“Jimmy can do whatever he wants. We’re not one of those parents who pushes their children.” So a spoke a mother from a top public school in Shoreline, Connecticut about her 17 year old son who was meeting with me for college counseling. Jimmy’s mediocre grades, test scores, and activities actually meant that he couldn’t do what he wanted for college. Jimmy was not happy. “I should have worked harder.” he said.
“Those schools are not good enough.” So spoke the father of Katherine when I suggested she look at schools a notch below the Ivy League. When Katherine’s Dad left the room, I relayed a story about my mom. Having showed her 5 As and an A minus on my report card, her single reaction was “why did you get an A-“. Katherine shared a few similar anecdotes.
Due to growing up in a household more similar to Katherine’s than Jimmy’s, my initial parenting philosophical inclination was to suggest following the model of the post-1990s parent. Ease up on demands. Provide nurturing and unconditional love. Be ever kind to your children.
I then started noticing a troubling trend among many of our students. They didn’t always do their homework. As a kid, I couldn’t even imagine not doing my homework or whatever I was supposed to do. Other students didn’t always study for tests. Most faced no consequences for poor grades.
As I reflected, I started realizing that parents of my generation dreaded the thought of being the overbearing parent. A host movie and TV caricatures of pushy parents, made parents shift. Too far.
Part of the reason was affluence. At least prior to the Great Recession, the future looked bright for our students from families in Branford, Guilford, Madison, Old Saybrook, Old Lyme, East Lyme and up the Shoreline, Connecticut. No need to push when economic abundance was present. This coupled with the desire to be the opposite of the demanding parents that raised us led many parents to abdicate setting standards for their children.
The problem arose when I would meet these students for SAT prep or college counseling. We would discuss their options. Parents who did not set standards often had children that were floundering. The children were now unhappy as they realized that their lackadaisical efforts were the reason why they could not control their college future.
I realize that articles about Tiger Moms and others who push their children too far make many parents highly sensitive to thoughts that they could be put into the category of pushy parent.
But, contrary to popular belief, even with a clientele that comes from a highly educated part of Connecticut, I meet far more Jimmys than Katherines. My sentiments towards treating children in a healthy manner make me naturally aligned with parents who nurture their children. But, my work in running an educational consultancy in the last 15 years leads me to modify that sentiment.
Parents need to balance kindness by setting standards. And, holding their children accountable to those standards.