For parents: it’s the little things

Last week, a member of a parent listserv shared an email her 16-year-old neighbor had sent out pitching her babysitting services for this summer. My wife and I are in the market for a babysitter, so the message caught our attention.

The email itself was clear and well-written. She’s got great qualifications for a teen—first aid and CPR certified, volunteer hours at Children’s Hospital, and experience (with references available). When we reached out to her, she responded within an hour and agreed to meet us at our home for an interview. Soon, she’ll be face-to-face with us in our living room hoping to make a first impression strong enough for us to say, “Yes, we trust you with our infant.”

There’s nothing groundbreaking about a teenager babysitting for some extra money, and she’s far from the only high school kid who’ll be listing it on her college applications. In fact, babysitting is one of the most common part-time jobs for teenagers.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t potentially incredibly valuable for her.

This kid is learning how to pitch herself in writing and in person. She’s learning how to meet people and make a good impression. If she gets gigs, she’ll be learning how to manage customers’ expectations, and hopefully, how to be remarkable enough that she’ll earn referrals and repeat business. And she’ll be earning (and hopefully managing) her own money.

I can’t imagine that she could learn any of these things at Harvard Summer School or at a pay-to-play expensive summer program in a foreign land.

The pressure of college admissions forces too many families to focus on the bottom-line admissions value of just about everything. They want to make every decision against the measurement of, “Will this make her a more competitive applicant?”

But college admissions benefits are just one type of reward. Enjoyment, learning, growth, challenge, even fun—those are just as important as validation from a college admissions officer.

Parents, as you watch your kids prepare for college, remember that they’re also preparing for life as adults. There are lots of potential valuable experiences to be had along the way—don’t discount any just because there doesn’t seem to be an immediate college admissions connection.

Babysitting may not be a splashy line on the application. But sometimes great value can be extracted from the little things.