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New Year’s Prescriptions: High Hopes and a Helping Hand

Posted on 01/10/2019, by Dr. Ellen Fithian to Parents of 7th and 8th Graders, Parents of 9th Graders, Parents of 10th Graders, Parents of 11th Graders, Parents of 12th Graders (0 comments)

There’s something about a new year that brings out the cockeyed optimist in me. Even though most of last year’s resolutions got as much use as the fruit dehydrator I bought on impulse and have never used, I can’t resist making new ones. Even if I don’t stick to them, seems to me it can’t hurt to set some worthwhile goals.So in that spirit, I’ve collected some of my favorite parenting prescriptions.

Have High Expectations 

A recent educational review confirms that high parental expectations are strongly linked to students' academic achievement. So be sure to communicate high expectations for grades and future educational attainment to your high school kids, but tread carefully. Not all expectations are great ones. 

Emphasize Effort, Not Outcome

Make sure your expectations are attainable. Expecting your son to diligently prepare for his geometry test is perfectly reasonable, as it’s completely within his control. But expecting him to get an A, or worse yet, the top score in the class, is not. He can’t control the difficulty of the test or the performance of his classmates.

Remember There’s No Gain Without Pain

Further, while having high expectations for kids is generally beneficial, beware too much of a good thing. We parents can get so caught up in our children’s achievements that we lose sight of the costs of those accomplishments. This phenomenon was perfectly captured in a television show about female gymnasts that aired several years ago. The gym where the girls were practicing had a glass-enclosed viewing room where several mothers sat on sofas, munching snack food and shouting exhortations to their daughters. Those women exemplify all of us at one time or another, yelling at our kids to SHOOT from the sidelines of a soccer game or admonishing them to practice their piano scales for another half hour as we surf the Internet from our armchair. Bottom line: when we remind our kids that there’s no gain without pain, we need to remind ourselves of the same adage.

Whose Life Is It, Anyway?

If pushing kids too far is one potential pitfall of parental expectations, pushing them in the wrong direction is another. Consider the true story of one family in which the father was a prominent physician and all ten children became doctors. On the one hand, this is an impressive accomplishment, but it also raises an obvious question. What are the odds that all ten of those children, left to choose their own professions, would have chosen medicine? There’s no way to know, but it sure seems likely to me that at least one or two of those kids were more victims of parental expectations than beneficiaries. Avoid this pitfall by urging your kids to set high goals in the arenas they choose for themselves. Finally, don’t expect them to do it alone.

Lend a Helping Hand

A couple of years ago I presented a parent workshop at the math/science magnet school where I run a college planning program. I made a point of highlighting the many competing demands faced by high-achieving teens today and encouraged parents to look for tangible ways to help their kids cope, such as easing up on household chores.

A few weeks later, one of the juniors, an outstanding student and competitive athlete, approached me to offer her heartfelt thanks. She was absolutely thrilled to report that as a result of my talk her parents had excused her from after-dinner kitchen cleanup. I’ve thought a lot about why that meant so much to her, and my best guess is that it wasn’t only the 15 or 20  precious free minutes she’d gained. I suspect it also conveyed to her, in a very meaningful way, her parents’ understanding of how hard she was working and their willingness to help. So here’s one final resolution for the new year: do something to make your teenager’s day!

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Posted on 01/10/2019, by Dr. Ellen Fithian (0 comments)




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