Lessons Learned from Thanksgiving Olympics

Every Thanksgiving, my extended family gets together in Palm Desert. Our group includes eight adults and eleven cousins from 4 - 17 years old.

For the last few years, I have organized a "Thanksgiving Day Junior Olympics" competition for the kids. This year, 8 of the 11 cousins participated.

The specific events (which are kept secret until game day) test a wide range of physical abilities, athletic skills, and random gameplay. It's an all-day affair (11am to 6pm) with a few breaks for water and snacks.

2016 List of Events

  1. Swim (sprint distance)
  2. Swim (long distance)
  3. Jump from 8-foot ledge into pool, underwater somersault immediately into a 20-foot underwater swim (all on a breath-hold)
  4. Submerge a water polo ball to bottom of pool using only one hand (must tap the bottom of pool with ball 2x)
  5. Plank (minimum 2 minutes, more points for longer endurance)
  6. Billiards
  7. Bean Bag toss
  8. Shuffleboard
  9. Running (sprint, 1x around lake)
  10. Running (long distance, 2x around lake)
  11. Running (40-yard dash...
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How to help your child do hard things

For children, trying new things can be hard. Whether it's acquiring a new skill, making new friends, dealing with a new environment, or taking direction from a new coach - it's hard to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

This ability to push through discomfort at a young age is an early and accurate signal of how well children will do in high school, college, and life. Children with this type of "grit" fare better than those without.

Angela Duckworth, an expert on this topic, defines grit as "perseverance and passion for long-term goals".  Duckworth found that students who made a regular practice of doing "hard things" during their childhood, were better prepared to deal with the challenges and obstacles of adulthood.

How do we, as parents, manage the balance between supporting our children to push through hard things and forcing them to do so?

Below is one method, based on Duckworth's extensive work, that can be adopted by any family.

The Hard Thing Rule

Rule #1
Each...

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When is it okay for your child to quit an activity?

mentorship Nov 03, 2016

Sports, music, clubs, community service and other extracurricular activities will soon become very important in the college admissions process. They paint a picture of who your child is and how they choose to spend their time. Deciding which and how many activities to pursue can be a challenge. Deciding when to quit a particular activity can be fraught with indecision as well.

What do you do when your son or daughter wants to quit something? Do you let them? Or do you force them to stick it out? Consider these factors first:

Commitment

  1. Financial: This is an easy one. If you've already paid for 6 months of piano lessons, then Little Johnny will complete the 6-month commitment.  You've bought (no pun intended) yourself some time before having to revisit the issue again.
  2. Friendship: This is a bit tougher. If your child joined the swim team "with a friend", tell your child that it's not fair to abandon that friend mid-season. This should be a pretty easy sell and will likely buy...
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Why is it so hard to get into college today?

college preparation Nov 01, 2016

Getting into college is becoming more and more competitive - and expensive. Here are five reasons that suggest why competition has increased so dramatically:

1. More international students
International students are applying to U.S. colleges and universities in record numbers. These students are often the best and brightest from around the world and many are willing (and able) to pay full-freight for a U.S. education. Imagine how enticing these candidates are for colleges. They deliver an admissions trifecta: (1) geographic diversity, (2) high-performing students, (3) paying customers.

2. Common Application
Back in the day, high school students thought long and hard about where to apply to college. Each college had its own application, unique essay questions, quirky formatting instructions, and different submission deadlines. Adding one additional school to the target list might add weeks or months of extra work. Students proceeded with caution. With today's Common Application,...

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Taming the Social Media Beast

social media Oct 17, 2016

We are inundated daily with warnings about social media use and misuse by our teens. How are we supposed to keep up?

We need to stay current on what's happening, what to look out for, and how to mitigate potential risks.

"Make mistakes, just not the big ones"

I don't mind when teens make mistakes. In fact, I promote it. Mistakes can drive personal growth. However, I also warn teens to avoid the big mistakes - mistakes that are life-altering. Avoid these at all costs:

  1. Drug use
  2. Drunk Driving
  3. Unwanted pregnancy
  4. Social Media misuse

I recently added #4 to the list - and for good reason. Social media problems are ruining peoples' lives everywhere. Unfortunately, the use of social media has become so widespread, that the odds of someone doing something disastrous are increasing by the minute.

What you should know

  • Once posted, consider the content of the post to be permanently embedded in the digital landscape - forever
  • Don't believe any promises that your post will disappear in x...
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10th-grade lacrosse player commits to Harvard

Can a sophomore commit to the Ivy League?

Good question. This blog sets out to answer a handful of questions regarding Ivy League recruiting, early commits, Academic Index, Athletic Boosters, etc.

[In this account, "Harvard" is used only to help illustrate the process]

While this example is specific to Ivy League men's lacrosse, I hope it raises some relevant issues for your son/daughter if they aspire to play a sport in college.

How can a 10th-grader "commit" to an Ivy League School when they haven't even taken the SAT or ACT yet?

For select sports (e.g. men's lacrosse), the recruiting process starts early (8th/9th grade) and players travel far and wide during the summers to gain exposure to top programs.

By early sophomore year, the highest profile lacrosse players often verbally commit to a school (more on why they might do this later). Coaches asleep at the switch risk missing out on the hottest prospects.

This so-called "commitment" is non-binding, not in writing, and...

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Benefits of mentorship

The transition from middle school to high school can be tricky. Teens immediately begin searching for an identity, social acceptance, and a path forward.

As confounding as this is, we (as parents) aren't always in the best position to influence our kids during this period of uncertainty. We're still a major player on the surface - but at the edges of their psyche - they often prefer external voices and opinions.

Enter the mentor.

Mentors come in many shapes and sizes. Your child's mentor could be an older sibling, coach, music teacher, Boy or Girl Scout Leader, guidance counselor, aunt, uncle, grandparent, neighbor - or person like me. Some children have multiple mentors.

Does your son or daughter have a mentor(s)?

Benefits of having an early mentor in high school

Wisdom and learning. Mentors share important life lessons from past successes and failures.

Expertise and knowledge. Mentors can provide answers and guidance in a field most parents know nothing about.

Contacts. Mentors...

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LinkedIn for teens

After a lot of experimentation and teen-testing, I found that a creating a LinkedIn profile is the most elegant, efficient, and effective solution for your child to capture and order important milestones throughout their high school career.

You may already have your own LinkedIn account, or likely have heard of the professional networking behemoth. If you don't have an account, maybe now is a good time to create one alongside your child.

My recommendation comes after reviewing the Common Application in detail and noticing the vast similarities between the two formats (the Common Application is the universal, online college application that is accepted by hundreds of colleges).

When I tried this myself, I pulled up www.linkedin.com, and within 15 minutes, I had created a robust profile for an imaginary student that I named -- Chris Prepwell.

To be clear, LinkedIn is not really for kids. It's for adults looking to advance their professional careers. I say, "Who cares?" It's perfect...

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How many AP classes?

This is one of the top 3 questions I hear regularly from high school students. It's such an important (and difficult) question, that I thought I'd share my thoughts below.

To review, AP (Advanced Placement) classes are considered "college-level" courses and are thus weighted more heavily than regular classes when calculating GPAs.

For example, an "A" in AP History gives you 5 points, versus 4 points from regular History. This is why some schools regard a 4.0 GPA as a yawner these days.

As long as GPA remains one of the top three criteria for college admissions, students will continue to use AP classes to spike their GPAs. Taken to extremes, however, this can be dangerous.

Things to consider before registering for AP classes:

Are you interested in the topic? If so, chances are you will succeed in the class. If not, you are flirting with danger. For example, if you don't like to read, but take AP History anyway to boost your GPA - think again. AP History may require 90+ minutes of...

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How do teens view time?

These days, I worry that teens are gradually losing skills and concepts that may have long-term effects on their personal development. Here's a short list of things that are going the way of the buffalo...

  1. writing in cursive   (thanks keyboard)
  2. typing   (thanks voice activation technology)
  3. driving   (thanks Uber)
  4. map skills   (thanks Google Maps)
  5. patience to wait for their favorite song on the radio   (thanks Pandora and iTunes)
  6. face-to-face conversations   (thanks texting and SnapChat)
  7. cooking   (thanks microwave)
  8. humility   (thanks Instagram and selfie-sticks)
  9. restraint   (thanks Costco)
  10. concept of time   (thanks digital calendars)

Clearly, these changes aren't all bad, but the pace and depth of these changes should be noted.

After spending the last two years observing how teenagers approach the college admissions process, I have concluded that the average teenager's concept of time...

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