So much of parenting advice is what you should be doing. But the hardest advice to take is what you shouldn’t be doing. Because it is actually more difficult to just sit on your hands and wait than to insert yourself where you think you can make a difference. Here are three areas where inserting yourself will just waste time and cause trouble:
1. Don’t get an SAT tutor.
More than 800 colleges and universities no longer require the SAT or ACT for admission. And 150 of those are ranked by as top tier by US News & World Report. Also, reports show that each year more schools make the tests optional. This means that even if you want your kid to go to a great university, he or she can focus on getting in for doing what is interesting instead of getting in via great test scores.
2. Don’t push to enroll in a magnet school.
Chester Finn describes, in his book, Exam Schools, how magnet schools create an atmosphere where kids are working around the clock to get good grades. They are kids who scored highest in their geographic area to go to the top school, and then they study nonstop to survive at the school.
The problem with these schools is that they can’t send everyone to Harvard. And, in fact, they have an unspoken agreement to select among their kids before the application process, so only a small handful of kids can apply to each top-tier school from an exam school. The school decides where you apply. And the competition is artificially tough to get into college because you are competing against all the smartest kids from schools that aren’t even in your district.
Meanwhile, kids who faced tougher times, in a school not nearly as prestigious as an exam school, get special consideration for hardship. So why bother working so hard to get the great grades? There is no reward at the end.
3. Don’t judge the interests of a high schooler.
The important thing is that a kid has interests. One of the most common problems adults face is that they don’t know what they are interested in. This makes sense: school doesn’t encourage us to learn that about ourselves. So if you have a kid with strong interests, don’t judge whether they are good or bad, because honestly, you don’t want our kid second guessing himself to please you all the time, do you? You want a kid who is confident enough in his judgment to experiment in his twenties. He doesn’t have to be right. He just needs to keep trying things, which requires self-confidence.
My son says, “You know that new game that I’m playing?”
I said yes, even though my knowledge of the gaming world is vague and inexact, picked up from occasional glimpses over shoulders and back-seat conversations.
“Well, I’m currently ranked No. 1.”
“No 1? In your league or whatever?”
“In the country?”
“No,” he said, pausing for effect. “In the world.”
I didn’t know whether to be proud or appalled.
Tabak surmises that his son does very little studying and plays video games instead. But eventually, his son scored an entry level job at a gaming company. Do you know why? Because people like to hire for drive and determination and passion. Employers don’t judge where you use those attributes in the past, as long as you have them to direct toward work right now.
And this seems like a good time to tell you that the range of contribution that a kid can make after years and years of playing video games is breathtaking. Video games are about planning and strategy, for example. And they’re about art. The Museum of Modern Art just put a bunch of video games in their permanent collection.