MIT admissions official offers advice for students and parents
The most important things for parents and college-bound students to do in the admissions process, said the dean of admissions from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is to relax, act with integrity and forget about striving for a mythical level of perfection.In fact, Dr. Marilee Jones said Tuesday night, that lesson applies in dealing with children of all ages, from elementary school on.Jones was speaking for free at the Aspen District Theater, though donations were encouraged to underwrite her talk and the Colorado Western Slope College Fair, Oct. 8 at Aspen High School.Jones also was promoting her new book, “Less Stress, More Success: A New Approach to Guiding Your Child Through College Admission and Beyond,” which was for sale in the theater lobby.Jones set the stage for her talk by informing the 200 or so parents in the auditorium, most of whom have kids in high school, that “What we’re gonna talk about is parenting” as much as college admissions issues.That is because the stresses and pressures that actually are making some youngsters sick are because, to varying degrees, of inappropriate behavior by parents. This can become most evident as a child approaches the college admission process, when parents all too often begin to bear down on their kids about what steps to take, where to apply and other aspects of the process.”Parents are out of control,” Jones said bluntly, arguing that too many parents “live vicariously through their children” and actually try to force their kids to follow educational and career paths that reflect the desires of the parents, not the kids. The effects on kids, she said, range from headaches and stomach ailments to self-mutilation and other ways of acting out frustrations.”Parental overinvolvement,” as she called it, starts early in some cases. It is a reflection of such societal developments as a lack of “down time” for kids of all ages, a pressure to be superachievers that starts at a young age and lasts through the teen years.”Their jobs,” she said, “is to get to know who they are and grow up, not to please us” by taking part in a nonstop schedule of activities to the exclusion of time to play and relax.”They’re so busy with activities that they have trouble hearing their own inner voice,” she said.That kind of schedule, at whatever age, stifles creativity, destroys self-confidence and gets in the way of healthy development, she said.Children, she stressed, “need to play, in order for their brains to grow … their nervous systems to develop.”Parents, she said, should allow for “down time” for their kids, whether it’s watching television, playing video games or other activities, as long as it’s something the kids want to do and it’s not in a compulsive, overindulgent manner.Parents also should eliminate “technology,” such as laptops, cell phones and other electronic devices from their children’s bedrooms. This way, parents can be sure kids actually go to sleep and get enough sleep at night.Acknowledging that it is difficult, she said that it is beneficial despite the inevitable friction and conflict that will arise. And, ultimately, it can result in bringing parents and children closer together.Jones also urged parents to avoid believing their kids can be “perfect,” saying, “Perfectionism is a disease. There is no such thing as perfection.” Children must be allowed to fail on their own, she said, because “that’s how you learn, by failing.”John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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