January 27, 2014

Do smart people make stupid parents?

Having kids changes everything. But does becoming a parent make people stupid, or is that caused by society on a bigger scale?

I'm referring, today, to this blog post by KQED which skims the surface of a serious epidemic facing today's middle class families: The overwhelming academic pressure that teens face these days.

For you non-parents, and you parents of younger kids that haven't yet hit high school, this is totally a thing.

Parents want the best for their kids. They want success for their kids. They know success comes from hard work, but it also comes from having opportunity. Opportunity comes from having a degree from a prestigious college. Everything good parents do comes from the well intentioned quest to give their kids the best opportunity for success.

So when we see things like this (from the UCLA admissions FAQ)

The average admitted applicant to UCLA for the Fall Quarter 2013 had a weighted GPA of 4.41, an unweighted GPA of 3.89, an SAT Reasoning Test score of 2055, an ACT Assessment composite score of 30, 21 semesters of honors/AP course work completed between 10th and 12th grades, and 53 semesters of college prep coursework overall.
HOLY SHIT.

That's the average admitted applicant. Average.

It's no wonder that parents go a little out of their minds when they see such statistics. It's no wonder they start pounding on their kids to study harder and do more homework and stop being children when they're still in fifth grade. Because by the time they're a freshman in high school, if they're not on a path to complete 21 semesters of honors/AP classes over the next four years, they might not get into that prestigious college.

Thus, they project a crushing fear of failure onto their kids. They don't stop to think about other options, only that a 4.40 weighted GPA might not be enough to get into UCLA these days. The kids pick up on this fear but don't have the maturity to self-regulate. They're just kids. And they're under this impression that their lives will be over if they get a B or don't score in the 90th percentile on the SAT.

I'm a reasonably smart guy. I graduated from UC Berkeley with an engineering degree. Maybe that opened some doors that wouldn't have been open had I gone to a school with a less grand reputation. Then again, maybe not.

At work, in my neighborhood, at my kids' schools I'm surrounded by smart people. Many went to colleges I'd never even heard of before. Some went to "party schools." A few never went to college at all. Yet they have good jobs, nice homes, great kids, comfortable lives.

What goes wrong in a parent's brain that allows them to think 12 hours devoted to schoolwork every day is a good thing? That missing family dinners for studying will lead to a better life? What lets them torture their own kids with this crushing fear of a potential failure that, quite frankly, isn't even real? What makes them think they're competing against other kids, rather than against this mythical ideal?

Better to try to guide teenage kids into adulthood by letting them understand that finding the right fit is more important than squeezing into a prestigious torture chamber. We spend so much of our energy trying to be "the best" as defined by rankings and tests and brand recognition that we forget that we should be focusing instead on being the best "me" we each can be.

It's difficult as a parent to break away from the overwhelming social pressures. But ultimately our children's success and happiness will be best served by helping them learn how to create their own path that is the right path for them. Yet even some of the smartest people out there seem to turn stupid when it comes to their kids. Love them. Guide them. Coach them. Push them to be the best they can be.

But don't hold them to arbitrary measurements that don't fit them in the hopes that they will become something they're not. 

5 comments:

Maria Dudley said...

Good post!! Definitely freaky....

Lily said...

"...ultimately our children's success and happiness will be best served by helping them learn how to create their own path that is the right path for them."

This is one of the major themes of the book I am working on.

Excellent post, my friend.

Peter Dudley said...

Thanks to you both for your thoughts! Lily, your book sounds interesting.

Daniel Efosa Uyi said...

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Daniel Efosa Uyi said...

Hey meh, I've been following your blog for almost 6 months now without leaving any comment so I decided to quickly say hi today.
Regards, Daniel from http://danieluyi.com