Moms Help Kids Focus On College, Despite Economy
CHERYL CORLEY, Host:
I'm Cheryl Corley, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, we celebrate Women's History month with some influential voices heard on this program, but first, they say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner, and we visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their comments and some savvy parenting advice.
This week: keeping your kids motivated to succeed in school. Let's face it, it's easy for students to get side-tracked from their studies. In middle school, peer pressure can make success seem uncool, high school students need to navigate the unique perils of adolescence, and now many of those kids who would've been motivated by the promise of college are faced with a recession that could price many of them out of their dream schools or delay higher education altogether. And getting accepted into college isn't a guarantee of academic success, either.
So what can parents do to make sure their children stay focused on their studies? To talk about this, I'm joined by regular TELL ME MORE contributors Jolene Ivey and Danette Tucker. I'd also like to welcome guest mom Michelle Singletary, an expert on personal finance and the author of the nationally syndicated column, "The Color of Money." Welcome, ladies. Welcome, moms.
JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Cheryl.
DANETTE TUCKER: Hey, Cheryl, thank you.
MICHELLE SINGLETARY: Pleasure to meet you.
CORLEY: Well Jolene, let's start with you. You have five kids, including one in college. So how do you inspire your kids to just stay on the academic course?
IVEY: Well, what we try to do is let our kids know where the bar is, and the bar is getting A's.
IVEY: You can get B's. You can get B's. I'm not going to be unreasonable, but C's are not acceptable.
IVEY: And so they know where the bar is and generally speaking, they do reach it and if for some reason somebody does miss the bar, then - and we do have one child who is in that category right now - they just lose a lot of their freedom because I'm pretty good about letting my kids run around and do what they want to do in the world and try out a lot of activities, but that's a privilege, and you lose that privilege when you start bringing some C's into the house.
CORLEY: Well Dani, your son is in high school. What kind of influences do you see, good or bad, that might affect him graduating?
TUCKER: I'm a different parent. We parent different than a lot of other parents, and you know, I'm a stickler for finishing your homework, doing your chores. And a lot of his friends, down where he goes to high school, you know, don't have to do all these things. So for DeVaughn, you know, he has to get the grades, or he loses his points.
My best girlfriend came up with a point system for the kids about two years ago, and I adopted it, as well, where, you know, if he wants to go to the movies or to club bounce, you know, where the teenagers go, if he wants to do anything extra, he's got to earn his points. That means the homework's got to be done, the chores have got to be done, and if you don't achieve at a level that I know you could achieve, you don't get your points either.
So then he kind of cashes those in, and okay, Ma, I did this, I did that. You know, do I have enough to go over to Jamal's? Do I have enough to do this? So that's the way I keep him motivated, but it's kind of hard because a lot of his buddies don't have to do that.
CORLEY: I was going to ask you. How often does he stick to that point system?
TUCKER: Not very often. So I've got to come up with a system to get him to stick to the system.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
TUCKER: So we're going to work on that.
CORLEY: Well Michelle Singletary, you're a financial planner, an author and a mom. Dani just talked about points, but what about parents who offer money to their children for getting good grades? And I was wondering what type of message does that send and where does it leave it for parents who don't have a lot of money?
SINGLETARY: I mean, I understand parents' theory behind paying for grades. You know, the theory is that we get paid to work, but I think we need to be very careful about putting out money as a reward for a lot of things that kids do.
You know, even on your job you don't always get a bonus or something extra for the work that you're supposed to do. And so I don't typically use money as a carrot for my children because I'm very frugal anyway and I'm not giving them no money.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SINGLETARY: So, you know, I tell them you do it because you're supposed to do it. I mean I go back to that line that parents use, 'cause I told you so. That's how I approach my kids. That you do it 'cause you supposed to do it and otherwise, you know, y'all might not (unintelligible). No, I'm just kidding.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CORLEY: Really tough love.
SINGLETARY: Well, I mean, I just think it's really important that we don't use money and things as carrots. Because kids, you know, they all latch onto that, and they'll do that the rest of their lives. Okay, I'm going to do this, what you gonna give me in return?
CORLEY: Well, Jolene, as we mentioned, there's a wide range of ages among your children. And I was wondering if there is a particular age where it's the most difficult to get them, or at least, keep them motivated about education.
IVEY: For what I've seen so far with my own children, if you don't get them on track by the time they're 13, I don't really know what's gonna happen because that is really our tipping point. By the time they start high school in ninth grade, they have to be self-motivated. It's got to be internal. You have to want to do it yourself.
And I was talking to my 16-year-old about that today because I knew what we are going to talk about here, and I asked him what motivated him. And he said, well, I just - I need to know that one day I'll be able support myself and, you know, have the money that I need. And the way I'm going to do that is by working hard now.
And that seems to have kicked in for him. And I think that, in so many ways, if parents just let their kids know where the bar is, whether it's reading or just school in general or behavior, kids need to know where it is. And that what the expectation is.
CORLEY: Providing some structure.
CORLEY: If you are just joining us, you are listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Cheryl Corley. I'm speaking with Jolene Ivey, Dani Tucker and guest mom Michelle Singletary about motivating kids to succeed academically.
Dani, is peer pressure worse now? You talked a little bit about it with your son. So what do you do if a child doesn't want to stand out among his or her peers? Especially if underperforming seems to be in.
TUCKER: I'm a woodshed parent when it comes to DeVaughn, you know.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
TUCKER: We - when you asked that, you know, having done everything I've got to do, you know, we're going behind the woodshed. I'm old school, but, actually, it's funny. I want to expand on that point. My daughter goes to Stuart-Hobson, which is a middle school in the district. And right now the middle schools in D.C. are taking part in the Capital Gains Program, where they're getting paid biweekly to go to school.
And this was our first year, and I was a lot like Michelle Singletary. I'm like, oh no, you're supposed to go to school. We didn't get paid, you know. But there are a lot of kids who don't have the parents like Jolene, Michelle and myself, who are not involved, you know, like in our kids' lives.
So the money that those kids are making over there has really been a motivator for a lot of them to get good grades, to get to school on time, to wear their uniform. So, in that aspect I've watched the peer pressure be a positive thing. Because now over at Stuart-Hobson, they're, hey, we got to do this, you know, well, how much money did you get?
You know, now it's a pressure thing to see who can make the most money. And, though, I didn't agree with it at first, you know, I'm seeing how it works because a lot of kids who don't have the parental involvement, who don't have parents like us who care, they have been able to use that. With DeVaughn, of course, he's upset because he's not getting paid to go to high school, you know.
And he's down, you know, with a lot of friends who are just spoiled brats. But I just have to just put my foot down and tell him, look, I'm not their mother, you know. I'm your mother and this is the way that we're going to do this.
You're going to have to not pay that any attention because this is going to pay off in the long run. They're going to be on their mother's couches at 35 and 40. You're not gonna be on my couch at 35 and 40. You're gonna college. You're going to college. You're going to graduate and if you don't play ball, you're going do something. And I'm trying to get him to just see where his strength is, you know.
CORLEY: You have a girl and a boy. Do you find that there's any difference between them and how?
TUCKER: Big difference. I mean, Imani, knock on wood, I hope she stays that way, is my student, you know. I mean, she jumps on a project. You know, she's motivated. She motivates herself a lot for school, you know. A lot of times I have to help her when she's disappointed because she comes down too hard on herself, you know. She gets a C, it's the end of the world.
So, whereas DeVaughn, ma, I got a 2.0, I can bowl, I got to go. That's his thing. That's how everything and I'm trying to get him to understand. No, just don't get a 2.0 so you can bowl. I know you're a 3.0 student. Bring it to me. Don't sell yourself short. So they are definitely different.
CORLEY: Michelle, we're talking about motivating kids and money plays a large role in getting kids into college. So what type of financial plan can parents have that lets their children know that college won't be out of their reach?
SINGLETARY: You know, first of all, I'm not a believer in debt, so I discourage people from taking on debt to send their children to college gravely. And that might mean thinking about things a little differently. It may mean going to a community college for a couple of years and then transferring to a four-year university. It may mean staying at home instead of living on campus or, you know, commuting.
College can be affordable, but you may not be able to go to the school you want to go to. And I tell my children, we are saving for their college education so that they won't have to borrow a dollar for debt. They are not allowed to borrow to go to college. So, if we save enough for them, and they get into Harvard, and we don't have enough and they don't get money from Harvard, they're going to go to University of Maryland.
Because I went to a state school and I'm doing just fine. So I think that it's important, but you don't give your kid a blank check to go to college.
IVEY: I'm gonna have to disagree with you on this one, Michelle, because if there's one thing, I think it's worth going into debt for, if you have to, it is whatever college the kid gets into...
SINGLETARY: That's absolutely ridiculous.
IVEY: Well, maybe you think so, but let me...
SINGLETARY: That's a ridiculous...
IVEY: May I finish my statements?
CORLEY: Let her finish. Let her finish.
IVEY: Now, my oldest child, who is an excellent student, who worked really hard all the way through high school and got excellent grades and he got into a fabulous university. And we're doing all we can to get him through that school and so far we've been able to do it without massive debt.
Now, the middle child I just mentioned who's getting Cs, I would not put myself out at this moment to spend crazy amounts of money on his debt because right now at this moment he's not proven to me that it's worth it to him. But that is the one area, I would not spend - I've never owned a new car, we don't live in a fancy neighborhood. I mean, I would not spend money like that, but on this point I would.
CORLEY: All right. Well, you obviously both have different philosophies about this. There is one last question that I want to go around the table on. And that is is there a point where you let your child fail educationally?
Let's say your kid has a science project and either doesn't want to do it or doesn't prepare it, you know, sufficiently, do you let them go ahead and present that project as is? Do they learn a lesson by turning in a project and, you know, failing miserably at it? What do you do?
TUCKER: Oh yeah, I let them turn that project as is. I'm not one of them parents that builds the volcanoes, you know. I don't call it failure when they do that. I call it learning and growing, okay? Failure to me is when they give up totally and just won't do it. And that's not an option for my two because if you do, you fail life and that's the way I put it to them.
CORLEY: All right, Jolene, what do you think? Let's say that paper, you look at it and you go, oh.
IVEY: Well, I try to point out what I think they could do to improve it, but that's about it. I mean, they'd have to actually put the effort in to fix it. I'll go out and get you the board for the science fair project and make sure that you've got lots of, you know, colored construction paper, whatever you need, but I really am not into actually doing the project. I mean, the grades they get really are their grades.
CORLEY: What do you think Michelle, if you know your student and your child isn't doing well on a particular thing, refuses to do a project or something like that, do you let them fail at that or let them go ahead and turn in whatever they're going to turn in or not turn in something?
SINGLETARY: Right, we're old school. So there's no I'm-not-going-to-do because, you know, you live in my house. So that doesn't happen ever in our house. But, you know, I look at it the way - I work for a newspaper, and I have different layers of people who look over my work and edit and help me along the way, and that's what we do as parents.
We see the draft. I want to see the draft of the paper. We go through it. We mark it out. We talk about it. And we keep working on it until it is at a point which we think that they should submit it. Now, at the end of that step if it's still not what I think it is, and they're just not gonna do any more, then we let them turn it in.
And if they get a bad grade, they know they're going to get in trouble, but for the most part we walk with them step by step. I don't - we don't let go.
CORLEY: Tough love, ladies. And I'm sure your children will appreciate it ten years from now.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
TUCKER: They'd better 'cause they're not coming to live with me.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CORLEY: Michelle Singletary is an expert on personal finance. She joined us via phone from Maryland. Jolene Ivey and Dani Tucker joined us from our studios here in Washington. Ladies, thank you so much for joining us.
IVEY: Thanks, Cheryl.
TUCKER: You're welcome.
SINGLETARY: Thanks, Cheryl.
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