The Secret to Raising an Accomplished Kid

raising an accomplished kid, opera, the hobbit, star of the show,

What will your child accomplish this year? A year can hold a multitude of achievements, but there is a secret to raising an accomplished kid that many people overlook. 

Recently I was talking to an admissions officer at one of my daughter’s top choice colleges, and after discussing some of the highlights of her resume, the admissions officer asked, “Are we talking about one student?” She was amazed that one student could have “so many” accomplishments. But to be perfectly honest, I was amazed at her amazement.

My 16 year old is focused, and she works hard at pursuing her passion. But she has not done anything truly extraordinary. She has not done anything that any motivated 16 year old couldn’t do.

She wasn’t a semifinalist in the prestigious Intel Science Competition while living in a homeless shelter like Long Island high school student Samantha Garvey. She didn’t receive a $1 million celebrity investment in an app she had written like 17 year old tech wizard Nick D’Aliosio did. She didn’t gather over 170,000 signatures on a petition to insist that a woman should moderate one of the presidential debates like three girls her age from New Jersey did. And she is certainly not a Nobel Prize laureate like young Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

The way I see it, this admissions officer’s statement was not actually a commentary on my child’s “exceptional achievements” but rather an indictment of society’s woefully low expectations.

It’s true that Sky had does many things, but why should that be unusual? A year is a long time, and she has already had 2 ½ of them in high school alone. That is more than 900 days! And in that time she has won a few writing awards, had a couple of her short plays professionally produced, performed in a number of operas, had lead roles in a few, is dual enrolled in college and high school, is on the Dean’s List at the college, had a lead role in a college musical, wrote a 50,000 word book in a month, and formed a band and produced original songs that are available on iTunes. But any high schooler who knows what they are passionate about can accomplish as much and more!

Now THIS Kid is Amazing!

Just look at fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson. At the age of 15, she went from the fashion industry’s youngest A-lister to a media mogul. She was such an expert at fashion that she did a movado luno watch review and loved it. Gevinson launched an online magazine for teen girls in 2011, Rookie. She is editor-in-chief of the magazine, has gathered hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, is the editor of the book, Rookie: Yearbook 1, and has organized events for Rookie readers around the country, from pajama parties to craft nights.

Gevinson has given talks at TEDxTeen and at the The Economist’s World in 2012 Festival and has voiced a character and sang in an award winning animated short film, acted in the movie Enough Said and in theatrical productions in Chicago and New York City, and she was interviewed in a 2013 documentary about a punk rock vocalist.

Today, Gevinson is just 19 years old, and she is enrolled in New York University. She accomplished all of this in less than five years. Now THAT is remarkable.

But our kids don’t have to be media moguls and fashion industry A-Listers or even professional actors on Broadway or in Hollywood to do great things. Every teen is capable of accomplishing much when they know what they are passionate about and with parents who are willing to help them seek and pursue opportunities.

Gevinson’s dad was a high school English teacher and her mom was a weaver and part time Hebrew instructor, and from reading just a little about her career path, it’s clear that their role in her success was one we could all learn from. For starters, they did not tell her she had to write a fashion blog and become an Internet sensation. They were not the cliche stage mom and dad, forcing their child to fulfill their own aspirations.

Gevinson’s parents didn’t even know she had a successful blog until she asked for permission to be interviewed by The New York Times. But once her passion and her talent became evident, they were behind her 100%, in spite of public scrutiny. Sarah Mower of The Daily Telegraph even criticized her father for taking her out of school “to go to haute couture shows … It’s hard to imagine a kid being able to come back down to reality.”

The Common Thread

So what is the big secret to raising an accomplished kid? What is the common thread between the success stories of i and even my own daughter? Passion.

A child’s achievements has to start with their own interests, abilities and experiences. Once they know what makes their hearts soar, once they feel a sense of passion and purpose, opportunities become more apparent. 

An we the parents have a job to do too. Regardless of whether we homeschool or we decide to partner with a public or private school for our child’s education, WE are ultimately the directors of their learning experience, and helping them pursue passion is a vital part of it.

Most of our kids probably won’t be identified by the New York Times for an interview, but we can network and research and help them find opportunities that line up with their interests.

How Parents Can Help

When my son was twelve, he was passionate about animation. All on his own, he had learned as much as could about the history of anime and studied some of his favorite animation studios and individual animators from Japan and the U.S. He subscribed to animation YouTube channels and read Manga (Japanese comics).

Now, it’s easy to say that most 12-year-olds love animation, but for Seth, it was a passion that had been a long time in the making. When he was just eight or nine, he spent a year studying the periodic table because he loved making up his own comic strips and super heroes, and he wanted his characters to be able to combine different elements to do seemingly supernatural (but scientifically plausible) things. For fun, he spent days on end making stop-motion animation videos with his iPod and Legos, and he experimented with different video editing apps to make it look like he had caused an explosion in his bedroom or flew up onto the roof of the house.

Because I knew he was passionate about this, I networked in the community and found a local animation studio that allowed him to do a nine-month apprenticeship. He learned a lot, of course, but perhaps the most important thing he learned was that he didn’t want to pursue a career in animation.

Now, as an 8th grader, he is interested in filmmaking. As part of his Congressional Award project (we’ll write more about the Congressional Award later this month) he teamed up with a non-profit organization that provides emergency housing to families to do a two-year documentary project under the guidance of a seasoned videographer.

We all have 365 new days ahead in 2016. What new things will your child learn? What exciting things will he do? And how will you help? Most of all, what is he passionate about? And if you are not sure, then maybe the goal for this year is to discover that.

Wishing you an exciting and accomplished New Year!

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

More Posts

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.