A seventh grader can do it

This post showed up on a local parent listserv last week (I inserted the “xxxx” portions to protect the poster’s identity).

Hi, my name is xxxx and I’m a 7th grader at xxxx. I take advanced math and love it. If you are looking for an affordable math tutor with a great attitude about math for your child I am able to tutor up to 6th grade and charge $15 an hour. Is transportation too hard? No worries. I’ll come to you! Please email me at xxxx if you have questions or are interested.

This is one of those seemingly simple things that can have a lot of value when the student is allowed to drive it.

This student is promoting themselves. They wrote the ad, they posted the ad, and they’ll be fielding the incoming inquiries. If it’s successful, they’ll end up managing a schedule, showing that they can fulfill their responsibilities, and answering to their paying customers. They’ll inevitably learn from this experience even if they don’t receive a single inquiry.

It might be tempting to discount those merits. After all, it’s not that hard to post an ad. And lots of kids babysit or do other part-time jobs. But one of the shifts I’ve witnessed since I started Collegewise almost twenty years ago is that too many high school kids will sit back and let their parents handle this sort of thing for them (I wrote about one who posted on the very same listserv). And my wife and I routinely get parents knocking on our door to raise money for their students’ cheerleading or softball or football teams, with their kids nowhere in sight.

Parents, the next time you’re tempted to step in and help with pitching or fundraising or any other endeavor that will ultimately benefit your student, step back and consider whether this is something they could and should do for themselves. Guiding and encouraging is one thing. But taking it over entirely is another.

It’s easy to come up with excuses for why your kids can’t take it on. But if a seventh grader can do it, your high schooler can, too.

Let today happen

Parents, while your kids are still in the house, you don’t have to wonder if you’ll all be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner together. Whether you’re at your home table or visiting far-flung family members, your kids are along for the Thanksgiving ride.

Today is a good day to remember that it won’t always be that way.

Soon, your kids will be in college. Then they’ll be starting their lives, with jobs and priorities and families of their own. Watching them do those things can and should be a joyful parenting period of your own—especially the Thanksgivings when you’ll all be together! But turkey (or tofu) time together won’t necessarily be an annual guarantee. That’s why it’s so important to enjoy what you have together today.

You might be tempted to let the college application process invade your Thanksgiving. It’s not easy to shut off what might have been daily conversations about essays and applications and SAT scores. But those topics and to-do’s won’t disappear if you ignore them for one day. No student in the history of the college admissions process has been shut out of a college because their family declared Thanksgiving college-talk-free.

Parents, give yourselves and your kids a break today. Take a breath and appreciate your guaranteed Thanksgiving time together while you have it. As high school counselor Patrick O’Connor said so eloquently in his recent piece, “What you can — and can’t — say to a high school senior at Thanksgiving”:

“College will be great, but college is tomorrow, and Thanksgiving is a time of gratitude for today. Let that happen.”

Learned decision making

Kids learn to make good decisions by actually making decisions. Whenever possible and reasonable, let kids choose. Classes, activities, hobbies, colleges, etc. Sometimes there’s a compelling reason to make the choice for them. But learned decision making is a compelling reason to let them choose.

Make it a little better

There’s a lot of wisdom in this pithy passage from one of my favorite management books:

“When you enter your place of work, you never leave it at zero. You either make it a little better or a little worse. Make it a little better.”

It also applies when you swap “place of work” with school, classroom, rehearsal, dinner with your family, etc.

Expecting more from—and for—kids

Last month at their annual parent education event hosted by Challenge Success, over 900 parents showed up to explore two questions: (1) How do we love our children unconditionally and still hold them to high expectations? (2) How do we protect our children while letting them learn life lessons?

For those of us who weren’t among the local 900 in attendance, they shared a video of the entire 90-minute presentation, almost all of which is worth watching. If you’d rather not watch the entire thing, here’s a screenshot of an email they sent with the timestamps for particular topics touched on during the presentation. Please don’t skip the short clip that begins at the two-minute mark. It’s a video they showed attendees featuring students at La Canada High School who answered:

  • How does your school define success?
  • How do you personally define success?
  • What do you wish the adults at your school knew?
  • What do you wish your parents knew?

I found the responses both hopeful and heartbreaking.

Today’s kids are living and learning in a very different world than their parents did when they were in high school. And today’s parents often find themselves in uncharted child-rearing waters. There are no simple, step-by-step parenting guidelines to be found, and Challenge Success doesn’t purport to offer any. But their message and their teachings are inspiring. When we care more about raising kids who can thrive in the world of tomorrow than we do about raising kids who can thrive on the transcripts and tests of today, we’re expecting more from—and for—our kids, not less.

Fascinating conversations to be had

Parents, here’s a path to having some fascinating conversions with your student.

Replace some questions like these:

How did you do on your math test?
How are your applications coming?
How did your history exam go today?
Can you ask your teacher for extra credit?
Did you hear back from your tutor yet?
Have you done (insert school or activity-related task here) yet?
When do you get the audition results?
Did your scores arrive?
What did your counselor say about your essay?

….with those that have absolutely nothing to do with school, achievement, or college.

Your teen is at school all day long. But they have an entire other life that involves making friends, learning about themselves, and thinking about what they want to be. There’s a rich pool of potential conversations to be had that have nothing to do with school and everything do with this fascinating teenager you’re raising. And those conversations are a lot more interesting than those about tests and GPAs.

Not measured by grades and test scores

In Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies, or “Fat Envelopes,” author Madeline Levine points out that it’s both unrealistic and unfair to expect our children will excel at everything given that all of us are average at many things. She argues that while parents who celebrate the inherent uniqueness of their kids move their children forward, those who insist on an unrealistic specialness, who argue with teachers or coaches, or who push kids past their limits ultimately hinder their children’s progress.

Here’s her response, as shared in this interview, to a question about how she would respond to a parent who insists that their kids will fall behind and fail to reach their full potential unless a parent pushes or even intervenes with teachers or coaches.

“How do people get to be successful?  Research shows us that the most successful people work really hard, that they have qualities of persistence, resilience, determination, and flexibility.  They have to be bright, but they don’t have to be brilliant.  For example, I went to state university.  This idealization of the Ivy League is misplaced, and I think it’s a defense against the fact that here’s the reality: there’s a bell curve in terms of general intelligence, and most of our kids are going to be average, even if we’re smart ourselves.”

Average in one or more areas does not mean inherently unremarkable. And persistence, resilience, determination, and flexibility aren’t measured by grades and test scores.

When parents must get the job done right

One mark of a true professional in any field is the ability to temporarily set aside distractions from their personal lives and get the job done right. You expect that your surgeon won’t allow her frustration with her kitchen contractor to interfere with your procedure. You expect your accountant to be precise with your finances even when he’s anxious that his kid’s private school tuition was just raised yet again for the coming year. Mechanics, personal trainers, therapists, hair stylists—no matter how compassionate you may be, their problems ultimately should not be your problems. If they willingly take on the work, you expect them to be professional and get the job done right.

Parents, the same can be said of you during your student’s college admissions process.

Parents have an important job during this time—to be the parent of a college applicant. Your kids need you to model how a mature adult deals with a stressful time. They need you to be a supportive ear and a mature voice of reason. They need you to guide, encourage, and keep them calm when necessary. They need you to not melt down on their behalf.

And most importantly, they need you to remember that this is not about you. You are not applying to college. You are not about to be judged by people who have never met you. You are not about to take your first big step towards adulthood, to risk being told you just weren’t good enough, and to be subjected to comparisons with all of your peers.

Some parents will justifiably claim that all of those things are in fact happening to them. They do feel judged based on how their kids perform. They do feel compared to all of their peers. They do feel the pressure of the coming transition when their son or daughter will leave the nest and call someplace else home for the first time in 18 years. Depending on your community and your peers, those might be totally legitimate fears (albeit over factors that just don’t matter in the long run).

If you have to, commiserate with your partner or with a trusted friend. But don’t bring those issues to the work of being the parent of a college applicant. This job is important, and your kids need you to get it right.

If helping your student through the admissions process feels like a burden, see this past post to relieve some of the unreasonable and unnecessary parental responsibilities.

The original helicopter parent?

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis just might have been the original helicopter parent. As originally reported in Page Six and shared in this New York Post article, it turns out Jackie “…filled out son John F. Kennedy Jr.’s application to Brown University back in 1978 — and throughout his four years at the Ivy League school, she worked diligently to ensure he didn’t flunk any of his classes, going so far as to correspond with his professors.”

The article goes on to share examples of more current, less famous, and I believe just as inappropriate helicopter behavior of some of today’s parents of college kids, some of whom go as far as to impersonate their children when calling or emailing school officials.

I hope parents who read that article avoid the same kind of behavior rather than find comfort in a connection to the iconic first lady.