Whether or not your child gets into an Ivy League school shouldn’t be how you measure your parenting skills, says Madeline Levine, Ph.D., author of Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, and co-founder of Challenge Success, a project launched at Stanford School of Education, which gives parents and schools resources to help raise healthy, motivated and capable kids. Learn why the push for elite-college standing may be at the price of your kid’s childhood.
Dr. Madeline Levine: I’ve been a psychologist for 30 years and in general, I’m seeing that more kids today are feeling pressured to get into the best colleges, and the frenzy to try and give kids a leg up often means that kids are missing out on critical developmental tasks. School is now the No. 1 stressor in kids’ lives. My book takes a look at the problems — including an overemphasis on standardized testing scores and grades — and offers solutions. Research shows that emphasizing report cards and not paying attention to perseverance, grit and character results in kids being ill-prepared for the 21st century and their own lives.
Kids don't feel they have a life or time for friends. Many are taking AP courses over regular classes. They lack the time to deal with normal developmental issues. The developmental task of adolescence is to construct an identity so you go off to college with a sense of self. But many kids today are in distress which leads to high level of emotional problems. Kids are also lacking good coping skills — which come out of experiences of failures and mistakes. Parents who are terrified if kids get a “B” instead of an “A” and get the kids a tutor are getting in the way of things kids need to learn.
There are escalating rates today of anxiety, depression, cutting, eating disorders and drug and alcohol abuse due to the pressure to measure up today.
ML: Parents are all doing the best they can. I think with good intentions they’ve bought into ideas that have no basis in data. There’s a mythology out there that’s promoted by huge businesses like tutoring companies, colleges and college testing companies. Parents have become so fearful that if their kids don’t work to get ahead with AP courses and tutoring, for example, their kids will be disadvantaged. Many parents believe getting into a top college is their child’s only chance of being successful. But the data shows it’s not. Is the reward of getting into that college worth giving up adolescence and childhood?
A tiny percentage of kids make it into the select schools. The population’s increasing and they aren’t building any new Harvards. When kids are just worried about getting in to top schools they neglect other important things. Top companies today are worried that they’re getting graduates with great grades but no coping skills or grit. Kids today are dependent on other people solving their problems. Business leaders say having a good work ethic and being a good collaborator are mandatory for the 21st century.
ML: Parents are feeling lost about what it means to raise successful children. But there are things you can do.
ML: Parents feel very much under the gun. They’re trying to keep up with their neighbors in a more toxic form than ever before. They think they’re doing a good job as a parent if their kid gets into a top school like a Harvard, and not a community college. Parents judge the outcome of their parenting by how well their kids do. We are incredibly competitive especially within the affluent community. Many parents feel bad if their neighbor goes to a private school and their child doesn’t, even if a private school isn’t right for their child.
You used to be able to talk to your neighbor about trouble the kids are having, but we no longer collaborate. It’s tragic that parents compete with each other and think it’s the only way to get ahead. Companies say the only way to get ahead is through collaboration. The irony is the parents think they’re doing the right thing.
No one knows what their kids’ jobs are going to be in the future. The jobs don’t likely exist yet. It’s important to think more broadly and pay more attention to the whole child. I think the most important thing is to teach your kids self-control. You also want kids to have a moral compass and know how to overcome adversity.
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