You’re Smarter Than You Used to Be

A middle school student working hard

There’s an old math topic that was really hard for you. Maybe it was fractions. Maybe it was long division. Maybe it was memorizing your multiplication facts.

Now here you are in middle school or high school, and this topic still haunts you because new math is always built on old math. You know it would be helpful to patch that hole in your knowledge, but you don’t think you can. You think it will still be too hard for you.

But you’re wrong.

You’re way smarter than you used to be.

How could you not be?

That “super hard” math topic was from years ago, and your brain has been getting stronger the whole time. You’ve learned far more difficult things since then. So you’re more than capable of going back and learning that old topic.

Put in a few minutes a day until you’ve got it down, and you’ll have easy access to that knowledge for the rest of your life. I promise you won’t regret it.

A Brief Parable About Overparenting

A child having their shoes tied by a parent.

I recently read this lovely little passage from Ryan Holiday’s The Daily Dad:

“There is a great story about a young Spartan woman, Gorgo, who would one day become queen. Despite her royal status, like all Spartans she was raised to be self-sufficient, with no frills or needless luxury.

So imagine Gorgo’s surprise when she witnessed a distinguished visitor to Sparta have his shoes put on by a servant. ‘Look, Father,’ she said innocently to her father, King Leonidas, ‘the stranger has no hands!’

Sadly, for some of us, it could just as easily be deduced that our kids have no hands. And no brains. We put on their clothes for them. We make their decisions. We clear the road in front like a snowplow. We hover like a helicopter, just in case something goes wrong. We do everything for them.

Then we wonder why they are helpless. We wonder why they have trouble with anxiety or low self-esteem. Confidence is something you earn. It comes from self-sufficiency. It comes from experience. When we coddle and baby them—when we take away their hands—we deprive them of these critical assets.”

At times, it might seem like your teenager has no prefrontal cortex. (The prefrontal cortex is where focused attention, emotional regulation, and long-term planning happen.) But the reality is that this critical part of their brain is just underdeveloped. (It won’t be done until they’re about 25.) There’s no shortcut to developing it, but there is a way to slow down the process: doing too much for them.

The brain is like a bunch of muscles, and the ones we don’t use regularly don’t get strong. If you do all the work your child’s prefrontal cortex should be doing, you’re not giving them a chance to build that mental muscle.

Yes, you’re better at planning and organizing. Of course you are; you’re an adult.

But your kids need to practice these skills, so don’t do all the heavy lifting for them. The struggle will make them stronger.

A middle school student thinking hard about how to spend their time

It’s hard to stop overparenting and give your kids the freedom to fail. It’s hard to change the habit of micromanaging, even when you know it’s not helping. It’s hard to resist the urge to rescue your kids when they’re about to fall on their faces. It’s hard, yes, but it’s also essential.

Executive function, responsibility, self-efficacy, wisdom. These things don’t just happen. They’re learned, grown, and earned through experience, strain, and painful failure. Your kids won’t develop these things until they have to, until life forces them to.

So practice stepping back and doing less for your kids – giving them room to develop the skills they’ll need to thrive as adults.

Otherwise, they might grow up to be as helpless as someone with no hands.

When Should You Learn How to Swim?

A child learning to swim

When should you learn how to swim: before or after you get dropped into the middle of a lake?

On the one hand, if you were dropped into the middle of a lake you’d be very motivated to learn how to swim. But on the other hand, it’d be too late because you’d be drowning.

This is, of course, a metaphor for learning skills like organization, planning ahead, and effective studying.

Most students wait until they need these skills before they’re interested in learning them – they wait until they’re drowning in the middle of the lake. This is understandable. Prior to needing these skills, they had no motivation to learn them.

The trouble is that, in the middle of the school year, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, when you can’t figure out why your test scores are so low, you’re not in a good space emotionally to learn big new skills. You don’t feel like you have the mental bandwidth to take on new habits. You don’t feel like you have time to do anything extra on top of your current workload.

It is better to organize your physical and digital worlds before you succumb to the chaos of the school year. It is better to learn time-management strategies before you feel like you have no time to spare. It is better to practice neuroscience-based study techniques before you need to put them to use in AP Biology.

And it is wiser, of course, to learn how to swim before you’re drowning.

P.S. Summer is the perfect time to work on these skills, and we have a whole team of academic coaches who would love to help! Email today to schedule.