Parents influence how kids perform in school–in a good way!

images-7There’s some bright news in the parenting world. Low-income kids are catching up to middle and higher economic level children at school. Is it because of greater access to preschool? According to the article, “Parenting, not preschool, has the greatest effect on school readiness” by Jane Waldfogel, you can probably guess the answer from the title.

“Here’s a trick question: what’s the biggest influence on a child’s readiness for school? Preschool education, replies a confident chorus of policy wonks. But maybe you got the answer right: it’s parenting. Research evidence has long established that reading with young children, taking them to the library and having books at home are more important predictors of school readiness than preschool education.

Policy makers and practitioners sometimes forget this. Perhaps they despair of changing parenting in a fundamental way. Some imagine that stressed, often poorly educated parents are stuck in a rut, making the same old mistakes as their own mom and dad.

Well, the evidence suggests that these parents have been underestimated. While child development policy in the United States has largely focused on extending access to preschool, low-income parents have been busy transforming their practice. That’s making a real difference to their children’s learning skills and prospects. Intriguingly, they’ve made these strides at a time when income inequality has grown worse.”

It appears that parents from all economic levels value education. Lower income parents are reading to their kids more, taking them to the library, and have more access to books. According to research, low-income parents are acting more like those in higher economic levels. They’ve been told by educators that reading to kids is important for them to be ready for school. Guess what? They are taking that parenting advice to heart. I also wonder how much has changed with the whole world available on the internet and smartphones?

“Children are getting more of what the political scientist Robert Putnam calls “‘Goodnight Moon’ time”. Interestingly, this change has occurred during a period of rising economic inequality: among families with school-age children, income inequality between the rich and poor grew by roughly 10 percent from 1998 to 2010. Segregation based on income also grew by 20 percent among households with children.”

In the news, we hear about overbearing, helicopter parents who follow their children’s every step through preschool to college and into the workplace. This story gave a bit of positive news in the parenting world that sometimes it’s good to be involved. I read to my kids all the time and kept my favorite childhood books for them to read. My kids read many classics that unfortunately their schools no longer require. I’m thrilled to say my kids love to read today as young adults.

Isn’t it nice for a change to hear that parents are doing something right? Here are a few of my favorite books I read when I was young. I don’t think many kids read these today. What were your favorite books? Can you list your top books for middle grade and young adults? What books do your kids like?

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The story of a star quarterback whose parents let him be a kid

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My husband asked me to read a story from the Bleacher Report about USC Quarterback Sam Darnold. I put him off for a day because frankly, I wasn’t that interested. I finally read it to appease him and found Sam’s story to be fascinating—mainly because of the parenting style of Mike and Chris Darnold.

From childhood through high school, Sam played basketball, football, and baseball. I think he played volleyball, too. His parents let him try and decide what sports he participated in. They didn’t make him specialize or get him private lessons or coaches. In fact, Sam believes his success in football is from playing all different sports and learning a variety of skills. In a refreshing story written by Jeff Perlman, you find out about a dying breed of parents—ones who believe in fun and no pressure. Parents who let their child lead his own life.

“USC’s star quarterback and his parents do not live by the LaVar Ball theory of the universe. They let a multisport supernova grow up into his own man. And that’s why this 20-year-old might be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft.”

Yet the story of Sam Darnold isn’t the story of the modern quarterback, loud and sparkly and created to own the internet’s 24-hour hype machine. Nope, it’s the story of a young man on the verge of superstardom because, not long ago, he was allowed to diversify.

He was allowed to be a kid.

The Darnolds’ Capistrano Beach household is in the heart of south Orange County, where there are youth sports leagues atop leagues atop leagues, and private coaches atop private coaches atop private coaches.

In Orange County, it’s not uncommon for a nine-year-old pitcher to throw sliders and curveballs nine or 10 months of the year—with a father behind the backstop holding a radar gun. It’s not uncommon for a quarterback to play Pop Warner, then a season of flag and then spend the summer under the watchful eye of a $200-an-hour passing guru.

This was not going to happen to Sam.

“My parents,” the quarterback says, “wouldn’t have allowed it.”

On paper, this might come as a surprise. One would be hard-pressed to find a more sports-centric family than the Darnolds. Mike (Sam’s dad) was an offensive lineman at the University of Redlands, Chris (Sam’s mom) a volleyball player at Long Beach City College. Sam’s older sister Franki starred in volleyball at the University of Rhode Island and three of his cousins—Allie, Michele and A.J.—also participated in collegiate volleyball. Sam’s late grandfather, Dick Hammer, played basketball at USC and was on the 1954 team that went to the Final Four. He was also a member of the 1964 U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball team.

Put simply, organized athletics are a big deal in the Darnold world and have been for decades.

“But,” says Chris, “they’re not everything. We’ve always tried to keep things in perspective. Yes, our children have always loved playing sports. But around here, in this part of California, it too often becomes live and die. That’s a big mistake in my opinion. It has to be fun.”

“One day you open your eyes and it’s, ‘Holy cow, your son is in this position,’” Mike says. “I mean, it’s crazy, right? Crazy, crazy, crazy—one in a million.”

He pauses. Though Chris is acknowledged by family members as the emotional one, the father has been showing his soft side of late. He insists he never cared whether his children played sports or an instrument or worked a job—as long as they were involved and happy and tried different things. But to have a son as USC’s starting quarterback; to have a son who is a Heisman Trophy front-runner; to have a son who is humble and decent and respectful?

“Say what you want,” Mike says. “Sam’s not flashy, he’s not a yeller, he’s not a trophy collector, a bragger. But I feel like we worked hard to raise our kids the right way. And it’s paid off.”

I believe the Darnolds have lessons for many sports parents, myself included. Of course, they had an exceptionally athletic son who could have been recruited in basketball, baseball or football. But more than that, they raised a humble, balanced kid. They are proud of him as a person, not just as a star athlete. Their attitude and parenting style helped develop Sam into the man he is and will become.

I hope you take the time to read the entire Bleacher Report article about Sam Darnold and his parents. There’s also another great article in the Los Angles Times called “As expectations swell, USC’s Sam Darnold finds comfort at home near the beach” by Zach Helfand.

I’m excited to watch him play football this year. Here’s a YouTube of his 2016 highlights.

Click here to watch a recent interview with Sam Darnold by CBS’s Allie LaForce.

What do you think about kids specializing in one sport at an early age?

 

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photo of Sam Darnold from the Bleacher Report

 

How parents can help their kids get into college

Parents can offer a lot of help and support on the road to finding the right college. But, don’t take over and do it all for your kids. I can’t tell you how tempting it can be to lead the college hunt—if you’re a parent who helps out on a daily basis—like driving forgotten lunches and papers to school when they’re in high school. Yes, guilty! I know one parent, whose son failed miserably out of college after college. This parent admitted that he had written all the college essays and filled out the applications. He begged me not to do the same for my children.

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My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

On the other hand, someone needs to keep track of what’s going on and that your child is meeting deadlines. The junior and senior years can be really tough with crazy, hectic schedules, proms, AP tests, etc.. We can’t back off at this critical moment and expect our 16 or 17-year-old to know instinctively what to do. Also, you can’t count on your high school to get your child into college. Not all high counselors are created equal. Some are really good at talking to kids and helping them through the process, while other counselors might not see it as their responsibility. They may have so many kids on many different tracks that they can’t offer one-one-one college counseling.

Here’s a check list of what can parents do:

1. Set up a master calendar. It’s a good idea to get a big, giant calendar or white board for your student and mark down all the important dates like SAT, ACT tests, college visit, deadlines for applications, FAFSA, etc.

2. Here’s what your child needs when it’s time to submit applications (don’t wait until the last minute to get these! You’ll only add to the stress if you wait):
—Official transcripts from all secondary schools attended.
—One letter of recommendation from an adult guidance/college counselor, coach, employer etc.
—One letter of recommendation from a teacher who can speak about academic ability.
—SAT or ACT scores

3. Review the essays. Don’t write them, but read them with a critical eye and get some feedback from other adults who you admire in terms of their writing or smarts.

4. Research schools. You can do initial research into schools’ majors, costs, and find out what their admission standards are. Every college has a website and if you dig deep into the admissions sections, you can find out the ranges of grades and SAT scores.

5. Make sure your child is taking the necessary classes and keeping the grades above a C. Don’t nag, but don’t let them slack, either.

6. If your child needs help with testing, enroll them in a SAT prep class. I did this for my daughter, who is not a good test taker and although she hated going, she thanked me afterward. She said the class, taught at a local high school over the summer, really, really helped.

7. Stay calm. This can be a bumpy road with pot holes and rocks along the way. Your teenager may procrastinate or suffer from anxiety over getting the college applications done. Parents can set the tone and keep the stress at bay, or they can add to it.

How do you think parents can help their kids through the college application process?

 

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My son’s high school graduation.

 

If you’re a helicopter parent, there’s an app for that

 

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When it was okay to hover.

 

I’ve heard about all the apps and devices helicopter parents use to track their children’s every move—built-in devices in cars, fit bit-like bracelets and of course a host of apps.

When my kids were new to driving, we didn’t track them. I trusted my kids to be where they were supposed to be. I remember sitting at an intersection as my son raced by with a girl as his passenger—and he wasn’t headed in the right direction. Later I told him that I’d seen him and he explained that his friend asked him for a ride home. It wasn’t a big deal, but if I’d had an app or the built in car monitoring system, I’d have known and watched where he was going all the time. I don’t think that would have been healthy for either of us.

In the story “Chevrolet will let parents creep on their teens for free” by Andrew Krok, all the functions of the OnStar Family Link are explained:

Are you a frugal helicopter parent who absolutely must keep track of your freshly licensed teen? If you’ve got a Chevrolet equipped with OnStar, you can be all Big Brother without spending any cash.

Chevrolet will offer owners three months of OnStar Family Link for free. All that’s required is a 2012-or-newer Chevrolet with an active OnStar subscription. The Family Link system is free for three months, but after that, it’s just $3.99 per month plus tax.

OnStar Family Link gives you a variety of location functions, letting you keep an eye on teens who might be a flight risk. Parents can monitor a vehicle’s location, or set up email and text alerts if the vehicle leaves a defined area. It can also notify parents when a teen has reached or left a destination.

This is a bit less capable than Chevrolet’s pride-and-joy child monitoring tech, Teen Driver. Teen Driver lets parents set radio volume limits, speed warnings and even limit the overall top speed. It can mute the radio if the kids aren’t buckled, and it won’t let teens turn off systems such as stability control. It also provides parents with reports that cover distance driven, maximum speed and, if available, safety system engagements.

Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids blog and World’s Worst Mom TV show fame wrote
“Verizon’s “Hum” Allows Parents to Track their Teen Drivers: Why This Stinks”

The commercial below makes my heart sink, and not because I am so thrilled when my son goes driving off.

It shows a teen girl driving like a maniac, playing hooky to go to the beach in a bikini, and sitting on the couch alone with her boyfriend about to…whatever. Then it shows how Verizon’s “Hum,” an electronic device you plug into your car that alerts you when the teen goes too fast, or beyond the boundaries that you get to set, or isn’t where she is supposed to be. You get the tracking info, you get to set the maximum speed. It does everything but put you back in the drivers seat of your child’s life.

Hum. Hmm. As a person terrified of cars in general and my boys driving in particular, road time is a minefield of worry.

But the idea that once we trust our kids to drive we do not trust them to go where they say they’re going, drive the way they tell us they’re driving, or stay where they agreed to stay means a basic bond of trust is gone. We are treating them like toddlers who need direct oversight, even though we make this happen electronically.

The device assumes parents should and must always be in control, even when we’re not there to make informed decisions. For instance, allowing parents to cap the maximum speed: What about when the kids are fleeing a volcano? Or axe murderer? Won’t we feel bad about that 50 MPH limit then? And it alerting us when our kids drive beyond the edge of the boundaries we’ve set. Is exploring always too risky? Do we want kids who never do anything spontaneous or adventurous? More profoundly: Don’t we want the locus of their moral development to be inside them…rather than inside us?

At the same time, look at the message the kids themselves are getting. First off, that even the most basic adulthood is too adult for them. And second, that as parents we are willing to give them all the freedom of a prisoner with an ankle monitor. He can go to and from work, same as our kids are allowed to go to and from school.

Although most of the articles I’ve read are against using these devices, there’s obviously a market for them. In many instances, I think they’d make parents feel more secure knowing where their kids are–so long as parents don’t go overboard.

Here’s an article called “The GizmoPal is a helicopter parent’s dream” about a device for young kids by Katherine Martinko.

LG’s new two-way communication device is designed for kids too young for cellphones so parents can keep tabs on them at all times.

There is yet another gadget on the market that makes it harder than ever for helicopter parents to teach their kids independence. LG has just introduced the GizmoPal, which provides two-way communication between parents and kids who are too young to manage their own cellphone.

It has a single button that kids can press in order to call a parent, as well as the ability to receive calls from two additional pre-approved contacts. Parents can manage their kid’s GizmoPal from their own smartphones and track it using GPS technology.

Most seriously of all, think of the psychological impact on a child of being in constant communication with a parent. How is a child supposed to learn emotional independence, deal with separation anxiety, make decisions on their own, and combat boredom if, at the touch of a button, they can talk to Mommy?

 

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Where college orientation was held for my daughter.

When I went to college orientation with my youngest child, I listened to some great advice by Dr. Kari Ellingson, Associate Vice President, Student Development at the University of Utah. I wished I’d heard her advice before I sent my first child to college. She touched on cell phones and how times have changed since we were kids.

 

I wrote about her advice in “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before The Kids Went to College.”

Cell phones according to Dr. Ellingson, are “the world’s longest umbilical cords.” Some students call home 5, 6, 7 times a day. In our day, we waited in line for the phone down the hall on Sundays — when long distance was cheaper — and horror of all horrors — there wasn’t such a thing as a cell phone!

Don’t let your child’s crisis become your crisis. Let them problem solve. Ellingson’s example was a daughter who called her mom and said, “I flunked my midterm. The professor hates me…” After consoling her crying daughter, the mother called back later with more advice. The daughter was like, “Huh? What are you talking about? Everything’s fine.”

Dr. Ellingson talked about independence: “Their first steps as a toddler are towards you. Every step after that is running away from you.”

They need to discover how to be on their own — and this is one of their fears. Delayed maturation is common. It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28. They will say to you “Leave me alone!” Then, “bail me out!” This is normal. The pendulum will swing back and forth.

Just remember to love them, guide them, but let them figure it out. The more we solve their problems, the more we delay their growth into independent, responsible adults.

Do you track your kids’ whereabouts with apps, phones, or car devices? What are your feelings about knowing every movement of your children?

 

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I can hover from the stands at meets and not be noticed.

 

How parenting is like being an athlete

Letting my kids play and be kids.

I read a post on Facebook on our swim team’s site that had some great advice for swimmers but I believe it extends to success in other aspects of our lives as well, including parenting.

Here’s what I read on the Piranha Swim Team’s FB page:
“The path you take to get to the next level is a unique experience and may be longer or bumpier a ride at times than others. Common denominators of athletes with long term success: aiming high but with realistic steps, not reaching a goal results in more determination, focusing on your own progress compared to you and not others, and believing in your support system, training and team. Patience and perseverance will be rewarded at sometime when you do these things.”

How do those points apply to parenting? Substitute being a parent for the athlete.

We can aim high but with realistic steps. As a parent, my objective is to raise kids who become independent, successful, happy and kind adults. For example, to raise a person who is independent doesn’t mean throwing a 10-year-old out into the world to fend for themselves, but to allow them room to fail and learn from their mistakes. It means teaching them the skills they need to function on their own, like cooking, cleaning, living within a budget, etc.

Yes, we want to aim high and we have great expectations for our kids. But we need to keep in mind that any goal is the result of small steps along the way. My husband once told me, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

IMG_7214Not reaching a goal results in more determination. That was true for both my kids. I think swimming helped them develop this trait which can be called “grit.” My daughter would get frustrated when she missed a cut for the next level, like junior nationals, and somehow she’d turn that into motivation to try harder the next time. In parenting, we can have days where nothing seems to go right. It’s knowing that the next day will be full of promise and new opportunities that keep us slugging along.

Focusing on your own progress and not others. When my kids were young they were in a small private school and the parents were competitive, as were the kids. It’s natural to compare how your child is doing grade-wise or in sports to other kids—even how well liked they are. I remember Valentine’s Day in my son’s fourth-grade class when boys and girls came in with elaborate gifts. It was painful for me to see presents stack up on a couple kids’ desks, while several kids had nothing, including my son. Finally, a present or two arrived from his friends.

Believe me, nothing good comes from a parent comparing their kids with others whether it’s their grades, test scores or athletic ability. It puts pressure on your own child and can encourage feelings of jealousy or disappointment in themselves.

Believing in the support system, training, and team. Our families and friends are our support system and my husband and me with our kids make up the team. I trust in our day-to-day “training” to reach our goal of parenting happy, successful and kind adults. Together we’ll get there. Mine are well on their way. Remember to have patience and persevere when things are less than perfect or downright difficult. Also, everyone’s path is different and some people’s journey to the next level may be bumpy while others are smooth.

How do you view the journey of parenting?

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Mom and dad need to be on the same parenting page

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Parents on the same page–or boat.

When you look at your parenting styles, do you and your spouse work together? Or, is one of you the enforcer while the other one gets to be the “fun mom” like Amy Poehler in “Mean Girls?” In “Keep it consistent when parenting,” Jodi Fuson wrote for the Lincoln Journal Star:

 

“Back and forth, up and down. Parenting can be like a roller coaster if you and your spouse are not on the same page.

Consistency in parenting is crucial for keeping peace in the home, according to Licensed Mental Health Practitioner Rebecca Dacus.

‘If one parent is (consistent), and you aren’t, you’re setting yourself up for behavioral problems of some kind,’ she said.”

I’ve been a stay-at-home mom while my husband worked in an office away from home. I feel that situation made me more hands on and I dealt with all the small disciplining stuff daily. He was free to come home and jump in the pool with the kids, carting them around on his back and being a fun guy.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t the only the enforcer in our family. When there was a larger issue where discipline was needed, he’d step in. We did have very different childhoods and I think that can cause friction and parenting problems. In any case, it’s best to work out parenting strategies earlier rather than later, the article emphasizes:

“Families that seem to be able to stay on the same page tend to eat meals together and do things together that promote communication, said Dacus, who employs Systematic Training for Effective Parenting to help parents she works with in her practice.

Dr. Nick Stevens warns that if parents aren’t on the same page, a sense of unity, integrity and security can be lacking. So why is it so hard to find unity in parenting? Stevens said it has to do with how we were raised and the roles of our own parents. Also, parenting isn’t something that comes naturally.

“You have to constantly pursue it,” he said.

First, parents should discuss their own upbringing, what they liked and didn’t like, and what they see other people do. “It can give couples a vision of what they want their parenting to be like,” she said.

Next, they should list behaviors from least to worst and potential consequences/rewards for the children.

“They need to figure out what are the definite no’s of things happening in their home versus things that aren’t as serious,” Tapley said.

Parents need to take turns dishing out rewards and consequences so that one parent is not always the “enforcer” and the other the good cop, Tapley said.

“You want to make sure that both of you are doing that — giving out rewards and consequences,” she said.”

I think this article provides sound advice—and I wish I’d read it about two dozen years ago! All in all, I think my husband and I were on the same page, most of the time. It’s good food for thought though, consistency in parenting. I think consistency between spouses is important, but also be consistent with your kids. I’m talking about bedtimes, treats, discipline—all that stuff. It can be tiring and sometimes it’s easier to give in. If you find yourself giving in often, maybe it’s time to rethink some of your family’s rules.

Do you parent differently than your spouse? Are consistent with your kids?

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A quiet moment at the beach–no sand was being thrown and I could relax.