A Broken Model
After years of engaging with hundreds of high school students, parents, and guidance counselors from around the country, I've witnessed an unfortunate pattern.
These individuals continue to operate under the assumption that "college preparation" should begin in junior year.
I strongly disagree.
In fact, before stepping one foot into junior year, students should have a firm understanding of the expectations, milestones, and context for what lies ahead. [More on exactly what these factors are in a subesquent post].
Otherwise, students (and parents) risk feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and ill-prepared to manage the onslaught of information dumped in their laps. Once a student enters junior year, there are no do-overs.
In my private counseling practice, I find that a student's freshman and sophomore years (The Golden Years) have disproportionate impact on their readiness for the college admissions process, college selection, and life itself.
They are - as an economist...
What Happened to All the 3-Sport Athletes?
These days, many parents (and their children) are feeling pressure to specialize in a particular sport earlier and earlier.
The pressure can come from coaches, parents, trainers, kids, or the media. A billion-dollar industry has emerged to meet this growing trend.
In some cases, a child's first taste of athletic success (at age 5) will send a parent on two wheels to Dick's Sporting Goods. The sales associate sees this parent from a mile away. Hello daily sales quota!
I know it's flattering when the volunteer coach tells you that Ricky or Samantha has a "big league swing". You wonder, "Could it be? Could my son/daughter be that special athlete? Could I be the next Archie Manning?"
But before quitting soccer and dance and buying Ricky a $299 T-ball bat or Samantha a $199 softball glove, consider whether specializing so early is in their best interests?
This blog post makes the case for a slower transition to specialization - or no...
In my opinion, a love of reading is the single biggest academic skill a child can develop prior to high school. A child's relationship to reading impacts their academic trajectory more than any other single factor.
In a prior blog post, I offer 10 Tips on how to raise an avid reader.
Today, I have to admit that I have failed to achieve this goal for my 8th grader. He will read when he has to, but there is no spark - there is no love of reading.
I have tried many of the techniques and failed. Maybe I wasn't disciplined enough, or I assumed he'd be like his brothers, or I was just too tired to follow-through on the technique.
As a former Navy SEAL, giving up is not in my playbook, so I began looking for more options.
Here are some things I considered:
From Middle School to High School
Many cultures, religions, and social groups mark the transition from middle school to high school with some type of event, celebration, or activity.
For my two sons, I decided to make up my own transition event. I wanted it to be fun, significant, and memorable.
The Search for Advice
I started by soliciting advice from trusted friends and family members about their personal experiences with this transition as well as anything they learned from ushering their own children through this phase of life.
I received a ton of exceptional advice.
The hard part was parsing it down into something that was accessible and not overwhelming.
I boiled down pages of input into 11 Key Words. These words, in my opinion, represent some of the most important aspects of life that a rising high schooler will face.
There are no right or wrong answers to this puzzle, but here are my 11 Key Words:
My wife and I understand the importance of chores. They teach responsibility, accountability, discipline, pre-planning, and the value of money.
Our four children, apparently, never got the memo.
We have tried many times, unsuccessfully, to create a chore system that works. Each attempt has gotten progressively more serious.
The length of this email is reflective of the months it took us to get it right. If you value chores - but haven't quite cracked the code - it may be worth the read.
In military terms, we have now reached DEFCON 2 (Defense Condition 2: one step before maximum readiness for nuclear war).
Here is our journey to the brink of a nuclear chore war:
DEFCON 5 (lowest state of readiness): Just Tell Them
At first, we just told our kids what their chores were and expected them to do them. What a rookie mistake. Who were we kidding? It was a disaster. They claimed they didn't know what to do, wondered why they had to do X when their brother could do Y, insisted they...
Role-playing can be a great way to teach kids how to deal with uncomfortable (and sometimes dangerous) situations.
For instance, consider the conditions surrounding a teenager when it comes to drinking alcohol for the first time.
Typically, this scenario plays out at a friend's house with a small group of friends or teammates. One of the kids has access to alcohol and suggests that they "try it".
If your son or daughter is part of the group, the pressure to conform can be daunting.
To prepare my kids for this scenario, I role-play with them.
Scenario #1: Sneaking alcohol
Teammate: "Hey, wanna try some beer? I took some from the garage. My parents have no clue."
Your child (reluctantly): "I'm not sure. I haven't ever tried it."
Teammate: "Dude, so what. Everyone has to start sometime. Try it..."
Your child: "Nah, no thanks."
Teammate: "Dude, what's the big deal? Just take a sip. It's not going to kill you. I do it all the time."
Your child: "I don't want to barf, man."
By the time your child gets to high school, they should be completely self-sufficient when it comes to homework.
This skill comes more naturally to some children than to others (first-born children seem to "get-it" a little sooner than second or third, for instance).
As parents, it's our responsibility to ensure they have this skill mastered by the time they reach 9th grade.
Consider these factors when helping your child build this important habit:
Same time: Establish a specific time to complete homework and stick to it. Ideally, this would be right after school and prior to sports, social activities, and entertainment. My favorite quote is "Do the hard stuff first".
Same place: Identify a place for homework and make it the same spot every time. (e.g. kitchen table, bedroom, home office, Starbucks, etc.)
Clutter free: Clear the workspace of non-homework related items - even if it means moving items into a different room temporarily during homework time. The fewer things on the desk...
In this post, I share our personal experience introducing smartphones to our 14-year old twin sons for the first time. If you're grappling with how to deal with this issue, maybe it will give you some food for thought.
Admittedly, our 8th-graders were behind the power curve when it came to smartphones. Until two weeks ago (on Christmas Day), our twins had been using slider phones with no data. This was atypical for their peer group and they had to find ways to deal with the blowback (e.g. Dude, what's with the slider? That thing's ancient).
We knew we were treading on thin ice. Teenagers are more concerned about impressing their friends than their parents - and our sons were on the wrong side of that trade.
We struck a deal with them a few years ago. If they could demonstrate maturity, responsibility, and patience with their slider phones, we would consider upgrading someday.
That someday had finally come. We couldn't justify leaving them in the Stone Age for...
For children, trying new things can be hard. Whether it's acquiring a new skill, making new friends, dealing with a new environment, or taking direction from a new coach - it's hard to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
This ability to push through discomfort at a young age is an early and accurate signal of how well children will do in high school, college, and life. Children with this type of "grit" fare better than those without.
Angela Duckworth, an expert on this topic, defines grit as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals". Duckworth found that students who made a regular practice of doing "hard things" during their childhood, were better prepared to deal with the challenges and obstacles of adulthood.
How do we, as parents, manage the balance between supporting our children to push through hard things and forcing them to do so?
Below is one method, based on Duckworth's extensive work, that can be adopted by any family.
The Hard Thing Rule
Sports, music, clubs, community service and other extracurricular activities will soon become very important in the college admissions process. They paint a picture of who your child is and how they choose to spend their time. Deciding which and how many activities to pursue can be a challenge. Deciding when to quit a particular activity can be fraught with indecision as well.
What do you do when your son or daughter wants to quit something? Do you let them? Or do you force them to stick it out? Consider these factors first: