Where Is the Line Between a Teen Quitting and Stopping an Activity?

Following three weeks of practice, the first track meet would run until 8 p.m. That morning, my fourteen-year-old son went to school bleary-eyed after a rough night’s sleep. He texted me toward the end of the school day.

I hate track
It’s raining
I’m tired
Is it too late to quit

I frowned at the cold drizzle tapping at my window. I wouldn’t want to be out in that, either. But my son signed up for the team, so that was that. I responded to his text.

Yes too late

Wasn’t it? 

Mom. The uniform is way too short. I’m so embarrassed. I feel like crying. Do I have to do this

My son wanted to quit track the first day. Should I have let him? (Twenty20 @webbrennan)

Should I let my teen quit his sport?

Oh, yikes. I nibbled on a cuticle. He’s told me he’s self-conscious about the hair growing on his legs, scoffing at my assurance that changes in his body are normal and healthy. And I still remember the angst of teenage embarrassment; your peers’ laughter is its circle of hell. I felt a flush in my cheeks as I hovered over my keyboard, struggling to parent on the fly. 

Everyone’s wearing the same thing. Hang in there. 

I knew my words were little more than a wishy-washy attempt to see what kind of pushback I’d get if I held firm. I understood that he was the child, and I was the parent, and I could end the discussion. I thought, though, maybe there was some nuance to explore here.

So, as I waited for his reply, I debated what lessons were on the table. Was he old enough to make this decision? Should I let him? Where is the line between quitting and stopping? 

Where is the line between quitting and stopping and who gets to decide?

To me, “quitting” is a negative word, conjuring failure and defeat. “Quitters never win, winners never quit,” right? I want to raise a son who doesn’t let distress keep him from tackling a challenge. Who sets goals — personal, academic, professional — and meets them. Who recognizes that he can overcome hardship.

On the one hand, this kid surely knows that pushing through discomfort can reap the rewards. Last March, I said he could either get a job or go camping for the summer. He immediately chose work. That is, he did until the time came to submit applications when he balked.

I was irritated at his backpedaling; he hadn’t even walked into a shop to ask if they were hiring. He said he was nervous about talking to managers. I said I’d teach him what to say and insisted he sticks to his original plan. He was angry but headed off to the shops near our house.

Not only did he land a job at a local restaurant, but he enjoyed bussing tables so much that he kept the job on weekends after the summer. He has never missed a shift and has kept his grades up.

My son has demonstrated that he can stick with things

He says that the pressures of a busy night have taught him to prioritize tasks and manage his time. He’s learning responsibility, respect for service workers, patience with grumpy customers, and a deep appreciation for what it takes to earn a living. He even thanked me for demanding he follows through on applying.

On the other hand, I remember when my daughter lost interest in the sport a year after earning a black belt in Taekwondo. I urged her to finish what she’d started; sure she’d be proud of herself when she made that belt. She said she never promised to go for a black belt. 

She was right. She hadn’t said that. I guess that, after years of lessons, I assumed that was her goal. Yet, wasn’t she allowed changing her mind even if it had been? I mean, if she started piano lessons, must she continue until she reached Carnegie Hall? 

I texted my daughter, who is now a successful software engineer. She reported zero regrets about ending Taekwondo.

Did she quit, or did she stop? To me, “stopping” conveys agency and choice. Maybe leaving the track team was a low-stakes chance for my son to grapple with the consequences. 

What were the repercussions of my son quitting his team?

I thought about it. If he left the team, he’d lose the PE credit and have to replace it before graduating. His coaches, who are also his teachers, might look dimly at what could seem a lack of stick-to-it-iveness. Although it was a no-cut team, his peers might think he let them down. I wasn’t sure what other dominoes stopping would knock over, but he’d have to deal with them. 

And isn’t childhood a chance to try out new activities? He hadn’t known what track entailed. Was insisting he continues teaching him to tamp down his feelings? Was I denying him the opportunity to both admit and embrace a mistake? And whose decision was it, anyway?

My son was already on the bus to the meeting; no phones were allowed. I contemplated the whole time he was there. I wavered, unsure what I’d say when I saw him. 

It was dark when I picked him up. I watched him approach my car with the confident stride he’d developed walking to work. That’s when I knew. Part of parenting is recognizing the context for our decisions. This particular child understands responsibility. His disliking track didn’t mean he was slacking. I’d talk through the difference between quitting and stopping, help him consider the consequences of halting participation, and the choice would be his.

I opened my mouth to tell him what I’d decided, but he spoke first. “That was kind of fun,” he said. “I guess I’ll stick with it.”

What? He’d already made his own decision, and he was sticking with his commitment? I clamped my mouth shut, and mentally tucked away my lesson plan for another day.

More Great Reading:

Why I Never Let My Kids Quit, Anything

Why I Don’t Push My Teens To Participate In Extracurricular Activities

About Amy Freeman

Amy Freeman divides her time between writing and serving as the Development Director for The Writer's Center in Bethesda, MD. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, GoodHousekeeping.com and numerous other publications. It’s collected here: www.AmyLFreeman.com.

Read more posts by Amy

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