Warren Buffet’s advice for parents

I don't think being a billionaire necessarily qualifies anyone as an expert on parenting.  But I can't help but like Warren Buffet.  He still lives in the same stucco house in Omaha, NE he bought for $31,500 in 1958.  He announced in 2006 that he's giving away his fortune to charity (with 86% of it going to the Gates Foundation).  Every time I read or see an interview with him, he's likeable, self-effacing, modest, and seems like a guy who'd be fun to have a beer with. 

So for what it's worth, here's his take on how "parents can make a better human being."

Quotation

The power of unconditional love. I mean, there is no power on earth like unconditional love. And I think that if you offered that to your child, I mean, you’re 90 percent of the way home. There may be days when you don’t feel like it — it’s not uncritical love; that’s a different animal — but to know you can always come back, that is huge in life. That takes you a long, long way. And I would say that every parent out there that can extend that to their child at an early age, it’s going to make for a better human being.

The full interview is here.

College admissions advice for parents of 6th, 7th and 8th graders

We occasionally get calls from parents of 6th, 7th or 8th graders hoping to enroll their students in a college counseling program.  They’ve heard how difficult college admissions has become and they don’t want to make any mistakes.

But we don’t offer programs for students still in junior high school.  I think junior high is too early to start tying decisions to college admissions.  It’s too early to mold a 12 year-old’s love of computers into an activity that will help him get into college.  Parents shouldn’t panic that 13 year-old’s consistent B’s in math won’t be good enough for the Ivy League schools.  And it is much, much too early to begin any kind of preparation for the SAT because, well, that’s just crazy.

But it’s not too early for junior high students to develop habits that will help them be successful once they get to high school (which will help them get into college).  Here are five ways parents can help.

1.  Help your kids to be independent. 

You don’t want to raise a high school kid who depends on you to wake him up in the morning.  Kids need their parents, but when Mom or Dad makes all the decisions,  you raise a student that is too dependent on his parents and ultimately not well-prepared for college.  I’m not suggesting you need your 13-year-old to open and maintain a checking account, but you can have them get themselves up in the morning, organize their own school assignments, and maybe even assume some responsibilities for helping around the house.

2.  Encourage kids to approach their teachers with questions or concerns. 

If your junior high school student has questions or is struggling in a class, don’t contact the teacher for him to seek help.  Encourage your student to approach his teacher himself.  This is a good time for kids to start taking some responsibility for their own educations.  They need to learn how to advocate for themselves, and how to seek help when they need it.

3.  Encourage kids to follow their passions.

Colleges love students who are passionate about what they do, whether that’s doing scientific research or riding dirt bikes.  Teach your kids that interest is a good thing.  Don’t assign value to the interest based on how you think it will translate into an admission to college someday.  Kids who have the capacity to enjoy something tend to seek out that enjoyment even when their interests change.  That’s a good trait.  I don’t care if your student likes making jewelry, walking dogs in the neighborhood or just playing basketball with his friends.  As long as it isn’t covered by the criminal code, it’s probably an interest you want to encourage.

4.    Help kids find a love of learning.

When you ask a successful college applicant what her favorite class, subject or teacher is, she’s got an answer.  Grades are important, but they are not the only measure of a student’s academic potential.  A sincere interest in learning goes a long way with teachers and with colleges.  So if your student thrives in her math class and even joined the math club, tell her how wonderful it is that she loves math.  Encourage the enjoyment.  If your daughter is fascinated with birds, ask her how she might be able to learn more and decide together whether to buy some books, take a class, or maybe just do some birdwatching.  If your son raves about his history teacher, let him know how lucky he is and ask him to tell you more.  Don’t tie academic enjoyment to grades alone.  Curious learners are always appealing to colleges, and that intellectual love of learning is something you can foster in your kids.

5. Relax.

A lot of the information you hear about seemingly perfect kids being rejected from college is exaggerated.  There are over 2,000 colleges in the country and all but about 100 of them have plenty of room.  Nice kids who work hard (even if they aren’t “A” students) still get into plenty of colleges.  So let your kids be kids.  They don’t need to spend all their time maximizing strengths, fixing weaknesses and molding themselves into future college students.  Let them play and hang out with their friends and maybe even goof off a little.  When your kid is 12, 13 or 14, you’re not going to make a mistake that will keep your child out of college someday.  So relax, and encourage your kids to do the same.

When admissions offices educate

I love it when an admissions office takes steps to educate families, not about the school or the reasons why a student should attend, but about how to manage the process, reduce stress, and maybe even enjoy yourself a little. 

Admissions officers at MIT, University of Chicago, and the University of Richmond have blogs that don't just serve their own interests; they give away solid advice for free. 

No student applying to college should write a college essay without reading University of Virgina's Parke Muth's "Writing the Essay: Sound Advice from an Expert."

And today's post from The Choice Blog shares a great piece from Middlebury College's website entitled "Top Ten Things for Parents to Remember."

“Helicopter parent” is not a positive term

I had an interesting experience with "helicopter parents" last week.  I'd just finished doing a seminar at a high school and three mothers approached me with a question. The elected spokeswoman of the group proudly announced, "We're helicopter parents–and we have some questions about helping our kids find activities this summer." 

Parents who support your kids and want the best for them have every reason to be proud of their efforts.  Parenting isn't easy, especially during the teenage years. 

But if you identify yourself as a helicopter parent, you should know that the term is pejorative for a reason.  A helicopter parent hovers over your kid so closely that he doesn't learn to think and live on his own.  College administrators talk about helicopter parents who call professors and argue for grades to be changed, or who intervene in roommate squabbles.  Even employers are talking about parents who call on behalf of their (college graduate!) children to investigate job openings or to make sure their kids' resumes were received.  

There are times when we sit with a student at Collegewise and just know that she's going to be successful.  That feeling has a lot more to do with how she carries herself, her maturity, her self confidence and her work ethic than it does her grades or test scores.  But one thing this kids all have in common are parents who are supportive but know when to step back.

If you're a helicopter parent, you can be proud of your instincts to want everything for your kids, but you should consider different methods.  Become a proud former helicopter parent and then teach other hovering moms and dads how to follow your lead.

The importance of asking kids, “How are you doing?”

About this time every year, we start to see it on our students' faces.  They're tired, especially the juniors.  The classes, activities, AP tests and SAT prep start to take their toll on even the hardest of workers. 

So when our students come in for their meetings in May and June, the first thing we ask almost all of them is, "How are you doin'?"  And we ask in a way that shows we really want to know how they're holding up, how they're feeling and whether or not things like soccer and drama and jazz band are still fun.  We still get to all the college planning stuff.  But first we want to check in. 

I don't want to be an alarmist here, but kids today are the most overworked, over scheduled and stressed out of any generation before them.  Hard work and high goals are good things.  And part of being successful means handling a reasonable degree of stress.  But nothing is worth sacrificing sleep, sanity or happiness, especially when you're seventeen. 

If you're a parent or a counselor, don't make your next question to your student about the SAT or college or whether or not they're ready for finals.  Instead, asking them how they're doing.  Really listen to their answer.  And remind them that their best effort is good enough regardless of what the outcome is. 

Don’t let your parents do it all for you

(Paraphrased) question I got from a parent on the phone yesterday:

"My
son has an interest in medicine.  So I was thinking of sending him to
stay with family in India this summer, and he could do some volunteer
work there at a local medical clinic where our family has connections.  I
think there would be real value for him to experience a place where not
everyone has the advantages that he has, where he has to take the bus to
work and spend his days with people who don't have access to good
medical care.  How would the colleges view that?"

My (paraphrased)
answer:

"Anything your son does where he's helping other people is
a good thing.  And having his eyes opened to less fortunate populations is something I would never tell you not to encourage.  But if
he's really interested in being a doctor and making a difference, why
not let him seek out and secure those kinds of opportunities himself? 
Why are you doing it all for him?" 

Part of the value of taking on
anything in high school is the initiative you have to show to get
involved.  If your parents set everything up for you and all you have to do is show
up and do what's ask of you, you'll miss out on a lot of the learning you could have done.

This is not a parent’s job

I did a seminar for our Collegewise parents on Saturday called "College Admissions Support for Parents."  And I knew that one of the recommendations I was going to make might surprise them.

Accept that it is not your job to make all your student's college dreams come true. 

I know that might sound harsh, but fast forward in time for a second.  Imagine that five years from now, your daughter has a job interview after college and doesn't get hired.  It's a job she really wanted, too, and she's disappointed.  Sure, you'd likely be disappointed for her.  But would it be your job to march down to the office and complain to the boss that she should change her mind and hire your kid?

Ten years from now, if your son and his (now future) wife put an offer in for a house from they are outbid by another couple, will you make it your job to intercede and demand that his offer be accepted because he's such a good son?

Fifteen years from now, if your daughter were vying for a promotion at work, will you make it your job to swoop in, talk to her boss, ask what would improve her candidacy, and coach her through the interview process?

No reasonable parent would expect to control those situations for your kids.  At some point, your kids are out of your nest and in the real world.  You'll always be able to support and encourage them, but you can't control every outcome in your kids' adult lives. 

So why should a parent be expected to control the outcomes of the college admissions process?

Applying to college is a student's transition into life as an adult.  This is hard for a lot of good parents to face, but you will make it easier on yourself and your kids if you recognize what your job is not.

It is not your job to get your kid into the school he wants to attend; you can't make Yale say, "Yes."  It is not your job to protect your kids from the disappointment of college rejection.  You don't get to make admissions decisions any more than you will get to decide whether or not your kids get promoted at work when they're older.  No amount of parental love can control the outcomes of college admissions.  And the more you try to control it, the more likely you are to experience stress, frustration and even alienation from your kids who may feel like you don't trust them to do this themselves. 

So what is a parent's job during the college admissions process?

Cheer your kids on.  Encourage them.  Support their efforts.  Let them know that you'll be proud of them no matter which college they attend as long as they try and give it their best.  Be a sounding board.  Help them seek out good information and advice.  Celebrate their efforts independent of their achievements. 

Those are all things you can and should do.  They'll help your kids have more enjoyable and successful college application processes.  And they'll help you worry a little less knowing that you're doing your job well.

 

“I heard that…” = unsubstantiated rumor

Most statements that begin with “I heard that…” are suspect.

When I was in 7th grade, a student named Jano wasn’t at school one morning.  First people started saying, “I heard that Jano got hit by a car on his bike this morning.”  By lunch, it was, “I heard that after Jano got hit, he was gushing blood from his head while lying in the street.”  By the time I got to 7th period PE, it was, “I heard that Jano died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

The next day, Jano was back at school.  Not dead.  Not bleeding.  Not even hurt.  I’m not even sure that he owned a bike.

When you know your source is credible, you automatically cite it because you want your audience to believe you.  So you lead with, “My stockbroker told me…” or, “My personal trainer showed me…” or, “I spoke with the head chef and she recommended…”

But “I heard that…” always means that you either don’t have a source, or you have an unproven source and don’t want to look stupid by citing him or her.

That’s why most college admissions questions I get from audiences at seminars that begin with “I heard that…” are usually followed by something ranging from partially inaccurate to absolutely ridiculous.

The “I heard that-s…” are usually citing a neighbor, or a fellow parent, or an uncle.  They’re almost never getting their information from a college admissions expert of any kind.

Nobody who got their information from a high school counselor or an admissions officer or a knowledgeable private counselor starts a question with, “I heard that…”  They cite the source.

I’m not saying that the college admissions process is so complicated and steeped in secrecy that it’s understood by only a select few; anyone can learn more about it if you take the time.

But you still shouldn’t take advice from, or make decisions based on the stories of, other people who are just sharing unsubstantiated rumors rather than real knowledge.

Seek out good sources of advice and information.  Read college guidebooks.  Visit colleges’ websites.  Go to college fairs.  Talk with admissions officers.  Meet with your high school counselor.  Read this blog and others you find helpful.  Talk to people you trust who really know what they’re doing.

But whenever someone gives you college admissions information that starts with, “I heard…,” ask them to cite the source before you make any changes to your college planning.

More on parents (not) helping with college essays

I got a few emails from parents in response to my post where I advised that they not get involved helping their kids with college essays.  Most completely agreed with me, but there were a few who swore that they helped their kids successfully (and that the acceptance letters from Princeton and Yale were proof that it worked). 

I wasn't suggesting that no parent has the knowledge or ability to help your own kid with college essays.  I was saying that it's impossible for a parent to be a completely objective reader when the subject matter is your own son or daughter.  I was saying kids are inclined to resent their parents' involvement much like they resent you telling them what not to wear or whom to date.  I was saying that it's too much pressure, for you and for your student.

The American Medical Association's Code of Medical ethics advises against doctors treating their own children for similar reasons.

"Professional objectivity may be compromised when an immediate family member or the physician is the patient; the physician’s personal feelings may unduly influence his or her professional medical judgment, thereby interfering with the care being delivered…If tensions develop in a physician’s professional relationship with a family member, perhaps as a result of a negative medical outcome, such difficulties may be carried over into the family member’s personal relationship with the physician."

I think kids should get help with their college essays.  All good writers get feedback, and re-writing is part of good writing.  Kids can ask their English teacher, counselor, or even a good friend who knows them well and will call them out for saying things like, "My trip to Europe afforded me a plethora of opportunities to broaden my cultural horizons."

But it when it comes to parents helping, it really will take pressure off if you follow my (and the AMA's) lead here.

How parents can help kids with college essays

I did a seminar about college essays at an admissions event today.  And I gave parents the advice I've given for my entire career as a college counselor about how parents can best help their kids with college essays. 

Don't get involved.  Stay away.  In fact, run the other direction. 

Parents are the worst judges of their own kids' college essays.  You are not impartial observers.  You love your kids too much, and you are way too close to the subject matter to advise your son or daughter what and how to write in their college essays.

Most kids resent their parents' involvement in the college essay anyway.  And the colleges can always tell when you got too involved.  Kids think and write differently than parents do, and you'd be surprised how obvious is it to the trained reader when too many of the ideas or the words came from Mom or Dad. 

I know what some of you are thinking.  Some of you are thinking I'm wrong.  Every time I give this advice to a crowd, there's one parent who scowls at me.  It's inevitably a parent who inserts herself into everything her kid is doing.  It's the parent who's sure that she's the exception to the rule. 

She's not.  And neither are you. 

So preserve your family relationship and the purity of the essays. 
Stay out of them.  Help with other things like planning college visits,
and filling out financial aid forms and cheering your kids on
throughout the process.  But when it comes to college essays, remove
yourself from the process.  Your kids and the colleges will thank you for it.