When parents only focus on college admissions, essential skills can slip through the cracks

It’s crucial to move away from the notion that there is something “wrong” with an introverted child who doesn’t socialize in the same way as their extroverted siblings or parents, said Homayoun. Embracing and respecting individual energy profiles allows each child to thrive in their own way, ensuring that they have the space and support to develop the skills and self-awareness necessary for a successful journey through education and beyond. While the race to college acceptance can push children to keep going until they burn out, shifting the focus to energy management helps parents support their child in a more sustainable and balanced approach to life.

Determine what is going to “take the B”

In her book, Homayoun introduces the concept of “taking the B,” which means deciding which activities and obligations can take a back seat in one’s life. As children grow older, activities that were once minor commitments may start demanding more time and energy, leading to packed schedules that leave little room for rest, reflection and open-ended exploration. “I regularly see students who are in school from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and then have an activity from 3:30 to 6 p.m., and then need to commute home and complete one to three hours of homework,” wrote Homayoun. This kind of demanding schedule takes a toll on their energy, mood and motivation. It can foster a sense of never doing enough and an unceasing pressure to do more, which, in turn, can erode their self-esteem. Valuable sleep time is often sacrificed as schedules become increasingly packed. “For students, the notion of “taking the B” shouldn’t be about grades or test scores but rather daily and weekly allocation of energy,” wrote Homayoun. 

Parental fears can often shape a student’s schedule, with concerns that reducing extracurricular involvement may limit future opportunities. However, Homayoun emphasizes that the “bigger, better” culture doesn’t necessarily benefit anyone. Rather than encouraging kids to do it all, she urged parents to help them assess their schedules and identify activities that can be scaled back. This doesn’t necessarily mean quitting an activity entirely. For instance, if a student enjoys playing a sport but doesn’t want to commit to it at a high level, they can join a low-commitment recreational league. Reducing a child’s commitments can enable them to experience greater happiness, improved rest and less burnout.

Build conversation skills

Many of the students Homayoun has worked with who have achieved the professional or personal success they aspired to possess strong conversation and small talk skills. “We get stuck in this faulty finish line of college admissions and the test scores and grades. And we think, ‘Oh, well, this kid is getting great grades, then they clearly are doing fine,’ but they don’t have the ability to connect,” she said. Developing better small talk skills can boost a student’s confidence in navigating new social environments that might otherwise feel overwhelming

Homayoun encourages students to engage in conversations with people from different generations, because conversations with peers or family members can be limiting. “A lot of students are like, ‘Oh, I’m talking about college admissions with my classmates.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, none of them have applied to college yet,’ said Homayoun.

For parents who are looking to build their child’s small talk skills, Homayoun suggested making it a game. During gatherings, whether they are family events or neighborhood barbecues, parents can challenge their child to initiate brief conversations with three new people. This practice not only helps in making eye contact, reading nonverbal cues, starting a conversation, asking questions, and wrapping up a conversation effectively but also improves their confidence in social situations.

Summer jobs that involve interacting with the public, like working at a grocery store or lifeguarding at a local pool, can help teenagers build their conversation skills. Additionally, research has shown that the more small conversations and interactions a person engages in, the more likely they are to experience increased happiness, as they establish meaningful connections with others and build a foundation of positive social interactions. 

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