Teens need service—not bribery—to get into the best colleges

As a mother of four, there are so many things I believe I probably don’t get right in the parenting department on a daily basis. My first instinct is to beat myself up over all the things I am probably doing “wrong,“ rather than focus on the things I may be getting right. But that’s human nature—I think most of us can relate.

I often jokingly say that raising my children to be kind and empathetic adults is the one piece I feel like I may be getting more right than wrong. But I even second guess that!

While I’m working on being a bit more self-forgiving, I’m also working on not standing in judgment of other moms struggling through the same stuff. I couldn’t help, however, but to be struck by the recent Hollywood college admission scandal and all that it said to me about where we are in our parenting journeys.

It is so easy to get caught up in the latest gimmick, fad, perceived advantage-creating scenario, when it comes to our children and their future success. I’ve been a witness to the helicopter parent era and now the “snowplow parent” generation. And again, as a mom of four, I totally get it.

But I’m not naive. The nonprofit I founded—Project Giving Kids—works in LA, where the college admissions scandal is centered. I have heard plenty of stories from friends and colleagues there about people taking advantage of others for the sake of preserving or advancing their own agendas.

It sometimes takes a good story for us to step back and analyze where we are and where we want to be. I am excited to see universities have now begun to say they want students of character who have engaged meaningfully in community service—not the kind that just looks good on a resume, but the kind that changes people from the inside out—and have found ways to incorporate that desire into their admission processes.

In fact, a recent survey of college admissions officers suggests that more than half consider volunteer service to be the tie breaker between equally qualified candidates. And another recent study found that over 70% of them valued four years of service to a cherished cause—which is just one reason we not only have short and simple volunteer opportunities for all ages, but are also committed to providing a variety of more in-depth, potentially long-term volunteer opportunities for teens, such as with the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living, Ethos in Boston, or The Gentle Barn in the Los Angeles area, to name just a few.

The vast majority of admissions officers also said they were confident they could tell whether a student was really committed to volunteering for a particular cause, or only doing it to look good for admissions.

I believe that if we start those lessons of service early enough, we naturally build children of character who have a positive and meaningful view of their role in the world. They naturally become the kind of people colleges want because they are the kind of people we all want to be around, who really believe in something, and genuinely care about others.

So I will take my shock and horror over the recent scandal and put those feelings in a useful place. While I may not agree with their choices, I will not condemn the parents who made them, for we all want what is best for our kids.

Instead, I will reaffirm my commitment to raising a generation of children who know their worth not by the test scores they may or may not have rightfully earned, but by their empathy, the actions they undertake, and the positive ways in which they affect the world and those around them.

I do not believe that life is a zero-sum game.  I believe we all can win when winning is defined by the metrics that matter, most especially a life well lived—a life of honesty, integrity, meaning, and service.

Help Your Kid Build Emotional Intelligence in 3 Simple Ways

We all want our kids to succeed, and we want to give them the skills they need to do it. But are you putting volunteer service on your child’s list of crucial extra-curriculars?

If you aren’t, here’s why you should.

Did you know that emotional intelligence is a bigger predictor of long term success than good grades?
Source: GIPHY

The biggest thing that is going to help your kid through their life and future career isn’t IQ, test scores, or academic skill – it’s emotional intelligence. Decades of research shows that kids who develop skills like empathy, resilience, and how to differentiate and name emotions are much more successful as adults, and much less likely to self-harm and engage in risky behavior as teens.

Volunteer service helps prepare teens for college, not just by looking good on college applications or qualifying them for service-oriented scholarships, but by strengthening their character.

It’s been proven that volunteer service is strongly associated with more positive outcomes such as higher grades, better mental health, and better follow-through with commitments.

Learning emotional intelligence through service to others is important at every age.
Source: GIPHY

Volunteer service helps kids seek out and listen to what others need, connect with them, and create meaningful emotional connections. We can help them name all those feelings and get comfortable talking about them, help them better understand how their actions impact others, and help them process how service affects their own lives.

Teens lose half their brains in puberty, and what they do in their teen years matters.
Source: Reaction GIFs

With teens, it’s especially important to reinforce lessons of empathy and giving. The pre-teen and teenage brain goes through several (literally!) mind-blowing biological transformations, and things like regular volunteer service can help teens establish and feed life-long habits rooted in personal responsibility, empathy, and compassion.

Showing kids and teens in real, concrete terms how their actions affect others can be challenging, but it’s also vital. Service helps make those lessons easy and positive.

We’ve created a simple challenge for kids and teens of all ages to help you get started.
Source: Gifer

A Little #GivingChallenge is designed to help young people of all ages reflect on these things simply and easily, so the lessons stick, reinforcing pathways in the brain that support empathy and kindness.

With A Little #GivingChallenge, we’ve taken out all the guesswork to help you get started. Three days for kids and teens to give back in three different ways, with three concrete actions.

 

A Little #GivingChallenge

  • Day 1: Help your family
  • Day 2: Do something kind for a teacher, friend, or neighbor
  • Day 3: Give back to your community

 

With our downloadable quick guide, you’ll get ideas for each day of the challenge and a place where kids can reflect on why they chose a particular activity. This moment of reflection is super important, as it’s what builds those pathways in the brain that help kids process and retain these lessons of empathy, service, and kindness.

Download the PDF here!


 

Colleges Care About Kindness (and You Should, Too)

In a recent report published by the Making Caring Common Initiative, over 80 stakeholders (including colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and Stanford) have endorsed “turning the tide” of the college admissions process to one that values kindness over overachieving.

In other words, elite colleges around the nation are formally realizing the importance of compassion and empathy for others, ultimately changing the way parents (and their future college students) will look at the “college prep” process.

Many parents are concerned with where their children will go to college; sometimes before they are even born. America’s preoccupation with college readiness and admission can complicate childhood, transforming almost every aspect of a kid’s life into something that might look good on a college application. While not all students find themselves stressed out by these standards, this report by Making Caring Common highlights a reality in which students have started valuing achievement over being kind to others in their community.

“High school students often perceive colleges as simply valuing their achievements, not their responsibility for others and their communities. While some colleges have diligently sought to convey to applicants the importance of concern for others and the common good, many other colleges have not.” (Making Caring Common, 2016)

Project Giving Kids supports the genuine development of compassion and empathy through giving back to others and learning about causes that kids find important. While adding a mentality of “service” as a requirement for college admissions is in no way the intention of this report, colleges around the nation have publicly endorsed the recommendations in this report, which cultivate a holistic sense of what it means for a student to give back to their community.

Colleges around the nation care about kindness; you and your kids should, too!