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.

How I’m teaching my son that giving can be more than just writing a check

Rocks painted by young volunteers at Create the Change Day Boston 2016

In today’s philanthropic world, there seems to be a donation-based formula by default. As a financial advisor, I know the power and importance of making charitable donations. But as a father, I want my son Caden to know that giving back is not just about fundraising.

I want him to know he can give back in so many creative ways. That’s why I am honored to be part of Project Giving Kids.

I’ve seen how much of an impact having fun has in charitable work, having raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity through tournament-style fundraising events.

I helped start an annual basketball event as a teenager, and that event shifted to a Ryder Cup-style golf tournament for friends and family. In 2009, we decided that our little golf event was going to be bigger. We wanted to make a difference. So we started a nonprofit and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the National MS Society and Livestrong, and created and distributed inspirational t-shirts to encourage people to battle through life’s adversities.

And it was so much fun, because we were doing what we loved.

After 25 years of working with so many inspiring people, my business partner and I decided to take a break from it, and I focused solely on my career as a financial advisor.

But once you feel the love and joy of giving back, you can’t just give it up.

Soon the void became palpable, and I was energized to connect with a cause I could sink my teeth into. I tried a number of ways to volunteer for different organizations, but nothing seemed quite right. So, I promised myself I’d find an organization whose message truly hit home with me.

It was a client who introduced me to Molly Yuska and Project Giving Kids. I was amazed that one small nonprofit could directly benefit so many others! But what really hit me was that Project Giving Kids is all about teaching kids important values I share, like empathy and kindness, in practical ways. And it showed me where there were volunteer opportunities for kids near me, and ways for kids to volunteer from home.

I also love that it teaches families like mine that volunteering with your kids, having fun and giving back together, is actually a really great way to bond and grow closer, and help our kids learn to live our values.

I’m proud to now be on the advisory board for an organization that teaches our youth to can give back in so many creative ways.

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.

To The Mothers This Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day, and I can’t help but reflect on the multitude of ways being a mother has changed me. I not only have a new appreciation for all my mom went through trying to raise me to become a confident and capable young woman, but I also recognize with deeper appreciation how critical the role is we mothers play in our children’s development in forming good human beings.

In a world full of distraction, temptation, and egocentric messaging, true intentionality is required of parents today in a way that is perhaps greater than ever before. Yet because of all those distractions, it is often harder today, I think, to always keep the eyes on the prize, so to speak. But I am also convinced, it IS possible.

I have watched my now teenager go from the innocent, awe-inspired child I once knew who so readily soaked up those early moments of service we enjoyed together, to a budding young man with an awareness of the world and the role he plays in it. While weekend soccer games, school dances, seemingly endless homework, and so many other things occupy our time and focus, there is still regular discussion about how we are living our lives to better the lives of those we have the chance to touch, and moments still carved out to make sure we are doing as well as talking.

As our spread stretches from said teenager to toddler, I will be thinking this Mother’s Day about the privilege and obligation I have to be the one mother my kids have on this earth. And while I may take this one day to relax from my duties just a little, I will remember that my respite from instilling the value of hard work, honesty, compassion, and service must be (relatively) short if I hope to see the outcome I so longingly desire.

And just as importantly, I will also remind myself to cut myself a little slack when I come up short – each day is filled with enough moments to make this happen. The race is long, and we have all the ingredients we need to make the magic.

Happy Mother’s Day to moms everywhere. May you feel loved and appreciated for all that you are and all that you do!