Which Things Are Most Worth Spending Time On?

Fall discussions with my junior and senior students often contain variations on the following question: “The club fair is coming up. I should join three or four clubs, right? I’ve heard that colleges like that.”

As the kids say, allow me to throw some shade on that assumption.

Yes, colleges want to see students getting involved in extracurricular activities that are meaningful to them. But it doesn’t have to be many – it can be just one activity. In fact, it’s better to be one activity sustained over time than multiple activities added toward the end of high school.

Even better is an activity that helps a student mature, discover his/her likes and dislikes and get some feedback from others. This can be a club, a sport, music, art or drama involvement (all inside or outside of school), not to mention a job, volunteer participation, a role in a religious or scouting group, and more.

Sure, if there is just one activity that involves a minimal amount of time (one hour per week, for example), then yes, there is likely time for a high school student to be involved in more. But even then, it’s worth letting a college know that the student may have had to watch younger siblings after school to help parents who work (for example).

In addition to participation, colleges tend to place a premium on leadership. Not everyone can be a club officer or a team captain, of course, but there are other ways to demonstrate this trait. Students can figure out what they like and take some initiative to help start a project in a group they are part of or volunteer to be a coach or tutor of younger kids. That is leadership also.

An additional benefit of extracurricular involvement is that by exploring interests in high school – real interests, not just things that look good on an application – students can make better college choices. Do they like to take photographs, make movies, write poetry, play in a band, ride horses, play a sport, etc.? The more they know about themselves going into college, the better a fit when it comes to making a final decision.

Finally, if they have some sense of the kind of career they hope to pursue, it’s worth finding ways to observe, volunteer or intern in those professions. Nothing shines a light on what it’s like to do a particular job like watching other people do it for real!

Remember, when it comes to admission, colleges still care the most about the level of classes a student takes and the grades they receive. Some schools care about test scores quite a bit too, although many are now Test Optional and then there is always the option of not sending SAT or ACT scores if a student is not at the average level at a school to which they are applying.

So yes, activities matter, but less so than schoolwork itself. Students who are too overscheduled also run the risk of feeling overwhelmed, falling behind in sleep and underperforming in academics.

Encourage your child to pick and choose activities carefully. It is quality, not quantity that counts!

Off They Go!

Here then, are a few things to keep in mind, especially for those sending a child off to college for the first time: 

  1. There is bound to be some grumpiness or mood swings as your child realizes they are really leaving home and their friends (soon). Students with regular anxiety should have some meetings set up with a counselor before they leave and plan ahead for appointments once at campus.
  2. Do not save all the information you want to pass along until the day you bring them to campus – none of it will register.
  3. There will now be many things out of your control. You’ll need to get used to that.
  4. You are now in more of a “consultant role” as opposed to being on board to solve every problem. Practice saying, “I’m sorry to hear that, what do you plan to do about it?” Still, be on the lookout and get involved if your child sounds depressed or overly anxious on an ongoing basis.
  5. It is normal for your child to call you when they are homesick or physically sick. They tend not to call as much when things are going well. I do recommend that you set up a regular interval when you plan to have a weekly call. (Face Time, Skype or Zoom all work well for video calls.)
  6. Encourage patience as it can take quite a while to settle in academically and socially. Your child will not feel as comfortable at school as they did at home, even after a few weeks. They need to expect to feel uncomfortable as they get settled.
  7. Remind your child that the best time to reach out and make friends is during the first weeks of school when others are also looking for connections. Encourage them to join an activity. They should not stay hidden in their dorm room!
  8. Regarding the previous suggestion, make sure your student knows that the most common time for students to be sexually assaulted is in the first few weeks of freshman year. It’s important to set up a buddy system with friends and to never allow themselves to get into a situation that doesn’t feel safe.
  9. Remind students that buying or selling prescription medication is against the law and can get them kicked off campus. Students taking prescribed meds may want to use a small safe.
  10. Talk to your child about using the academic support services right from the beginning – transition to college workshops, tutoring as needed, writing center, etc. You are paying for these as part of tuition and they really do help.
  11. Time management is often a problem due to all the hours outside of class where students need to manage their time. Encourage them to treat 9am to 5pm as the work day, and to be fully productive during those hours.
  12. Encourage your child to find a few adults / older students on campus that they can turn to for advice and support when things are not going well (professor, advisor, club leader, coach, RA, peer mentor, etc.).
  13. Help your child understand that getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and their eating / drinking habits will greatly contribute to how efficient they are with their school work. (Some of these tips will be better received from an older student instead of you as a parent!)
  14. Realize that this is a big change for you as a parent, especially if you will no longer have any kids living at home. Consider planning some additional social activities in the weeks after your child leaves home. This is a good time to sign up for that cooking or photography class you have always wanted to try.

I wish you and your student all the best for a smooth and successful transition this fall!

Every Parent’s Summer Reading List

Here are five books, along with their Amazon descriptions, that I recommend for parents. Choose one or more and enjoy!

Your Kid's Gonna Be Okay: Building the Executive Function Skills Your Child Needs in the Age of Attention 
by Michael Delman 
Do you do too much for your kid out of fear they will never make it in the world without your oversight? Are you frustrated or worried about your 'tween, teen, or young adult who seems lazy or unmotivated? Do you see your child unable to reach their potential because they are disorganized, scattered, and can't manage their time?

In Your Kid's Gonna Be Okay: Building the Executive Function Skills Your Child Needs in the Age of Attention, Michael Delman tackles the big worries that keep parents awake at night. In a conversational tone informed by deeply-rooted expertise, Delman illustrates how to connect meaningfully with your child and encourage habits that lead to success in school — and in life.

Your Kid's Gonna Be Okay helps parents understand the critical skills needed for effective self-management and provides specific strategies and tools to help kids become motivated, accountable, and independent. Through engaging stories that illustrate how we all build Executive Function skills, Delman demonstrates how kids can change their habits as they pave their own path toward competence today and confidence in their future. Parents of kids with ADHD or other learning differences – or parents worried about how their child can manage distractions will benefit from Delman's experience as an educator, an Executive Function coach, and as a parent.

At What Cost?: Defending Adolescent Development in Fiercely Competitive Schools
by David L. Gleason Psy.D. 

Anxiety, depression, and their dangerous manifestations-substance abuse, eating disorders, self-injury and suicide- are increasing student conditions at many competitive high schools. Paradoxically, most of these schools promote themselves as being committed to students' holistic development in academics, athletics and the arts, and in their personal, social, and emotional growth.

So why are so many students struggling? Dr. Gleason has investigated these concerns in competitive high schools throughout the United States and around the world and has found almost complete unanimity in how educators and parents have responded to his interviews. In sum, these caring and dedicated adults fully admit to overscheduling, overworking and, at times, overwhelming their students and teenaged children. This conflict – adults wanting to educate and parent adolescents in healthy and balanced ways, but simultaneously, overscheduling, overworking and, at times, overwhelming them – is at the heart of this book.
iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us 
by Jean M. Twenge PhD

With generational divides wider than ever, parents, educators, and employers have an urgent need to understand today’s rising generation of teens and young adults. Born in the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s and later, iGen is the first generation to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone. With social media and texting replacing other activities, iGen spends less time with their friends in person—perhaps why they are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

But technology is not the only thing that makes iGen distinct from every generation before them; they are also different in how they spend their time, how they behave, and in their attitudes toward religion, sexuality, and politics. They socialize in completely new ways, reject once sacred social taboos, and want different things from their lives and careers. More than previous generations, they are obsessed with safety, focused on tolerance, and have no patience for inequality. iGen is also growing up more slowly than previous generations: eighteen-year-olds look and act like fifteen-year-olds used to.

As this new group of young people grows into adulthood, we all need to understand them: Friends and family need to look out for them; businesses must figure out how to recruit them and sell to them; colleges and universities must know how to educate and guide them. And members of iGen also need to understand themselves as they communicate with their elders and explain their views to their older peers. Because where iGen goes, so goes our nation—and the world.
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success 
by Julie Lythcott-Haims 

A provocative manifesto that exposes the harms of helicopter parenting and sets forth an alternate philosophy for raising preteens and teens to self-sufficient young adulthood
In How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims draws on research, on conversations with admissions officers, educators, and employers, and on her own insights as a mother and as a student dean to highlight the ways in which overparenting harms children, their stressed-out parents, and society at large. While empathizing with the parental hopes and, especially, fears that lead to overhelping, Lythcott-Haims offers practical alternative strategies that underline the importance of allowing children to make their own mistakes and develop the resilience, resourcefulness, and inner determination necessary for success.

Relevant to parents of toddlers as well as of twentysomethings–and of special value to parents of teens–this book is a rallying cry for those who wish to ensure that the next generation can take charge of their own lives with competence and confidence. 
Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania 
by Frank Bruni 

Over the last few decades, Americans have turned college admissions into a terrifying and occasionally devastating process, preceded by test prep, tutors, all sorts of stratagems, all kinds of rankings, and a conviction among too many young people that their futures will be determined, and their worth established by which schools say yes and which say no.

That belief is wrong. It's cruel. In WHERE YOU GO IS NOT WHO YOU'LL BE, Frank Bruni explains why, giving students and their parents a new perspective on this brutal, deeply flawed competition and a path out of the anxiety that it provokes.

Bruni, a bestselling author and a columnist for the New York Times, shows that the Ivy League has no monopoly on corner offices, governors' mansions, or the most prestigious academic and scientific grants. Through statistics, surveys, and the stories of hugely successful people who didn't attend the most exclusive schools, he demonstrates that many kinds of colleges-large public universities, tiny hideaways in the hinterlands-serve as ideal springboards. And he illuminates how to make the most of them. What matters in the end are a student's efforts in and out of the classroom, not the gleam of his or her diploma.

Where you go isn't who you'll be. Americans need to hear that-and this indispensable manifesto says it with eloquence and respect for the real promise of higher education.