Category Archives: Preschool admissions

Your career, and your child’s career

In acknowledgment of who introduced me to education consulting – an HR consulting partner who wanted to ensure that his daughters received the best guidance possible through the college selection process – this post is addressed primarily to parents rather than young applicants.

In Mommie Dearest (1981), Faye Dunaway's Joan Crawford thought the road to perfection for her daughter, Christina, began with raising her exactly in her own image.

In Mommie Dearest (1981), Faye Dunaway’s Joan Crawford thought the road to perfection for her Black Market-adopted daughter, Christina (Mara Hobel), began with raising the girl exactly in her own image.

This didn't make either person happy, healthy or successful later in life.

That strategy didn’t make either person happy, healthy and successful later in life.

Bravo’s new series Extreme Guide to Parenting may have been conceived in the vein of ‘Real Housewives’ as a presumed hit of “hatewatch” – the phenomenon of masses tuning into a TV series exclusively to criticize and poke fun at its stars.  However, the series facilitates very healthy discussions about the ways that working adults can best enable their children to become successful professionals.

The (linked above) ABC News segment alone immediately left me pondering these questions: Are parents like the Eisenbergs steering their children into college and career success by pressuring them to commit to a year-round schedule of activities without any room for revision?  Can the Machenberg-Neys and other parents really hypnotize their children into making decisions that give them “a leg up” in their careers from high school to retirement?  Should we take people committed to so-called “extreme parenting” seriously as we explore ways to help youth fight the lethargy-inducing prognosis that their generation will be less affluent than their parents’ generation?

Although most of those questions probably won’t be answered for years, I know many of the parents featured on the series get this much right: Leaving children to find themselves unaided is a bad idea.  I say that because even as an adult who entered the workforce in the 1990s, well before the popularization of social media, I’m sometimes exhausted by the blogosphere’s surfeit of conflicting messages about career moves.  A LinkedIn article entitled “Ten Mistakes You Probably Made in Your Last Interview” trending with one entitled “Why What You Say in Your Interviews Probably Doesn’t Matter” doesn’t leave me reconsidering plans for my next interview or client meeting; it inspires me to beeline for a 90-minute Swedish massage.  Can you imagine, then, how youth growing up in the blogosphere must feel as they try navigating a labyrinth of messages about the ways in which progressive careers will be difficult to impossible for them, while also wondering when their voices will stop cracking or whether now’s a good time to invest in a training bra?  A massage and meditation conglomerate could probably be built entirely in their service.

The fact that children often need their guidance to be successful is why it’s so critical for parents – engaged, extreme, and otherwise – to at least do this much:

Beware burnout.  It’s possible for parents to obsess over their children’s development at the expense of the health they need to usher their children through high school and college.  I fear that some of the parents on ‘Extreme’ aren’t being mindful of how their parenting rituals are impacting their own mental and physical health.

Build bridges for their children.  Don’t burn them.  The parents detailed in this blog’s inaugural post tend to burn bridges even as they’re competing in cutthroat preschool admissions processes.  Twenty years ago, it might be easy for victims of that sort of behavior to forget it.  Social media now leaves it on record for everyone thrown under the bus to consider throughout your life course, your child’s life course and your grandchild’s life course.

In lieu of parenting methods that promote conformity, parents should consider teaching their children to rebel with them in success-enabling ways.  Parents who are innovators or business founders should have no problem doing this.  For the rest, traditional storytime might well be succeeded by stories-of-$100-startups time.  After all, one of the best ways for youth to discover their own brand and potential is to establish small, self-reflexive businesses before adulthood – when the stakes are low because (at least for the time being) employers expect teenagers to have wide resume gaps.

Talk through their children’s interests with them, or find someone who can.  Children may be resistant to this discourse at first.  But gradually, as the blogosphere’s messages about education and career become more overwhelming, they’ll be grateful that an experienced adult professional helped them to separate what they want to do for themselves from what millions of other people are telling them they should do.

If parents are going to maintain a year-round schedule of activities for their children, they should block “?” slots that the children can fill with activities of their own choosing.  One big problem with some of the “extreme parenting” tactics displayed on the Bravo series is that the parents are so committed to keeping their children engaged in a set list of activities that as our fluid world introduces promising opportunities, the parents don’t have time to take note of them.  They may be raising their children to be successful at activities that simply aren’t impressive by contemporary standards.

Be honest with their children about the highs and lows of their own careers.  No kidding – I know the glut of miserable and unemployed or underemployed attorneys is at least partially a consequence of many of my peers aspiring to become independently wealthy as early as age 5 by pursuing legal careers as their parents did.  When we were children, their parents would emphasize the income potential associated with the legal profession while circumventing any questions about the work itself.  Now armed with JD’s, enormous debt and unsteady work records, those thirtysomething-year-old children are finally asking themselves “What do I really want to be when I grow up?”

Instead of looking forward to “Take My Child to Work Day” alone, they should arrange for their teenagers to job shadow others in their (the parents’) professional and social networks.  And long before the grand office tour begins, they should prime their children on asking good questions about the companies.  I’ve seen way too many children finish “Take My Child to Work Day” with the impression that the majority of working adults specialize in poker-faced mouse manipulation.

Teach their children to advocate for themselves.  I read about parents dragging their children around career fairs, forcefully introducing them to prospective employers, and shoving their children’s resumes into said prospective employers’ hands.  All this does is turn a young adult who could have been a company’s star employee by his/her own efforts into its long-running office joke.

Engage with alumni and career offices on college and graduate school campus tours.  This could mean parents offering externships, internships or jobs at their own companies for their children’s current and future peers, which is a great way to build reciprocity for when their children need a leg or two up in a field where their connections are inadequate.  It can also mean building a network of recent and distant past alumni at various schools so that as their children decide which schools to attend, they have the benefit of knowing trends in the professional lives of graduates who shared their goals and socioeconomic attributes.

Consider financial planning for their children not just for the first eighteen years of their lives, but for the first twenty-five to thirty years.  Yes, it’s possible that in the 2020’s or the 2030’s, some currently unimaginable technology will become ubiquitous and change the landscape of the working world just as the Internet began to do twenty years ago.  It’s also possible that in those decades, a large number of adults will still try to move back into their parents’ homes due to employment issues just as they are now.  Let’s consider a return to farm values while there’s still time: Children should do their best to help their parents so that their parents have better chances of maintaining the health they’ll need to assist them with building financial and social capital into adulthood.  Parents should try preparing to help their children well into their twenties so that those children have a heightened chance of an upward career trajectory, rather than one characterized by the constant ebbs and flows that guarantee their unreliability to their ailing parents.  Those are just my two cents.

What do you think the relationship is between parenting and children’s professional success, or between your career and your child’s career?  Please share your thoughts in the Comments section, or if you think I might be able to help you answer this question for you and your child specifically, query me at


Ramon Robinson

Founder of The Precocious Urchin Co.


Is it ever too early to prepare for the college admissions process?

For college admission, you don't have to regularly break from kindergarten to entertain The Powers That Be with a rendition of "The Good Ship Lollipop" aboard an aircraft, as Shirley Temple did for BRIGHT EYES (1934).  But, it's a good idea to help children cultivate long-term goals, including college admission, very early.

For college admission, children needn’t take a sabbatical from kindergarten to entertain aviators with a rendition of “On the Good Ship Lollipop” aboard an airplane, as Shirley Temple did for BRIGHT EYES (1934). But if they can have as much fun with the preparation as Shirley is here, it’s a good idea to help them begin preparing for admissions very early.

In a New York Times article published just last week, Anna Bahr analyzes the correlation between victory in preschool admissions warfare and the Ivy League acceptance letters that arrive in the victors’ mailboxes nearly fifteen years later. Bahr’s analysis suggests the main reason why The Precocious Urchin Co. offers families assistance in preparing for college admission as early as they determine they need it:

Whether you’re an applicant who has demonstrated perseverance over extraordinary hardships, or one with a record of achievement continuously facilitated by your friends, family and community since infancy, admissions committees like to see a long record of ambition and effort to deliver on it from you. How else can they trust that you’ll be motivated to properly exploit the university’s resources rather than let your undergrad years fly by in a haze of keg stands and pizza parlor runs, and that you’ll remain on track to represent your alma mater well through your post-undergrad achievements?

The Precocious Urchin Co. wasn’t founded to promote the cutthroat politics currently pervasive in academic admissions processes from nursery school onward, which Bahr details in the ‘Times’ article. That isn’t to say that helping people work toward admission to ultra-competitive scholastic programs many years before they’re eligible for admission isn’t one of my goals as the company’s founder. On the contrary, I hope that by beginning to prepare for the college admissions process early – whether that’s the spring of their junior year of high school, or as many as fourteen springs prior – applicants can gain confidence in themselves and the process so that they don’t sacrifice their health to harried preparation for it.

With that in mind, three tips for applicants seeking to have some fun with the process early (or very early, or very, very early) follow:

  • Avoid burnout by balancing college admissions preparation with activities that are purely fun and entirely self-serving. This is so important because after you’re admitted to your academic program of choice, you’ll still need a lot of energy to thrive in it and bear fruit from it afterward.
  • Remember that some of the activities in which you began partaking in early childhood simply because you liked them may already contribute to your highly-competitive brand. Example: If you’ve enjoyed watching music videos than anything else in the world since you were a little boy, you don’t necessarily have to move away from that by reinventing yourself as a transatlantic tightrope unicyclist. Admissions committees at the academic programs most likely to lead you to a rewarding career (MBA/MFA dual-degree at NYU Stern and Tisch, perhaps) would, for example, prefer to experience the real passion evident in your e-book criticizing those videos through an original analytical framework over anything you did reluctantly as an admissions stunt. And you’d probably prefer that, too.
  • Adjust to the reality that although academic admission is often a game with bonuses and deductions for achievements and failings, life may otherwise be chaotic and unpredictable. The sooner you acknowledge that you won’t always have as much influence over your fate as you’d like, the sooner you can focus on just trying your best to achieve your goals without beating yourself up over any disappointments or missteps along the way. Your best – undiminished by fear of failure and debilitating stress – may just be enough.


Ramon Robinson

Founder of The Precocious Urchin Co.