Practice, Privilege, and Piano... A parent's grief of teen-hood, technology, and privilege



I teach piano.  It’s one of the things I do.

I recently had a conversation with a parent who is heartbroken because her teenage daughter won’t practice.  She doesn’t have the discipline and her mom is tired of “escorting” her.  

As my conversation with the mother unraveled, I realized her heartbreak wasn’t ultimately about the lack of “piano practice,” nor was this heartbreak singular to her.  This was something much bigger; something much more painful; something afflicting an entire culture.  It took a few layers to get there, but I felt its heart when I noticed tears quietly running down my face.

The first under-layer of this heartbreak was about the power of technology - the hypnotic stimulus incessantly tapping, constantly vying, vibrating, swooshing, chiming.... for one’s attention.  “Come follow me!”… literally.  How much easier it is to spectate on other lives than to actively push our own selves forward – to get sweaty, find paint under our nails, pen on our face, keys under our fingers, books in our hands…even just to have a deep, interactive conversation face-to-face with another human being, and to really hear them.  I readily admit, as an adult with years of discipline behind her, I am guilty of this technology vacuum.  Certainly, there is good in the cyber world, much of it. It’s not a matter of content (not here), it’s the sheer volume of time spent in it.

However, there was more beyond this first layer.  Quietly lurking below the pain of a parent’s plight with technology was the hushed fear of privilege unrecognized…and even more devastatingly…privilege unappreciated. 

“It’s as though she’s spoiled, if you know my meaning.  Constantly complaining,” said the mom.  “She doesn’t appreciate opportunity.”  

Most of my students are incredibly privileged.  Many (including this particular student) live in a neighborhood consistently listed as one of the top 25 wealthiest neighborhoods in the country.  These kids have magnanimous opportunity, and this mom was confounded that her child didn’t appreciate it.  I was touched by her conviction.

I know first hand that kids don’t have the kind of life perspective necessary to understand their privilege or their opportunity.  They just understand the life they are living as - life.  I also know that young teenagers are famous for a lack of discipline, for selfish perspectives, and for constant complaining.  That’s a regular part of the human passage.  What is more, privilege is relative.  There is always someone less privileged.  So, it’s left to parent to teach their child the difference between privilege and spoilage.  I know this was hard enough on our parents without the kind of technology we have now.  I can’t imagine what it is like in the midst of this new massive temptation at every fingertip… and there’s no playbook.  (Dear grandparents, find compassion.) 

I could tell from this mother’s comments that she feels like she is failing.  I could tell that she feels like the mountain is too big and she is getting nowhere.  But, what I see is a young teen who is blessed with a beautiful parent – a parent who is willing and able to provide any and every opportunity for her child to grow and learn; and a parent willing to put in the heartbreaking discipline and commitment to keep her child aware of, and grateful for, her own privilege, even if it means taking it away. 

Much opportunity may produce a beautifully accomplished human being; but appreciated opportunity produces an accomplished beautiful human being.  How precious is the latter.  I’m honored to know a parent who is committed to raising one…who may or may not play the piano…     

I teach piano. It’s one of the things I do.  It’s one of the things I am able to do as a result of my privileged childhood and education.  I’m unequivocally grateful.