Compare two kids, one who goes to a beautiful, clean, well-built school that requires excellence and maintains a high level of academic achievement and another who goes to an old, run-down, dirty, crumbling school where students can come and go as they please and learning is not high on the priority list.
Which child has a better chance in life?
Ronit and I are reading a brilliant book called “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book, there are many bits of amazing research, which we can all use to avoid trouble and get more goodness out of life.
In one experiment, participants were asked to walk through a long corridor, take a quick written test – finding meaningful sentences in mixed-up sets of words – and then walk back out. Each set of mixed-up words contained a reference to old age: old, Florida, retirement, etc. Each participant was captured on video as they walked in and as they walked out.
Everyone walked out more slowly and with their backs bent down lower than when they came in. They felt older. None of them knew why, but they had all been primed to think of old age.
In another experiment, two groups of black students were given college entry tests. The tests were identical, except for one question. One group was first asked to specify their race.
That group scored 50% lower on average. Fifty percent! When asked why they scored so low, the students said they were apparently not smart enough to be accepted and had no clue what had gone wrong.
Closer to home, two groups of students took a trivia test. Before the test, one group was asked to imagine what it would be like to be a college professor for 5 minutes. The other group was asked to imagine what it would be like to be a soccer hooligan.
The “professor” group scored 23% higher on the test, simply because they had put themselves in a different mindset.
So what does this mean for you as a parent?
A lot, actually.
You see, kids absorb many things subconsciously and accept them without questioning until it is too late. The color of their bedroom, the amount of space at home, the loudness or softness of your voice when you talk to them, having used or old clothes, how your back yard looks, the street you live on, the expressions you use when you talk about work or school – all of these leave their mark and contribute to your kids’ priming for life.
Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are
Now, the subconscious mind works in mysterious ways and many things you might like to change in your kids’ environment are beyond your control or your budget. That is quite all right, because with the right attitude, you can still accomplish a lot.
As you may know from this blog, Ronit and I place a very high value on our kids’ schooling experience. When we first came to Brisbane, I realized the Department of Education must know which schools are the best, so I rang them.
Initially, the public officer on the phone was reluctant to recommend a school, so I said to him, “Look, we have deliberately not chosen where to live so we can be in the best ‘catchment area’ for our kids. This is very important to us. What would you do in my position?”
So he gave us the names of a few primary schools and a few high schools that had received high academic scores and suggested we go check them out. So we did.
We wanted big schools, so that our kids would have a good selection of quality extracurricular activities, particularly dance (for Eden) and music (for Tsoof). We also wanted them to have a wide choice of friends.
Having lived around the world and being immigrants ourselves, we also wanted a tolerant school, where diversity and creativity were more important than obeying the rules or even from getting good grades.
It took us about 3 days to visit all of the schools on our list, debate their strengths and weaknesses and enroll Eden and Tsoof. Not much of an effort, right?
Eden spent 3 more years at her high school, during which she made good friends, enjoyed studying and danced (you should see her move). Tsoof spent 4 years at his primary school and is now in his 5th year at “Eden’s” high school, where he is a Cultural Captain and spends most of his time playing music, singing or otherwise performing. Noff is now in her 5th year at “Tsoof’s” primary school, where she dances, sings, plays the flute and has an absolute ball with her friends.
All in all, our kids have already accumulated a little over 15 years of quality education, social interaction and enrichment from 3 days of effort and a different choice of where to live (which did not change our cost of living).
There are other things we have done to prime our kids for success:
- We have encouraged them to choose friends who share our family values, who will inspire them and support them in failure or success
- We have encouraged them to be polite and respectful and demonstrated these behaviors in the presence of other people, including their teachers
- We have spent time helping them with their assignments, so that they believe in delivering quality work
- We have encouraged them to be accepting towards other people, regardless of their culture, gender or preferences, and shown them how to do it through our many business associations and community activities
By choosing schools and behaviors according to our values, our 3 children have been (and still are being) primed for our definition of success: social, open, accepting, intelligent and self-motivated. You may have other things that are important to you, like being physically active, environmentally friendly or financially independent. Whatever they are, creating an environment for your kids in which these values are practiced and demonstrated daily will prime them for your definition of success.
Optimus adj. A Latin word meaning ‘best’ and used to refer to aristocrats and nobles
Prime n. A state or time of greatest strength, vigor, or success in a person’s life and v. Prepare (someone) for a situation or task, typically by supplying them with relevant information
Kids are at the prime of their life and as parents, we must prime them optimally. Doing that means spending a lot less effort as they grow up, saving them many difficulties and setting them up for success.
Of course, that includes priming them to feel loved and supported. So work can wait and TV can wait. Spend some time thinking how to create a better environment for your kids starting now.