Every week a new parent asks me:
“How can I get my child to focus?...they just don’t manage their time well”.
“How do I get them to care about school?”
These types of questions are endless. In order to do well in today’s competitive environment, parents have to be very creative when it comes to teaching their kids how to succeed.
My parents, like many others, were immigrants to the US and dealt with different academic expectations and cultural norms. When families like mine immigrate to the United States, they are confronted with a completely different system, one they know very little about. Naturally, it can be difficult to teach your children to navigate this environment successfully.
In Pakistan, the recipe for success was:
Do your work
If you don’t, the teacher can definitely use creative tactics to (read: a ruler or stick) “discipline” you
Get good grades
Become a doctor or engineer
It’s almost like kids over there are born trained to get good grades and succeed. In reality, it has a lot do with the environment. Where my parents grew up, the environment was difficult - and people wanted to do everything they could to lift themselves out of their conditions and make something of their family. Plus, the “creative tactics” from teachers didn’t hurt either…
It’s very different here. Many parents, especially immigrant parents, assume that just simply sending their kids to school and telling them to get good grades is enough to gain admission to Stanford and be uber successful.
Here are 4 tangible tips and tricks to get your child on a path to success, however you may define it:
1. Start Early
Yes, early. Like Pre K - 2nd grade early. A child learns the majority of their habits between the ages of 5-11. The conditioning that the brain goes through at this time is extremely linked to their success later in life (CITE). Teaching children good habits at young ages pays many, many dividends later on.
Example: Instead of letting your children watch TV or play video games when they are bored, get them a book from the library and have them read it often. Obviously, your child won’t enjoy reading unless you cultivate that habit in them, so start making trips to the library early.
This also means start planning early. If you want your child to get great grades, that means developing a plan early on. Someone once said, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Most of us don’t get involved in planning for our students until they are in middle school or high school - and then wonder why they aren’t achieving at the rate we hoped they would.
2. Work together
Bring your child into this process. We did a workshop on time management and discipline at a community center a few months ago, and I asked the students in the room to come up with a very basic plan for how to enhance their academics, extracurriculars, and passions.
Surprisingly, I had a 10 year old come up to me, show me a very impressive list he wrote with a crayon on a piece of paper, and ask me if this would allow him to do well in school. It had a plan for how to get better grades, which sports he wanted to do, and how to manage his time. Kudos to his parents for raising someone who is so focused at such a young age.
Of course, there’s a balance. Kids shouldn't turn into machines by any means. However, getting your children involved in this process and working together to plan out what activities they can do is very healthy. Children should feel engaged and they feel as though they are owning their own life (which they should be doing), and parents are able to help guide them by leveraging their own experiences.
3. Motivate and cultivate their passions
Every child has a variety of passions. If cultivated correctly, those passions can transform into talent and help a child achieve their goals. However, instead of focusing on a child’s inclinations or pre existing passions, many parents attempt to impose their own plan and paradigm on their child - “encouraging” them to be a doctor, or engineer, or something else that’s “stable”. While these are great professions, this results in an inherent lack of motivation for a child if they are not interested in a certain field or career path.
Most parents will say “Well, they don’t know any better...once they grow up they’ll thank me and realize that this is the right decision”
That’d be nice if it were true,and it is true- for potty training. But instead of living vicariously through your children, it’s important to let them find their own path, and then cultivate it with them. Show them that you care, that you support them, and that you’re willing to help them explore their passions.
Practically speaking, if they start to show signs of interest in art, find an art class at the local community center or an art camp to help them nurture this interest. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that they are going to give up on school and become an artist - it's just a means to express their creative side and it will end up being extremely beneficial in the long run.
4. Be up to date on the times
Some parents are very “hip”, or at least try to be :). Others are aware of what is going on in the news, in their home countries, and even in other remote parts of the world. Yet, there’s little to no knowledge about what’s going on upstairs in their child’s own room, on their laptop, and on the TV screen.
Here’s how things are today:
Child wants an iPhone 6 because everyone in their school has an iPhone 6 and it only makes sense that they are “with the times”. Child asks parent for an iPhone (or any other smartphone).
Parent gets the child an iPhone 6. Or the PS4. Or the new video game.
Child assures parent they will still focus in school.
Child downloads Facebook, instagram, Snapchat, and 3 of the best games on the app store. Let the time wasting begin.
Kids and teens between the ages of 8-18 spend an average of 4 hours watching TV a day, an additional 2 hours in front of the computer screen, and another 2 hours on their cell phone. Some call it an addiction. The amount of time wasted on social media is incredible - and yet there’s little to no movement in attempting to fix that behavior. We have forgotten the impact of wasting time.
Think about it like this: from the ages of 11-18, a teen’s brain is developing at a rapid pace. There is only so much room up there to process, analyze, and comprehend different concepts. Instead of cultivating our intellects with reading, writing, and light entertainment - we instead allow random tidbits from our friend’s lives (read: newsfeed) to fill our brains, even though what we looked at or took a picture of won’t make a difference at all in our lives 10 years from now.
Parent then complains at the dinner table for the child to put the phone away - forgetting that they are the ones who enabled the child to get addicted.
If you want your child to be successful, try curbing the smart phone usage. I wouldn’t recommend getting a smartphone until late high school - and that’s if the grades and discipline have proven it. Believe me, they’ll thank you for this one later in life.
Also, actively monitor what your children are watching and consuming. If some random stranger knocked on your door, and asked you if they could entertain your children for 4 hours, no one would say “sure! Come on in. I’ll be upstairs. Do whatever you’d like.”
No. That’s just weird. And creepy.
BUT that’s what we do. We let children these days sit in front of the television, with NO idea what they are watching, allowing random strangers, and in this case, huge multi national corporations, to entertain them while we continue our tasks. The TV, next to the smartphone, is the single biggest distraction and time waster out there.
Set hours on weekends only where your child can watch TV, and carefully decide what they can watch. At least meet the stranger before you allow them to enter your home.
Some people might disagree with this methodology - and feel free to. After working with and studying nearly 150 different pre teens, teenagers and college-bound students,the problems listed above are the MOST common across the board.
Try these tips and tricks and subscribe to our mailing list if you want to hear more:
We have experience working with families and have mentored dozens of students to help them navigate the path to success in middle school, high school, college admissions, and beyond. If you want proven results, tried and test strategies, and a trusted advisor, reach out. Send me an email or give me a call and let’s chat.