Should Everyone Go to College?

IMG_0728With all the news about presidential candidates promising free college, free community college, or forgiving college debt, I’ve been wondering if everyone should go to college? Why spend $120,000 for a state university to $260,000 for a private school out of your
life-savings or saddle your kids with debt? What are the kids getting in return? A bill that will take them 30 years to pay off?

I have several friends whose children are going off to college next year. They have opted for a year of work to save, two years of community college out of town, or staying at home and going to the local community college. Then they will transfer to a UC school.      I was always a fan of the four-year experience because that’s how I was raised. But, this makes practical sense. Why take out a loan as big as a mortgage for an education that you can at least cut the costs in half?

Several years ago I wrote some thoughts about the college experience and why so many kids fail or drop out. With the high costs of college it doesn’t make sense to waste that money if your kids aren’t ready. Here’s my thoughts:

I wonder why so many kids fail college? I was shocked to read a statistic from the ACT that 50% of freshman students do not return for their second year. Then, 30% of those remaining, do not graduate within five years!

Why? What can we do to better prepare our kids for college? There is so much pressure on our kids to get into great schools. You’d think with the great expense, and all their work to get in, it would be a breeze once they are there. But, it’s not.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

Here’s my list of why I think kids fail their freshman year:

ONE

Too many kids go to college. I do not think everyone should go. When I was in high school the majority of students did not continue their education past high school. They were able to get jobs, support themselves and their families without a college education. There are many trades and careers that can support families like plumbers, contractors, electricians, hair dressers, masseuses, etc. Today, a college degree has become the norm and standard. There are many kids who would be better served to work for a few years, and then decide if they want to go to college. By having everyone go, and not everyone is equipped to go, some kids are set up for failure.


TWO

High school doesn’t prepare kids for college. The work is often spoon-fed by teachers in little lumps of daily assignments and reading. Having a syllabus with a couple dates on it and no day-to-day requirements is more what college is like. It takes discipline, motivation and self-determination to not procrastinate but to work and study in advance of deadlines.

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A gorgeous location. UCSB.

THREE

We do too much. As helicopter, hovering parents, we are afraid to let our kids fail. We don’t let our kids learn from their mistakes. They need to have more chores, part-time jobs or something to do besides homework. Some of the crazy, heavy AP schedules don’t allow for real-life experiences. Plus, we cater to our kids’ every need—even to the point of helping them complete projects or assignments. My conversation with four-time Olympian and former University of Texas head coach Jill Sterkel included some great advice that you can read on SwimSwam here. She believes in letting kids work out their problems in a less high-stakes environment. We need to give them room to do this.

FOUR

Millennials mature later, according to Kari Ellingson, Vice President at the University of Utah. I attended a talk by her at orientation with my daughter. I wrote more about her talk here. According to Ellingson, “It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28.” It’s no wonder they can’t handle the many demands of laundry, getting their own food, studying, etc. Maybe our kids are not mature enough to handle the responsibilities of college at age 18?

What do you think are the reasons why so many kids fail in college? What alternatives have you seen to high college costs? 

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

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10 Life Skills Our Kids Need — 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 to best prepare your kids for “adulting”

katrobAre your kids prepared to leave the nest? Do they know how to do more than go to school and complete their homework? With helicopter and snow plow parents not allowing them to fail, let alone do the dishes or laundry, a lot of our children are not prepared to become adults.

In the Sarasota Herald Tribune, two parenting experts I enjoy reading, Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman, give a strategy to help prepare your kids for the next step. They suggest to adopt an apprenticeship mindset.

Here’s an excerpt from “PARENTING: Preparing our kids for skills of adulthood.”

Adopt an apprenticeship mindset

Preparing our kids for adulthood is one of the paramount duties of parenting. By the time our kids leave our homes, they should be able to run a household; learn anything they may need to know; make, manage and grow money; and contribute to society.

As adults, our kids will need to know what to do when the toilet backs up. They will need to know what to do when they are sick or injured. They will need to be able to plan and prepare food, negotiate a sale, research products they want to buy and maintain their vehicle.

One way to help prepare our kids for adulthood is to adopt an apprenticeship mindset in the family.

When your toilet gets hopelessly clogged and you have to pull the toilet to remove the clog and then replace the wax ring before reinstalling the toilet, grab a kid and have them help you. Talk about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

When it’s time to change the oil in the car, do you take it someplace to have it changed or do you do it yourself? Talk to your child about why you make that particular choice. If you take it in to have the oil changed, tell your child where you are going and why you chose that place. Take them with you and, on the way, talk about why you do oil changes and how often. If you change the oil yourself, take your child along and have him or her help you.

If you have to get quotes for a new insurance policy, pull your child into the process. Talk about why insurance is important and how it works. As you research your options, keep your child by your side and discuss what you find.

When it’s time to pay the bills, pull up a chair next to you and let your child be a part of the process. Talk about the bills and why they are important. Point out due dates and talk about the consequences for missing due dates. Talk about your family budget, and help your child understand that everything has a cost.

This idea of treating your kids like apprentices seems so simple but it does take time. When we get busy, it often feels easier to do everything ourselves. I failed my son in preparing him for his first year of college, which is why he struggled. After learning what my son didn’t know — like how to get home from Costco on his bike with milk, cereal and Top Ramen — I made sure that my daughter was prepared.

Because I homeschooled my daughter for middle school, I had time to teach her about daily tasks and chores. Everything we did was a lesson from pumping gas to opening a checking account (which is probably why she couldn’t wait to start high school and escape!) In contrast, my son took too many AP classes and was always on the go, rushing from homework, to swim practice, piano lessons, plays, science fairs, etc. I did his laundry and drove forgotten homework to school and everything else I could to make his life run smoothly.

My tip for parents is to follow the advice to teach your kids daily tasks they’ll need for adulthood. I made a list of ten things they need to know before college, here. Also, if they’re busy, let them fail and not be perfect. They also need to learn how to pick themselves up after failure.10575366_10204674805333844_4491881722162368424_o

How do you teach your children the daily skills they’ll need for survival on their own?

 

Yes. Crazy helicopter parents actually did this…

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I think my daughter was telling me to chill at SMOC a few years ago.

I was reading an article from the New York Times where they asked readers to send in their crazy helicopter parenting experiences. The title of the article was ‘Bizarre and Unusual’: Readers Respond to Helicopter Parenting.

They listed a few letters that I found unbelievable. In one, a young physician was on an all-day interview at a hospital and his dad spent the day with him!  In another, a mom called a hospital to find out and clarify the benefits her young doctor son was getting.  I wonder if there’s any coincidence that a few of them were stories about doctors? It’s very competitive and grueling to get into and through med school and I wonder if mommy supervised the entire way?

Here’s one of the stories from the article:

“My boyfriend’s mom definitely has helicopter tendencies. It is very bizarre to me — we are both 29 but I was raised to be very independent. We both went to medical school and are now in residency. My favorite story is that she apparently somehow got ahold of the information about the benefits offered by his hospital and was concerned about them or had questions about them. So without asking him about it decided to call the hospital herself and ask. The staff found this to be pretty amusing and apparently made an announcement over the intercom in the operating room saying something to the effect of “Dr. X — your mommy just called.”

The article talks about LaVar Ball, the father of the U.C.L.A. basketball star Lonzo Ball who was the second draft pick and plays for the Lakers. I will admit I was out of the loop on this story, but after hearing discussions about him and being clueless—I’ve learned that he is the big daddy of all helicopter parents. He’s the dad of three promising basketball players who has interfered with their coaches, programs and careers their entire lives. Here’s a list from USA Today of the 10 most outrageous things he’s said.

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Back when it was okay to hover and over-parent.

The helicopter parenting stories I’ve witnessed pale in comparison. I remember parents insisting that their kids be moved up in swimming or arguing with teachers about grades. One story involves me. I took my son for swim lessons when he was four years old and insisted that he be moved up a few levels. A few summers later, a swim instructor told me about the crazy parents she encountered and said, “One year we had this mom insist her four-year-old be moved up two groups, and he physically wasn’t able at that age to be in that group!” I smiled to myself. Wow, I made it to someone’s most crazy helicopter mom list! I don’t think that’s a great honor, do you?

 

What are some of the crazy stories you’ve heard about helicopter parents?

Old school vs. new school parenting

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Me and my big brother.

Which is best? The way we were raised, back when parents weren’t involved and we roamed free all over the countryside? Or, how parents are doing it today, attending every sports and piano practice, totally focused on our children’s every move?

According to Deon Price in an article in the Daily Republic called “This Youth Generation: Is ‘old school’ or ‘new school’ parenting best for raising a child?” he compares the two styles and it’s kind of funny to look at how different they are.

For example, many adults remember when it was okay for teachers to paddle kids at school. (I remember the boys were the ones getting paddled. I don’t really remember that technique used on girls except for one teacher who liked to showboat.) Parents were allowed to do that too, and some used a belt rather than a paddle. Today, I think “Alexa” or a neighbor would call the cops on a parent that whipped a child. My parents weren’t into punishment or maybe my brother and I were just pretty darn good kids.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Speaking with parents, youth and anyone raising children, I pose the question: Does “old school” or “new school” parenting work best for the proper upbringing of a child?

This discussion often gets even deeper when it begins to penetrate the surface into different cultural and socio-economic environments. Parenting styles quite often drastically differ, depending on the generation. What is considered strict old-school “tough love” would be considered excessive or maybe even abusive to some. What some modern parents call nurturing and bonding may be considered babying.

What is obvious is that our environment has changed, which has inevitably affected the way parents deal with their children.

Here are just a few examples:

Having an opinion vs. talking back: New-school parenting supports the gesture of “allowing a child to voice his or her opinion.” Old-school parenting says, “You better know when to hold your tongue or you may lose it.” Or, “Don’t let your mouth write a check that your behind can’t cash.” I believe in a healthy balance between the two. At least explain the reason for your parenting decision and ask if your children have any questions so that there are no misunderstandings.

Butt whipping vs. time-out: Time-out is what new-school parents use to deal with inappropriate behavior by a child. Old-school parents use butt-whipping – and as one parent put it, “You also got a lecture during that whipping.” There is a strong opposition against any physical discipline of a child. Some are simply calling it violence and abuse regardless. That in my personal and professional experience is ridiculous. When progressive discipline is in place, the child’s response will determine the level of discipline that should be applied. As a balanced, responsible parent, it’s good to remember to discipline with love and not anger. Never discipline a child while you are angry. Maybe it’s a good idea for the parent to take a time-out before they decide on a butt-whipping.

“Yes sir” vs. “What”: According to one old-school parent, “Children respond back to their parent(s) and/or elders by saying ‘what?’ In my day, if my dad called one of us and we answered with ‘what?,’ we were in for it.” The new-school style has gotten a little soft when it comes to expecting respect from children. “Yes sir” or “Yes ma’am” when responding to an elder person was mandatory. It’s rare to hear the words sir or ma’am from today’s generation of children.

I remember being outside most of the time as a child. Do you remember that, too? We hiked through the woods hacking a trail with machetes or rode for miles on our bikes to visit friends. Evenings were spent playing a softball game called workup where the older kids dominated and I stayed in the outfield forever. It was boring, but it was the place to be under the street lights. Doing all of this was usually without our parents knowing or caring where we were. We came back to the house when we were hungry.

Whether you prefer old school, new school or a combination, there is no black-and-white, clear right or wrong way of parenting. However, it is wise to discerned how we perform the duties of the most critical role on the planet. Please share your thoughts.

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My kids in a more structured life centered around swimming.

What are your thoughts about old school vs. new school parenting? What style do you most closely follow? 

Too much parenting isn’t helping

robert bunnyIn an article in Fatherly  called “Science Suggests Parents Are Taking Parenting Too Far” by Patrick A. Coleman, Parents who want to give their kids every advantage are spending more and more time and money on kids, but science is finding that it’s better to step back and find balance.”

I figured this out for myself. The more I did for my kids, the more I crippled them. Sometimes it doesn’t show up for years, but the damage is done.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the article:

According to a recent study by Cornell University, a majority of parents see world-consuming hyper-engagement as the best method of child-rearing. Going all in on kids has become a cultural best practice, begging this simple question: Does it work? Ask a scientist and they’ll likely tell you no.

Parents who really want a kid to get a head start will often push their child to hit developmental milestones early. The problem is that hitting a developmental milestone early does nothing to improve a kid’s outcomes. Also, pushing them to develop early might actually be detrimental, according to a recently published study by infant attachment expert Dr. Susan Woodhouse of the Leigh University CARE lab.

“We were trying to understand what parents are doing that really matters for children to become securely attached by 12 months,” Woodhouse says. In other words, she was looking into parental behaviors that help babies orient to their parent in a developmentally appropriate and secure way. “What our data showed is that when a baby really needs you and is crying, if you responded at least half the time, the baby would be securely attached.”

Woodhouse calls this the “secure base provision” which simply means parents are responding correctly to a baby’s cues enough times that attachment can form. Importantly, in order to reach the secure base provision, parents don’t need to respond to their child’s cues correctly 100 percent of the time, or even 80 or 70 percent of the time. They simply need to respond correctly 50 percent of the time, which Woodhouse likes to call “good enough” parenting. The clear virtue of this approach is that it allows parents to behave less mechanically, lowering levels of stress, and shielding kids from the potentially deleterious second-hand effects of anxiety and parental busyness.

kat chairThe article explains why we shouldn’t be interrupting and hovering over our kids all the time. They need time to figure out how the world works without us interfering:

But that’s not the whole story. Responding to a child is one thing, but so is letting them explore independently. “When the baby is not in distress, learning about the way the world works and exploring, parents get the job done by not interrupting the baby and making them cry,” Woodhouse explains. “When a cry shuts down the exploratory system and gets the attachment system activated. The exploration stops. The baby isn’t doing their job anymore and that creates insecurity.”

That reminds me when my kids were young and they were playing at the park. My husband and I were sitting on a blanket a few yards away. Our toddler girl fell off the swing, face planting into the sand. My gut reaction was to run to her and see if she was alright! My husband held my hand and said “Shhh!”

We watched as she picked herself up, dusted off some sand and hopped back on the swing. What would have happened if I had my way? I’m sure I would have been carrying home a sobbing child.

But insecure attachment in babies isn’t the only risk of being over-involved. According to a 2012 study, published in the journal PLOS One, kindergarten-age children’s risk for anxiety disorders later in life might be correlated to maternal anxiety or excessive maternal involvement. After tracking 200 children into their elementary years, researchers found that children were more likely to have diagnosable anxiety if mothers had responded positively to survey questions like “I determine who my child will play with” or “I dress my child even if he/she can do it alone.”

The fact is that parenting is stressful enough. But when parents take burdens, either social or educational, off their children’s shoulders, kids do not learn the crucial coping and organizational skills necessary to become functional adults.  

Schiffrin’s most-cited study looked into a child’s self-determination — essentially the ability to make decisions for oneself, feelings of autonomy and having relationships. A child who has strong feelings of self-determination generally also has a sense of well-being and happiness. Schiffrin wondered if helicopter parenting, defined as a developmentally inappropriate level of involvement, affected a child’s self-determination. And … yes. Very much so.

The point of the scientists quoted in this article is for us parents to stop helicoptering, quit snowplowing and find some balance. Good enough parenting is being there when our kids need us, but allowing them room to grow and thrive to become self-sufficient.

kat and rob beachWhat are your thoughts about doing too much for our kids?

How to write and live: advice from Ray Bradbury

In honor of the great Ray Bradbury, I’m posting this story from five years ago.
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I was looking through my book shelves for summer reading. I picked up
Ray Bradbury’s Zen and the Art of Writing: Release the Creative Genius Within You. It’s a small paperback book that has sat on my shelf, unread. I opened the cover and on page one the autograph of the author and the date May 1996 stared me in the face.

imgresThat’s the first time I heard Ray Bradbury speak — and the first time I asked him to sign a book. My daughter, who graduated high school last week, was three months old, and my son, a junior in college, was three years old. That’s a lot of years to have this book sitting on my bookshelf.

Yes, I’m now reading this collection of essays and remembering how inspiring his talk was. Earlier that same day in May 1996, I recognized Ray Bradbury at Las Casuelas the Original, a small Mexican restaurant a few blocks away from the Riviera Hotel, where he was speaking later. I introduced myself to him, as he ate alone, and I said I couldn’t wait to hear his talk.images-1

It was one of the first writer’s conferences I had attended, and I was kind of in a fog, having a newborn child and little sleep.

Ray Bradbury was amazing. He reminded me of a young child, finding wonder in the world. He had the ability to stay young at heart and observe the world as though seeing little things for the first time. I loved his story of how he wrote Fahrenheit 451 in the basement of the UCLA library at a rental typewriter for 10 cents for a half hour. He said he was literally a “dime novelist.” It gave me courage and the belief that we can do anything — if you want it badly enough.

“Garbage in, garbage out,” he said. He advised us to turn off the TV. Don’t watch the news. He said they were selling soap and there was little or no good news and it would rot our minds. Instead, “Read the Bible, a poem and an essay every day.”

How I’d wish I’d listened more carefully and followed that advice 18 years ago. How different would my life be today? The good news is, it’s not too late to start. And I’m proud to say, I started down that path yesterday.images-3

My all time favorite Ray Bradbury book is Fahrenheit 451. My son Robert loves this book, too. I took my son to meet Ray Bradbury during another local speaking engagement years later. Robert has a signed copy of Farenheit 451 that he treasures. Ray Bradbury was a very accessible and kind man, willing to share with all of us enjoying his gift and genius — and striving to be 1/100th the writer that he was. images-4

“What do you love most in the world? The big and little things, I mean. A trolley car, a pair of tennis shoes? These, at one time when we were children, were invested with magic for us.” — Zen and the Art of Writing