Let's Get Nerdy

Hi I’m Daniel Starling. I am Starling Tutoring’s owner and its only tutor. During my ten years as a full time tutor, I’ve implemented more than 30 books into my instruction. Most of what I’ve adopted is on the student side, but the strategy that’s contributed most to my student’s success must actually be implemented by parents.

Conclusion first

The 2018’s “The Self-Driven Child” was co-authored by clinical neuropsychologist William Stixrud and professional tutor Ned Johnson. They claim there are two essential activities parents must do to begin and then three essential roles they must play going forward, to help their student. 

First, you should begin by making it clear that your student is the only one responsible for their work, and second, grant them autonomy and control to do this work as they see fit.

How do you create motivation?

Why is it so important for your student to have autonomy and control to do their work as they see fit? In order for your child to become self-driven, they must first be motivated. Motivation is a three-legged stool. I can help your student obtain the legs of proficiency, (helping them to see that they’ve made progress) and relatedness, (finding their own relationship to the subject they’re studying) but autonomy is the final leg, and unless you give it to your student, their stool will not stand.

I know that giving autonomy to a teenager is hard. It’s hard for many reasons:

To varying levels, it’s been popular in the last decade for school systems to expect you to be involved in helping your student manage their work. This strategy is beneficial for the school, albeit time consuming for the teachers, because conflicts about student performance are communicated regularly instead of risking a large conflict late in the year. The critical way in which this strategy fails, though, is that it blurs the lines about who is responsible for the completion of assignments.

It’s scary to give this control to your student because you fear the outcome. It can seem that the competitive nature of college applications necessitates that you help guarantee your student’s high achievement. But, if you agree to grant your student autonomy, this includes allowing them to both succeed — and fail — on their own merits. Often, the most powerful motivation only develops from a student who refuses to accept a failure rather than a student who simply wants to do better.

The effort invested in 'getting it right' should be commensurate with the importance of the decision.

Daniel Kahneman

No, really, you must grant autonomy

Some parents are so concerned about their student’s inevitable failure that allowing them to assume control of their schoolwork is too stressful. Unfortunately for these parents, if they continue to treat their child with coddling affection, they will prevent their student from conquering the world. Your student needs control and autonomy more than they deserve it. If you continue “helicoptering” your student until they can show you that they can manage their tasks as well as you can for them, you will be waiting forever. Even if it is painful, you must grant autonomy now.

Be a consultant

A helicopter parent is playing the role of a coach, when the more effective role is one of a consultant. Consultants only provide advice when they’ve been contracted to do so. If you are tempted to give unsolicited advice as you observe your student initially taking what seems like complete advantage of their increased control, do not offer unsolicited advice. The Coaching Habit calls this “taming your advice monster.”

If you must interject into your student’s actions, settle for asking your student “Do you want another angle on that?” and be willing to keep your sentiments to yourself if you are declined. Though it is difficult, you must commit to granting autonomy because we need it before we continue to the next necessary component: creating a safe home base.

"Champions don’t do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned."

Charles Duhigg

Be a safe home base

As your student experiences their new autonomy and accepts the responsibility of failing, they will become stressed about the activities, deadlines, and performances they care about. This will increase the cortisol levels in their brain. Cortisol is the stress hormone and is highly detrimental at toxic levels. However, a certain type of stress called eustress can be beneficial. So long as overall stress levels are moderate, students experience healthy growth if they are assisted in recovering from the stress of the day.

You as a parent must assist your student to “wash off” the stress of the day. This is your second new role: providing a safe home base. You should remind your student that you trust them to try their best and to learn from their mistakes. Let your student know you are here for them if they need help, that you love them, you are proud of them, and you appreciate them. Try to avoid pointing out your student’s mistakes to them or to others. Try to catch your student doing something right and as How To Win Friends would suggest, be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise. If your student feels like they have been safely received at home and then they seek nutrition and sleep, their resilience, confidence, and ability will build in a small way overnight. They can wake up the next day and do it all again.

Be a good cheerleader

The next morning, you will play your final new role as cheerleader. Make it clear to your student that you know they have a brain in their head and they want their life to work. Tell them that you know they’re going to figure out a way to get their important tasks done, and express your confidence in their natural abilities. Tell your student you believe they are capable of amazing things and they are excited to see what they will come up with next. Effective cheerleader behavior increases the chances of another successful stress cycle that day.

"A low sense of control is enormously stressful and autonomy is key to developing motivation.”

William Stixrud

Achieve Self-Driven behavior

If you play these three new roles effectively, your student may begin to feel self-driven, so long as you continue playing your three roles effectively. But being self-driven is not the end goal, it is a necessary initial condition. Eventually, as a student completes more and more stress cycles, they reach the plateau of latent potential (as made famous in Atomic Habits), which is our real goal. Students who achieve this level of performance often look back and wonder why they ever had a problem in the first place.

Stay the course

Some parents are resentful that they cannot fulfill other roles for their student (especially that of the coach). For every role you think you can possibly play for your student, it is more beneficial for them to seek out a surrogate to replace you. However, your student will never seek a surrogate for your role as a cheerleader and a safe home base. As The Self-Driven Child would say, “Teachers can teach, coaches can coach, guidance counselors can outline graduation requirements, but there’s one thing only parents can do: love their kids unconditionally and provide them with a safe base at home.”

If you are indeed willing to grant autonomy and control to your student, you must allow them to make even high-stakes decisions for themselves. If you override their decision about which courses to take, which college to tour, or which extracurriculars to do, what your student may hear is “I trust you to make informed decisions and to learn from your mistakes unless it really matters. Then, you’re not strong enough.” This is a crushing defeat for any student and almost always instantly takes away their legs of autonomy and proficiency. You must commit to handing the keys to your student’s education over to them.

“A person who has not made peace with his losses is likely to accept gambles that would be unacceptable to him otherwise.”

Daniel Kahneman

Student malfeasance

Some parents believe that their students will fail to rise to my high expectations, and perhaps even suggest that they think their student will take advantage of their newly acquired autonomy and control. This is sometimes true. To punish this abuse of power, I’ve created a grading system for my students called a social credit score. Most students work well on a team with me and try to follow my ten rules. These students have a social credit score of “in good standing.” However, some students are caught not giving enough effort and have their social credit score moved to “not in good standing.” Unless the student can show to me they are exerting effort commensurate with the other students who play on my team, their social credit score will trend downward to “on probation.” When a student’s credit score falls to “on probation,” all of their tutorials are canceled and their time slots are offered to other students. I will agree to begin work again with these students if I receive in writing via the United States Postal Service a compelling reason to begin work again.

While it might seem harsh to cancel tutorials, first of all, your student must be allowed to fail and take responsibility for their failure and, secondly, this acts as a safeguard to make sure you do not pay my premium hourly rate just so your student can scam me. Also, not completing work regularly is a failing strategy and I am too expensive to fail in this way. So, to address the parents who are concerned about their student’s potential behavior, I have seen some instances of my social credit score working. If a student’s credit score reaches on-probation, this is not necessarily an indicator that they will continue to fail. For these students, I simply see it as a part of their path to be required to work under more stringent conditions. This can sometimes be a messy process but that’s not something you as a parent need to focus on anymore. Remember that your new roles are consultant, cheerleader and a safe home base. I follow up with my students nearly everyday so you don’t have to nag them anymore.

Complete reading list

Many other books have also influenced my instruction, and a complete reading list has been listed below. Some of the books listed are of dubious scientific merit, but I have found some helpful ideas in each of them.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg

The Self Driven Child by William Stixrud, Ph.D., and Ned Johnson

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Why Him, Why Her by Helen Fisher

The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin

The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy

The Go-Giver series by Bob Burg and David Mann

Nudge: The Final Edition by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Substein

The Wealthy Gardener by John Soforic

Competitive Advantage by Michael Porter

The Path by Peter Mallouk

Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew B. Crawford

The Element by Ken Robinson

The 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

Less Is More by Jason Jennings

The 80/20 Principle by Richard Koch

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

Hook Point by Brendan Kane

The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss 

The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier

The 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins

Rich Habits by Tom Corley

12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

Get Out of Your Own Way by Larry Winget

Grit by Angela Duckworth

Atomic Habits by James Clear

The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley

So, what now?

So, it’s true that I ask a lot of my students but I also ask a lot of you. While this is true, the students of mine who have achieved wonderful and sometimes stratospheric success have only done so after they have become self-driven. It is a set of conditions I insist upon.

Presuming you are on board with your new roles, may I please invite you to learn more about how you can be a better cheerleader and safe home base to your student? If so, please navigate below.

Table of Contents

First, may I know a bit about the student?
School Details
Now, may I first know a bit about the parent?
Physical Address
The student and parent must apply together. Please acknowledge below that you are both present.
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