The evils of helicopter parenting

by laurafrombaltimore

Yet another article on the evils of helicopter parenting:

Former Stanford dean explains why helicopter parenting is ruining a generation of children

I think the folks here know me well enough to know I’m not a helicopter. But this time, all I could think was “that’s rich.” Why? Because by definition, her experience is with helicoptering that is aimed getting the kids into a “top” college – specifically, Stanford, for which she served as dean for a decade. But that means her experience is based on *the students that Stanford chose to admit* (and via an extremely selective admissions process to boot). She has written a whole book criticizing parents for doing what it takes to get their kids into Stanford – and doing it better than everyone else.

So what’s her analysis of the “college admission arms race,” which she admits drives much of this? It appears to boil down to “well, not everyone has to go to Stanford,” with maybe a soupcon of “not my problem.” All of her suggestions (optional SAT/ACT scores, limiting the number of schools each kid can apply to) impose the constraints on the students, not the college – not to mention make it less likely that those who actually follow her advice will get into that top college (who here really thinks Stanford will choose the kid who “opts out” of the SATs over one with a 1560?). And the colleges are (conveniently) scot-free to continue to operate as they always have.

How about this: if top colleges really care about “life skills and a work ethic,” how about they base their admissions decisions on those criteria? If colleges think it’s so valuable to have kids do chores and have jobs and such, then how about requiring that information on the applications – and actually weighing that more than, say, sitting 4th chair in concert band? Parents who care about getting their kids into a top college are going to do what they think those schools value, period. If the result of that arms race is brittle, helpless kids, then that says as much about those colleges’ admissions priorities than it does about the parents and students who are doing the best they can to play the game based on rules they didn’t write.

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144 thoughts on “The evils of helicopter parenting

  1. I actually read her book and thought it was really excellent. In her defense, she was a dean of students and not in the admissions department, and what she was seeing was a decline in students’ ability to handle the pressures of Stanford over the years. She does acknowledge a lot of the hypocrisy you point out.

    I would really recommend the book.

  2. I am not really one to buy a lot of these types of books, but I heard an interview with her on Fresh Air and was so intrigued by what she had to say that I bought it.

  3. I think the Ivy League and its peers should move to a blind-graded entrance exam, administered on one day at one time at various locations throughout the country. Maybe even online, if it could be combined with a fingerprint and retinal profile.

    End legacy admissions, athletic admissions, arts admissions, geographic diversity admissions, my-daddy’s-a-billionaire admissions, and racial discrimination and preferences. You get the highest score, you go.

    The schools could return to their academic roots, and we could stop pretending there is any equity in their current admissions processes.

    It will never happen, but I can dream :)

  4. I agree with Lark. The author just has a long, roundabout way of saying that the game isn’t worth the candle, to borrow a phrase from kaleberg.

  5. Hijack! (Yes, hijacking my own post). Just discovered that we are supposed to wear team athletic apparel to my nephew’s bar mitzvah in a couple of weeks. DH, of course, has immediately concluded that we need to find something off the wall. My first thought was this (from an actual team my alma mater’s hockey team played): https://jackrabbitcentral.com/graphic-tees/graphic-tee-by-j-america-1

    Other suggestions? Preferably not just obscure, but loud and obnoxious as well.

  6. I read this a few weeks ago and sort of dismissed her for the reason that LfB cited – the constraint is put on the student. Schools only let in the kids that meet the admission requirements they set. However, regardless of what schools get, they say they are unhappy because the students are or aren’t _____ (and this changes over time).

    Students are doing their best to figure out what are the requirements and how to meet them. If they want high test scores, students find resources to improve their scorces. If they want leadership experience, students join clubs and run for offices. If they want service, students are finding service hours in the community. But, chasing the admission requirements comes at the price of not developing whatever isn’t on the list.

    The other problem is that you are beginnning to chase these requirements earlier and earlier. I think this is because as kids get better at figuring out what they need to be admitted, the pool that meets the minimum requirement is too big and schools then start making decisions at very micro levels.

  7. I have a junior in high school, so we’re going through the application process right now. I agree 100% with LFB. I’m so tired of the college admissions arms race.

    How do we do? We let the children talk to their teachers, coaches, etc. We do remind them over and over to do so, though. We let the kids do their own homework but provide help with some aspects such as helping study for tests. The support lessens as the kids get older, but it’s still always there. I consider myself a helicopter parent.

  8. “I think the Ivy League and its peers should move to a blind-graded entrance exam”

    It’s interesting that the author recommends more colleges should convert to test-optional. This indicates she is misguided. IMO, testing is criteria that calls for the least amount of helicoptering. Tutoring has not been found to increase scores much on average.

  9. If colleges think it’s so valuable to have kids do chores and have jobs and such, then how about requiring that information on the applications

    They do value jobs but more like young Bill Gates selling his traffic management software for (and inflation adjusted $250k) at 15 or Mark Zuckerbergs roommate making $300k trading commodity futures. It’s never gong to be about bagging groceries.

    For the next level down, my understanding is that admission is almost all about GPA, class rank and SAT scores . At all levels parents think the extracurricular are far more important than they actually are.

  10. One of the things I found interesting about the book was her message that the stress and anxiety imposed on these kids, and the lack of basic life skills and coping skills (because parents have done so much for them) completely negates any benefit from being at a so-called “top school.”

  11. ‘her message that the stress and anxiety imposed on these kids, and the lack of basic life skills and coping skills (because parents have done so much for them) completely negates any benefit from being at a so-called “top school.”’

    I find that hard to believe. Did she have data to back that up?

  12. @ CofC It was a very evidence based, research driven book, which is one of the reasons I liked it so much.

  13. Well, I have said tihs before and I will say it again – I teach at a school where the students don’t get ENOUGH helicopter parenting. They are largely the first in their family to go to college, often the kids of immigrants from all sorts of places you never heard of. The parents are mystified by higher education, speak little English, and seem to need their kids home to babysit at every turn. Many of my students appear to have ADHD and should probably be registered with the disability office, but have no inkling how to do that.

    Stanford is the sort of school that pretty much requires its applicants to have helicopter parents, just to get through the formal and informal requirements. So I don’t take much stock in their complaining about those helicoptered kids.

  14. “the stress and anxiety imposed on these kids”

    I’m finding that a lot of these kids impose the stress and pressure on themselves.

  15. However, I am a college arms-race skeptic to begin with. So to the extent this book confirmed my bias, and gave me some comfort (because DH and I are definitely in the minority on this), of course I was going to like it. Take my recommendation with a grain of salt.

  16. Also, much of this “stress and anxiety” is due to being at Stanford, a notoriously competitive school.

  17. I also have been reading her book and agree with Lark that she acknowledged the inherent contradiction between what a top school screens for and what’s good for kids/teens on the whole, as well as her own difficulties in following what she preaches as her own kids get to that age. It doesn’t make what she’s saying not worth hearing.

  18. It does seem like there is much more to be done these days – but I will worry about that later. Maybe when the kids get to middle school.

    OT – we are thinking of bidding on a house in the country. I am EXCITED. :) It would be a long commute if I were to commute – if we get to that point I may tell my firm 1 day a week in the office or I will quit. ;)

  19. A friend of mine has a Junior, who is in the top 10% of her class, and they have done 4 or 5 school visits this fall. The parent reports the theme is you need more than just to show good grades in hard classes.

    The parent’s take on the visits was school’s wanted (1) to see the unweighted grades/GPAs, (2) to know which class you took at the PreAP or AP level, (3) to see extracurricular activities and preferred to see fewer with a longer stint in each and even better if you were an officer and (4) to see community service on a regular basis, but didn’t care if that was through a school club, scouts, church or on your own. The parent is now pushing the student to focus less on AP and build her missing extracurricular and community service portion of her “resume”. The stated reason is that the Junior has already proven the good grades in hard classes, but may lose out with only 1 extra curricular and minimal community service.

  20. Is a high paying or prestigious (say, academic) career a primary goal when graduating from a prestigious university or is it the quality of the education received, regardless of one’s career path?

    For, say, medical school or law school, a prestigious university may make it easier to be admitted. In medicine, I don’t imagine undergrad makes a difference in one’s career path unless one is trying to run a research lab, or other area of medicine where connections matter a lot.

    I’ve often thought about the areas in which prestigious schools are not diverse. In addition to race and class, “age of parents at birth” and “number of siblings, including half/step siblings” are probably skewed upper middle class.

    If prestigious schools become more diverse at the expense of becoming less merit-based, I wonder if their graduates will be as desirable to employers.

    Cal Tech at least used to have pretty strict merit criteria for admission. It’s around 40% Asian, as I recall.

  21. We are quite like Houston in how we parent. Also, over time, I have found the school to be sensible on what the kids are able to handle by themselves, so that is a good guideline for me.
    Why must extracurricular activities always be linked to college admissions ? In the home country parents who were interested in their kids learning things outside of school and had the resources did have their kids take music and art classes. Opportunities for sports were limited.
    None of the out of school activities my kids do are note worthy in the college arms race.

  22. The parent is now pushing the student to focus less on AP and build her missing extracurricular and community service portion of her “resume”.

    @AustinMom – but this point the kid has only a year or so to improve her resume, so how can she have a long stint in any activity ?

  23. Milo – more of a country town, quite a bit farther out but close to one of my siblings and closer to our timber. About 4 acres and an awesome wall around the property. Old house, VERY well maintained, and quite large. :)

  24. “Stanford is the sort of school that pretty much requires its applicants to have helicopter parents, just to get through the formal and informal requirements. ”

    I agree, in general.

    OTOH, I keep reading stories of kids who are the first generation born in the US, first generation to speak English, etc., especially from HS that almost never send kids to HSS (highly selective schools), getting full rides to top schools.

    But the kids without that sort of hook who don’t know how to get into the top schools, e.g., make sure to take the most rigorous curriculum offered at their HS, have little shot at getting into HSS.

  25. I read this article when it came out a few weeks ago and generally agree with the premise so maybe I’ll read the book. I would like to be raising resilient/independent/honest kids more than I would like my kids to go to a top university. We are not helicopter parents but have a lot of friends that are.

    My husband works with a guy whose youngest daughter is a senior in high school and she has been trading valedictorian/salutatorian with this other student for years. It’s so competitive that the two don’t even speak. The other student got caught selling papers and got kicked out of school, but his parents hired a lawyer for him who pointed out that the school’s honor code didn’t expressly say that selling papers was against the honor code so he got off. I was telling another friend this story and expressing shock about the whole hiring a lawyer rather than punishing the kid and she said she would probably do the same thing because that would wreck the kid’s whole life. I said I really really hope that I would do the opposite.

    WCE – my impression of law school admissions is that it’s mainly your LSAT score. We have a friend who is probably the smartest guy I know who went to an ok state school but did so well on the LSAT he went Ivy for law school.

  26. @AustinMom – activities that are not common (or limited for the majority) like rowing, fencing etc.

  27. Louise, Yes she does only have about 18 months of high school left. The parent is definitely using the long term extracurricular for the next child who is a freshman. But, is still trying to get the Junior to consider running for an office in her 1 activity and to get some community service hours.

  28. Agree completely with Houston that much of the stress is self-imposed. I’m much more laid back with the second child. He’ll get in where he gets in. I want him doing activities he’s interested in, and if he needs more downtime than he gets, he needs to adjust things. Piling on activities you’re not interested in for the sake of trying to make yourself attractive to a school that would not otherwise accept you makes no sense. Once you get there, you’re peer group will be a bunch of kids who met those criteria – will you be happy there? It’s Milo’s big fish/small pond thing. (Easy to say because my kid is not on the cusp of admittance to a highly selective school if we just had that one key EC.)

  29. Louise,

    Maybe CoC can chime in, but I didn’t think, unless you are trying for a scholarship in that area, the the xcurricular was so much about being common as showing you do something other than just study.

  30. I was just going to comment that your extracurriculars can be relatively common, but they must usually be sustained and demonstrate your skills/leadership/passion.

  31. “the game isn’t worth the candle”

    I don’t remember ever hearing of this idiom, but maybe now I’ll start to use it.

    Another twist to this situation is that the top colleges usually offer more hands-on support to their students, certainly in areas like academic advising and often in other areas like counseling. So the helicoptering continues for these kids in college.

  32. One of the points she makes is there are +/-2800 colleges and community colleges in this country, and there will be plenty that are the right fit for your kid, so stop freaking out about getting into only 10 of those.

  33. “I would like to be raising resilient/independent/honest kids more than I would like my kids to go to a top university.”

    I totally agree. I hope that I can keep this perspective as my kid gets older. It’s easy to say that when he’s in 2nd grade.

  34. CoC –

    “This expression, which began as a translation of a term used by the French essayist Michel de Montaigne in 1580, alludes to gambling by candlelight, which involved the expense of illumination. If the winnings were not sufficient, they did not warrant the expense. Used figuratively, it was a proverb within a century.”

    When I first heard it, I figured that the candle was the prize in some way, similar to what I’ll hear at work: “the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.” But imagining the candle as a significant cost consideration is an interesting twist, and it has the added benefit of reminding us of just how much we take for granted, including inexpensive lighting.

  35. Finn said “OTOH, I keep reading stories of kids who are the first generation born in the US, first generation to speak English, etc., especially from HS that almost never send kids to HSS (highly selective schools), getting full rides to top schools.”

    I used to think this too, but the research indicats that this happens far less often than you might imagine. Research shows that high performing kids from poor backgrounds are more likely to be undermatched – they end up at schools less prestigious thab their abilities. The big problem is that the less prestigious schools also offer far less support.

  36. One colleague confided that she got into the state flagship but the biggest obstacle she found came from her own community/set of friends who were almost hoping she would flunk and drop out. She said that she regretted not taking advantage of all that the state flagship offered, not believing in herself or her abilities and being held back by echoes of “you got admitted only because you are a minority”.

  37. student got caught selling papers

    Finn Punish them? They should be congratulated for their entrepreneurial gusto.

  38. “One colleague confided that she got into the state flagship but the biggest obstacle she found came from her own community/set of friends who were almost hoping she would flunk and drop out. ”

    Crab mentality, often cited locally.

  39. Mooshi, I agree, and I’ve also read a lot about undermatching. I was citing those as counterexamples to indicate that it is possible to get into HSS without helicopter parents.

  40. “Is a high paying or prestigious (say, academic) career a primary goal when graduating from a prestigious university or is it the quality of the education received, regardless of one’s career path?”

    When graduating, that’s probably the case for most.

    OTOH, when matriculating, I may be in the minority, but I think the college experience is an important goal as well.

    And then there are the Princeton women for whom finding a spouse is also an important goal.

  41. “she has been trading valedictorian/salutatorian with this other student for years. ”

    How does that work? I thought valedictorian/salutatorian was based on the entirety of HS body of work.

    Have they been trading off the #1 ranking in class?

  42. I think Julie is right about a lot of this stuff because I’ve managed the kids with the helicopter parents. It stinks. The reason is that some of these parents never let go. I’ve had a parent call me in the office, and one parent even showed up in the office to discuss her son.

    I just read an article this weekend about one of the largest risks for the generation of recent retired folks is the large number of adult children that are moving back in, or funneling large sums of money away from their parents.

    I read this article and a book, The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey in October. I went to see Lahey speak, and I decided that I was potentially turning into one of these helicopter parents with regards to school. I’m not like this in many other areas of DD’s life, but I was probably too involved with school. I’ve pulled back from homework and test prep. I would much rather let my DD learn how to manage her time and grades in MS. She doesn’t need my involvement unless she asks for it.

    I’m hoping this works because I know several of my mom friends with freshmen are reading To Kill a Mockingbird with their child each night. They said it was too hard for the kids to read on their own.

    I’m just hoping that if I pull back more now (when it really doesn’t “count”) that she will learn how to read challenging books or text without my assistance 100% of the time.

  43. Lauren – what did you say to the parent who came into the office? I would want to fire the special snowflake on the spot.

  44. Trying to learn some life lessons…I have related the (self-inflicted) struggles my oldest has had in college. Was that because one or both of his parents were too helicoptery? Maybe. So if that’s the basis, what gives with kid 2, who is ~Dean’s list thru 2.5 semesters at college? (my theory is that I have always said to my kids “consistently deliver the grades, and I will stay off your back about study habits, etc.” Kid 1 earned the parental focus, kid 2 earned the freedom.)

    So now we have kid 3, cut from the same cloth as kid 1. (Here comes the learning part) I actually said to DW yesterday that if he continues his current path, which will get him out of HS but with no particular distinction, that I am unsure he should go to a 4-yr school directly out of high school. Her reaction was that kids who graduate from _________ (HS) don’t go to (community college). I’m not necessarily saying that should/would be the path…maybe working for a year, even bagging groceries, though I would hope for something a little better, would provide some perspective and enough motivation to make his college experience more like his middle brother’s and not like DS1. It’ll be interesting over the next 1.5 years.

  45. the guy was already fired. the parent supposedly came to pick up the stuff that the guy was too upset to take when he left the office. Security was tight after 9/11, but this parent came into the building through someone else the guy knew at the bank. I just said that i can’t discuss your son, but you are welcome to see someone in HR. I was just relieved that she left because you never know if someone is going to go crazy. We had certain days/ways that we could fire someone in an effort to try to prevent any former employee from coming back and harming someone. We NEVER had training about an upset parent! You read all of these crazy stories about guns etc. The banks always had security guards in the lobby, but the screening of bags through machines started much later – after the threats during the financial crisis. Many buildings in NYC still don’t have those
    X-ray airport machines so you never know what an upset person might do in your office.

  46. Fred, I’ll be interested to hear what your family ends up deciding. It’s one thing to back off and give freedom to a self-motivated kid — it’s harder when you’re talking about a kid who’s apparently happy to just coast along with minimal effort. Are you thinking he’d stay at home, or is there an away-from-home option you’re considering?

  47. Lauren,

    Fired for general poor performance? I ask that as many jobs ago they fired someone after 6 months who was hired out of a decent school. They just couldn’t learn anything. The only theory we could come up with was that her parents had done all her work up through college.

  48. HM – I suppose it’d be remain at home. I’m open to pretty much anything that falls under the category of productive / path forward. Away from home would be a possibility, but I’m not thinking of a parent-funded expedition to build latrines in an infection-ridden place, however much that might help some other people / people unlike us. I think any full-time paying job for which he could get hired, along with maybe 1 class/semester at the local CC would light enough of a fire. But I’ve been wrong before.

    “It’s one thing to back off and give freedom to a self-motivated kid — it’s harder when you’re talking about a kid who’s apparently happy to just coast along with minimal effort.” Bingo!

  49. I think Houston mentioned this being the case within her community but I think a lot of the helicoptering has arisen because of the fear of failure on the part of parents. In Totebagger homes this means kid not doing well enough to get into a decent college. In the home country this extends to making sure your daughter marries well, your son gets a high paying job…if your grandkids get into an Ivy league school – you can take credit for that too.

  50. Lauren – the guy who let the parent in should have been fired or severely reprimanded. That could have been a very bad situation.

  51. I don’t even remember why he was fired. It was a while ago, but he was a recent college grad.

    I have a college friend that “helped” her son get into Dartmouth. He has tutors because he can’t do most of the work. She recently told me that her son had tutors for almost all of his classes in HS. He had a coach for college applications, and a private SAT tutor. She admits now that she wishes that they had just let him apply and get into the “right” college for his academic ability. She fears that if they stop paying for the tutors now, he will not be able to graduate from Dartmouth.

    As more of DD’s friends have friends with siblings in our local HS, I am starting to realize that tutors are very common. I didn’t realize that so many kids that I think are smart have tutors for SATs, and honors classes. I just thought it was the average or struggling kids that have tutors for stuff like Chem etc.

  52. He has tutors because he can’t do most of the work.

    I’m surprised her plan worked well enough to get him into Dartmouth. As far as I know SAT tutors only work at the margins so he can’t be all that much of a idiot. Unless she had the tutor take the SAT for him..which happens.

  53. tc, I agree, but this is a loop hole in the security of many of these firms. I think I posted about having a meeting last week in a major bank in midtown. I have to show ID on the street to get past cement blocks, and I have to show it again in the lobby. My picture is taken, and my bag is searched. The problem is that once I am in the building, I have access to all 49 floors. Some of the floors have receptionists and some just have card readers. Most people, will just hold a door for someone OR they will try to help if you are lost. I can’t tell you how easy it is to get to a “secure” trading floor etc., as long as you are in the building. It is much tougher in the buildings with a shared lobby, but many different firms because access is generally restricted to just a couple of floors.

  54. Fred, I was assuming you’d want something where he was both paying his own way and had the opportunity to take an evening class (although he could do that online too since there are so many schools offering online courses for credit). Working food service / retail/ maintenance in a national park? http://www.xanterra.com/who-we-are/careers/ Alaska fishing boat? My husband did that right out of college before going to OCS — it was a neat experience in some ways but really focused his mind on career choices other than Alaska fishing boat as I understand it. Totebagger exchange program — send him off to find whatever job he can get someplace with a Totebagger living nearby, and that’s someone he can call on if needed but he’s not going to rely on like he would a parent? I’ll offer for Oahu, although Oahu would be a more challenging choice than some in terms of being able to self-support without working two jobs.

  55. Rhett – My interpretation was that 90% of what tutors are doing is just providing a structured time for the student to sit down and crack the books. I can see how one could grow dependent on that.

  56. My interpretation was that 90% of what tutors are doing is just providing a structured time for the student to sit down and crack the books.

    I think you’d be surprised how many are also doing most of the work.

  57. Per the kid at Finn’s school who was being paid to write papers. In many cases it was the parents buying the papers, I bet.

  58. I think you’d be surprised how many are also doing most of the work.

    @Rhett – sitting for the SAT in place of the student ?

  59. Rhett, he is a smart kid. I don’t know if that is enough to just be smart at some of these elite schools when so many kids that get admitted now are the best of the best. He is sitting in classes with kids that are absorbing the material and learning it right away. He is an engineering major, and he has to study a lot to learn the material. He explained to his parents that some of these kids just get it right away, and they can see things that it takes him hours of studying to really understand,

  60. There are some gap programs that I think weren’t available when I graduated from high school. Maybe there have been some changes to make work visas more reciprocal – so that 19 year old Americans can have the equivalent of a J-1 visa experience elsewhere.

    This is the same agency I use for my Au Pairs:
    https://www.interexchange.org/travel-abroad/work-travel-australia-outback/

    Farm work in the Outback. I loved Thornbirds, so this seems like the most amazing idea ever. I can’t quite tell what the up front cost is (our Au Pairs pay about 2k to get here), but then there is placement with room, board and crappy weekly pay for way more than 40 hours per week (true for the Outback and our Au Pairs.)

    I don’t know if something like this would suit Fred’s son’s personality, but I imagine it would be great for a number of kids.

  61. Lauren: I like this kid. I hope he succeeds! It seems that he has some fight in him. He could have chosen an easy subject, but chose engineering.

  62. Oh! I did find the cost 2k, but some money for support in the beginning – much like the Au Pair program.

  63. Lauren,

    It reminds me of the scene where the daughter on Modern Family is heading to Cal Tech and panicking saying, “What if I’m the dumbest one there? I mean someone has to be, right?”

    Do you really want a kid at school they only got into with monumental effort and at that only by the skin of their teeth?

  64. Fred, would your DS3 do well working as a seasonal firefighter for a summer or two when he turns 18? Some of those options include lodging, and there’s nothing to spend your money on, so you can save for college. I’ve considered a couple summers of seasonal firefighting with community college during the rain if any of my sons are under-motivated.

  65. “I think you’d be surprised how many are also doing most of the work.”

    Tutors – I was a professional tutor at a local university known for a specific program that’s not in the liberal arts. I met a lot of students. Some of them had legitimate questions or needed ideas on how to study. Some wanted me to provide answers (not gonna happen). And some wanted me there only to moderate their work time. They would take their hour to plow through work knowing that someone could answer a question if need be. I’d say it was probably 25% legit, 25% answer seekers and 50% moderators. That is my small data set from one year of being a professional tutor.

  66. Some of the students had helicopter parents, but most didn’t. Most saw this Uni as a way to get a vocational education with a liberal arts focus (which it does – not a certificate program, a full on bachelor’s degree). They would get jobs at the end, and have the bachelor’s to fall back on. But the drive to just get the answers and not work for the answers was there. They didn’t want the pressure of learning.

  67. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I had a sibling flunk out of a “top” school, freshman year. I think it definitely contributes to my laissez-faire attitude about college – parents can do a lot of things right and the kids still have to find their own way in life. Parents can do a lot of things wrong and kids still manage to find their own way. So while I will work myself into knots over other ridiculous things, thankfully a college resume & arms race is not one of them.*

    *yet

  68. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this before, but I had a sibling flunk out of a “top” school, freshman year.

    Do you have any insight into why?

  69. “‘My interpretation was that 90% of what tutors are doing is just providing a structured time for the student to sit down and crack the books.’

    I think you’d be surprised how many are also doing most of the work.”

    In my very limited experience with DD, it’s more in-between, somewhat like Rhode described. DD of course always wants us to just give her the answer already, and of course we don’t. But what she really needs is someone to help her (1) maintain her focus when she gets distracted, and (2) get over the hump when she gets stuck. The girl can spend 3 hours sitting and spinning because she doesn’t understand how to break a problem down into smaller bits to tackle them one at a time — it’s getting a lot better, but there are still a couple times a week when she needs us to help with that kind of thing. (And we’d intervene a lot more if we weren’t so focused on the fact that she will need to do this on her own in 4 years.) And she sure as heck doesn’t know how to study to learn stuff she doesn’t get the first time through.

    So I can totally see how even a smart kid could get to college and then really struggle when that built-in structure and support system isn’t there — the amount of work is going to go up compared to HS, and now you are responsible for planning your day to figure out when to fit that in (and ignore all of the tempting distractions). So you really can’t afford to sit and spin for 3 hours on a regular basis any more, but you don’t have the same support to kick you out of that.

  70. the amount of work is going to go up compared to HS

    Is that the case for most kids? We’ve discussed this in the past and IIRC the general consensus was college was a lot less work.

  71. Great article, Rhett. I think I would have enjoyed teasing data as an actuary. I loved digging stuff like this out as an IC yield engineer.

  72. WCE,

    I wonder how much of it has to do with the rise in obesity which is highest among the least educated? I assume the normal aches and pains of old age are worse for folks carrying a lot of weight?

  73. My daughter has spun her wheels a bit at school – I think she originally picked a major based on what she thought we expected of her. She had changed schools, changed majors, made some other changes and become much more of her own person along the way. I don’t relish the money wasted, but am pretty happy with where she seems to be headed. Dyslexia has always been an obstacle for her, but she decided about a year or so ago to really try to like reading. That evolved from books she liked to fan fiction to now writing fan fiction, and she now has hundreds of followers for her stories. I never knew what fan fiction even was, but am delighted for her that she is having a modicum of success in a realm she previously avoided like the plague. She has found a little niche unrelated to anything we would have ever chosen for her, and more power to her. She is excited about her chosen major in a way she wasn’t the first two years. I am spending a lot of time making it very clear to child number two not to choose anything because he thinks it is what we would want.

  74. I’ll guess community breakdown over obesity. The specific causes of death were suicide and addiction. When I read Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam, one of my observations was that working class kids from devout religious families were ~50% more likely to be successful. (I believe the metric was “graduate from college”, but there may have been more to it than that.)

    My thought was that if Head Start, smaller class sizes or government-funded preschool had anything like a 50% increase in “success”, proponents would be shouting it in the streets. The fact that the positive outcome was associated with religion meant that it was only a footnote in a bestselling book.

  75. one of my observations was that working class kids from devout religious families were ~50% more likely to be successful.

    If I said kids who graduate from college are more successful than those that don’t so we should try and send more people to college you’d no doubt point out the flaws in my argument.

  76. On building security. DH and I go several times a year to an office at 101 California Street, where a man went on a shooting rampage about 20 years ago. We are guests, so we have to check in at the desk: they call up to the office we are visiting to get the OK, then we are escorted by security to the elevator bay where another guard uses his card to program the elevator just to go to our floor.

    I guess once we are at our floor we could go elsewhere in the building, but it is interesting what steps they have taken.

  77. On college admissions race: After my DD’s experience I believe that there is a GPA/SAT line that some very competitive schools draw for the “non-hook” people – if you are below this level then they don’t really bother to read your application. She (and I admit I ) got too caught up in the fact that her GPA was good enough, but not her test scores. Her amazing personality and extra curricular activities were not enough to overcome this invisible line.

    This is, of course, just my opinion! I think there are too many good applicants for them to get into an in depth study of their applications – they have to draw a line somewhere.

    Several years later when her brother was applying, he had the reverse: excellent test scores and just good grades. He had two reach schools, but went into it with the knowledge that they really were long shots (and he was applying to engineering schools within the universities, which can be tougher to get into). He announced on Facebook that he didn’t get into his top choice – not really embarrassed at all!

  78. Whoops, got so caught up in my story I forgot to mention my helicoptering: I was all over DS his freshman year of high school, looking at Powerschool (online grade posting) and bugging him about stuff. It was stressful for both of us. Sophomore year I backed off totally, and his grades improved. In fact, they got better each year until he graduated! Maybe it was him having better teachers or liking the material more, or finally understanding what he needed to do, but I’m sure my laying off helped as well.

  79. ssk, I remember that. It was at a law firm, and the shooter was a former client who wasn’t satisfied with the outcome of his case.

    I would not be surprised if you did not have access to the rest of the building. Many new elevators are tied in to electronic access control systems, so you need a card or fob to call an elevator or select a floor, and the floors you can access are limited by your card/fob. Fire exit doors often only allow free access into the stairs, except at the ground floor.

    A pretty close friend was involved in another shooting a few years before that, where a bunch of people were killed. A lot of the tech firms in the area tightened up security as a result of that.

  80. We provide a lot of tutoring and support for our struggling students. I am starting to think that the tutors are part of the problem. I think some of these kids are so lost that the tutor ends up pretty much writing the program for the kid. I don’t think the tutors mean to, but in order to get anything working you end up telling the kid, “OK, put a for loop here, and declare an integer there”. I’ve done it myself. The problem is, some students rely on the tutors week after week to get their work done, but I don’t think they are learning anything in the process that they can transfer to another course. They end up struggling the whole way through.

    I was reading an article about these new alternative courses to remedial courses, where the students take the regular credit bearing course, and then also take a special section of “support” where they work with a learning specialist to get through the regular course. Evidently they are doing this in states that have banned remedial courses. I have a lot of concerns with this – are they students learning anything in the support section that they can take to later courses, or are they just getting someone to fix their grammar so they don’t flunk their assignment.

  81. Rhett, I didn’t go to the link you posted, but whenever I see something about death rates increasing, I always wonder how. Haven’t death rates been 100% forever?

  82. “Also, much of this “stress and anxiety” is due to being at Stanford, a notoriously competitive school.”

    Are there any schools that are notable for an emphasis on not being competitive, or on collaboration over competition?

    At our Caltech tour, we were told that, in the interest of creating a collaborative environment, freshman aren’t graded.

  83. Finn, a friend who did her undergrad with me (and was concertmaster of the orchestra) and a PhD at a slightly higher ranked school observed that at my school, we all competed to be the best, but we also genuinely liked each other and helped each other. At her PhD program, people would destroy other people’s work in order to be the best. The professors at my undergrad would have never tolerated that sort of competition. Destroying other people’s work is in a completely different ball park than competing for gloating rights.

  84. ” “What if I’m the dumbest one there? I mean someone has to be, right?””

    I read somewhere that Malcolm Gladwell said that was the reason for preference for legacies and athletes.

  85. Rhett, I can see the legacies donating a lot, but I’ve never heard that athletes,as a group, donate more than average.

  86. WCE, a few weeks ago DS told me that a good friend who is currently a senior asked him to critique her application essay. He was the only student her mom would let read her essay, in part because he’s still a junior and thus not competing against her.

    On one hand, I thought it said something positive that his friend and her mom both thought enough of him to ask, but wondered how much of their paranoia was justified.

  87. Rhett, I can see the legacies donating a lot, but I’ve never heard that athletes,as a group, donate more than average.

    My understanding is that Ivy Leage athletes make the most of any group (most likely as so many go into finance) and are generous with donating it.

  88. Stanford gets over 40,000 applications with an 8% admit rate. if Stanford wanted resilient smart kids, they’d admit resilient smart kids. The fact that they don’t means (a) they really don’t value resiliency and (b) she just wants to sell books.
    Finn, you’ll learn a lot about paranoia next year. Although in some cases, the reticence is more about protecting your kid’s privacy. This process is hard enough on kids without playing it out in public.

  89. Rhett – the language in that article is really insulting, but I guess that shouldn’t be surprising coming from the NYT. Since when do we casually describe those whose formal educations stopped after high school as “poorly educated”? We are talking about the majority of American adults, after all.

    But to address the statistics that they find so puzzling, I would simply hypothesize that, as an ever-increasing proportion of the population earns college degrees, the shrinking percentage that has not will exhibit characteristics as as a population that will decline, on average.

    A better study would focus on fixed percentiles of the population rather than using an arbitrary line of distinction that is constantly shifting.

  90. Actually, last year Stanford’s admit rate was less than 5%.

    One parent whose kid graduated last year told me he looked an Naviance and saw that about 25% of the senior class applied there.

    I’ve heard that Stanford kids, especially in tech fields, are, as a group, quite sought after by employers, which seems at odds with the characterization of them being the spawn of intensely helicopter parents.

    BTW, I’m interested in whatever you feel comfortable posting about your college campus visits, especially if you were able to visit when classes were in session. I know there are others here with kids in HS who are also interested.

  91. Milo,

    Since when do we casually describe those whose formal educations stopped after high school as “poorly educated”?

    Since forever? I find it interesting they use the euphemism “poorly educated.”

  92. I’m curious about how many Stanford tech grads stay in tech long-term. Fellow kid activity parents are Stanford grads. Mom appears to be a full/quasi-SAHP with same undergrad major as I have. I haven’t talked to her to compare experiences…

  93. I would simply hypothesize that, as an ever-increasing proportion of the population earns college degrees,

    I think it’s been more or less stable since the Vietnamm era:

  94. WCE, I’ve known quite a few Stanford tech grads, and offhand, I can’t think of any that did not stay in tech long-term. One guy DW worked with became a VC, but that could still be considered staying in tech.

    I’ve speculated before about women who leave engineering, perhaps because they never really had the burning desire to be engineers, but were encouraged in that direction because they were good in math and science. My understanding is that Stanford makes it easy to take classes from all of their departments, and so my speculation is that kids, and females in particular, who don’t really have the calling to be engineers may be much more likely at Stanford than at other schools to make a switch while still undergrads.

  95. Rhett, perhaps that spike was due to the Vietnam War, as guys enrolled in college to avoid military service.

  96. On a SWE tour, a guide explained that she was retired from working on boats in Alaska and she apologized if she swore like a sailor. Another woman responded, “You don’t “swear like a sailor”. You have “an expressive vocabulary”.

  97. I’ve visited Stanford a few times, and it is a gorgeous campus. I have a friend that works for Stanford graduate business school and we went to a part of the campus that I’ve never been to before this visit. The new business school campus is really amazing. The buildings are so modern, but they look like the rest of the campus. She took us into several classrooms and it was clear that money is no object when it comes to spending. I know that Phil Knight donated a lot of the money, but this place makes so many of the old schools in the northeast/mid atlantic look like dumps. My college is can not add any more space to the campus and everything is squashed into a small area. I was startled to learn how much land Stanford actually owns in Palo Alto. It is unbelievable, and the value must be insane with the current property valuations in Silicon valley.

    it is a short walk from the main part of the campus, but it is worth it just to see the Monument to Change as it Changes. The kids did not want to leave this beautiful and fascinating piece of art . It looks like paint chips, or post its that have come to life. It is hard to describe, but worth a visit if you are looking at colleges.

    My friend said that if you exclude all of the kids that will get in early to the undergraduate school because Stanford still needs athletes and musicians…..the admit rate is much lower than 3% for kids that just want to apply through the regular process.

  98. “we went to a part of the campus that I’ve never been to before this visit.”

    It probably did not exist much before that visit. There are entire new quads that did not exist 20 years ago.

    ” I was startled to learn how much land Stanford actually owns in Palo Alto.”

    I believe that Stanford Mall, with Macy’s and Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom and Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn and so many other totebaggy stores is also on Stanford property.

  99. Rhett, I must take issue with something from that article:

    “engineers love BMWs and would never drive an automatic,”

    Among the SV engineers I knew, by far the most popular cars were Toyotas and Hondas. The older ones drove Accords and Camrys; outdoorsy ones drove FourRunners, Tercels (the AWD ones were great for skiing), and Land Cruisers; younger ones just starting out drove Corollas and Civics or, if they wanted something sportier, Celicas, Preludes, CRXs, and Accord Coupes.

    Sticks were not uncommon, but not as common as automatics (although DW and I have never bought a car with automatic unless stick was not available).

    BMWs weren’t uncommon either, but were more popular with the marketing types.

  100. “Stanford still needs athletes and musicians”

    It seems like a large %age of the kids from my kids’ school who go to Stanford are recruited athletes.

    Last year, they sent someone here to audition musicians… I need to make sure DD practices her viola tonight.

  101. From Rhett’s link:

    ” One day, in Calculus class, she heard something from a classmate that changed the course of her life”

    Confirming the totebaggy value of having all kids take calculus.

  102. Are the SV engineers you knew now senior Fortune 500 execs? I think part of her success may be due to a taste for the finer things.

  103. Rhett – I think you’re misinterpreting your own graph. It’s the bottom line you should be looking at.
    And my point is that we, as Totebaggy society, often say that schools and government should do more to promote vocational training and opportunities for high school grads, and that for many, this can be a strong and rewarding career choice. So why should we then turn around and call that same population “poorly educated”? I’ll hypothesize that if the article wasn’t specifically talking about white males, they never would have used that term.

    “It’s my responsibility to pull the next tier of women and grow our overall population, so we don’t have to swear like sailors anymore,” she said.

    It’s ironic that someone talking about spending tens of millions of dollars to promote workplace diversity doesn’t find this expression inappropriate.

  104. Milo,

    If you were 55 in 1975 you would have been 20 in 1940 when the percentage going to college was less than 10%. The rising bottom line represents the dieing off of that cohort. Someone who is 55 now was 20 in 1980 when the % going to college was similar to what it is now.

    Also “uneducated” is a euphemism for, shall we say, low levels of cognative ability.

  105. I’ve speculated before about women who leave engineering, perhaps because they never really had the burning desire to be engineers, but were encouraged in that direction because they were good in math and science. My understanding is that Stanford makes it easy to take classes from all of their departments, and so my speculation is that kids, and females in particular, who don’t really have the calling to be engineers may be much more likely at Stanford than at other schools to make a switch while still undergrads.

    This will perhaps be DD’s issue. She is good at math & science but won’t necessarily make a good engineer. Some sort of designer would be appropriate.

  106. Do you have any insight into why?

    My best guess is a lack of maturity/lack of effort, along the lines of what Fred has experienced. But it can be hard to be objective about your siblings. I know that my parents were pissed, and I know it wasn’t some sort of health crisis or other ‘justifiable’ reason.

  107. Polls open at 6 in NY. I was #6 at 7:30.
    I have to admit that I went because my polling location is in the middle school. I did drop off because bus is always late.

    It was all for stuff like judges, supervisor, etc. 9 different positions, and just one had two choices.
    Life in a blue state in an odd numbered year.

  108. “Also “uneducated” is a euphemism for, shall we say, low levels of cognative ability.”

    cognitive.

    And the NYT article was not basing their research on cognitive ability. They were defining the populations based on education attained.

  109. Lauren – We had some running unopposed. For others, I was reading the websites of different candidates last night trying to make up my mind. And at my voting place, I can always count on meeting at least two of the local candidates greeting voters outside the school (even one who is running unopposed, today).

    I’m impressed by anyone working that hard for an $18,000 / yr job (state senator).

  110. “You don’t think they are using education as a proxy for what they really mean?”

    I absolutely think that, and that’s what’s so offensive about it.

  111. No, I don’t think it’s the truth. I think socioeconomic status in childhood is a far better predictor of college graduation than cognitive ability is.

  112. “Because IQ isn’t heritable and has nothing to do with SES?”

    Rhett,
    The two are related, but there are many other factors in play.

    What about the immigrant kids whose parents were denied schooling opportunities? The mother of one of my daughter’s classmates went to school through third grade. Her dad thought that was all the education girls needed. Their family is low income because the parents are uneducated and don’t speak much English. The daughter is smart and headed off to college next year. She is smart and tough and I bet she will finish.

    What about kids whose parents have other issues, e.g. PTSD, depression, death?

    I think you tend to write off kids who didn’t pick the right parents a little to quickly.

  113. What about the immigrant kids whose parents were denied schooling opportunities?

    We’re talking about marginalized middle aged whites.

  114. One of the most refreshing bits in the article Rhett posted was the fact that the study’s authors refused to speculate about causation. Other statisticians and researchers were very complimentary of the way in which these two noticed this trend when the rest of them did not – and they were not cherry picking existing studies to find exactly this correlation.

    I think that WCE’s large point about loss of community is a sound one. We have talked before about how the cognitively average and above middle and all of the upper middle classes can navigate the knowledge economy, can have several tries at life success (whether jobs, education, stable relationships), while those disadvantaged by SES, low cognitive ability, early life stress, lack of local opportunity or some combination fare worse and worse. The sort of cohesion provided by strong families and non-abusive religious communities, including both moderation in behavior and (anathema to most of us totebaggers) the limitation of acceptable choices within the group, increases the chance of a successful life for everyone in the community, not just those favored with flexible talents suited to a fast changing economy.

  115. We only have local elections today – city council etc. – and I don’t know enough about the candidates to vote. The pool is such that most choices will be fine.

  116. So, thanks to all the suggestions yesterday, we now have on the way one Aniak Halfbreed, one Banana Slug (alas, the Jackrabbits offered only ground shipping), one Divorcees of Henry the 8th, and one Plague vs. Humans in the 1350 Regional Finals. Much appreciated.

  117. I think a few of you have traveled to Lake Como. Did you stay in a hotel, or rent an apartment??

  118. Lfb- so excited about the shirts. Now, thanks to you, dh has a humans vs plague shirt on the way. People from Aniak (much more than other similar villages) do tend to be “half breeds”. There is a long history of intermarriage. I met someone from Aniak once and asked a nurse, “do you know if he is native?” (It mattered for transfer arrangement). She said, “yeah, he’s a half breed”. I was horrified. I clutched my pearls, and told her that nice people don’t talk like that. She explained that in Aniak, they are all quite proud of their mixed heritage.

  119. Lauren – I think we are heading to North Italy next summer – really excited to see the Christo exhibit on one of the lakes.

    Also, have none of you seen The Man From Snowy River? Have none of you seen it 100 times? Is there no love for the imaginary magic of the Outback?

  120. My daughter has the humans vs. plague / regional finals shirt and loves it. It’s a close second to her time traveler essentials shirt , and probably actually worn more often since she mostly saves the time traveler one for flights. (She thinks she’s more likely to accidentally time travel while on a plane.)

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