My guests this week are Cynthia Muchnick and Jenn Curtis. Here is a little bit about each of their backgrounds.
Cynthia Muchnick is a graduate of Stanford University and has been working in education for the past 25 plus years as a former assistant director of college admission, high school teacher, educational consultant, and author of five other education-related books. She speaks professionally to parents, students, teachers, and business groups on topics around study skills, the adolescent journey, college admission, and now the Parents Compass Movement.
Jenn Curtis earned a BA from UCLA and an MSW from USC and has been an educational consultant and professional speaker for the past 12 years. As the owner of FutureWise Consulting, she has worked with hundreds of students on every aspect of the college admission process. She’s particularly passionate about empowering teens to approach life with intention and educating parents about navigating their parent compass.
In this episode, we are talking about preparing kids for life beyond high school, particularly if they’re thinking about college or some sort of post-secondary training. But even if they aren’t, you are going to get a lot of great tips and ideas around how to support kids in this phase of life.
We’ll also be answering questions like how can we as parents best prepare our kids for education in life beyond high school? How can we help them strike the balance of realistic but also ambitious goals? And how can we manage ourselves and our feelings so that we’re not pushing them into something that might not be the best path for them? Perhaps the most important message here is to start empowering your kids at a young age to speak for themselves, advocate for themselves and express their own individual interests. Learn more about Cynthia and Jenn here.
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Parents should STOP doing this …
- Speak over their kids, answer for their kids, and not let their kids have their own opinions
- This mostly happens unintentionally
- Going straight to administrators or teachers, before letting kids advocate for themselves
- Protecting kids from feeling emotions, disappointments, failures
- Putting your own interests and opinions for what they “should” be doing first
- Doing all the planning and organizing
Where parents have the opportunity to do better
- You have the opportunity as the parent of a younger child to be aware of and think about how you want to nurture their independence and individuality
- It’s not too late for any parent to start empowering their children, young adults or even grown adults
- We have a lot of opportunities in the growing up years to put these things into practice with being aware of how much we’re inserting ourselves, versus allowing our kids to have a voice, being aware of how much we might be rescuing in a way that isn’t going to lead them well
- When we don’t focus on who the child uniquely is, often we’re inserting our own biases into who we want them to be, and it really kind of can get in the way of us parenting authentically
Micromanaging your kids
- Two categories of older kids, young adults who experience micromanaging by their parents or caretaker
- One is the category who don’t need that, but the parents think they do and are doing it anyway, or the parents are doing it out of their own need to be needed
- Two is the category of young people where parents are continuing to insert themselves and do that because if they didn’t, their young adult kids truly don’t have the skills to manage and deal with many aspects of their life
- Parents may need to step back and find ways outside of the higher education environment for their kids to develop life skills so that they can be successful there
- Basic food skills like cooking, grocery shopping and nutrition
- Basic financial skills
- Basic laundry skills
- Basic skills around organization and planning
- Social awareness
- Social skills
Alternatives to a 4yr. College
- Community college
- Gap years
- Volunteer opportunities all over the world to find ways to give back.
- Immersive experiences to learn languages or to learn instruments
- Give time to a religious cause
- Apprenticeships for students who want to learn a skill like woodworking, hairstyling, or creative arts
Ways to show your child you believe in them
- Let your kids advocate for their grades and even go speak to their teachers
- Let your kids pay for things
- Let your kids speak up about how they are feeling at the doctor
- Let them take charge and make decisions when planning big life events like college or a trip, etc.
- Let them talk first, let them self advocate first, and then you can fill in the blanks if need be
- Give your kids the freedom to have their space
- Have freedom to be creative on their own walls with what inspires them
- Instilling in kids from early on that “You are capable, of course you can choose what you would want to put on your walls. I trust that you can have an opinion about that and figure that out.”
- Show them we like who they are and we’re trying to understand who they are, and to ask those questions that allow them to share their interests with us
Follow Cynthia and Jenn
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Jenn and Cindy’s background … 00:03:20
Parent No-no’s … 00:09:00
Two categories … 00:16:00
Alternatives to 4 yr. college … 00:25:00
Believe in your child … 00:26:50
Episode Wrap up … 00:39:00
Dr. Nicole Beurkens::
Hi everyone, welcome to the show. I’m Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we are talking about preparing kids for life beyond high school, particularly if they’re thinking about college or some sort of post-secondary training. But even if they aren’t, you are going to get a lot of great tips and ideas around how to support kids in this phase of life.
I am seeing clinically more and more teens and young adults who really struggle with this life transition, many of them who went on to college because they expected it of themselves, as well as other people expected of them, but really were unprepared to manage all of the elements of that, and it can lead to major issues with anxiety, depression, and more. So how can we as parents best prepare our kids for education in life beyond high school? How can we help them strike the balance of realistic but also ambitious? And how can we manage ourselves and our feelings so that we’re not pushing them into something that might not be the best path for them? We are going to get into all of this and more with my guests today. Let me tell you a little bit about them.
Cynthia Muchnick is a graduate of Stanford University and has been working in education for the past 25 plus years as a former assistant director of college admission, high school teacher, educational consultant, and author of five other education-related books. She speaks professionally to parents, students, teachers, and business groups on topics around study skills, the adolescent journey, college admission, and now the Parents Compass Movement. Jenn Curtis earned a BA from UCLA and an MSW from USC and has been an educational consultant and professional speaker for the past 12 years. As the owner of FutureWise Consulting, she has worked with hundreds of students on every aspect of the college admission process. She’s particularly passionate about empowering teens to approach life with intention and educating parents about navigating their parent compass. Cindy, Jen, thanks for being here. Welcome to the show!
Thank you for having us.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens::
So I’m excited for this conversation. We have done several episodes in the past around this major life transition from sort of K-12 schooling into what the rest of life is going to be, and it’s such a popular topic, because I think it’s a challenge for us as parents in general, regardless of what our kids are going to do after high school or what their needs might be. It’s a big life transition, so I think this really will be helpful and resonate with the audience. I would love to just start by having each of you share a little bit about how you came into this type of work, and develop a passion around helping to guide parents and kids around this life transition. Jen, we will have you go first.
So as you mentioned, I earned a BS, an MSW, and that sort of catapulted me into the mental health world. I worked in severe and persistent mental health for some time and in research, and after a while, I really realized that while I loved the counseling aspect, I really missed academia. I just was so inspired around education. So I earned a certificate in College Counseling and I started my company about 12 years ago. Through that, I really looked at college counseling and educational consulting through the lens of empowerment, growth, self discovery, and helping students understand intention and setting goals. So fast forward, I actually met Cindy through our shared profession, and we can talk a little bit later about how the book came about, but that’s how we met.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens::
Very cool. Alright. And Cindy, how about you? How did you come to be invested in this kind of work?
Sure. So my background is a little bit different than Jen’s. I started on, as you read in my bio, the college admissions side.
So in college, I was a tour guide and I invited students to campus and walked backwards and showed them around and answered lots of questions, and didn’t realize there was really a career that that could evolve into.
So I learned about the college admissions career, and started in Chicago working in two different admissions offices for a couple of years before I then started my own private college counseling practice as Jen did. My interest has always been in working with teens. I love this age group, I love the complexity and the bridging, becoming an adult but still some wide-eyed concerns and curiosities that I was able to help kids along the way. And to be honest, my real passion came from trying to help kids that were kind of in the middle to lower locations in their classes, academically, improve their own study skills and time management so that they felt more in control of the academic process and didn’t feel stuck or labelled as less smart kids, because I found that the high achievers that, I sort of fell personally into that category too, they’ve figured out a lot of stuff, and lot of that stuff can be taught to other kids too. So I felt like there was a way to equip others with that, and then it kind of expanded into parenting. I have four: Two kids in high school, one in college and one out of college, so going through the process of learning as a parent really also influenced the work that I was doing. So that’s my background.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens::
Yeah, I get that. It’s one thing to talk about it with families and kids, and it’s another thing to go through it as a parent. I have two in college now and two in high school. And yeah, you realize how much of it is about the child, but also how much of it is about us and what we bring to the process. So you’ve written this book called The Parent Compass, and I know that we’re going to sort of use that to guide our discussion, but let’s move into it. I’d like you to describe or explain, what do you mean by “parent compass”?
The parent compass is a constant reminder for parents to check themselves, to hold themselves accountable for their parenting behavior during what can be an incredibly challenging time. We live in an uncertain time, surely, but also, the high school years are a hyper-competitive time, and we we see parents getting competitive with one another, focusing on name brand colleges, where my kid is going, what my kid is doing, what my kid is achieving, and to your point, how that reflects on us. And so the parent compass really was a way for us to kind of have a tangible reminder for parents to hold themselves accountable for their parenting behavior.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens::
And I think it’s great because this is a time where the focus tends to be on the kids themselves, yet I think so many parents don’t realize how much of themselves they’re inserting into the process. I think it’s with the best of intentions, but when we are aware of that, it allows us to be supportive in a whole different way. And so I really like that visual or that imagery around a compass, using that to sort of ground and guide us. Cindy, what were you gonna say around that?
Yeah, I was just going to add that the book really began as an etiquette book to teach parents to behave better and really have better etiquette through this journey. And as we continued to write it, we explored different chapters and inserted different chapters that really were missing, that forced parents to take deep, hard looks at who they were, to kind of self reflect back and understand the baggage that they were bringing to each of their own children, but also unrealistic expectations and projections that they were making onto these kids who were already stressed out and overwhelmed enough. Again, at whatever level students might be, it was just happening so much, and Jen and I saw the repercussions in our own offices, as I’m sure you do too, Dr. Nicole.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens::
Yeah. I love that parent etiquette. What are some of the things that you see that parents do, however well-intentioned, that are really not okay, or not helpful?
I think some of the biggest things that we personally were seeing in our practices were parents who would speak over their kids, answer for their kids, not let their kids –unintentionally, I think, not let their kids have their own opinions. We were also seeing a lot of fear of failure. So kids who would falter and who could not handle what that “meant” about them. And I think that does go back to — As parents, I think we tend to want to save our kids and not let them experience that heartache. So we do see that a lot. We also see a lot of going straight to administrators, or even teachers, before letting kids self-advocate for themselves. And those were these conversations that Cindy and I were having, when we decided, man, we really need to write this down in a book and give some strategies to parents so that they can rein themselves in a bit and give their kids a bit more of a voice.
And I think I’ll just add that Jen and I share our own mistakes that we’ve made, as parents, in the book, or observations we’ve made from other parents whose names we’ve changed to protect the innocent, and students. We then also turn to experts like you and psychologists, thought leaders, heads of schools, teachers, we did a lot of surveying with people who have boots on the ground with a lot of these kids on the other side. Our work is quiet and one on one with these kids, but we’re not immersed in the world that they’re in every day. And so these contributions from teachers that were saying that all these parents were insisting their kids be in classes that they don’t want to be in, and are choosing their activities for them, and the kids are burning out. I’m getting emails in the middle of the night from parents. I mean, just things that were so inappropriate. I think, again, our point is: Right, all of this parenting comes from a place of love and fierce protection of our kids, but by doing all of that, we are bubble wrapping them and not letting them feel what it’s like to be their own person. So that’s really our goal, it’s to try to kind of educate parents on how to appreciate the kid that they have in front of them and let them be their own person.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens::
I think for those of you who are listening, who say, “Well, I have a young child right now”, or “My child’s not anywhere near this phase in life”, this is such valuable insight and information to have now because you have the opportunity as the parent of a younger child to be aware of and think about how you want to nurture some of these things, and behave in some of these ways with your kids as they’re getting older, which is not to say, for those of you with kids who are in the trenches with this right now that it’s too late. It certainly isn’t, but just to make the point that this is valuable for every parent to be thinking about, regardless of the age of their child, because we have a lot of opportunities in the growing up years to put these things into practice with being aware of how much we’re inserting ourselves, versus allowing our kids to have a voice, being aware of how much we might be rescuing in a way that isn’t going to lead them well. So I think this is just such an important conversation, regardless of age. One of the things you do in the book that makes it really different from a lot of books out there that parents might read about sort of how to get your kid into college or that transition, you really focus a lot on the wellbeing of the child, around nurturing who this unique individual is, and I think that’s really a difference. I’m curious to get your perspectives on why you felt like that was an important focus.
I think when we don’t focus on who the child uniquely is, often we’re inserting our own biases into who we want them to be, and it really kind of can get in the way of us parenting authentically. And so I think the importance of seeing our kids for who they are, is that when we don’t, we really undermine our relationship with them and we can really be hurting them very deeply. Our kids really want to be seen and understood and accepted for their very unique strengths, and also accepted for their weaknesses, and to know that they don’t need to be good at everything. And in doing so, I think when they can feel appreciated and understood, that is when they’re going to really thrive.
I think I would just add that it was really important for us to have the word “wellness” in our subtitle in the book. And this wasn’t just about — yes, academics and being a student is an important job that these kids have, and they spend a lot of time doing it, but the wellness piece, we were hearing from kids who had gone off to college, whose parents were still setting alarms for them and waking them up in the morning, whose parents were helping them choose their classes in college, when it’s finally their choice to really pick things that excite them and enjoy them. Parents who were micromanaging from a distance.
The research was showing, and they were using this terminology that kids were like tea cups. They arrived in college so fragile, so exhausted and they had really burned themselves out before they even arrived. And so I used to view, a generation ago, college as this icing on the cake, this sort of reward at the end, this fun experience. And all this sort of fun seemed to be deflated out of it because these kids were just — somehow umbilical cord hadn’t been cut, and parents were just still trying to insert themselves and it’s one thing to help them move into their room or take their friends out to dinner if you come and visit, or maybe as we did a generation ago, have a Sunday night call. But with technology and the immediacy of texting and FaceTime and all those things, it was not allowing that important natural separation to happen. And so if we can start earlier in creating that and equipping our kids with these tools, we’re giving ourselves a gift and we’re giving them a gift. Because quite frankly, by the time they’re out there, I think his parents, we are pretty exhausted just from the emotion of being parents, not from even necessarily micromanaging or all those things. Just from the constant 18 years of having them under our roofs.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think all of the things that you just described are things that I absolutely see more and more often happening in terms of parents micromanaging, inserting themselves. And I think there are two kinds of categories of older kids, young adults who I see around that issue. One is the category who don’t need that, but the parents think they do and are doing it anyway, or the parents are doing it out of their own need to be needed. They just haven’t been able to separate, so they’re inserting themselves when their kids really could handle the challenge of doing this. And then I see another category of young people where parents are continuing to insert themselves and do that because if they didn’t, their young adult kids truly don’t have the skills to manage and deal with that, and to me, those are two really different conversations, because the conversation with the first set is “Okay, how do we help you as the parents to manage yourself and step back and let your kid do what they’re capable of doing?” And in the second category, there really needs to be more conversations around “Is your child truly ready for this thing that you have decided is important and that they’re going to do?” And in a lot of cases, the answer is no.
In my opinion, we need to step back and find ways outside of the higher education environment for them to develop those skills so that they can be successful there, and I’m just curious about your thoughts on that, because I think sometimes, parents are pushing kids into situations that they truly don’t have the foundations of readiness for, and then that becomes really problematic.
Yeah, so we just wrote a big article for a platform called College Confidential. We are going to link it in our bio. And it was on this exact topic, we’ll link it in our Instagram bio @parentcompass, and also on our website, parentcompassbook.com, but we went through how important it was to have — so in your category two, so these certain conversations before our kids leave home. And there are just topics that are important to talk about as basic as cooking and food skills, as basic as sleep patterns and all of that, and laundry, obviously, finances. There are a lot of topics to kind of be discussed together, leading up to the college environment, and they can still be had while our kids are gone. I still get phone calls and laundry questions from my adult children about “Can this all go in the dryer together?” or whatever it is, and those are great, those are great teachable moments as we as we kind of know, but it’s really interesting the way that you put it there, because there really are multiple categories of this. And it is, as a parent, our job to identify that category.
To first say, “Do I fall in that category when I’m doing too much? Okay, I’m going to read the Parent Compass and listen to this podcast and do a little bit of self work here to do a better job”, or “Did I miss out on some of these conversations and topics we should have discussed? It’s not too late, let’s start having some of those conversations.” And again, those conversations can begin before middle school, they can begin a long time ago. I happen to have a kid who went off to boarding school, so I had to have those conversations in eighth grade, some really big ones that were kind of uncomfortable for me as a parent, with my concerns. And he looked at me like I was crazy, and I just felt like I needed to say these things. “You don’t have to. You could just file them away, but I need to say them before you go, because I’m not going to be there and you’re going through high school without an adult figure.” That’s a mom or a dad right there. So anyway, sorry, Jen, you are going to add?
I was just going to add, if I understood your question, I think part of your question too was about, is it okay if a student isn’t ready to leave home? And I think that that is a really important conversation to have, because particularly in the wake of the pandemic, there are a lot of kids who feel that a different path might be a better one for them. And in the Parent Compass, we write an entire chapter about alternative routes. That four year college does not have to be everybody’s route. So we talk about community college, taking a gap year, going straight into the workforce. And I think that those are conversations that parents need to be open to having with their children, because if we push kids into this one size fits all “My kid has to go to college because that’s what I want him to do”, then maybe that’s not the best for that particular kid, and maybe he would thrive with a different opportunity or a year to gain some skills, or to get some perspective, or maybe the kid didn’t have the best high school experience in terms of his or her grades and needs a couple of years in a community college, to refocus and learn how to study. Maybe by the end of those two years, the student will have a great idea about what he or she wants to do as a career in the future. So I do think that that’s a really important thing for parents to be sure that they’re open to.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, I appreciate you raising that option of maybe doing community college or some other things because, particularly what I see in autistic young adults, and maybe even kids with more significant ADHD or more serious mental health issues, sometimes their academics are up to the level where they need to be, but it’s all the other things in life that they’re needing some extra years to develop. Even self management and organization. If your child is is truly not at a point yet with their where they’re able to manage their time in ways that allow them to get up on time, keep track of time, get places on time, there may need to be some time spent on working on that before they enter a traditional college environment or even a work environment. If your child really is lacking in social awareness or some social skills or some communication things, regardless of where their grades are, you may need to have some additional time to work on that. Community college and living at home can provide you with lots of options for that, but I’m glad that we’re talking about this more broadly, because I think so many parents are just locked into this idea of “Four year college is the right path”, or “Well, my kid can’t do four your college, so then I guess they just go to work or something”, without realizing that there actually is this whole array of options and possibilities that can be created, right?
We were asked in a podcast a couple of months ago about what advice we would now give ourselves as parents, learning all that we’ve learned through this. One of the things that I had been reflecting on a lot at the time was, for me personally, this idea of should. The word “should”. I should do this, or I should do that because everybody else is doing it or whatever. And so I think my biggest piece of advice to parents in this realm would be: Let go of the shoulds. Why should your child go off to a four year college if he or she is not ready? And I think that that’s really the kind of thing that I would like to pass on to parents just to kind of let go of the shoulds.
I’m a really big believer too in tangible reminders, and one of the things that we write about in the Parent Compass is to use the idea of earplugs. I give earplugs out to all of my students, just to help them focus on their own path and drown out the noise around them, and I urge parents at the same time to kind of put in those metaphorical earplugs to drown out the noise around them and to really focus on what makes their family special, what makes their kids special. And I think that that does kind of come into this conversation, it’s to really be willing to put in those ear plugs, and kind of going back to where we started here really focusing on what makes your child uniquely them, and appreciating them for who they are.
I think I would also add to that same concept that a generation ago, taking a gap year or not going right into four year college might have received a “Oooh, something must be wrong” or a little bit of a judgement maybe from your parents, or an embarrassment on the part of a parent having to share that and make an excuse for their child, whatever it might be. And if this generation and/or, I guess COVID, has any kind of silver lining, if silver lining is the right word, I’m not sure, is that we have permission to do it differently for every one of our children and their different unique paths. And so I know we’ve mentioned community college, workforce or gap years. There is the military, there are internships, paid or unpaid internships or research that students can do. There are wonderful volunteer opportunities all over the world to find ways to give back. There are immersive experiences to learn languages or to learn instruments or to give of your time to a religious cause, or whatever it might be that can be put together for your child. They can help kind of discover and figure out that path. There are also wonderful apprenticeships for students who want to learn a skill like woodworking or hairstyling or creative arts that are not in a typical four year college path. And each of these are wonderful contributions. We need people to contribute these skills to the world we live in. So if it’s your kid who’s going to share that skill, then that’s great. I think it’s a reframing and a redirection as parents to kind of give ourselves permission to say we can stand alongside our child as they choose what might be a different path than we took, or a different path than their peers are taking.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, so true. I totally agree. One of the things that you talk about is that it’s important for us as parents to be clearly sending the message to our kids that we believe in them, that we think they can do it. What are some tangible suggestions you have? So parents might think “Okay, well, so I can tell them things like ‘You can do it!’ or ‘I know you’re going to figure it out’”, but what are some things that you have found helpful or that you recommend that we can really more embed in how we are with our kids, and really, in lots of ways communicating that we really do believe in them.
I think what first comes to mind since we’re coming at this from an education standpoint, would be letting your kids advocate for their grades, go speak to their teachers. If they need assistance in that, great you can have a supporting role in that. As they write an email to their teacher, you can be sitting next to them and if they turn to you to ask for help, that’s wonderful. I think one of the things that we talk about a lot is when our kids go to the doctor. No matter how old they are, they are capable of telling the doctor why they’re there, whether they’re 3 or 13, they can do that. So really making ourselves zip our lips and let them speak first. If we then need to fill in the blanks, if the doctor doesn’t quite understand what your four year old is telling them, great. Let your four year old try, but you can fill in the blanks when they’re done. So I think one of the biggest things would be letting them talk first, letting them self advocate first, and then filling in the blanks if need be.
And I think I would add the idea that in communicating with our kids, to appreciate the process more than the end result, and not to focus on “How did you do on that test today? How did that presentation go? What did you get? What did your friend get?” It’s more that “I saw how hard you worked on that. Did it go okay today after all that work, do you feel good about it? I loved watching you struggle through it, but I know that you gave it your best shot. I believe in you,” kinds of things without saying that. And then in addition, I think giving our kids — it’s something we don’t really talk about in the book, we talk about it indirectly, but I’m giving your kids the freedom to have their space, like their bedroom which has sort of also become their classroom in a lot of cases, but to give their space or bedroom, to kind of have freedom to be creative on their own walls with what inspires them. So to put quotes up of meaningful messages that inspire them. My son, I remember, had some screensaver about blood, sweat, toil, sweat and tears, or whatever a Winston Churchill quote. Having their own reminders of things around them that make them feel good and that share there — a bulletin board, or if you’re a parent that — I tend to be the parent that likes things a little neater and tidier, but in allowing my kids to kind of express themselves in their own space, I think that shows them that we like who they are and we’re trying to understand who they are, and to ask those questions that allow them to share their thing with us or their things with us. I think it’s fun to have shared and common interests with our kids, but it’s more wonderful for them when their interests are different and they feel like they’re educating you about them, or they’re getting you excited about them, or teaching you about them, because it’s empowering. And really listening as you do professionally every day. But for parents, we have a chapter on listening and on asking questions, and we have a whole list of great questions to ask our kids that focus on just what you’re asking here.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think that sending that message even from early on shows that we believe our kids are capable, we believe that they can figure it out, we believe that they can make choices for themselves and have opinions. I think that’s so important because one of the things that I’m seeing in these older teens and these young adults is really just a total lack of resilience and a lot of anxiety, which really at the core — What is anxiety about? It’s about “I don’t feel like I can handle what’s going to happen or what could happen here.” And so this instilling in kids from early on that “You are capable, of course you can choose what you would want to put on your walls. I trust that you can have an opinion about that and figure that out.” Or, “Of course I trust that you can communicate what it is that you’re here at this appointment for.” I think that that’s an important message because I see that’s just becoming such a huge issue, this lack of resilience. And I think Jen, earlier in our conversation, you commented on that, like that’s a real problem for a lot of young people now in post-secondary education, it’s just feeling like they can’t handle it. tThe slightest disappointment or failure or something with a roommate that doesn’t go the way they expected, and it’s like they are devastated, and they don’t know how to move on from that. I’m curious if you’re seeing that as well.
We start the book out. I’m seeing it in two ways — I will tell a quick story: We start the book out with an anecdote of a consultation I had years ago, and the student came into my office. And we were there to talk about what her goals were for her high school experience and for the college admission process, and I realized several minutes into the conversation that the girl had just sat there on the couch and didn’t say a single word. And her mom was just going on and on and on, and even comparing the daughter sitting there to her other sister who had done this, and who had done that. And so finally, I turned to the young girl, and I said, “Tell me about yourself. What do you like? What do you like to do?” And she couldn’t speak. She literally turned bright red, she looked at me, she could not eke out a word, she turned to her mom. She yelped. And she’s like, “Mom!”, and quite literally couldn’t speak to me. And so I think that that is really illustrative, and that’s why we chose to start the book with that, because that is a lot of what we’re seeing. To your question in particular, beyond simple things like that, we also do see it in the college admission process itself. It sort of becomes a little bit hyper focused in that realm. And so going we go through the college admission process in the Parent Compass, and talk about different ways that parents can give their kids control, so that it can go a little bit more smoothly, and the kid can feel ownership of the process, because after all, the process is about them and what they’re going to do with the next four years. So we talk about things like kids being in charge of their college search, and being in charge of the research. And they can even plan the visits that are going to happen, and they most certainly should be writing their own essays. And if they don’t want to show them to their parents, then they don’t have to show them to their parents. They are their essays.
But then we do see a lot of that devastation coming out during college decision time, so we do talk a lot about having those early conversations with students and helping to prepare them that this is not necessarily going to all be roses and it’s not necessarily going to go your way for every single school, but I’m going to sit here and I’m going to feel those difficult feelings with you, and I’m going to walk alongside you and I believe that you will end up where you should end up. And so I think those conversations are really important.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think this is making me think about this issue of teaching kids how to advocate for themselves, how to communicate what they need. For all of you listening who are parents of kids who have IEPs or 504 plans or some kind of support or accommodation plan in their K-12 schooling, often it is a very rude awakening for these kids and these parents when they transition to post secondary-education and realize — Oh wait. Even if they do get a support plan there, it is very different from an IEP at school, and your student is expected to speak up and advocate and let the faculty and the other support people know what they need. There is not going to be a resource teacher like at your kid’s high school, following them around, making sure that they have filled out their planner or that the teachers are implementing those accommodations. And that’s another big rude awakening that I see for some kids and some families around that, which I think speaks even more to the importance of us helping kids develop those skills for understanding their needs, advocating for themselves, being able to communicate about that because they’re going to need to do that in those environments.
We talk about this a lot too, because, going back to something we talked about earlier, I really firmly do believe that kids can start these skills when they’re young. So for those listeners, my kids are young. And not because I’m a wonderful parent, but simply because of what I’ve learned going through this process at a very young age, I use the example of the doctor, which is what I do with my kids, but even simple things like going out to a restaurant. I started when my kids could articulate what they wanted, they had to ask for a water cup, they had to ask for coloring. If they wanted to color, they needed to ask for it, I wasn’t going to do it for them. They needed to order their own food. And so I think it’s in those simple things, starting when kids are young, that we can help to instill those valuable skills in them.
I think I’ll also add that at the very start of the book, we have what we call a parent and a teen questionnaire. The book is written for parents, but there’s one piece that we would love parents to involve their teen in, and we’ve tested it out on lots of friends, family, colleagues, etc. It doesn’t take very long, but you can even just take a screenshot of the page and send it to your kid. But it asks you questions of yourself as parents, based on your own upbringing, your own educational background, your own lens, and it asks you and your partner, if you have one, spouse or partner, whatever it might be, whatever adult is raising the child can complete this questionnaire. And then the teen can complete their version of the questionnaire that’s asking them questions about: “What do you wish your parents knew?”, or “What would you like to tell your parents that you haven’t told them yet?” Or “What are your parents being too pushy about? I mean it asks these hard questions of each other, and it gives an opportunity to have that conversation, that starting conversation to say, “Here’s what I’m bringing to the table, and I want to do better as a mom or a dad or a caretaker. And so would you mind doing your part to help me do better?” Because when kids hear or see that we’re reading a book as a parent to self improve because we’re admitting we’re not perfect, this whole scheme of raising you for however many years doesn’t come with just one instruction manual, it’s a lot of trial and error. And as we know, each child is different. So to start off, by having this conversation, it kind of gets you all on pretty even ground. And again, that conversation could happen at the beginning of middle school, it could happen again at the beginning of high school, or at any point that you pick up the book, you can have that conversation. Even if they’re gone to college, when they come home for break, have that conversation if things aren’t working out in the college landscape or in the living outside of home landscape. And then just kind of figure it out together: “Here’s what I’m trying to do. What would be a better way for me to do that as a parent? Do you want me to tell you less and give you less advice, and just only give advice when you ask? Do you want me to just listen and hug you? Do you want me to just nod and say ‘Tell me more?’ What is the best way I can equip you?”, because I think as we know, a lot of times our kids feel the most safe with us and they want to just unload and unleash their their anger, their excitement, their frustrations, their anxiety all onto us because we’re a safe space for them. And then sometimes, once they’ve released all of that, we’re left with this — Oh my God, there is just a huge weight on our shoulders that they’ve released, and suddenly they are lighter and they’ve kind of gotten it out and they’ve moved on, and then it’s okay, well, how do we process that? And what do we do with that? Do we even need to revisit that? Okay, we just took it in, and we’re the adults in the situation.
So I think it’s really just this, finding a good team around you of like-minded parents, building your own small village of a few like-minded parents that are kind of trying to struggle through this with you. And that’s sort of why I think the Parent Compass has popped up as a book club read, which was a surprise to us, actually. It wasn’t something we planned when we wrote it, but we’ve created a book club readers guide now that is being folded into the new editions of the book physically, but right now it’s free on our website to download, and parents are starting to get together to talk about this stuff, to share their own experiences in a safe space with people they trust, to kind of try to share the journey together.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think it’s so, so valuable and I really love what you talked about there with taking the time to communicate with our kids about this, to get on the same page, to talk about how we’re all feeling about this. What a great proactive strategy, and then also as we’re going through the process. I think that’s great. So many great resources, topics, things you’ve included in the book. As we’re wrapping up here, I want to make sure that people know where they can find out more about the work that you’re doing and where they can get the book.
They can find us on pretty much any social media platform @Parent Compass on Instagram, parentcompassbook.com is our website, @parentcompass1 is our Twitter. And then you can find us under our names Cynthia Muchnick and Jen Curtis even on LinkedIn. And we love to come to schools, groups, businesses. We even pop into book clubs. If you fill out a form on our website, and you have a book club and you’re talking about Parent Compass, we will zoom in and join you for a conversation or just to listen in or to answer a question or two. So we are just trying to thank you helping be a mouthpiece to share the movement, and we do hope that more parents will kind of grab onto this and find some helpful new things to add to their toolbox and arsenal of doing our best as parents, because I think oftentimes we just feel overwhelmed by all the news and all the stories and our own busy-ness and everyday life in an uncertain world. Hopefully the book is just something you can absorb in a weekend and start to make some changes as parents the very next day, or the very next moment.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Awesome, those are the kinds of practical tools and books that we all love. So thank you to both of you for writing the book, for using the experiences that you have had to help inform all the rest of us of how we can do the best that we can for our kids throughout this process. So thank you for that, and thank you for taking the time to be here with us today to have this conversation. I know that our listeners are going to find it very helpful. So thank you.
Thank you for having us.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And thanks, as always, to all of you for being here and listening. We’ll catch you back here next time for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show.