The recent college admissions scandal has sent a shock wave throughout the country, and the topic has come up for me repeatedly with parents. The scandal has caused the parents I see to more immediately deal with the anxiety they experience regarding their children’s academic futures. College has historically been the path many take toward achieving later vocational success.
How do you get your kid into college? It’s not your job to get your kid in college, it’s your kid’s job to do that. As the old adage goes, “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” and I think that point is applicable here. As parents, our job is to prepare our children for life as best we can; but we need to get out of the way in order for our children to become independently successful and happy adults. The better question is how can we best prepare our children for life – to get them thirsty enough to want to drink the water when they should. I offer the following tips:
Do the right things for your child during the early years.Developmental research has shown that engaging infants serves to stimulate IQ. Singing, cuddling, reading books, counting aloud, introducing music, playing and having fun, using sign language and non-verbal communications (e.g., pointing) and experimenting with spatial relations are all things to consider. For toddlers, research has shown that socialization with same aged peers, exposure to novel situations and different opportunities, eating and sleeping well, and implementing experimental learning via old fashioned toys, are also good things to consider.
Encourage your child to learn a musical instrument. Research has shown that children who learn a musical instrument show a boost in IQ scores and that additional boost can help them to excel across various academic subjects. Children who receive music lessons demonstrate increased organizational, planning and task persistence skills, and music enhances language and reasoning skills, and creative thinking.
Encourage and cultivate grit and emotional resiliency in your child. Research has shown that having a growth mindset – i.e. passion for something and persevering toward long-term and difficult goals – is a key ingredient for success. Teaching your child the value of a dollar, giving your child age appropriate chores, encouraging your child to go beyond their comfort zone, sending your child to an away camp, rewarding your child for hard work,praising your child’s efforts more than the outcome, expecting your child to get a part-time job during high school, and encouraging your child to do good deeds are ways in which you can instill a growth mindset for your child.
Encourage your child to join a sport. Research studies have shown that highly athletic children do better academically, socially and emotionally when compared to children who do not participate in organized sports. Research has also shown that high school athletes display greater self-confidence and self-respect, possess significantly more leadership skills, graduate at higher rates and actually end up earning more money later in life than their non-athletic peers.
Encourage self-care and balance for your child. Sure, it’s important for your child to study well and apply him or herself to school, but over prioritizing academics isn’t a good thing. It’s important for your child to have a well-balanced life where exposure to different activities and pursuits is the norm.
Spend time together as a family. Research has shown that children who eat at least three meals a week with their parents get better grades when compared to children who don’t have family meal times. One study even found that family meals are more positively impactful than reading to younger children when it comes to academic preparedness.
Encourage moderation with technology. Technology is a wonderful thing, but if used in excess it can become problematic. Research has shown that children who spend too much time with technology are at higher rates for experiencing a host of problems – obesity, ADHD, learning problems, emotional problems and social problems.
Practice what you preach. Modelling good behaviors as parents is very important for children; they learn from what they see. If you want your child to study hard and to be a good student then it’s important to model a strong work ethic.
There is no guarantee that your child will get into college even if you do the things I’ve suggested, but his or her chances to be successful and happy in life will increase with a strong foundation.
Success can take on many different shapes. The expectation that our children enter college at 18 and finish in 4 years may be reasonable for some, but not others. I work with young men and ladies who return home from school freshman year because they couldn’t succeed; while they were smart enough to get into college, they weren’t mature enough to thrive. For some, taking a gap year and working, joining the military, attending community college are better approaches.
College isn’t for everyone, and that consideration needs to be okay for parents. Learning a trade is the best route to success and happiness, for some. The world will always need electricians, mechanics, plumbers and chefs, and careers such as these can be rewarding. It’s not about getting your kid into college, it’s about parenting them so that they have the ability, and maturity to get themselves to where they will be most happy.
Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America and several other outlets. He can be reached at 703 723-2999, and is located at 44095 Pipeline Plaza, Suite 240, Ashburn.