Tag Archives: parenting

The Guidance Counselor Is In

image from dullhunk

Office hours: 24 hours a day.  Case load: one student.  Wow, you say.  SuzyQ must be lucky to have such personalized attention in her college search.  Well, you see…I’m the Guidance Counselor.  Tack that on to my other roles of teacher, household Chief Operating Officer, oh…and mom and wife.  So, here I am, spending hours each day learning the new ropes of college admissions.  And it is an all-new ballgame from the one I remember 25 years ago.

Did you know that there are social networks devoted exclusively to college matching and admissions?  I do– now.  I remember the PSAT and the SAT from my own college search.  These days, though, the alphabet soup has expanded considerably:  ACT, SAT II, FAFSA (used to be the FAF), CSS, NSSE, and EFC to name a few.  I knew about early decision, but I have found out that a student can also apply under early action or single-choice early action plans as well.  I’m learning which schools use the Common App and which ones are test optional. 

I don’t have an advanced degree in education, yet I have managed to untangle the statistics and terminology enough to help SuzyQ begin to assemble a list of schools.  We have visited 8 colleges and universities so far, not counting the ones we just walked around during the Christmas break.  What I want to know is, if the competition to get admitted to college is as fierce as the media would have us believe, why are so many parents and students so completely ignorant about the whole process?  After all, most kids can just drop into their guidance counselor’s office any day at school.  Parents could call or email their kid’s counselor with questions or use the school’s login password to access information on various websites restricted to school use.

Our most recent college visits have been to a conservative Catholic school, an Ivy, and a selective private college.  At each one, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at some of the questions that were asked by parents of prospective students.  At Catholic College, parents had never heard of the Common Application or that gate-keeper of financial aid, the FAFSA.  No one asked about credit given for AP classes or what kinds of services are available at the career counseling center, but there were plenty of questions about how the visitation policy in the single-sex dorms would be enforced and who would make sure their child attended Mass every Sunday.  And no one touched the big elephant-in-the-room question about why the campus buildings (all circa 1978) are so ugly that none of them are ever shown in photos of the school.

Next we took a look at Ivy University.  It seems to me that anyone who has a kid even remotely considering applying to an Ivy League school would have their act pretty much together regarding admissions stuff.  Not so.  A parent asked if legacy (children of alumni) applicants get special preference.  If you have to ask that question and you think you will get the real scoop from an admissions officer, you should just move along.  Similarly, the parent who had no idea what “super scoring” your SAT scores meant clearly has not done enough homework to swim with the Ivy U. sharks.  With an acceptance rate of about 8%, these school demand a lot more preparation than that.

Last stop, Selective College.  Just when I think, “Here is a group of visitors who have their act together,” one of the parents drops the Diversity Bomb.  She asks what the school is doing about diversity.  Now, you would have to live under a rock to be unfamiliar with the fact that every college in the country is trying to increase its diversity.  What does she expect to hear from the admissions folks besides, “We’re proud of the gains we have made, but we still have work to do”?  Another pet peeve: people who get into their own private conversations while on the tour, ignore the tour guide, and then ask a question that she just addressed 2 minutes ago.  If you traveled all the way from California to the mid-Atlantic states, isn’t it worth your time to PAY ATTENTION??

And another thing…Why are parents the only ones asking the questions in all of these information sessions and tours?  Helicopter parenting is alive and well.  Mostly the prospective students shuffled around like zombies while Mom and Dad pumped the tour guides for info.  And I thought my homeschooled kids were supposed to be the anti-social ones.  I wonder–at what point do kids suddenly wake up and feel capable of handling their own business?  I’m pretty sure they expect their parents to get their dorm room set up.  Do they also figure Mom and Dad will register them for all their classes, line up their work-study job, and get them into a fraternity, too?  I remember feeling nervous (OK, maybe a little scared) after my parents got me unpacked and then drove away, but I don’t recall feeling helpless.

Well, I need to get back to work to figure out if attending online high school means the student is considered homeschooled for admission purposes and whether the Post 9/11 GI Bill will be de-funded before SuzyQ finishes college.  So many questions; so little time.


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Children on Your Flight? Lord, Have Mercy.

Herded like cattle through long lines and subjected to fierce scrutiny.  Strapped down.  No fresh air.  Packed in so tight you can barely move.  No meals.  Enduring incessant banging and shrieking for hours on end.  What sort of torture is this?  Just a routine flight on any commercial airline.  And more specifically, a flight in which you are seated near an unruly child.

There has been lots of chatter about airlines beginning child-free flights.  Recently, The New York Times ran this article on the subject.  Apparently, a survey released in August found that a majority of travelers support the idea.  Message boards and complaint forums have been active with the notion of kid-free flying, and there is even a Facebook group called “Airlines Should Have Kid-Free Flights.”  Airlines aren’t talking about the idea.  Given the logistics involved and the potential costs to the airlines, it’s no wonder.

This is a tough one for me.  I have spent my share of hours giving the evil eye to the parent of  kids on my flight after enduring screaming, banging, hair-pulling as they grab my seat from behind, and nosiness as they stare at you from the seat in front and interrupt conversation or sleep.  Notice I said “the parent.”  Because really, the fault lies with the parent.  It’s the parent’s responsibility to pack enough distractions to keep the child from bothering others.  The parent should know how much noise will freak the child out, how long the kid can go between meals, the length of the child’s attention span, etc.  Isn’t that what being a parent is about: anticipating your child’s needs?  And with all of the books, magazines, and websites full of information on easy traveling with children, there’s really no excuse for attempting to fly unprepared.

Now in some cases, travelers need to cut the parents some slack.  Well, in only one case: flying with infants.  Babies cry.  That shouldn’t be news to anyone.  Sometimes babies cry for no reason at all.  And that magic thing you do that always gets the baby to stop crying will sometimes fail, probably once the place starts to taxi down the runway.  There’s nothing the parent can do except keep trying and ride it out.  Get over it, people.

A 3-year-old is an entirely different matter.  I have little patience for the parent of a bratty toddler or school-aged child who apologizes and says, “I just can’t get little Mackenzie/Tyler to settle down.”  That parent’s troubles started long ago, when she decided that discipline was an archaic style of parenting.   I have no problem relegating those families to the back row with the seats that don’t recline, right by the restrooms.

I have been blessed with kids who are terrific travelers.  They have flown over oceans and across the International Date Line.  Now, they are certainly not angels.  My carry-on bag was loaded down with pacifiers, bottles, juice boxes, Goldfish crackers, lollipops, crayons, Etch-a-Sketch-es, Barbies, Hot Wheels cars, portable tape/CD players, and so on for many trips.  Now they’re old enough to carry their own junk.  And when all else failed, I had no qualms about drugging them with gentle antihistamines that made them sleepy.  Dimetapp, Bendryl… just call them Mommy’s Little Helpers.

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A Lame Parent and Proud of It

Commercials are all about grabbing your attention in 30 seconds or less.  Mostly, I watch TV via the DVR, so I miss nearly all the commercials.  Every now and then, though, one slips by.  This Toyota ad for the Highlander SUV definitely caught my attention, though probably not in the way Toyota hoped for:

Am I actually supposed to find this child cute??  All I wanted to do was yell at him to watch his smart mouth.  I don’t find anything endearing about a kid who refers to his family as “the Geek family” and complains that his parents are too dorky for him.  He ridicules the family car, which his dad is shown lovingly washing.  Here’s a newsflash for you, kid:  That car is paid for!!  You probably haven’t made the connection, but the money that’s not going toward payments on a “cooler” vehicle is buying your expensive leather jacket and your too-tight skinny jeans.  Or maybe your parents are putting that money away so that their precious, ungrateful offspring can go to college one day.  I would hardly call that “lame.”

I get it that this is supposed to be a caricature of a modern, savvy child.  The problem I have is that this type appears so often in the media that it is passed off as normal.  How many Disney Channel shows have kids mouthing off at adults and making snide comments about them?  This isn’t really anything new (“The Simpsons,” “Malcolm in the Middle”), but it is so commonplace now.  Just spend an afternoon with “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” or “iCarly” or even “Sponge Bob Squarepants” for a taste of where kids (How old is the typical audience?) are learning to be smart alecks.  Or you could stroll through the mall on a Saturday and get an earful of the zingers and profanity that kids toss around casually.

When I was growing up, I would be reminded to watch my mouth, stop the back-talk, or quit sassing.  And profanity always brought the old gem about getting your mouth washed out with soap.  These days, though, it seems that there is no such thing as sassing anymore.  It’s all just a child expressing himself, no matter that everything coming out of his mouth is disrespectful.

Toyota execs, you got my attention.  However, you guessed wrong that this would get me to look favorably upon your company or products.  All I can think of now is that kid in your ad who needs to be “taken out behind the woodshed,” as my grandfather would have said.  Oh, and the kid also needs a haircut!!  Apparently, uncommon housewives were not in your test marketing group.

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Feed Your Own Kid!…or, Baseball Team Snacks

The Fall Ball season has begun.  Junior plays in our community league in the 13-14 year old bracket.  Did you get that?  These kids are either in 8th grade or high school.  So why in the world do parents still have to bring team snacks for every game?? 

The games start at either 5:45 p.m., 9 a.m., or 11 a.m.  The 2 morning start times are right between meal times.  Eat a full meal either before or after the game, and you’re good.  The evening games can make it a bit trickier to work in a decent meal.  We just have Junior eat something light before and after.  What’s so hard about figuring that out?  In other words, team snacks have nothing to do with hunger.  Coach said he tried to do away with snacks last season, but it “didn’t go over well.”  I wonder if it was the kids or the parents who complained.

I’m tired of having to drag a cooler full of Gator Ade and those stupid little bags of chips to games.  What’s wrong with parents just bringing drinks and a snack for their own kid if he can’t make it through the game and the 10 minute drive home unless he eats something?  I quit feeding my kid every 2 hours a long time ago.  If kids really are starving, they do have a concession stand at the field.  The proceeds even go back to the league.   And they sell hot dogs, soda, gum, candy, sports drinks–all the same garbage that I’m supposed to give out as freebies at snack time.

So, let’s see if I have things straight.  These boys are about high school age.  They hate to be called children.  They probably all have their own cell phones.  They are allowed to watch adult TV rather than just Disney Channel and Nickelodeon.  So is it unreasonable to expect them to decide if they are going to get hungry at a game or not and to bring along a snack or not?  They want to be treated more like adults and be given more freedom.  Well, here’s their chance.  Welcome to the grown-up world.  After all, when I have to spend 2 hours at the DMV, no one hands out snacks.  Neither are there traffic attendants who pass out refreshments during traffic jams.  Kids who wear cleats size 9 and above and have hands that are bigger than mine have no business sticking them out demanding mini bags of Doritos.

 A snack schedule has been made, and my name is on it.  I could refuse to bring anything out of protest, but where’s the fun in that?  Instead, I told Junior I plan to bring a bag of apples.

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The Case for Free Range Kids

Today I read this AP story entitled “in the Wake of Tragedy in Indy, Parents Must Weigh Risks of Kids Playing Adult Games.”   It was a reaction to the tragic accidental death of a 13-year-old after falling off his motorcycle in a warm-up lap for a U.S. Grand Prix Racers Union event.

The article quotes plenty of “experts” such as child psychologists and an “education and parenting coach” (A parenting coach.  Are you kidding me?!)  who are appalled that such risk-taking is permitted and complain that teens lack sufficient impulse control, are too drawn in by what looks cool, and must be “protected by society.”  The parenting coach blames parents who are unwilling to impose boundaries.  That’s a first!!

Of course, the death of any child is tragic.  But is this a case of bad parenting?  For that matter, what about the parents of 13-year-old Everest climber Jordan Romero or around-the-world sailors Zac (17) and Abby (16) Sunderland?  In all of these cases, the kids had acquired an amazing level of expertise, and their parents allowed them to pursue their passions.  But still, we hear the outcry of disapproval.

So at what age is it OK to let our kids take risks?  Maybe the “experts” and a lot of the shame-on-you crowd should take a look at FreeRangeKids, a blog (and book by the same title) by Lenore Skenazy.  She features articles, tips, statistics, and readers’ letters in support of the effort to raise kids to be self-reliant.  She advocates common sense, as she write, “Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage.  The over-protective life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.”

Indeed.  We are so busy protecting our kids from fitted sheets, drawstrings, monkey bars, homemade cupcakes, lawn darts, etc. that we are robbing them of opportunities for adventure.  I can recall riding my bike as a 9 or 10-year-old to the liquor store in our Southern California neighborhood to buy popsicles.  According to today’s parenting manual, there are so many things wrong with those outings.  But they gave me a little bit of confidence.  What if we gave our kids adequate knowledge and a value system and then let them leap?  They might get hurt; they might fail; but they will have gained experience.

Not every child is X-Games, solo sailor, or Everest climber material.  But how will a child ever know what he can achieve if he’s not let out of the cage?

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Living in the Land of Tolerance

Sometimes it’s hard being uncommon.  Especially when you know that you will be a social outcast for the forseeable future.  Lately the headlines remind me that things will get worse before they get better.  The most recent example is the decision by a California federal court judge striking down that state’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.  The judge ruled that “moral and religious views form the only basis for a belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples,” and that those views are “irrational.”  He went on to describe marriage as merely “an expression of emotional support and public commitment.”

Let’s put aside for now my response to the judge’s opinion about marriage.  Instead, there’s the bigger picture to examine.  Rebecca Hagelin does this in a recent column.   She predicts a field day for those who wish to cram the new morality of Tolerance down our throats:

The judge’s ruling serves as a primer for the sex educators, liberal school boards, and social engineers who want our children to embrace the same reasoning. And their methods are frightening: They are using the power of big government to force their personal moral views of homosexual relationships on children and families across the nation.

She goes on:

School curricula and the mandated atmosphere of tolerance are already rolling over our children like waves eroding the shore; but now, the tsunami is headed our way. And the pressure for parents to be silent and conform to a “new morality” is everywhere. It’s in television shows, the movies, games and music; it’s in the schools, in advertising, in our courtrooms and boardrooms.

Let’s face it.  The presumption in this country today is that everyone is on board with what was taboo only a generation or two ago: abortion, embryonic stem cell research, couples shacking up instead of marrying, divorce, “hooking up,” openly homosexual behavior.  Now the taboo is questioning any of these behaviors. In the military world, for example, shack-up “families” are afforded almost all the same privileges as traditional families, even though this means passing ship movement information to non-dependents.  Objecting on the grounds that a couple is not married is akin to stirring a hornet’s nest.

I’m trying to raise my children with a set of firm values.  I want them to know that there are absolute truths, moral standards of right and wrong.  But as the notion of tolerance-no-matter-what becomes more ingrained in our society and government, believing in absolute truths seems more and more foreign.  I’m asking my kids to be truly counter-cultural.

Ms. Hagelin calls on parents to stand up for what they believe in and drown out the angry tolerance bombarding our kids.  Our Lord said: Be not afraid; I am with you always.  This is going to take a lot of courage and prayer and divine intervention.  I wonder–is there a patron saint for the uncommon?

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Helicopter Parents. Oh, Please.

When I first read this article about colleges providing extensive orientation for parents of incoming freshmen, my reaction was, “Are you kidding me??!!”  It’s no wonder the cost of college has gone up so much.  Here’s a taste:

But these are not simple “meet the dean” receptions held the day before school starts. These are elaborate two- and three-day events, often held on midsummer weekdays, requiring parents to take time off from work and pay $70 or $80 in addition to lodging, food and travel expenses. They are packed with workshops, tours and speeches on subjects ranging from letting go to campus safety. Reed College in Portland, Ore., even invites parents to read “The Odyssey” and attend a lecture and discussion similar to what their children will experience in a freshman humanities course.

First of all, I plodded through The Odyssey as a college freshman, and I have no intention of reading it again.  Not even to empathize with my kids.

But more to the point, “letting go”??  Is it really the responsibility of the college or university to counsel parents on how to deal with letting go?  I guess in this age of parents calling up their child’s professor or dean to argue grades or make excuses for why their kid keeps skipping class, schools are doing their best to nip this “hovering” in the bud.  This seems a little over the top to me, though.  I could see maybe an hour-long discussion of health and safety issues along with typical homesick behaviors to expect.  Multiple days of this is just enabling.

According to the article, “lots of parents think the orientations are the greatest thing since “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”  I don’t know about you, but those books scared the crap out of me.  They were great for 2 things: reminding me of every possible thing that could go wrong with my child and reinforcing the fact that apparently every parenting decision I ever made was wrong.  I finally gave up on that series of books in favor of child-rearing guides more in line with my own parenting instincts.

And that’s really the point.  Rather than handing over every last cent I have after paying tuition and fees so that I can get one expert’s opinion on what my child will experience and how I can deal with it, I hope to trust my instincts.  I’ve been anticipating this since the start of high school.  I still have 2 years to go before my first child leaves the nest (see my earlier post here.), so you can be sure I’ll be doing my own reading and asking about what to expect.  And then, I’ll go with my gut.


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