Children, Education, and Happiness

Back in October I had the privilege of participating in a discussion panel following the local screening of Race to Nowhere, a documentary about the educational system in this country and its effects on children. Our time for discussion afterward was fairly limited and went off in a different direction than I expected, so I ended up with some thoughts that I wanted to share but didn’t get the chance to do so. I just ran across the index card with these musings and decided to pass some of this on in the form of a few “dos” and “don’ts”.

This is all my own opinion and your mileage may vary…

  1. Don’t allow your children and adolescents to be overworked in the context of school. Know how much homework they have and step in if it seems to be an unreasonable amount. They won’t learn more or faster by being exhausted.
  2. Do encourage them to pursue classes and interests that they will find personally fulfilling.
  3. Don’t encourage them to choose classes and interests for the sole purpose of making their college applications and their resumes look good. You can’t fake real enthusiasm and real interest; college interviewers and those who read the application essays can tell the difference.
  4. Don’t let them over-specialize too soon in their education. If your teen is college-bound, focus on educational building blocks such as writing, languages, math, science, and the humanities. They’ve got plenty of time later to learn medical terminology or basic accounting skills.
  5. Do make room for art and/or music if your young person has interests in those areas. Their lives will be enriched by the experience and they’ll cope better with professional stress if they have some interests outside of their profession… and maybe someday you’ll have the pleasure of seeing them teach your grandchildren how to do watercolors or how to hold a guitar.
  6. Don’t let the pleasures of childhood come to a close too quickly. Encourage a certain amount of nonsense and childish play for as long as you can, especially when imagination is involved.
  7. Don’t let them delay adulthood for too long. Encourage a gradual move toward independence in decisions and responsibility, or they won’t be able to cope with either when they leave home for the first time.
  8. Don’t protect your young person from all failure. Instead, learn how to frame it as a learning experience; prepare them for the fact that they will encounter failure at some point. Help them to problem-solve in advance so that they know how they will cope when they run up against a problem that’s too big for them.

In the end, help your children come to understand that their degree of happiness as an adult will not ultimately rest on how much money they make, how big their house is, or how much power they wield… but on the number, strength, and longevity of human relationships that they form in their lifetimes. Give them the example of a loving family, help them to make friendships a priority, and make sure they know that you’ll always be proud of them as long as they follow their hearts and stay true to themselves.