What we can learn to improve our own parenting in today’s highly competitive world…
Of course you wouldn’t cheat or try to buy your child’s way into college. But in light of the recent college admissions scandal, I’ve been thinking about my own parenting and what I might learn from all of this. My thinking takes me to three main areas of parental concern and influence: promotion of executive functioning skills, pressure to succeed, and overall health and well being.
We understand that children learn from making mistakes and that we shouldn’t micromanage in order to prevent pain, suffering and failure. But how many of us do well when our kids actually have to bleed to learn something? And what does this mean for you in real life, as a parent to your teenager in your own home?
It means not emailing your child’s teachers to ask for extensions on late assignments. Let him write the email or go see his teacher to ask for the extension himself and articulate why he needs it…or face the lower grade.
It means neither rolling up your sleeves to help your child to rewrite her paper at the eleventh hour nor scheduling excessive amounts of tutoring to rescue her from the two-month project she started two weeks before it was due.
When you know your child is bright and can succeed if she just applies herself, it’s hard to watch her not doing so. It’s hard not to worry about grades once our children hit 9th grade and even harder once they hit 11th. It’s also difficult not to care about the prestige and connections that come with attending an elite university. We want to talk about how smart, creative, and accomplished our children are. We want our children to want to work hard, to take honors and AP courses and to prepare diligently for the SAT/ACT. College counselors are talking about GPAs and test scores and you are seeing how ridiculously competitive it is these days. Some of us know we likely never would have been accepted to the university we went to in today’s world.
But if you can scale back your goals and expectations for your child in terms of college admissions, then hopefully you can curb your own expectations and anxiety about his grades and scores.
We’ve all read that teen anxiety and depression are on the rise, in general and particularly in the high achieving, more affluent communities. Why? Peer pressure and the generally competitive environment in which we live, school culture, social media and screen time, or our own parenting could all be playing a role. Doctors and psychologists are studying this phenomenon, and we’ll hopefully have more clear answers and solutions soon. In the meantime, it seems that the rise in teen anxiety and depression is due to a combination of factors, and it’s different for every child.
Who is your child? What is her temperament? What are her genes in terms of anxiety and depression? Does she have learning differences or a neurocognitive profile that makes regular teen challenges that much harder? Look at who your teen is and at who you are. Consider how quickly you speak, how much you yell, how often you talk about your own accolades in school, how much you nag and direct, and how often you ask about grades.
Because of our work here at Hayutin & Associates, particularly as far as the executive functioning coaching we provide, I know firsthand how easy it is to give other parents advice, especially when it comes to fostering independence and building executive functioning skills. It’s a whole other ballgame with my own kids. I have to put myself in check, or my husband does, on a regular basis.
Do prestigious schools look impressive on a resume? Of course. But at what cost? And dropping out of them because you don’t have the needed skills or because you are too burned-out does not look so great. More importantly, it feels awful. There are hundreds of great colleges and universities. Let’s shift our focus to process, skill-building, growth and happiness. Let’s shift our conversations with each other and with our children away from prestige.
Join me in taking a breath, taking a look at our children, ourselves, and our school environments, and let’s make sure we keep the bigger picture in mind.
- Amy Hayutin Contreras, Partner, Hayutin & Associates & fellow parent in the trenches
Related Post on Hayutin Blog:
Fair Warning: feeling of parental inadequacy may ensue…
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel
The Price of Privilege, by Madeline Levine
How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Excellent Sheep, by William Deresiewicz