What Should Parents Do For Their Kids?

One of things that I’ve found fascinating while eavesdropping on twitter this week is the continuum of opinion on parents.

On the first day of the scandal, when most of the focus was on the Uber-rich and their bribes, there was near consensus that these people acted inappropriately. Except for the brother of one the kids that was caught up in the sting.

“They’re blowing this whole thing out of proportion,” said Malcolm Abbott outside the home that overlooks the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “I believe everyone has a right to go to college, man.”

But then on day two and three, when pundits and writers were looking for new angles, attention started focusing on middle class and upper middle class parents and how they help prep their kids for school and college.

The NYT had some nice data on the percentage of parents of all incomes, who do things like help their adult child (aged 18-25) study for a test and make their doctor’s appointments. I didn’t see charts this week about the percentage of parents of younger children who help them study for tests or hire tutors for them. (LMK if you came across any new data in the news.)

But beyond the just-the-facts stories like the NYT, there was much discussion around how wealthier parents skew educational outcomes. And this discussion was ideological.

My kids are privileged in a dozen different ways. They have two highly educated parents, an extended family, a tradition of sitting down for dinner with discussion. They live in a low crime community, where their peers are all expected to attend college. Their school is well funded with AP classes and guidance counselors. They attend summer camps and travel. Right off the bat, they have a HUGE leg up on lower income peers.

Even if I never looked at a term paper or attended back to school nights or hired tutors (I do for Ian.), they are ahead of the game. I recognize that. I vote for politicians who will support education and economic prospects for the less fortunate. But I’m going to keep going IEP meetings for Ian and helping Jonah (and his roommates) with their political science classes.

There are some, on the left, who think that parents should be shamed into doing less for their kids in order to reduce inequality. I agree with Rick Hess and say that’s impossible.

The right views public education as fundamentally broken. In the past, the answer to the broken system were charter schools and vouchers, but they’re moving past that. Now, the only answer to the broken schools are parents who bring change from within.

I’m somewhat sympathetic to those arguments. I’m not sure if it’s a bug or a feature, but there are many in this group who have children with special needs. But I’ve also seen a lot parental advocacy that doesn’t benefit the common good, but their own particular children.

There’s probably a sane middle to those two extreme points of view, but I’ll let you all figure it out.

4 thoughts on “What Should Parents Do For Their Kids?

  1. “But I’m going to keep going IEP meetings for Ian and helping Jonah (and his roommates) with their political science classes.

    There are some, on the left, who think that parents should be shamed into doing less for their kids in order to reduce inequality. I’m agree with Rick Hess and say that’s impossible.”

    It’s impossible, but it’s also not right, to “shame” people into doing less for their children because other people can’t do as much. Are we supposed to stop talking to our children because some parents don’t? A lot of the parenting advice along those lines doesn’t try to shame, but argues that it is not good for the children (Jessica Lahey, “The Gift of Failure”, Julie Lythcott-Haims, “How to Raise an Adult”, Wendy Mogel, “The Blessings of a Skinned Knee).

    I think a issue that everyone fails to grapple with enough, in my opinion, is when the intervention is useful for obtaining goals your child desires. Test prep, for example, or students taking classes ahead of time so that they can get A’s in the class when they take it in school. Taking classes over the summer and then agitating for advanced classes in the HS (potentially even resulting in cancelling the lower level classes). I feel like you may have linked me to that information, which is a suburban NJ/Silicon valley phenomenon. We don’t quite yet face it here, but it is growing in the PNW, as well.


    1. Yes. It’s good to remember you are training the people who will pick your nursing home. Being able to make a good decision under stress and follow up when needed is more important than the difference between a B and a B+.


  2. “There’s probably a sane middle to those two extreme points of view, but I’ll let you all figure it out.”

    I think one of the first steps for progressives to admit is that we can’t nullify the differences in society, through government intervention or any other policy. We can try to provide more opportunity, but we cannot provide equal opportunity for all, and we can’t even do that by, say, providing preschool.

    What I’m coming around to realizing is that we might not be able to provide enough opportunity. A lot of interventions in my progressive and privileged community involve trying to help some people jump from the loser to the winner side of the system in which there are winners and losers and a big gulf between the two. A prime example is access to private schools or access to programs that try to give intensive/knowledgeable educational prep advice to low income/first gen children. But, those programs can only support a small number of children (one that a friend is closely involved with does a tremendous job, but with 60 children). So, a small number of children from the communities get pulled, potentially, into the winner column. But, it’s really not enough. We need to work towards solutions that make less of a gulf between the winners and the losers (for example, fully support the public schools, which educate the vast majority).

    And then, how much are we willing to give up? in programs that benefit our children, perhaps, but not the less advantaged children?


  3. Parents should do whatever it takes to prepare their kids to thrive at a non-elite college (or for some kids, to thrive even if they don’t go to college). Some may end up at an elite college, but many will not, and it’s pretty hard to figure out ahead of time which ones are which. In the meantime, avoid curating them, avoid putting a lot of pressure on them unless they ask for it, and make very sure that they don’t think that only a highly selective college can give them a good education.

    That said, be very wary of sending your kid to an open-admission 4-year or 2-year college unless they are pretty motivated. The number of students who are there simply because their parents or guidance counselor told them they had to go to college, or because their friends are going to college, can have a very dampening effect on the school climate and the rigor of the instruction.

    Out here in the Midwest, there is less obsessing about elite colleges anyway, even among academics and professionals.


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