they have things they want to do! So, if like Sharon’s kids, your teen ends up at a “woodworking camp” where they finished all the projects by day 2 and were just sitting around for the rest of the week, quitting is the right answer.

3. Your teen has a good reason

Some teens really do “know when to fold ‘em.” And when they tell you they want to quit and explain why, their thoughts are compelling. Case in point: Jody’s daughter had played soccer since second grade. She wasn’t highly skilled, but she loved being on a team, and her coaches appreciated her spirit and sportsmanship. However, as she approached her senior season, she shared that she wanted to quit. When her parents asked why, she laid out the other activities that she was involved in and felt more passionate about, realized that she did not have a future as a soccer player, and recognized that the time she would spend at practices and games surpassed her interest level. And that was that.

An Option to Quitting

Quitting seems so final. And many of us are bothered by the idea that our teen will never play a particular sport or an instrument or participate in an activity again. It’s important to consider other possibilities that may allow for teens to continue to do something, but perhaps in a different way.

Kamyra shared, “When possible, we’ve paused an activity or taken a break before completely pulling out. Sometimes they return to it; other times they’re glad to be done with it. The harder cases are activities at which they excel or have been engaged in for a long time. In those situations, if they still have an affinity for it but don’t want to continue in the same manner, we try to change the way they engage. For example, we might move from a competitive travel team to an intramural or a more laid-back community league.”

No matter what you decide, it’s important to understand the kid and the situation. These decisions about quitting are never easy, and we are right there with you muddling through them as best as we know how.

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