Category Archives: Education

What I Wish I’d Known in School

Being a kid can be tough, especially when it comes to school.  Here is a list of 10 things most of us wish someone had told us while we were students:

1. The most popular and highest achieving kids in school are NOT always the most successful in the real world.  Success in the academic bubble does not necessarily translate to success in work and real life.  While you’re in school, take heart and stay focused because slow and steady wins the race.

2. Just because you’re not part of the “cool crowd” doesn’t mean you’re not cool or unique.  I remember one time just before Christmas break, I was walking out of a chemistry exam and a guy in my class who rarely spoke to me came up and said, “It must be wonderful to be like you and not get nervous about big tests like this.”  I looked at him and laughed.  I said, “What the heck are you talking about?  I’m a wreck just like everyone else.”  It just goes to show you that not only is perception in the eye of the beholder, but it’s also not always on target.  The reason I seemed composed going into exams was that I developed a “leapfrog focus” (i.e. “When the exam is over, I’m going to see a movie/have hot chocolate/etc.), but that didn’t mean I wasn’t a nervous wreck.  I’m amused at how we can all look at each other and think something is true when it isn’t.  Everyone has feelings, insecurities, ambitions, and dreams that aren’t apparent on the surface.  

3. The smartest, most interesting, and most creative people usually aren’t the most socially comfortable or interested.  It’s the least popular, most focused kids who become the most influential and successful.  They’re the ones thinking day in and day out about the big things they’re going to do with their lives.  So if you’re one of them, don’t worry.  And if you’re not, don’t be mean to them.  You never know who’s going to be signing your paycheck or be in a position to help you down the line.  As they say, nerds rule.

4. Being different is actually good.  In the adolescent and post-adolescent years, there’s a lot of pressure to conform to the group, agree to their rules, and dress, talk, and behave a certain way.  It’s a matter of belonging.  However, even though there’s a lot of pressure to fit in and be like everyone else, you can get to the point where you lose sight of who you are at a time when you’re supposed to be discovering yourself.  Therefore, being like everyone else is in direct conflict with what you really need. 

5. Pursue what you love regardless of what people say. You have to remember that people in school are painfully limited in their perspective on the world.  Whatever it is that you’re really into, that you want to stay up late reading about, or you’re thinking about when you should be focusing on a lecture or studying may be the key to what you build your life and career around.  Don’t ignore your passion. It doesn’t matter if anybody else thinks it’s stupid – it’s your passion.

6. Extracurricular activities and internships are sometimes more important than academics. Interacting with the outside world gives you invaluable experiences.  The more you interact with adults, businesses, community groups and execs, the more comfortable you’ll be networking with them when you need a loan, a job, advice on your career, admission to grad school, etc.  Get outside the bubble of school and build a network.

7. Courses and majors in school do not necessarily correlate to opportunities in the real world.  I laugh at some of the majors colleges have, such as “Women’s Studies” or “Communication Studies.”  What the heck are you going to do with those?!  Some of these degrees simply aren’t pragmatic in the real world.

8. Teachers and professors are not the enemy.  Consider them as mentors and friends.  Talk to them often for advice and counsel.  Ask them for extra help, perspective, or just to go over something again.  When I was a professor, I really appreciated the students who came around and wanted to learn more. 

9. Your parents and family usually have your best interests at heart.  They may not always understand why you do some of the things you do, but give them the benefit of the doubt.  Don’t make life harder on your folks.  The better your relationship is with your parents, the easier life is going to be.  Period.  You need family. 

10.  Life is complicated – get used to it.  Consider all the frustrations you’re going through now as training for the really big stuff later.  Learn to deal with conflict, confusion, challenges, and tackling things you don’t like or understand in school because adulthood is a much more dangerous atmosphere.  Develop the coping skills you’ll need for the rest of your life.  The biggest war is not with your teachers or your parents, but the one you have with yourself over who and what you’re going to be and what you’ll stand for.

Losing Like a Winner

One of the most horrendous things to happen to kids since the advent of day care is the way the concept of winning is now taught in schools.  Schools today teach children that everybody is entitled to something simply by showing up.  They’re also slowly taking away honors and awards and eliminating Valedictorians because they don’t want anybody’s feelings to get hurt.
 
It’s a cuddly notion to want everyone to feel like a winner, but in my opinion, it has contributed to an entire generation of young people who can’t deal with reality.  In reality, the world is a very competitive place.  We’ve become so worried about kids getting their feelings hurt that we don’t teach them how to recognize or actually deal with their feelings.

Paradoxically, kids also receive the message that winning is everything.  Like the Vince Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” our society tells kids that winning is the be-all, end-all.  As a result, kids cheat in order to win, and when they lose, they learn to hate or be cruel to the winners. 

Even without our “help,” kids already have particularly powerful emotions about winning.  They don’t want to win – they need to win.  Oftentimes, they are not even content with winning, or they feel a need to engage in expressions of gleeful triumph, such as boasting, bragging, and taunting.  If they lose, they may throw game pieces and insist on a “do-over,” or refuse to play.  For young boys in particular, the desire to win stems from a need to feel a sense of physical or intellectual dominance, which is built into their DNA.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you teach your kids from a very young age how to handle failure.  In life, they’re going to win some and lose some – they need to learn to accept that.  Your job is not just to make your kids happy.  Not allowing them to experience failure only sets them up for an inability to cope with failure in the future.  Moreover, it’s actually the kids who practice losing who learn to be better.  Mastering any skill requires many failures – even if you’re great initially.

When your child loses in a competition or gets a poor grade, you need to use it as a learning experience.  The end goal is to teach them that the joy of competing is having fun, not winning.  Help your child learn good sportsmanship.  The moment he or she starts exhibiting a “poor loser attitude” (e.g. arguing, making excuses, cheating, booing, or criticizing others), call them out on it immediately and let them know that this kind of behavior isn’t allowed.  Explain that they must be considerate of other people’s feelings, and if they are not, they may not participate. 

Teaching kids the proper way to cope with disappointment is extremely important.  Make sure they learn from their mistakes, but also give them support with your words and knowledge.  The quickest way for them to handle defeat gracefully is by feeling that ultimately you’re OK with them.

Paying Kids for Grades

I have the final answer on whether or not you should pay your kids for grades:

You shouldn’t!

There’s a great deal of debate out there among parents about how to motivate kids to do well in school.  I think kids should do what they are able to do in school.  A lot of parents have their eyeballs set on the brass ring – the “A” – when they have B or C students.  If a B or C student is working his or her butt off and gets the B or C that they’re capable of getting, then that’s a huge success.  It’s the process and the activity of studying that should be valued over the result. 

I’ll tell you why that works.  The more enjoyment and satisfaction you get out of a process, the better it feels.   For example, when I’m shooting pool, I go through a five-point process just like the pros do (although I’ll never be a pro), and when I do it right, it feels so good that I don’t even care about pocketing the ball – that’s just icing on the cake.  If you’re only focused on the end result, your hand tightens up, your arm twitches, and your head moves.  Sure you may get lucky and inconsistently pocket some balls, but you’ll never get past a certain level.  But if you follow the process, eventually you’ll be pocketing a lot more balls.  It took me a couple of years to get to the point where the process was the goal and not pocketing the ball.

The same goes for kids in school.  It’s about the process and the learning that are important, not getting the grade. 

One fun way to inspire your kids is to sit around the dinner table and ask them what they learned at school.  My kid is currently taking some philosophy and political science classes, and on the nights he comes over for dinner from his place, we all sit around and enthusiastically discuss whatever he’s learned that day or week.  No matter what your child’s age, you can still ask them to teach you something they learned at school.  Once you’ve asked, just sit there, look impressed, enthusiastically ask questions, and complement them on their ability to discourse in a particular subject and show you that they’ve learned something.  That kid is going to have a lot more enthusiasm for learning because the payoff is your interest and pride in them. 

You have to decide what you want to achieve with you child.  Do you want them to get good grades because you need them to get good grades, or are you trying to change their attitude and behavior?  You are a lot better off trying to help them improve their habits than beating them up over a grade because they’ll not only get the most out of their education, but they’ll also learn how to be more focused and productive. 

Another reason not to pay your kid for grades is that a lot of what we do on this planet isn’t necessarily attached to rewards, especially financial ones (e.g. you don’t get filthy rich volunteering for a charity).  Providing praise and recognition when your child does well in school is wonderful, but setting expectations for a cash reward won’t motivate your kid or instill the values you’re looking for.  It’s difficult for kids to recognize that working hard has long-term benefits when all they are focused on is a paycheck.

So, you need to stress the process over the result, support their work ethic by demonstrating it yourself, and always value the activity of learning.  If your kid comes home and he or she didn’t quite attain a particular grade but you saw that they really studied and prepared, do not say, “Go to your room and don’t play with your friends for six years.”  Tell them, “You know what?  You really studied hard, and this one test in no way measures how hard you worked or how proud I am of what you put into this.”

Anti-Bullying Laws Are Not the Solution

Anti-bullying laws have recently been popping up all over America.  They allow children to report their classmates to the police if they feel they are being bullied.  However, in my opinion, these laws are stupid.  

I have always said that if another kid lays a hand on your child, tell your kid to drop them down and hurt them.  If a kid lays a hand on someone else’s child, tell your kid to drop them down and hurt them.  You have a responsibility to teach your children to stand up for themselves and other people.  Put them in jujitsu classes so they know how to do it without any blood or broken bones. 

Of course these days, bullying is not only limited to the playground.  It happens outside of school on the Internet (in my day, the equivalent was spreading notes and gossiping).  I am well aware of how people can be damaged and hurt on the Internet, but I also grew up with the motto, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  We have totally given that up and told our children that the second their feelings are hurt, it’s all over.  Nobody has a right to not be offended, and no kid has the right to not have hurt feelings.  You need to teach your kids how to stand up for themselves and respond to bullying. 
 
Now, these anti-bullying laws are largely based on anecdotal circumstances.  Sadly, some children and young adults have committed suicide over being harassed.  However, there haven’t been scores of children killing themselves.  There have been unique incidences of suicide, and we’ve always seen those.  Every kid who gets picked on doesn’t kill him or herself.  It has a lot more to do with their mental constitution and family dynamics than the bullying.  These experiences are horrible, but they aren’t the norm, and making laws based on the exceptions is ridiculous. 

I can’t imagine the pain of being a parent whose child has terminated his or her own life.  It’s impossible to understand and appreciate, and I am in no way minimizing it.  All I’m saying is that these are isolated cases of individual people and their inability to cope. 

Do I have a definitive solution to all of this?  Not in our society anymore.  When I was a kid, the school called your parents, they gave you crap, and you were disciplined at school.  These days, if the school calls a parent, they give the school crap.  We’re becoming a disordered, self-defending society.  I may not have a solution, but the solution is definitely not to involve the police because somebody is calling you names.  Whatever happened to kids working out their own stuff? 

Here’s what I would do.  If I had a kid right now who was being bullied on the Internet, I would link it to another page saying, “These are the kids who are using the Internet to hurt other kids.”  I wouldn’t say anything mean or attack back.  I would just list all the things they are doing.  And at the bottom of the page I would also put, “Are these the kinds of kids you have come over and play with your kids?”   That way you bring the problem to light.  Embarrass the bullies and let their parents deal with them.  Smear their reputations with facts.  I think there should be websites that show facts about adults and kids who do bad things.  FACTS!  No exaggerations.  No bad-mouthing. Just facts.   

We live in a country where hurt feelings are the most important thing in the world.   It’s time to toughen up folks.  Have your kids toughen up.  It’s really important to you teach your kids to stand up for themselves and be able to handle life.  

Now There’s a Term for Letting Kids Be Kids: ‘Redshirting’

“Redshirting” is a term that describes college athletes who practice in red shirts but do not compete in games to receive an extra year of eligibility.  Recently, the same idea has been applied to young kids entering school.  More states than ever now require kids to turn 5 before they enroll in kindergarten, and more parents are voluntarily delaying their kids’ entry into kindergarten.  In short, a small percentage of kids are being “redshirted.” 

In my opinion, the primary reason for kids being redshirted, especially in private schools, has to do with academic competition amongst schools.  By putting kids in school later, they will be more mature, better able to sit still and do the work, and more likely to perform well.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. 

In 2009, The New York Times (despite its liberal tendencies) published an article that bolstered redshirting:

“A report out of Cambridge University recommend[s] that kindergarten begin at the age of 6 rather than 5 in Britain.  The Cambridge Primary Review is a sweeping study, requiring 14 authors, 66 research consultants, 28 research surveys, more than 1,000 ‘written submissions’ and 250 focus groups, all leading to the conclusion that British children are currently not allowed to be children.”

If you Google “what age should a kid start kindergarten,” you’re going to see a lot of obfuscating and confusing information.  That’s because it’s a political thing.  The liberal mentality is that kids should be taken out of the home and provided with government education ASAP.  I find that scary.  That is not in the best interest of children.  As the Cambridge study points out, kids simply need to be allowed to be kids.  If you ask really good teachers about this, they will almost always tell you not to put your kids in school too early.  The effects of starting too young begin showing up right around the third grade when kids get knocked off their feet because they’re not really ready.  Boys are especially unprepared because they take longer to mature neurologically and emotionally. 

I think kids should be allowed to be kids, and I believe parents should restructure their families so they’re able to raise their kids.  People should postpone having kids until they can do the right thing by them.  It’s the same principle as buying car: if you can’t really afford the upkeep and monthly fees, don’t go out and buy one.  Don’t put children in an awkward situation simply because you’re not ready to handle it.  It’s not right.  Most people have the biological ability and legal right to have kids, but that doesn’t give them a moral right.  People who aren’t responsible shouldn’t have kids.

One of the main complaints about redshirting comes from parents who don’t want to have to pay for an extra year of child care.  Seriously?!  They’ll put their kids in school at 4 if it will cost them less?  Apparently they don’t care what’s in the best educational interest of children.

Of course, some kids will be ready for school earlier than others, but for the most part, we shouldn’t be forcing them into school at age 4.  Homeschool them, and when they start kindergarten, they’ll be stars.  I’m all for kids not starting kindergarten until the age of 6.  Let them be kids.    

The Teenage Mind

Many people call me all the time saying, “It’s so great to have kids.” And I joke with them, “Just wait until they’re teenagers…” 

What is the teenage issue?  Well, there are a lot of changes happening in society and in our physiology which explains some of what happens with teenagers.  Kids today reach puberty a lot earlier than they did in previous years.  And they reach adulthood a lot later.  It’s amazing to me how many callers say, “I have a kid age 23, 24, 25, 27…etc. living at home and not doing anything.”  Plus, we never know why kids don’t think something through.  Somebody once said, “If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and know how to brake.” 

  • Puberty is kicking in earlier and earlier.  A leading theory points to changes in energy balance – -as “Mother Laura” has said many times. 
  • Kids are eating more and moving less.  Weight gain seems to have something to do with kids entering puberty earlier. 
  • Children also come to take on adult roles later and later.  Think about 500 years ago.  Shakespeare knew the emotionally intense combination of teenage sexuality and risk taking could be tragic.  Look at Romeo and Juliet.  Had they not belonged to warring families, they probably would have gotten married at 13. 

So what happens when kids reach puberty earlier and adulthood later?  They have a lot more problems because they don’t have an established identity as an adult. 

Psychological and neurological systems need to develop in concert with each other.  According to a recent study from Cornell University, emotion and motivation is tied in to the hormonal changes of puberty, and the areas of the brain that respond to rewards reveal adolescents aren’t reckless because they underestimate the risks.  Teenagers don’t seem to have a neurological issue, but instead overestimate the rewards or find the rewards more rewarding than adults do.  So, they will engage in behaviors with no hesitation and no breaks because the little “zing” is just everything – e.g. the incomparable intensity of puppy love.  What teenagers want the most are social rewards.  They want to be respected and liked by their peers.  That’s the built-in mechanism. 

The second crucial system in the teenage brain has to do with controls.  That’s the system which inhibits impulses, guides you in decision making, and encourages long term planning.  This system requires learning.  And we don’t do much of that.  Think about what most teenagers do today.  They mostly hang out…party…party some more…party a little bit more and after that, play video games and text — they spend their lives doing anything but learning. 

In the past, you had to practice gathering, hunting, cooking, and caregiving all the way from childhood to early adolescence in order to become a good hunter, gatherer, or caregiver.  The part of the brain responsible for learning all this then gets wired appropriately for adult use.  But today we don’t have kids apprenticing at anything.  We have them mostly playing all the way through childhood.  We have very few kids working on a farm, working in stores, or working with their parents.  Few kids are working anywhere.  Very rarely is this seen anymore.  We have prolonged childhood forever. 

In contemporary life the two systems that have to do with control and risk taking are not worked on by experiences, because our kids aren’t having any.  Our kids are having very little experience with the kind of tasks they will have to perform as grownups.  I remember when I was in middle school, I had classes where I learned to sew, type and cook.  It didn’t matter if I was going to do that for a living or not.  Everyone had to learn these basic things.  Guys went into shop classes and learned how to make things.  We were teaching our children by experience to build things, to be patient through the process, and to apply themselves.   We don’t do those things anymore.  Just think of the things we all grew up with that taught us to be responsible, control our impulses, and postpone our gratification.  This was very important.  Now our kids are getting into all kinds of trouble, and they are not able to function as young adults.

So, what do we do?  

We have to start with our kids earlier.  It’s not just because we are “disciplining them and teaching them character.”  It’s because their brains actually need this exercise in order to function in a mature way.  They need it.  Concretely, what we need to do is to stop babying our babies.  They have to take on responsibility.  That’s why I think all 18 year olds should go in to the military.  After spending two years in the military, they’ll learn a lot about responsibility and controlling their impulses.   I really like that in the Mormon religion; young people have to go on a mission  someplace in the world to help others and perform tasks.  They learn a tremendous amount, enrich their brains, teach themselves control, postpone gratification, and learn to solve problems.  They don’t just turn to mind altering chemicals.

For a more in-depth perspective, Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at the University of California Berkley, wrote a good article in the Wall Street Journal called “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?”