What does it mean to “parent for success?”

randk 8In The Patch for Hartford Connecticut, I ran across an article called Parenting for Success! by Daniel BlanchardIt made me reflect on my own parenting and what I valued at one time had absolutely nothing to do with successful parenting at all. Here’s the opening of Blanchard’s article:

What does parenting success really mean? What about the whole child? Find your answers here!

So, what does parenting for success look like and what does it mean? Does it look like a little league MVP trophy sitting on their shelf above their perfectly made bed? Does it mean that our children get straight A’s in school? Does it mean they play the piano in a way that melts all of our hearts and reminds us of how precious music and children really are, and how we can’t live without either one of them? Nope! Nope! And NOPE!

Successful parenting is parenting the WHOLE child, not just the parts that we want to. It’s not our place as parents to paint our kids into a corner by making them do things that we like to do, or at least used to like to do when we were younger. It’s not fair to expect our children to be an imitation of us, or even a new and improved version of ourselves. We need to push our egos aside and do what’s right for our children, instead of what’s easy, comfortable and familiar. In the end, we need to help our children become better rounded, authentic, versions of themselves by helping them develop whatever part of them comes out on that particular day.

Yikes. This hit home. I was very concerned with straight As, valedictorian status, fast swims — and yes, piano. I was thrilled listening to my son’s piano and sat nervously at his recitals. But, those things didn’t mean my kids were successful, nor did it make me successful at parenting. What matters more is my kids are kind, considerate, not selfish, aware of those around them and compassionate. I can’t say I had a hand in all that. I don’t know if it was nature or nurture — or a combination of both.

I’m proud of the people they are today. I’m no longer focused on their immediate successes or accomplishments — whether it was getting to the next level swim meet or now, getting promotions at their jobs. I want most of all for them to be happy and secure enough to have caring and loving relationships.

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Here’s a bio of Blanchard, the author of the Successful Parenting article: Daniel Blanchard is a New Britain Schoolteacher who is also a bestselling and award-winning author, speaker, educator, and TV Host. Learn more about Dan at: www.GranddaddysSecrets.com.

What does “Parenting for Success” mean to you?

 

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Teach your kids these 10 skills — 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?

 

New study: more screen time leads to lower brain development

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My daughter.

A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics is startling! Who knew that screen time more than an hour a day could disrupt a toddler’s brain development? Here’s a story from CNN written by Sandee LaMotte called MRIs show screen time linked to lower brain development in preschoolers with the new findings.

Here’s an excerpt:

(CNN)Screen time use by infants, toddlers and preschoolers has exploded over the last decade, concerning experts about the impact of television, tablets and smartphones on these critical years of rapid brain development.

Now a new study scanned the brains of children 3 to 5 years old and found those who used screens more than the recommended one hour a day without parental involvement had lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter — an area key to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.

Higher screen use was associated with less well-developed white matter tracts throughout the brain.

“This is the first study to document associations between higher screen use and lower measures of brain structure and skills in preschool-aged kids,” said lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The study was published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years,” Hutton said. “That’s when brains are very plastic and soaking up everything, forming these strong connections that last for life.”

 

There needs to be more studies to verify these alarming findings. But, we’ve known for years that too much TV isn’t good for our kids. It seems like common sense that staring at a smartphone or tablet would be just as bad as TV. Our kids need to be active, reading, and engaged with other people to stimulate their brains. Here’s an interesting quote from the story:

“These findings are fascinating but very, very preliminary,” pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky wrote in an email. Radesky, who was not involved in the study, is the lead author on the American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 guidelines on screen use by children and adolescents.

If it harms our kids’ brain when they are toddlers, do you think hours of screen time every day is harmful at any age? I find it hard to believe that once a child passes the magic age of five that it would be okay to let our kids stare at screens for hours on end. The article quotes a doctor who says to increase our kids brain power they need to read, juggle and learn an instrument. All of this at an early age may show positive results when they get older and are in school.

The article had some guidelines for parents and tips:

What parents can do

“It can feel overwhelming to think that our every parenting decision impacts our child’s brain development, but it’s important to also see this as an opportunity,” Radesky said.

“There are parent-child activities we know help children’s development: reading, singing, connecting emotionally, being creative, or even just taking a walk or dedicating some time in our busy days to laugh together,” she added.

The AAP has tools to calculate your child’s media time and then establish a family media plan. Basic guidelines are as follows:

Infants:

No baby under 18 months old should be exposed to screen media, other than video chatting with friends and family, the AAP says. Babies need to interact with caregivers and their environment, and not be placed in front of media as a babysitter.

Toddlers:

By the time a baby turns 2 years old, they can learn words from a person on a live video chat and some interactive touchscreens. The chief factor in facilitating a toddler’s ability to learn from baby videos and interactive touchscreens, studies show, is when parents watch with them and reteach the content.

Preschoolers:

Children from 3 to 5 years old can benefit from quality TV shows, such as “Sesame Street,” the AAP says. A well designed show can improve a child’s cognitive abilities, help teach words, and impact their social development.

It’s important for us to get off our own screens and be present with our friends and family — especially our kids while they are young. Kids learn from interacting with us.

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My son.

What do you find most alarming about this new study on brain development and screen use?

Is defending your kids a sign of snowplowing?

I wrote this story two years ago, looking back on how I would jump in to defend my kids when I detected the slightest wrongdoing against them. This was my tendency to hover, helicopter and be a snowplow mom. I don’t think my own mom was aware of most of the troubles I was going through–let alone fight the school, principal, teacher or coach over them. She let me handle things by myself. The only time I remember them getting involved was when my brother got suspended for his long hair, which touched the collar of his shirt. Somehow, after that suspension, the entire high school’s dress code got changed and long hair was allowed.

When they were young.

I was always a stickler for what was right or wrong and I never shied away from addressing any issue. I would go to bat for my kids whenever I felt they were being slighted. Looking back, I see that is a trait of helicopter parenting and I might have done more good for my kids by letting them fight their own battles.

Here are a few battles I took on when I thought my kids weren’t being treated right:

I wrote an email to my son’s AP History teacher to complain about his grade. He was .05 off an A and I felt the teacher should round it up. I got a note back explaining that if he were to round up my son’s grade, he’d have to go back and do the same thing for every other student in his grade book who was a fraction off the next higher grade. (Not a bad idea, I thought!) My son was being passed over for his school’s nomination for the coveted National Merit Scholarship award because of the B, but he lived through it.

When I felt a coach was picking on my son, I made an appointment to complain about it, only to find out that he had earned the “coach’s award” for best attitude and effort. That surprised me and I’m embarrassed about that meeting to this day.

When my daughter was given five days of after-school detention for forgetting to bring the photocopy of Christmas song lyrics to music class, I complained that the punishment was over the top. In fact, other kids were given two nights detention, so there was a definite crossing the line by the music teacher—in my humble opinion.

There are countless other incidents where I went to battle for my kids. I do believe I taught them the difference between right and wrong and that they should stand up for themselves. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.

I couldn’t understand why other parents would stand by and let bad things happen to their kids. I do now. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and shrug your shoulders. I’ve found that some of the things that would have bugged me to no end, will soon disappear on their own within a few days or weeks. By making an issue out of little things, they can turn into big ones and burn a lot of energy and create angst.

My daughter complained to me last night that during a meeting with students on a group project, the guys were complaining that all the women coming forward about sexual harassment were “just looking for attention.” That infuriated my daughter to no end. I asked her if she was going to put up with it or wanted to go to the professor or counselor and complain. She decided to let it go. She’s a week from being done with the class and just wants to get through it. I told her I would stand by whatever she decided.

When my son received a letter telling him he was kicked out of school during the summer after his freshman year for bad grades, I was horrified. But, then I stood by and watched him research his options online. He wrote a letter to contest the decision and got hospital and doctor records to substantiate his unfortunate circumstances of an injury and surgery which caused too many missed classes. He was let back in without me doing a thing. After that, he earned As.

Me and my boy.

One thing I know about parenting is all we can do is try our best. It’s been my goal to raise kids who know the difference between right and wrong and will try their best as well.

What do you think about parents fighting battles for their kids? Are they helping or hurting them by getting involved?

Is It Wrong to Take So Many Pictures of Our Kids?

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Waffles stopping for a smile and pic.

What will happen to children whose parents snap pictures of every moment of their lives? And post them on social media? There seems to be a whole lot of mugging going on and kids know how to pose from a wee age. Even my daughter’s pug is quite the poser.

My own kids are grown and flown and they are so thankful that Facebook and Instagram weren’t around to document every momentous occasion. We didn’t have cell phones with cameras during their early years, either. So, to get pictures, I had to lug around a real camera and drop film off at the neighborhood photo store. Of course, I tried to make up for lost time when I did join FB and had my iPhone with built-in camera. I’ve written about this subject here and here.

On a recent trip to visit my kids, we did a lot of sight-seeing in the Bay Area. We went to Sutro Baths, Lake Merritt, Berkeley Marina, Coit Tower and walked around many neighborhoods. I tried to get pics of my kids, and my son refused to cooperate. My daughter said, “Just get it done! One and done!” or something like that. But he kept refusing and said he wanted to enjoy the moment, not pose for pictures. Here’s the one pic I got of the four of us at Coit Tower:

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In an “Ask NYT Parenting” article called Is It Bad to Take So Many Pictures of My Kid? a mom from Bangkok asked this question:

I take photos and videos of my kid all the time. She loves seeing herself on the screen. Will this affect her sense of self and make her too image-conscious in the future?

Here’s part of the answer by Christina Caron, parenting writer for the New York Times:

Parents, like most people in the digital age, are relentless photographers. We’re rarely without a camera, so we document nearly every moment, accumulating thousands of images of our children.

But sometimes there’s a nagging worry, much like the one Ms. Kirati described: Should we be taking so many pictures? How should we use them? Will our children become more self-conscious or, worse yet, start to value a photograph over an experience?

According to developmental psychologists and other experts, taking thousands of pictures and videos of your children isn’t necessarily concerning. What matters is how parents go about recording or photographing their children and the context in which those images are shared.

With that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind when documenting your child’s life.

Don’t obsess.

It’s natural for children to want to look at images of themselves, said Philippe Rochat, a professor of psychology at Emory University and director of the Emory Infant and Child Laboratory. “There’s nothing to worry about,” he said.

Yes, we all take a lot of pictures. And our children will take a lot of pictures, too, of themselves and others. That’s not going to change anytime soon.

“I think that we can slow down the trend, but it’s unstoppable,” Dr. Rochat said.

“My advice to parents is that you live with it,” he said — but don’t obsess over it. Do encourage your children to think about how and why we take pictures.

Instead of preventing children from taking selfies, for example, you can take selfies with them, Dr. Rochat said. As parents, you can use those moments to start a conversation about the kinds of photos your child is taking, the image your child is trying to self-manage and how that image can affect others.

When parents are the ones behind the lens, they also ought to reflect on what they’re projecting to the outside world and the impact their behavior has on others.

Constant documentation can translate as being “self-centered rather than kid-centered,” he said. “Parents need to be aware of that, of how much they promote themselves through their kid.”

Her answer addresses fostering a healthy self-image and respecting your child’s privacy. (If you want to read the rest of the article, click on this link.)

When my daughter went to college, she was no longer keen on me posting her pictures on Facebook. She told me more than once to not post anything of her — and if I did — only with her permission. She also told me not to accept any friend requests from her college friends, who were busy scouring FB accounts to find pics from the awkward tween years. Little did I know those photos would be used to tease my daughter online! That’s something to think about before posting any pics that we find adorable. Our kids have some rights on how their images are being used. That being said, I’ll post some really adorable pics of my kids at a couple months old and age three that will really embarrass them!

 What are your thoughts about taking tons of pictures of your kids? Do you think it has any lasting effect on their development?

What do you think about mandatory later school starts?

IMG_3650As a swim mom, we had early mornings with practice Tuesday and Thursdays at 5:30 a.m. My son, who didn’t swim morning practices, always had zero period where he had to be in his seat for an AP or Honors class by 7 a.m. I’m interested on how the new legislation signed into law by the California Governor will affect families. In case you haven’t heard, school start times will be mandated to begin no sooner than 8 a.m. for middle schools and 8:30 a.m. for high schools.

The discussion is both positive and negative with many families wondering how they will make this adjustment to their school/work commute schedules. Many people have to be at work by 8 a.m. Not, 8:45 or 9 a.m. which would happen if you had to drop your kids off at school at 8:30 a.m. Maybe businesses will make adjustments to schedules? I’m sure the swimmers will enjoy having a little breathing room and downtime between their morning practices and the start of the school day.

An article called California becomes first state in the country to push back school start times by Taryn Luna in the Los Angeles Times that explores the new school mandates in more detail. Here’s an excerpt:

SACRAMENTO —  California will become the first state in the nation to mandate later start times at most middle schools and high schools under legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday, a proposal designed to improve educational outcomes by giving students more sleep.

The new law, however, is not without controversy. It was opposed by some school officials and rejected twice before by lawmakers and Newsom’s predecessor.

“The science shows that teenage students who start their day later increase their academic performance, attendance, and overall health,” Newsom said in a statement. “Importantly, the law allows three years for schools and school districts to plan and implement these changes.”

The law will take effect over a phased-in period, ultimately requiring public middle schools to begin classes at 8 a.m. or later while high schools will start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. The law does not apply to optional early classes, known as “zero periods,” or to schools in some of the state’s rural districts.

Although school schedules vary, a legislative analysis in July said that roughly half the schools in the state would be required to delay their start times by 30 minutes or less to comply with the law. An analysis of the 2011-12 school year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found the average start time for California schools attended by some 3 million middle school and high school students was 8:07 a.m. Some of the state’s students were required to be in class before 7:30 a.m.

The new start times will be implemented by the beginning of the 2022-23 school year or when a school’s three-year collective bargaining agreement with its employees comes to an end, whichever is later. Schools that have recently negotiated agreements or are in the midst of negotiating new agreements with teachers have the option of adjusting to the later times when their contracts end.

In advocating for SB 328, state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), author of the legislation, cited a 2014 opinion from the American Academy of Pediatrics that said middle and high schools in most districts should not start school until 8:30 a.m.

“Today, Gov. Newsom displayed a heartwarming and discerning understanding of the importance of objective research and exercised strong leadership as he put our children’s health and welfare ahead of institutional bureaucracy resistant to change,” Portantino said. “Generations of children will come to appreciate this historic day and our governor for taking bold action. Our children face a public health crisis. Shifting to a later start time will improve academic performance and save lives because it helps our children be healthier.”

The question of whether to push back school start times has lingered for years across the nation, hotly debated by academics and health professionals. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which backed the proposal along with groups such as the California Medical Assn. and the California State Parent Teacher Assn., pointed to studies that found links between more sleep from later start times and better school performance, and better health, among adolescents.

The pediatricians’ group says it “recognizes insufficient sleep in adolescents as a public health issue, endorses the scientific rationale for later school start times, and acknowledges the potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety and academic achievement.”

“Teenagers in this country are sleep deprived,” said Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) before the Assembly approved the bill with a 44-17 vote last month. “It is a public health epidemic, and according to conclusive medical research, the primary cause of this epidemic is the early school start times that are not aligned with biological sleep needs of adolescent children.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics also called for more research to document the effects of later start times and advised that average commutes in a community and other local factors should also be considered — a key argument made by the California School Boards Assn., the California Teachers Assn. and other opponents of the bill.

Teachers unions and school districts generally argued that decisions about the appropriate time to begin classes should be determined at the local level, allowing districts and schools to determine schedules that best meet the needs of their communities.

There are pluses and minuses to this law. I will watch and see what the unattended consequences are. There usually are some when laws are passed with the best of intentions.IMG_1569-1

What are your thoughts about the new California law?

Should parents hire outside help to get their kids in college?

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When we weren’t worried about college admissions.

One thing we never did with our kids is hire someone to help with college admissions. My kids didn’t get much help from their high school counselor who had her hands full with who knows how many students. Probably at least 100. I didn’t know about outside counselors when my son applied to college and my daughter’s process was entirely different since she was being recruited as a swimmer. We assumed that our son could get in wherever he wanted with a packed resume of activities, valedictorian and near perfect SATs. Boy, were we wrong!

I first learned about college counselors when one of his friends from the swim team a couple years younger, hired a college counselor. She got lots of  valuable guidance. If I could turn back time, I’d consider hiring help, since we had no clue what we were doing. 

The question about whether families should hire outside help to get their kids into college comes up now because of the Varsity Blues scandal. Parents are going to jail for hiring an outside college counselor, who faked test scores and coordinated with athletic departments to get non-athletic kids accepted into schools. So far, 52 parents have been indicted and the trials are going on now.

There was an interesting article about how schools feel about families hiring outside help in the Wall Street Journal by Melissa Korn called Whose Advice Are You Taking? The Fight Over College Counseling at Elite High Schools.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the first application season since the cheating scandal, schools weigh how to exert control

At Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, families receive a 43-page handbook on college planning. Students meet with their counselors, known as deans, sophomore year to discuss course selection and extracurriculars. Spring of junior year, they begin college counseling meetings, bringing parents along to some. Summer before senior year, the school hosts college essay-writing workshops.

Private-school administrators hope it is enough to keep parents from looking to outside counselors for extra help.

“The hardest part of my job is convincing families to trust our process,” says Gloria Díaz Ventura, director of college counseling at Flintridge Preparatory School in La Cañada, Calif. “Some parents need an insurance policy to make sure that they did everything possible to support their child.”

Tolerance for families hiring private college consultants has waned in the wake of the nationwide college admissions cheating scandal that led to charges against 52 people, says Emmi Harward, executive director of the Association of College Counselors in Independent Schools, a group representing counselors at private schools. Independent counselor William “Rick” Singer confessed to helping clients cheat on college entrance exams and faking athletic credentials to secure teens spots at selective schools.

High-school counselors, many of whom have experience working in college admissions offices, carefully curate relationships with university gatekeepers and are concerned about teens submitting applications riddled with falsehoods, or at least embellishments, if they can’t maintain a close watch over the process. They say outside counselors can confuse students with conflicting or uninformed advice, and tend to be too aggressive in packaging students, even if they don’t go to illegal lengths like Mr. Singer.

“They’re urging transparency, if not outright banning the use of outside counsel, to the extent that’s even realistic,” Ms. Harward says.

The role school counselors play at elite private schools can be different from many large public schools, where counselors maintain a caseload that includes general academic advising, career guidance and psychological support. That leaves little time for helping finalize students’ college lists, plan campus visits, brainstorm essay ideas and polish prose, say school officials and families.

I don’t think it’s wrong to hire someone to help guide your family through the college application process. It’s overwhelming, and in a public school, chances are your child won’t get much help. We didn’t know basics like dream schools, reach, fall back, etc. We didn’t know that many great schools across the country even existed besides the major brands like Harvard, Yale and Stanford. Looking back, the whole process was stressful for me — and my son was devastated.

After the Varsity Blues scandal broke, it’s obvious that these parents went too far. We are adults and we need to be role models for our kids. The one parent in the scandal that really drives me nuts is the “parenting expert” who wrote two books on parenting — and then paid $50k to have someone else take the ACT test for her child! Read about her here. What was she thinking? In what world would you think that is okay?

Here’s one last thought from the article:

“These are the people who hired a batting coach and pitching coach when the kid was in Little League, why wouldn’t they do it for college too?” says Jim Jump, director of college counseling at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, Va., and a former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

katWhat are your thoughts about hiring someone to help with college admissions?