I’d like to introduce you to this week’s guest blogger, Beth Marchiano. We’ve had many discussions in the past about our children and the trend of micromanaging them or in some cases, just plain taking over. We all have the best motivations, but what consequences will our children suffer? I’ve long thought that this would make a great blog topic, but what right do I have to talk about it? What experience do I have to draw from? None. My kids are still small. Right now, the most I can see is the difference between school projects- the divide between these professional looking polished ones, and the shaky messy ones that were clearly made without adult help/interference. The consequences of letting the kids make their own messy project vs making them a beautiful one for them aren’t very clear at this stage. Maybe there aren’t consequences at all.
So I asked Beth, who is mother to two teenagers, her take on the situation. I’ll let her take it from here.
When it comes to our children, we want the best. We want our kids to have it better than we did, so we try to give them more in every way. Nowhere is this urge more clearly expressed than in college readiness. But are we doing more harm than good? What exactly is the best for our kids? And whose needs are we meeting when we micromanage their high school careers?
My high schoolers are busy with school, sports, scouts, church, work, and friends. How do they balance it all? Choices, time management, and prioritizing wants versus needs. Let me be clear: the choice is theirs as long as they put school and church first. My husband and I present the options, but they must choose what they want and how they’ll achieve it. It’s a juggling act, but they make it work and are relatively happy.
Other parents ask me why I let my kids make their choices and not focus only on school, sports, and getting a full ride to college. I explain that by not giving my teenagers choices, not letting them manage their schedules, and not encouraging them to try new things, I would limit them and their college opportunities.
“What?” they often respond. “How can you say that spreading your child too thin is actually good for them? What about grades? Even one poor grade can damage their ability to get scholarships.” The truth is that this is a misconception, and it can actually hold our teenagers back.
The guidance counselor leading my daughter’s freshman orientation gave a very thought-provoking talk to the parents that challenged the way parents approach college readiness. He told us three simple things: let our freshmen fail, let them try, and let them succeed on their own. The explanations for each of these simple concepts turned the prevailing ideas about college readiness on their heads.
“Let them fail” means not bringing your students’ projects, homework, supplies, or even lunch to school. Let them learn from experience that if they aren’t prepared, they won’t succeed in school or will be hungry. The controlled environment of school is a safe place to understand cause and effect and learn the skills to be prepared in their adult lives.
“Let them try” means embracing high school as a time to take risks on new things, even if that means they don’t make the team or get a role in the spring show. It allows them to learn to deal with both disappointment and accomplishment. Don’t discourage them from trying new things because you are afraid of the outcome.
“Let them succeed” means never doing their work for them. Don’t even “just get them started.” Let them figure it out themselves. Give them the space to learn the skills they need to talk to their teachers and guidance counselors—to advocate for themselves.
The speaker concluded that when we give into our overwhelming need to protect them, we actually do them a disservice. What coping skills are they able to develop if we are constantly stepping in to help? The short answer: none. Some turn to drugs, alcohol, or promiscuous behavior, drop out, or even run away when things don’t go so well in college. Now, instead of causing minor mistakes in a safe environment, their lack of readiness becomes a $30,000 mistake. Of course, while we hope the mistakes made won’t be life-altering or illegal, even the worst mistakes are better experienced in the safety of a high schooler’s home and school than in the relative independence of college.
The most surprising takeaway from his speech was this: if you don’t allow your kids to do a range of activities, whether school-based or not, you are actually hurting their chances of being accepted into college. Two college admissions officers confirmed this to me; they said admissions staff prefer a well-rounded Eagle Scout with a B average over a solid A student whose only focus was academics. Why? The well-rounded B students are more prepared for college life. They already have experience balancing multiple priorities. They also tend to give back to the college community, encourage others to attend their college, and have a whole-life, not just academic, college experience. Students whose whole lives were about academics, on the other hand, have a harder time adjusting. Their “A-student” identity doesn’t hold as much weight in the college world, where many of their peers are equally high performers. And once their core identity is lost, one of two things typically happen: they drop out or double down on their academic identity but have a mediocre college experience as a result. In either case, their identity remains an issue after graduation.
This doesn’t make stepping back and letting my kids fail, try, and succeed easy, of course. I still struggle to resist my overwhelming desire to jump in and help. But I’ve learned to do just that—to set aside my perceived needs for the sake of my children’s long-term success.
Commit to this with me. Be an advisor to your teens. Guide them. But let them. I promise it’s worth it.