I went to a talk last week given by Stanford University professor, Denise Pope.
I rarely attend talks these days, finding learning, listening and watching online to be more time efficient.
But I wanted to see Dr. Pope and hear what she had to say.
She was featured in ‘Race to Nowhere,’ a documentary on the pressures of school and success on kids which got a lot of attention in my part of the world.
And she wrote a book, Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students in which she uncovered facts about the lives of teenagers usually hidden from their adults.
Until it is too late.
How did she mine this data?
She posed undercover as a high school student bridging the gap (and having the ear of) parents and teachers and the kids themselves.
A pretty clever feat, if you ask me.
And definitely warrior woman material!
So when I got an invitation to her talk, I decided to go.
The title of her lecture was ‘Sustaining Success For Your Children.’
Now, I have strong but often differing views from many of my fellow moms on what success for my kids looks like.
I hope my kids will grow to be resourceful, self-sufficient, confident, happy adults who are willing to take risks to achieve their goals and stand up for what they believe in.
I’m not too worried what they do as long as they are passionate, it’s legal and doesn’t hurt anyone.
And I could care less about college.
Unless or until they decide it is right for them.
Why we do what we do is much more important than what we do.
In my not-so humble opinion.
And I don’t think we can seriously envisage what our world will be like in another ten years, our culture is moving so fast.
But I hope my kids take advantage of some of the wonderful opportunities that are on offer in the world.
And that may be the college track.
Or it may not.
But the world has moved on from the classic path of high school, university, internship, corporate job etc. that was present in my day.
(And which I bucked even then.)
There are many ways to create an exciting life.
Many of which don’t involve college.
So it was with some interest that I heard from Dr. Pope that most students consider ‘success’ to mean:
- Good grades
- Good test scores
- Admission to a good college
That more than 30% of high-schoolers consider homework, “busy work” lacking in relevance and meaning.
That they were getting less than 7 hours of sleep when research shows they need more than 9.
(They shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car with that level of sleep deprivation!)
That only 5% of high schoolers admitted to never having cheated.
High schoolers today, in addition to school time, on average, have 26+ hours of homework and extracurricular activities per week.
And many have much more.
And the result is disengaged, uncreative students who lack the ability to solve problems, who require remediation of basic skills in college and who aren’t prepared with other skills necessary to thrive in today’s workplace, skills such as communication, collaboration, risk taking.
‘Study’ drugs, anxiety, depression are common.
As parents we only have limited influence to change our school’s way of working.
(Although that’s not to say we have none; we should advocate for the type of learning environment in which our children will thrive both on an individual and general basis.)
But there are things we can do to improve the chances of avoiding burnout and nurturing kids who don’t just survive high school and college relatively unscathed from the life-rerouting experiences of drugs, pregnancy, jail or worse.
Here are 19 things, as suggested by Dr. Pope (with the odd emphasis from me,) that you can do improve your family’s chances.
19 Ways to Create Sustaining Success In Your Kids
1. Preserve chunks of unstructured time during the week.
2. Teach your kids how to play during these open free periods. They may lack the skills to occupy themselves with unstructured time, and may soon go ‘I’m bored,’ or “I wanna ‘puter.’ (that’s what they say in my house, anyway.)
3. Negotiate a regular day with your kid’s friend’s moms that you keep free for playdates. Take them to the park and don’t intervene until you see blood. Remind yourself you are nurturing conflict resolution skills. 😉
4. Schedule coursework and extracurriculars very carefully to preserve this unstructured time.
5. If too many extracurricular activities are going on, trim your schedule using a 1-10 ranking.
6. Focus extracurriculars on those activities your child wants to do. (Use this guide: Is it me or my child that is in the car honking the horn and crying that we’re late? If it’s your child – you’re good. If it’s you, you need to rethink.)
7. Allow only a moderate dose of screen time.
8. Monitor kids use of screens – no laptops or TVs in the bedroom. For older kids, keep doors open with open access at all times.
9. Protect and preserve family traditions and rituals. Kids remember the emotions of these memories. Make them good ones.
10. Establish regular family mealtimes. Research showed that the key component to avoiding poor grades, drugs, pregnancies, jail, etc. was having family mealtimes, 5 times a week for 20-25 minutes duration.
11. Include everyone in mealtimes and demonstrate that everyone matters at these times.
12. Unplug yourselves. Yes, you! Be available to your kids. And give them the courtesy of your undivided attention. (Ouch, that hurt!)
13. Use nature as your family group environment and go on family hikes, look at the stars, play together, camp. Research is starting to show the importance of nature in brain development.
14. Love the child before you, not the child you wish they were (or perhaps you were.)
15. Listen to what your child wants and follow their lead.
16. Listen to what your instincts are telling you about your child.
17. Prioritize health and well-being.
18. Model talking and communication skills with your spouse, other adults and with them.
19. Don’t worry about college. There are enough spaces for everyone. Where you go for an undergraduate degree doesn’t impact ‘success’ outcomes. It does matter from where you get a graduate degree but those colleges are pulling students from other schools, not just their own undergrad programs therefore it isn’t necessarily an advantage to get into a ‘good’ school for undergraduate studies.
Lastly, Dr. Pope mentioned some words to gladden my heart – ‘One size does not fit all.’
These words are mine –
We are all different – different aspirations, desires, skills.
As parents, we can only hope to treat our kids as individuals who have the right and respect to live their own lives.
Not the ones we wish for them.
And definitely not the ones we wished we’d had.
You are the conductor, the composer, too.
But your child holds the instrument that brings the music to life.
Let them take the stage.
And allow their interpretation to be heard.
It may be music to your ears.
What do you think? Is this fuzzy-wuzzy liberal thinking? Or sound parenting advice for building resilient families and young people who are ready to handle adulthood when the time comes? Let me know in the comments!