For parents: let kids prepare for life

A friend asked me this week to help him revise his resume. Anyone who’s made a resume has grappled with similar questions. How do you describe your experience and accomplishments in such a limited space? How can you stand out when you’re reduced to paper? How do you reconcile the fact that you’re sending this short document to people who don’t know you but ultimately get to judge and select—or not select—you? It can be challenging, humbling, and frustrating all at the same time. The good news is that (1) you get better at it over time, and (2) you can start learning how to do it in high school.

A college application might be the first time that a student completes an application for something this important, but it certainly won’t be the last. Presenting yourself in writing, doing an interview, asking for letters of reference—all of these are introductions to things that you will need to do again during and after college.

In fact, the same can be said for many high school experiences. Facing a challenge. Asking for help. Advocating for themselves. Managing conflict. Overcoming disappointment. Learning from failure. Making an impact. Leaving a legacy. Once kids leave high school, they’ll never need to learn to drive, take the SAT, or find a date for the prom again. But just about everything else will be repeated in some way at a later point. And some of those experiences will never stop appearing.

That’s yet another reason why it’s so important for parents not to do everything for their kids. When you take on every task, challenge, or opportunity for them, you take away their opportunities to learn.

Let your kids approach the teacher or counselor on their own to ask for help. Let them search, apply, and interview for the part-time job instead of securing something for them. Don’t protect them from every disappointment, sweep away all the obstacles, or create a world that won’t resemble the one they’ll live in once they leave college.

Instead, allow them to learn their own lessons. Sure, a parent can answer questions. Guide, support, and cheer them on. But high school, activities, and the college application process are great training grounds if you’ll allow them to be. Students aren’t just trying to get into college. They’re trying to prepare for life, too.