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.

Why Kids Who Play Sports are Great at Empathy

Source: Lukas Blazek, Pexels.com

My 10-year old daughter Chloe, along with her mighty Raptors teammates, recently played their hearts out in a tough soccer tournament. Over the course of the weekend, they played six games, fighting until the very end.

It came down to a tied match, ending in a series of penalty kicks. Each team had five kickers with five chances to score, each team alternating a turn against the opposing team’s goalie. The team with the most goals would win.

First up was our kicker versus their goalie. Then their kicker against our goalie, and on it went. In the fifth round, our team nailed it! Then we all held tight while the other team stepped up to take a fifth kick.

I have to say, it was so exciting! Parents from both teams nervously cheered on the kickers for their children’s teams. The air was electric with anticipation. Other soccer teams who had been playing in the tournament nearby even came over to watch and cheer from the sidelines.

The opposing team kicked, and our goalie dove to catch it. The ball popped out of her little hands into the air. But before it had a chance to land on the ground, she dove for it, and caught it! Our team erupted into cheers. We had won!

Amid our celebration, the opposing goalie burst into tears. I was standing next to her parents on the sidelines and congratulated them on their daughter’s great effort, offering her mom a hug.

What I saw next was incredibly touching. The girls from our team, including my daughter Chloe, gathered around the goalie from the other team, and gave her hugs and consolation. They also offered hugs to everyone on the other team.

When I finally found Chloe, I gave her a big hug and high five. Proud mommy moment! But as she hugged me, she reminded me to check myself. “Mom, she’s really upset! Let’s get off the field and celebrate later.”

I learned so much from her that day. Our kids showed us that with all their hard work and dedication to their sport, they had learned a lesson much bigger than how to score a goal, and gave us a lesson in empathy, too.

This wasn’t an accident. The decision to console the other players was entirely the girls’ idea, but it helps that Chloe’s coaches have created what researcher Mary F. Fry calls a “caring climate.” It’s focused not on winning, but on empathy and love of the game. Chloe and her teammates are valued and respected in a safe and supportive environment, one that has consideration for others. Young athletes in these environments report “greater empathy for others, more engagement in prosocial behaviors, better emotional regulation, more hope and happiness, and less depression and sadness than those in less caring climates.”

A caring climate has a huge impact on kids, and it creates opportunities for them to take the lead in caring actions. A group of middle schoolers in Michigan decided on their own to give up scoring points in a game so that their teammate, who has learning disabilities, could score a goal. As one player said, “I kind of went from being somebody who mostly cared about myself and my friends to caring about everyone and trying to make everyone’s day and everyone’s life.”

Another example is this team of youth soccer players in Barcelona, who comforted their opponents from Japan after winning the U-12 Junior Soccer World Challenge 2016.

And there are many more great examples.

Michele Borba, a renowned educational psychologist who specializes in empathy and bullying, says that “empathy is made of habits, habits that we need to work on.” We all have the basic tools for empathy, but it doesn’t just magically happen for kids. It has to be mindfully taught and activated.

Coaches, parents, teachers, and youth leaders can build on what they are already doing to model and encourage empathy by helping kids learn to love service to others through volunteering.

We have made it easy by taking out all the guesswork so that young people can find activities for causes they care about, wherever you are, whatever age they are, and whatever time commitment they can make. They can also log their service hours if they create an account, to help meet service learning requirements. Our YouthGive app for iPhone makes it super easy for parents and youth to find and track activities.

Coaches know that cultivating empathy leads to better performance on the field and in life, and it’s something that parents can feel good about encouraging, too.

This post was co-written by PGK Advisory Board member Liza Batallones and  Sundari Johansen, Manager of Strategic Engagement for PGK.

The Magic of Children at This Season, And Always

No one loves the holidays more than children. How often I’ve wished I could go back to that age when my biggest challenge was being patient enough to wait for December 25, when there was truly something magical about this season.

But even though I’m not five years old anymore, spend enough time with someone who is, and you’ll start to pick up on their spirit. The thing is, kids don’t care about the shopping that needs to be done, the cookies that must be baked, or the million-and-one things to do before the big day. They just care that it’s Christmastime.

Children can teach you a lot throughout the year, too. And so, this month, I’ve been reflecting on what PGK has accomplished in 2018 and how grateful I’ve been to be a part of it. And I’ve been inspired by the generosity and caring shown by all the PGK kids across the country.

The first Create the Change Day LA was a great success – along with days in San Francisco and Boston. The refreshed PGK site was launched, with a beautiful new interface and updated functionality. And kids from coast to coast shared their time, talents and passion as they took part in service projects ranging from making cat toys for animal shelters to collecting socks for the homeless.

My favorite take-away from all of this, though, was a simple quote from a 9-year-old participant at the LA event: “My favorite part about Create the Change Day was thinking about what I’m doing to help other people.”

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!