The Instant Gratification Generation and Helicopter Parents

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 in college 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.”

When parenting took all my time, but I was not interfering.

When parenting took all my time, but I was not interfering.

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’re 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.

A few thoughts about college recruiting

Signing day.

Signing day, 2013.

Now that July 1 has passed, the magic date where coaches can start recruiting your kids for swimming, what happens next?

It’s been two years since my daughter went through that hectic, exciting, fun summer. Looking back here’s a few things to think about during recruiting season. My experience is specific to the sport of swimming for my daughter. Although my son swam, he opted out of swimming in college. He doesn’t regret it at all. So, remember, swimming in college isn’t for every kid. But if your swimmer is interested, here are my thoughts about the process. Many of these ideas will apply to other sports, too.

Make sure your swimmer replies to each call or email.

If your swimmer isn’t interested in a team, let the coach know quickly so he or she can focus energy on other swimmers.

My daughter and teammates at JOs a while back.

My daughter and teammates at JOs a while back.

If your swimmer does not hear from their dream team or some of the teams they are interested in—what do you do? I would suggest to your swimmer to send an email and tell the coach they are interested. Ask what the walk on times are, or what they are looking for. Maybe your swimmer will figure out why they haven’t been contacted.

Sometimes an email can get lost in the spam folder, or a coach may have overlooked your child. They may be happy to find out your swimmer is interested. Your swimmer has nothing to lose by writing an email.

I remember one of my daughter’s friends wanted to go to a certain PAC-12 school and she was so disappointed to not get an email or call from the team. After she did sign with a different PAC 12 university, she went through her spam folder and found an email from the coach of her dream school that she had not replied to! The good news is that she loves where she is and couldn’t be happier.

My daughter racing.

My daughter racing.

During recruiting, my daughter made a list of teams that contacted her. In each conversation with coaches, she wrote down notes of things that were important to her. She wanted to swim outside. She wanted a team with men and women. She hadn’t decided on a major yet, so that wasn’t part of her criteria, but for many swimmers it will be.

Each swimmer will have their own idea of what they’re looking for in a school and a team.

Does your swimmer want to be a big fish in a small pond? Or do they want to be pushed by faster swimmers? Do they want to be at a major university? Or a smaller private school? Are they set on D1 or D2? Don’t overlook the many amazing schools in D3, NAIA and NJCAA.

There are a lot of schools out there and swimming may open a door for your child to a school that would be more difficult to get into without their sport. My kids have friends that were accepted to great universities–John Hopkins and NYU–as swimmers. They had the grades and SATs to get in on their own. But coaches can “flag” athletes. It may be the deciding factor between your child and thousands of other great students.

My son listening to music at a meet.

My son listening to music at a meet.

There were a few schools I wanted my daughter to look at. I was so disappointed to hear my daughter tell the coach that no, she was afraid it wouldn’t be a good fit for her. But, remember, it’s your daughter or son’s college experience—not yours.

After the summer, your swimmer will decide on where to go for recruit trips. In D1, if the rules haven’t changed, they get to select up to five schools.

I’ve heard one coach say not to waste a school’s time or money if your swimmer knows they aren’t interested in a school. On the other hand, I’ve heard another coach say that it’s good to visit schools and get a feeling for the school. Your swimmer may fall in love with a program and school that they weren’t seriously considering before.

Super JOs.

Super JOs.

It also comes down to time. How hard is it to travel five weekends in the fall and miss practice and perhaps school, too? The trips may all run together in your swimmer’s mind. You may want to limit the number of recruit trips to two or three of the top choices. That’s what my daughter did.

The hard thing was when she came back and made her decision. She had to call the coaches of the schools she chose not to attend. The coaches were unbelievably gracious, professional and she would have been happy at any one of her top choices. That was a tough thing for her to do, but it was—as everything else about swimming—a learning experience and an opportunity to grow.

It may come down to a difficult decision. I remember one of my daughter’s club teammates choosing between USC, Berkeley, and Stanford. She couldn’t make a decision. I remember thinking—must be amazing to have such a choice!  She waited until Spring to sign. So, remember that’s an option too. If your swimmer hasn’t found the right school by fall, there’s another window of opportunity in the spring. Waiting until Spring may limit choices or scholarships, because rosters might be filled. It worked for my daughter’s teammate, though.

Wherever your swimmer ends up, be supportive. It’s an exciting time in your life and your swimmer’s. Be thankful they have this opportunity.

My daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

My daughter liked her green fuzzy robe better than the team parka.

One Tip for Parents with Incoming High School Seniors –Write the Essay, Like TODAY!

imgresHere’s a tip for parents of incoming high school seniors that I wish we would have followed: get that college essay done, now.

I mean it!

I’ll never forget the agony my son went through trying to write his essays close to the deadline. He suffered from so much anxiety and went through days of writer’s block. He said the essays were the most important thing he had to write in his life.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

By procrastinating and putting it off until the end–into a busy time when he also had a half dozen AP classes and swim practice to worry about–“THE MOST IMPORTANT THING I’VE WRITTEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE” was too big a burden to deal with!

My son told me—during the summer when I suggested he get started—that the questions weren’t out yet. That’s what he said.

I have good news to share with you. The essay prompts for the Common App ARE out now for 2015-2016. You can take a look at them, and get some guidance here.  

images-1If you can “suggest,” “encourage” or “force” your high school senior to get started on writing essays for their college apps, it may be the best thing you do for them all year. Tell them to get a rough draft done. Put it away for a week or two, dust it off and have them do a rewrite. Repeat this process during the summer. Then put it away until it’s time to fill out the college applications.

You should take a look at it, too. If they let you. If not, have them find a teacher or adult friend to review it. My son wouldn’t let me review his essays. Not that as a writer with a degree in editorial journalism and a 20-plus-year career in writing could I have offered him a bit of help. But, no. He had to do it the hard way. He did get one of his English Lit teachers to review his work, though.

At this very second, he has three papers to finish for his college classes. Due today….

Top-5-College-Application-Essay-Cliches

Maybe your kids will take your advice and get the writing started early. They’ll also practice good habits which will serve them well when they are in college!

Writing the essays and taking time for revisions over the summer will definitely lift
a lot of senior pressure in the fall.

14 Factors Colleges Look for in Admissions

I recently read an interesting article by Peter Kuo about state bill SCA-5. He believes the bill will discriminate against Asians in college admissions. It’s called reverse discrimination by many. Because of this, he’s running for the state senate.

images-7His article hit home, because of my own kid. We thought every school would be clambering for him to come to their schools, but he received small letters — instead of big packages — by 8 out of 9 universities. I don’t know for sure, but it seems this phenomenon called reverse discrimination might have been at play for him, too.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.


He had a resume as a high school student that most adults would envy. Things like top 10 student in the county, Boys’ State, a talented swimmer and musician, a tutor in math and english, president of the Latin and JSA clubs, awarded honors for academics by John Hopkins. Add to that valedictorian and high SAT scores, and community service — who wouldn’t want him? Well, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Cal, UCLA and USC to name a few.

imgres-1Because of his GPA, the UC’s had to take him. (It’s called Identification by UC as being ranked in the top 9 percent of your high school class at the end of your junior year Eligible in the Local Context or ELC). So, he ended up at UCSB. At first he didn’t like it, because he was sorely disappointed with the flood of rejections. But, after getting through his freshman year, he began to thrive and love his new home.

Personally, I think I would have chosen UCSB over all the other schools he applied to. There’s something to say for being surrounded by the gorgeous majesty of mother nature every single moment of your day!  Also, I’m not sure the “big name” schools are all they are cracked up to be. Here’s an interesting article on this subject.  Of course, it’s up for debate, and if he’d been accepted to Stanford, I’m sure we’d have loved it!

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

So, what do universities look for when reading applications? There are 14 key factors that the UC schools use. Each UC campus has a few extras they consider  Here’s one point that stood out for me that my son didn’t have in the list of 14:

  1. Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances, including but not limited to: disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status.

You can read about all 14 factors here

At Cal Berkeley they add another factor that my son didn’t have:

In addition to a broad range of intellectual interests and achievements, admission readers seek diversity in personal background and experience.”

On the UC websites  it specifically states: “Race, ethnicity, gender, and religion are excluded from the criteria.” But in the factors I’ve highlighted, I see a large loop-hole to do just that — diversity in personal background?

So what could my son have done differently to be accepted? Intern at a major university with a professor and be published in journals? Or begin the ‘comic con of the desert’ he talked about?

Or, he could have stuck with his 12 years of swimming. Swimming can and will open doors to higher education. I’ve written a lot about swimming and college admissions in my blog.

Swimming opens doors for college.

Swimming opens doors for college.

On the other hand, my son studied, loved learning, was hard working and followed his passions.

In the end, you have to learn to be happy where you are. Making it into a name brand school, or being denied admissions to the school of your dreams isn’t the end of the world. Your four years in college — where ever you may be — are only as good as you make them.

Do you have any experiences with rejections from colleges? Please comment. I’d love to hear about them.