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Seeking Shelter for Our Kids

Original post made by Lucy F. on Feb 15, 2007

I am curious how families in Palo Alto are "sheltering" their kids from the pressures of school, the competitive culture, etc. following up to my column in yesterday's Weekly on Mary Pipher, psychologist, anthropologist and best-selling author of "The Shelter of Each Other, Rebuilding Our Families," and "Reviving Ophelia." Web Link

Ambitious parents with several Ph.D.'s don't necessarily shelter their children any better than a less educated family, reminds Pipher.

The college-entrance frenzy is an example: "Ivy League has become a joke," says Pipher. "It's about brand-name recognition and marketing. It has nothing to do with thinking college through. It isn't a result of that kind of discussion."

She says parents should stop the nonsense early and talk to their kids by 8th grade. She role-plays what parents might say: "I know all your friends want to go to Harvard, but let's talk about the financial impact on our family if you go there, how much mom and dad would have to work and be away from home, how much pressure you will be under, what it will do to your friendships, your time to just read a book for fun."

What is your take on what Pipher has to say? What can our community do about it?

Comments (8)

Posted by Wiser Now, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2007 at 6:11 pm

The best thing you can do to shelter your child in Palo Alto is to relax and enjoy elementary school and after that enroll your child in a private school.


Posted by parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 16, 2007 at 7:52 am

Wiser Now, I'm curious about your comment. Have you found a private school to be less stressful for your children? The kids I know who are enrolled in local private high schools seems as stressed (if not more) as those in the public high schools. I would like to hear your own experience.


Posted by anonymous parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 16, 2007 at 9:57 am

Let's face it, many people are generally very self-centered, self-interested, and won't take reasonable advice (or give it to their children).

The main thing I'd like to see is each child looked at as an individual by his/her parents rather than the parents instituting a "Grand Plan" for the child for competitive reasons (end goal: prestigious college admission) at an early age. I am doing my best to treat my children as individuals, and I'm proud of that.


Posted by Wiser Now, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2007 at 2:10 pm

Parent, there's a lot of variety in private schools. What appeals to me is small size so my kid knows everyone and is known by every one (students and staff), low homework load (allows for family time), college prep w/o being fixated on top tier colleges. Keeps life reasonably calm and my kid can get a full night's sleep.


Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2007 at 2:56 pm

Dear Wiser now- I'd love to know what private school has a low homework load and is not focused on top tier colleges - all the kids I know at private middle and high schools have the same if not more homework and pressure than PAUSD - especially Castilleja (including Menlo, Crystal Spring, Woodside Priory, Pinewood, Nueva).


Posted by YAGP (Yet Another Gunn Parent), a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 17, 2007 at 8:47 pm

Very interesting column, Lucy. You asked some great questions.

I started in 6th grade telling my kids that I wasn't looking for a "name brand school" college experience for them. I've regularly mocked the Ivy League schools and observed that I think some parents want certain college bumper stickers for their cars--a status symbol for them, regardless of what their kids want! I've tried to encourage my kids to focus on learning, not grades.

I believe and have frequently told them that:
1. One's ultimate success in life does not depend on all A's
2. One's ultimate success in life does not depend on attending an Ivy League school
3. One's happiness in life depends on being resilient, resourceful, and well-rounded

But even with all that home-based propaganda, my daughter, who attends Gunn, IS highly focused on grades. She wants to go to a UC school but she wants to do it with a near-perfect academic record. So I can't say that I've been wholly successful.

The SHARE group is doing a parent ed session on March 1 on alternative definitions of success for college-aged kids. They did this session two years ago, but this year have some particularly fascinating minority voices represented. I encourage everyone who is thinking of college and searching for alternate messaging for their kids to search out this meeting. Last time it was held at Paly; not sure where it will be this time but it's well worth finding. (If anyone has better details, please chime in!)

I also find it interesting that the Town Hall meeting on Thursday for families of color identified children's social and emotional wellbeing as just as important as academic success. I hope our new Superintendent takes that message to heart--and our school board, as well. I was highly discouraged when the board voted down the calendar that might have reduced student stress by putting finals before the Winter Break.

For me, it's an ongoing, resolute, repetitive process to *try* to keep my family healthy and happy and balanced. Wish I had more answers than that, though.


Posted by curious, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 18, 2007 at 11:11 am

There have been a couple of recent books taking an inside look at the private college admissions process:

"Price of Admission" by Daniel Golden,

"The Gatekeepers" by Jacques Steinberg.

Great grades, test scores & extracurricular activites aren't the only criteria for getting into the Ivy League. Big donations, fame, parents who are alumni can count for alot as well...

I think kids need to have their expectations set...


Posted by A PARENT, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2007 at 8:51 pm

I DON'T THINK SHELTER YOUR CHILD IS A HEALTHY THING. KIDS NEED TO BE KIDS AND KNOW THERE SURROUNDIBG.THERE KIDS IN THE WORLD WHO ARE SHELTER AND NOT USE OF SEEING DIFFERENT SOURCE OF PEOPLE.WHICH IS A BAD THING BECAUSE IN THE REAL WORLD PEOPLE ARE ALL SHADE OF COLORS,SIZE AND SHAPES. THEY WILL NOT KNOW HOW TO ACT IN THE WORLD IF THEY WASN'T INTRODUCE. PLEASE LET YOUR CHILDREN BE CHILDREN. SO MANY KIDS ARE PUSH TO GROW UP TO FAST. WHAT HAPPEN ABOUT LETTING CHILDREN EXPLORE THE WORLD. IT SO MUCH OUT THERE TO LEARN.


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