Instant gratification and helicopter parents go together like cookies and milk

Back when it was okay to helicopter.

Back when it was okay to helicopter.

The numbers don’t lie. ACT states that 50% of kids do not return to college for their second year, and then only 25% of those graduate in five years. US News and World Report, which ranks colleges annually, changed one of its measurements from a graduation rate of five years to six years! I don’t know about you, but I’d like to know the percentage of kids that get out in four!

Letting my kids play and be kids.

Letting my kids be kids.

I’ve given my two cents worth in Four Reasons Why Kids Fail Their Freshman Year. This time around, I asked Nicolle Walters, RN, PhD, Clinical Psychologist for her expertise. In addition to being a practicing therapist, she’s the mother of two kids about the same ages as mine.

Why do our kids have such a hard time once they’re away from us? They’ve worked so hard to fill their resumes with high grades, SAT scores, leadership, community service, sports, or music. Yet, these kids who look perfect on paper can’t handle the daily demands of life on their own. How much of the failure is our fault? 

According to Dr. Walters, our kids aren’t prepared for college. She said, “Part of the reason is our instant gratification society. They want everything right now—and get it with technology like streaming, etc. They don’t learn self discipline. They don’t have to wait for things, like we did.”

She said, “I know it sounds contrary or strange, but kids who come from dysfunctional families and had to take care of themselves are more equipped to deal with everyday problems, compared to kids who had parents who did everything for them.”

“Also, A lot of kids don’t learn how to work hard. If you’re smart, you don’t need to work hard in high school, and then aren’t prepared for college. Our kids need skills like planning ahead and self discipline.”

Here’s another thought she had, “College is totally different. Class time is switched and it’s the opposite of what they are used to. They are used to spending eight hours in class and studying a smaller amount of hours at night. In college it’s two or three hours a day of class, but they need to study for six to eight,” Dr. Walters said.

Today on TV, I heard a Stanford expert, Julie Lythcott-Haims, talk about her book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.” She says we are literally ruining a generation of kids. She said it’s not just at Stanford, but in colleges throughout the country. You can read more here.

This week on SwimSwam I list the things we do for our kids that we need to stop doing. Like today.

We are smothering our kids and crippling their self development. I know this because I’m guilty of a ton of it. I’m looking back at how concerned I was with performance, how busy my kids’ lives were, and because of those two factors I jumped in and did too much for them.

My kids being kids. They're okay despite my hovering.

The kids are okay despite my hovering.

Here are links to a couple other stories I’ve written about getting our kids ready and self-sufficient for college:

My Confessions as a Helicopter Mom 

10 Things Our Kids Need to Know Before College

If we as parents are over parenting like the experts claim, then what should we do to help our kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.

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Are Snow Plow Parents to Blame for the Cheating Scandal?

robertHere’s a different take on the college admissions scandal where wealthy parents have been bribing coaches, athletic directors and SAT proctors to get their kids into the schools of their dreams—maybe it’s not the fault of being a snowplow parent after all.

In an article from Psychology Today, written by Daniel R. Stalder Ph.D. called “Are We Overreacting to Snowplow Parenting?” he makes the point, “We may not want to shame all snowplow parents over the admissions scandal.”

In the recent college admissions scandal, some wealthy parents allegedly bribed and lied to get their kids into certain colleges. Although we’ve known for a long time that kids from wealthy families have advantages in higher education, the criminal element of this story is new. Parents are getting arrested.

Many of us have criticized these parents for such behavior. But along the way, some of us have gone further by criticizing their general parenting style.

As a professor, I’ve had to deal with cases of student cheating, such as smuggling cell phones into tests or copying a classmate’s answers. Such behaviors are wrong, but I don’t extend this judgment to other aspects of the students’ lives, such as how they study or take lecture notes. Is it different for judging parents who break the law?

Maybe. I’m definitely not trying to defend the alleged behavior. But several recent authors in The New York Times and elsewhere have gone further by using the scandal as a jumping-off point to criticize “snowplow” parents in general. In my view, everyday parents who seem to snowplow or hover get criticized enough without unfairly grouping them into a high-profile scandal.

Snowplow parents are usually described as parents who clear their child’s way of every obstacle, or shield their child from any stress or failure. Helicopter parents are similarly described as wanting to “ensure their children’s success” (Darlow, 2017). A common criticism of all these parents includes the adage that we learn and grow from our mistakes and failures.

I like the fact that this writer makes the distinction that the parents who broke the law aren’t just snow plow parents — they are doing something beyond annoying — they are acting immorally and illegally. While we helicopter and snow plowers may cross the line on what is helpful to our kids, we stop way before the illegal line.

In my profession, if I get a call from a parent demanding I change their child’s grade, does that mean this parent is a snowplow parent? If a student makes a similarly unreasonable demand, does that mean they were raised by a snowplow parent? I don’t know.

My first point is that there is an inability to see the whole at-home story based on a single behavior. This is partly to say that a particular parent might seem to fit a parenting label in one context but not another (Stalder, 2018). But even if the label fits a parent in general, I’ve observed other biases in criticizing snowplow (and helicopter) parenting. These biases include the strawman fallacy, dichotomous thinking, the converse error, and just not considering individual differences in children.

I enjoy that the article discusses the fact that it’s not a one or the other situation. It’s not black or white. I think that’s true for me. I may hover in one area, and not in another. We are after all trying to do our best to raise healthy, happy and successful kids. Maybe we need a break on the labels and blame? kat

Anyone else agree? What are your thoughts about the snow plow and helicopter labels on parents?

Ten Things Kids Need to Know–Before College

After my son left for college, I realized that I was negligent preparing him for life. Yes, he had good grades. Yes, he had the right “stuff.” But he was seriously lacking on a few life skills. I spent time teaching my daughter the basics before it was her turn to leave. She was better prepared for the daily tasks–although that doesn’t necessarily mean life won’t throw you some bumps in the road.

 

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My son giving his high school graduation speech.

“He tried college a couple times. It just didn’t take,” a dad of one of my son’s friends told me last night at the grocery store.

Next, I got a call from a close friend, whose happy-go-lucky daughter checked herself into a campus hospital, because she felt so overwhelmed and out of control.

Another friend told me their son quit after one semester after too much partying and not enough studying. Yet another mom left on a rescue mission to help a child in need.

What the heck is going on with our kids and college? My own son struggled to find his way his freshman year.  

All of these parents, myself included, believed college was the best and only choice for their kids.imgres-1

Maybe college isn’t for everyone? Maybe we did too much for them? Maybe we didn’t let them fail often or enough?

I’ll talk more about why kids are struggling in college on another day. And if we have an epidemic on our hands.

But, first, I want to share basic things kids need to know before they leave for college. I was often surprised at questions my son would ask me during his first year at college. I’m going to make sure my second child checks off every item on my “top 10 things kids need to know before going to college” list.

  1. Banking skills. Know how to write a check, make a deposit face-to-face with a teller, fill out a deposit slip, and use an ATM card for deposits and withdrawals. Balancing a check-book falls under the banking list.
  2. Laundry. Have your kids do their own laundry so they know how to sort white and colors, hand-wash, hang dry, and fold–and what it feels like to be out of clean clothes. The clean underwear does not appear by magic! imgres-5
  3. Cooking. Teach your child some basic cooking skills like scrambling eggs, making spaghetti, baking a chicken, steaming vegetables, and cooking rice. 
  4. Grocery shopping. Just like clean underwear, the food in the fridge doesn’t appear out of thin air. Teach how to make a list, look for coupons, find sale items, and learn how to read unit pricing on shelves.imgres-6
  5. How to get to and from the grocery store. This may seem obvious, but I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Robert: “Mom. I’m at Costco and how do I get home with cases of water, yogurt, and Top Ramen on my bike?”  Hmmm. Good question.
  6. Budgeting. If your child hasn’t worked at a job and you provide their basic necessities, they lack budgeting skills. My son got his first paycheck working a summer retail job. The check was for $175. He bought his girlfriend a dress for $110 and spent the rest on dinner for the two of them. Very romantic, but not practical when he needed to eat the next week and month.
  7. Theft. At college, thieves are everywhere. My first week of college, I hand-washed some sweaters and hung them out to dry in the bathroom. Within minutes — gone. I had a bike stolen from my sorority storage room — and a locked bike stolen when I used a restroom during a ride around Green Lake. My son’s laptop was stolen when he left it in a study area in his dorm. Make sure they have “find my laptop” activated and never leave anything unattended! Don’t use a chain or cable lock for your bike — use a solid bar type. 
  8. Professors. They set aside office hours and only one or two students bother to stop by per semester. They are thrilled to help and meet students face-to-face. This can help for future referrals, references, internships — and grades. Have your kid meet with each professor at least once, every semester. It can’t hurt!images-2
  9. Cars. Basic things like checking tire pressure, oil and water levels, changing tires and pumping gas. Maybe they won’t have a car right away, but at some point they will and car maintenance is not an instinct. It’s a learned skill.
  10. Learn to say no! College means hanging out with friends, listening to music, parties, dances, rallies, job opportunities, football games, intramural sports, going out to eat, etc. Studying is priority number one. Learning to say no will help your kid stay focused.
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My daughter with Waffles.

What other essential life skills would you add to the list?

 

How can parents help kids with resilience?

I wrote this a couple years ago and I believe there is some useful information about resilience that is worth repeating.

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Resilience can be learned at the pool.

 

re·sil·ience
rəˈzilyəns
noun
1. the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
“the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions”

2. the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
“nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience”

I’ve read several articles about resilience in the last few days and it is interesting to learn why some people bounce back after defeat or failure while others collapse. It’s also enlightening to learn how parents can help their kids become more resilient. It reminded me of a conversation with a therapist friend, Nicolle Walters, R.N., PH.D., Clinical Psychologist. She said, “I know it sounds contrary or strange, but kids who come from dysfunctional families and had to take care of themselves are more equipped to deal with everyday problems, compared to kids who had parents who did everything for them.”

For more of my interview with Nicolle read “The Instant Gratification Generation and Helicopter Parents” here.

That thought process is reflected in a Wall Street Journal article called “The Secrets of Resilience” by Meg Jay. Here’s an excerpt:

“What does it take to conquer life’s adversities? Lessons from successful adults who overcame difficult childhoods

“Does early hardship in life keep children from becoming successful adults? It’s an urgent question for parents and educators, who worry that children growing up in difficult circumstances will fail to reach their full potential, or worse, sink into despair and dysfunction.

“Social scientists have shown that these risks are real, but they also have found a surprising pattern among those whose early lives included tough times: Many draw strength from hardship and see their struggle against it as one of the keys to their later success. A wide range of studies over the past few decades has shed light on how such people overcome life’s adversities—and how we might all cultivate resilience as well.”

I don’t mean to say that we’re failing our kids by caring for them and creating positive, stable environments. No, I think that will help them become positive and caring people. But, if they haven’t faced any problems or adversity, it may be a wake-up call when they do. In “Raising Resilience: Parenting Tips that Go the Distance” a blog by Julie Gowthorpe, PH.D. in Hitched, she writes about “how to better prepare your child for the ups and downs in life, it’s good to let them experience struggle.” She has several practical tips you can read in her article here. In addition, I’ve quoted a bit of her article:

“Every loving parent wants childhood to be a positive experience for their kids. When it comes to parenting however, only focusing on the positive is problematic because it derails children’s ability to develop resilience. Resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity, is extremely important when teens move off to college and face problems independently.

“Since many young people seem armed with a sense of self-importance and confidence, they present as able to conquer any challenge. Unfortunately, high rates of anxiety, depression and even suicide attempts in college-age students indicate that this is not the case.

“Deluded by the belief that children should be protected from uncomfortable feelings (such as disappointment and sadness), some parents and school systems have completely undermined teaching the importance of work ethic and perseverance. The importance of learning to ‘try and try again’ has been left behind for ‘everyone gets a trophy just for being you.

“The problem with the latter is that it breeds entitled thinking patterns and disrupts learning the natural link between effort, skill and success. Without understanding natural outcomes, later-age teens can be psychologically devastated when they experience failure. With no tolerance for the emotional discomfort, it is no wonder that their mental health spirals and academic success suffers.”

I look at my kids’ lives and they both struggled more in college than I’d expected. They were coddled pretty much at home, by me. But, I do believe they faced challenges in their own ways and weren’t completely without experiencing failure during their formative years. Also, I firmly believe competitive swimming helped them learn the life lessons of hard work, not giving up, shaking it off after a failure and getting back on the blocks to reach their goals. They both have grit, which I think is related to resilience. If they truly want something, they don’t give up in their pursuit.

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My daughter giving it her all in the 1,650 despite having the flu at PAC 12s.

How do you view resilience in your own lives?

Parents are helping kids cheat on SATs

 

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Move-in weekend for college.

 

Here’s a strange trend, The number of parents asking for special accommodations for their high school kids taking the ACT and SAT has more than doubled in recent years. In “Rich parents are using doctor’s notes to help kids cheat the SATs” by Doree Lewak in the New York Post this trend is discussed:

“The ACT says that roughly 5 percent of students taking the test receive accommodations, most commonly for extra time. Prior to 2003, it was less than 2 percent. The College Board, which administers the SATs, along with the PSATs and AP exams, says that it’s also seen an uptick in accommodations in recent years — from 1.4 percent in 2012 to 3 percent last year.”

Some parents, who aren’t able to pay $4,000 to $6,000 for a psychological evaluation and the coveted doctor’s note, are calling foul. One mom named Kim Gronich is considering suing her teen daughter’s school.

“She’s coming up against all of these kids who bought extra time from a doctor’s note. It’s outrageous and it’s rampant,” says Gronich, who is considering filing a lawsuit against her daughter’s school for helping so many get special treatment. “The other kids are there for hours more … These are the children who are cheating and getting away with it.”

When it comes to getting into top colleges, well-heeled parents will do anything to give their kids a leg up on the competition. An increasingly common tactic is getting kids extra time on the ACTs and SATs because of a psychological diagnosis that may or may not be legitimate. Previously, the testing companies alerted colleges when students received extra time, but they stopped doing so in 2003, opening the door for abuse.

“Parents with means will stop at nothing to get their kid into college — that’s what they do,” says Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, an education lawyer and staunch opponent of the accommodation abuse.

I find these tactics so discouraging. Are parents today not learning anything? Can we not let our kids be kids? I’m sure these doctor’s notes are in addition to paying for SAT and ACT tutors or expensive prep classes, too. When we were kids, we showed up on a Saturday morning to take a test completely unprepared. The test score was what it was. A test score. Also, not that many students bothered to take the tests in the first place, only those applying to colleges that required a test score.

What type of diagnosis can give students accommodations on the test? And are they guaranteed to get more time? From the article it states:

Both the ACT and the College Board say that more than 90 percent of those seeking accommodations are successful. To get extra time, parents can pay thousands of dollars to have their child evaluated for a learning disorder by a private neuropsychology evaluator, typically a psychologist of some sort. If they’re not successful, they’ll often try a different psychologist, ponying up thousands of more dollars. Common diagnoses include ADHD and processing issues. The evaluation is sent to the school, where it’s typically accepted. In the unlikely event, it’s not, some parents hire a lawyer to appeal. When it comes time for a student to register for a standardized test, the school usually sends out a request on behalf of the student.

“More and more people are claiming to have these disabilities,” says Sam Abrams, a Manhattan academic and professor at Sarah Lawrence College who closely follows this issue. “Diagnoses can be trumped up. Severe anxiety disorder is ramped up like nobody’s business. It’s a catchall that nobody can argue with — it’s self-reported. If you don’t like the diagnosis of one person, you’ll find someone to find another therapist to diagnose your ‘anxiety.’ It’s so easy to get those diagnoses today.”

My son scored very high on his tests—without a prep class or tutoring—or special accommodations. Even with a perfect 800 in English and high 700s in Math, he didn’t get into an Ivy League school, which was his dream. I think we’re putting too much emphasis on test scores because they don’t really determine a thing. We need to back off and not try to fix everything for our kids. Also, my daughter, who was diagnosed with Scotopic Sensitive Syndrome, which is a sensitivity to light, could have gotten more time. There was no way she wanted it. Why on earth would she want to be stuck in the test for more than three and a half hours, was her take on it.

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One of my favorite pictures when they were young at Aliso Beach.

 

What are your thoughts about parents going the extra mile for special accommodations for the SAT and ACT?

The High Costs of College

imgres-1My son (yes, the one who tried to give away the cat on Facebook) is in his third year of college. We began his college savings soon after he was born — and our daughter’s too. I asked the grandparents if instead of buying toys and clothing for Christmas and birthdays, could they send a check for their college accounts? One grandparent thought that was a horrific idea and how tacky of me to ask! The others said, “Great! What a good idea!”

When you have small children, you may notice how overboard the gifts get in proportion to the little guys, and how quickly the toys are overlooked, broken, and the clothing outgrown. A contribution to the college account is a present forever. Your child can help select investments as they grow older, track their account’s growth, and participate in the education of preparing for college.

You know your own relatives best and if this idea is an option for you. Of course, we were the major contributors to the college savings, but it’s nice to have help while saving for hundreds of thousands of dollars for an education!

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Do you know how much college costs these days? My son is in a public university in California and it’s about $30,000 per year. If he went to a private university, it would be closer to $60,000. I’ve read that a few schools in our state are closer to $75,000 per year. What will it be years from now, when your kids are in school?

Do you know the difference between college savings plans? 529s, UGMA/UMTAs and Coverdells? Which is best for you? As the wife of a financial advisor for 25 years — if you have questions — I advise you to ask a financial advisor for help. They help families prepare for milestones like college planning and retirement.

Here are links to helpful resources.

Comparing College Savings Plans

How Much is a College Education Worth? 

Inflation and College Costs 

College costs through the years

The last meet is coming

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PAC 12 2015

There I’ve said it. My daughter’s last meet is days away. It’s her senior year and her final meet will be the PAC 12 conference meet in Federal Way, WA. I’m kind of jumbled up on how I feel about it. I love being a swim mom and I find myself looking back on little moments with nostalgia and sadness. I will miss going to her meets.

My husband and I were browsing through the App called Meet Mobile this morning looking at different conference results from local schools where our children’s friends are swimming like UCSB and UCSD. I realized that I know a couple of the seniors’ names, but other than that there aren’t a whole lot of swimmers I recognize.

The past few years haven’t been all rosy. After a great freshman year, she got a high ankle sprain chasing after Trax, the public transportation train in Salt Lake City. That meant she couldn’t push off the walls for weeks during long course season and didn’t get her Olympic Trial cut. I think that was a devastating blow to her at the time, although it doesn’t seem like such a big deal now.

Then at last year’s PAC 12s, she got the flu. A really bad flu where the coaches didn’t let her swim or even out of her room until the final day of the meet. It was decidedly weird sitting in the stands for PAC 12s and not having a participant in the meet. Her last and only event she gave it everything she had. I was so nervous I thought I’d faint. I wasn’t sure if she was going to survive that mile-long race, but she did. Her coach said it was a “heroic swim” and he was so proud of her. It was close to a best time.

This year she’s been fighting through a bad shoulder injury. I worry if it was because she started swimming so young, so intensely or for so many years? What should I have done differently as a swim parent? Make her stop? Let her take time off?

She will take time off this year. But what I’m hoping for is next year, after my surgery and I’ve healed, that she will swim with me at a Masters meet–so I can be a swimmer and a swim mom all in one day.

 

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My daughter’s coaches and teammates cheering for her during the 1650 at last year’s PAC 12s.

Any bets on if I’ll cry at my daughter’s final college meet?