Everyone seems to talk about how their children are succeeding or struggling at school and many preschool, middle school and high school parents talk about choosing a school to maximize their child’s potential. We’re all aware that it’s a competitive world out there and that entry to good colleges is only going to be tougher. There’s a lot of pressure on the kids and the schools.
Firstly, I don’t actually believe that going to a good college is a guarantee of anything AND I don’t believe that going to a less competitive college is a disadvantage, necessarily. There are scores of accomplished people whose college you wouldn’t recognize. And there are scores of graduates from top colleges that, while bright, haven’t accomplished all that much. There are simply no guarantees in life.
Second, I don’t think accomplishment is the ultimate goal. As a parent, I want my children to be self-sufficient, productive and happy. I want them to learn to solve problems, make good choices and to accept personal responsibility for every choice they make – including how they react to situations that don’t go their way. That’s my definition of a smart kid.
Thirdly, I think parents have to take as much responsibility for maximizing their child’s potential as they expect of schools. I have a short list of what those actions include (thanks to NurtureShock for much of the research):
- Strict bedtimes. Every night – seven days a week. It doesn’t matter when you get home, their needs come first. The research is very clear – children of all ages, and especially teenagers, need a ton of sleep in order to learn, manage their impulses, and be pleasant company. And the bedtime needs to be the same all seven nights. Read more about sleep.
- Limit screen time. Really – limit it. Go outside. Read a book. Play a game. Do something that isn’t looking at a screen. Mobile phone screens count. Research is strong here too. TV and computers are not effective babysitters – they don’t engage your child. Everyone needs to unplug.
- Run your puppies. Not only does it help your children learn a healthy lifestyle, research shows that daily physical activity increases the brain’s attention span and alertness.
- Eat dinner together as much as possible. I’m realistic that many families simply cannot do this every night. But research shows that doing it most nights leads to children who do better in school, stay off drugs and are safer. Plus, it’s an opportunity to talk.
- Limit junk food and soda. The sugar spike gets kids wound up and then they crash – and no one can learn while fighting off a physical need to sleep. Plus, it’s good to learn delayed gratification and healthy eating.
As a Trustee at a community day school, I invite and hear the expectations of parents regarding the school’s responsibilities to cultivate their child’s intellect. They are wonderful ideas and reflect the love and hope of these parents for their children. But if we graded ourselves, as parents, on just these five “subjects”, how many of us would get straight-As?