Tips to Support Teen Wellness and Academic Success

Muchnick, Cynthia.Headshot

Written by: Where Parents Talk Staff

Published: Apr 15, 2023

Over the course of more than 25 years as a high school teacher, Assistant Director of Admission at two different universities, and an entrepreneur offering private college counselling services, Cynthia Muchnick has witnessed several key trends unfold.

“We started seeing students become listless, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed in a way that we hadn’t seen before,” she says. “And that trend kept increasing.”

Click for video transcription

Welcome to where parents talk. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today has been in education for more than 25 years as a high school teacher, Assistant Director of college admission. And as an educational consultant. Cynthia Muchnick is also an author, a speaker, and a mother of four children, including two teens. She is the co author of the parent compass, navigating your teens wellness and academic journey in today’s competitive world. She joins us today from near San Francisco, California.
Welcome, Cynthia, thank you for being here.

Thank you, Lianne, for inviting me on the show.

So much to talk to you about. And I’d really like to start with the fact that you are fully entrenched, fully immersed in the whole world of tweens and teens, both professionally and academia and and personally, and you have been for some time, what is it about this age group in particular, that is of such interest to you?

First of all, it’s such a good question. I have devoted my career and obviously child rearing, to parenting teams. But the career part has been the fact that I think teens are the most exciting, wonderful stage of life. There’s lots of them, I’m only, you know, in my 50s. But I know I have more ahead. But I feel like these are the years when these young children can become young adults and start to spread their wings and start to formulate a lot of their own opinions. And that sometimes results in pushback and the press gives them a bad rap of negativity. And I just think teenagers are amazing. So I’ve worked with them in college admissions. I’ve taught them. I’ve done test prep with them. I’ve helped them on their middle school and high school journeys. And I couldn’t wait for my children to become teenagers. I will be honest with you, I was not a very good newborn mom. I wasn’t very well equipped. I’m the youngest in my family. So I was always the one being babysat, not babysitting others. And I know that being a parent is not babysitting, but I just, it took me a while to get comfortable and feel comfortable in my parenting wings. And once they became tweens and teens, it just felt natural. It felt like oh, I know how to do this. I’ve worked with this group for so many years. And I just feel like they need more advocacy out there from from us they they are going through a lot and our world is getting more and more challenging and complicated. And I’ve just I’ve loved it. And I’ve enjoyed having teams myself. So there you have it.
It’s wonderful to hear that Cynthia definitely. Now you’ve also had a front row seat on observing the impact of certain parenting behaviors on many tweens and teens today. Right. So let’s break that down a little bit in terms of what are you seeing, firstly, in those teens and tweens in terms of trends? And also, what are you seeing the parenting behavior is contributing to these outcomes in our young people?
Sure. So I would say the catalyst for the crisis of the headlines that that you know, wreaked havoc in March of 2019, were the college admissions scandal, and also known as Operation varsity blues when parents, celebrities, and just regular parents went off the rails, and really behaved in a way that was so detrimental and horrifying for me and for my co author, Jen Curtis, who both had devoted our careers to working with teens as Educational Consultants, which is another word for private college counselors. We had nothing to do with the unethical behavior of what was going on in this college admission scandal. But strangely, we both knew of people involved in it, which is really shocking. You know, I was in Southern California for 22 years, Jen is still down there. So Southern California, northern California had a large bunch of of parents involved in this scandal, and the backlash and the result on how it impacted their kids. And really how it reverberated across the country. The message it was giving teens was that parents didn’t feel they were good enough that they could do it on their own, that they could be successful without parents, you know, going so extreme to break the law, etc. Now, the way that translated to what we were doing is Jen and I were seeing students for many, many years, and Jen still is I am kind of retired in that department. And we started seeing students become listless, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed in a way that we hadn’t seen before. And that trend kept increasing. And what we found is there was this direct correlation between how they were parented that also contributed to that behavior. Now, it doesn’t mean that it was the cause, but I think that so many of the things Parents we’re doing, we’re adding more complexity and more intensity to these teens lives. And so we wrote the parent compass really as an antidote to that, really as an effort to be an etiquette guide for parents in these very tenuous tween and teen years. And we found that there were also students that were thriving and doing beautifully and navigating and figuring out kind of how to master in their own worlds middle school and high school. And we often would ask those kids what’s going on that’s making things just seem so smooth. And are they really so smooth. And Jen tells this wonderful story in our book about asking her kind of one of her most favorite students she ever worked with, who seemed to just kind of have it all together and be a really good kind kid with a good head on her shoulders. And her parents, she said to Jen that her parents made her do hard things. Her parents made her navigate. And what’s happened is we’ve seen this flip, probably over the last decade where parents are micromanaging, fixing, controlling, and really dictating every step of their teens lives to the detriment of their teens. So the book really is an effort to remedy that and remind, hold a mirror up to parents and say, Look, your bad behavior should really stop for the sake of your kids. And the strangest thing of all we discovered is all this bad behavior. Most of it was coming from a place of love. A place where a parent feels, I can be helpful by fixing I can be helpful by you know helicoptering and being involved in it. I’m showing my love to my child, but you’re smothering your child at the same time and not allowing them to do those important things like self advocate fail, learn how discomfort feels, you know, all of those things that we want them to be equipped with, for when they do Launch out into the real world.
So given your background, in education, and as an educational consultant, and with students, etc, etc. As you’re watching the varsity blues scandal unfold. I’m curious as to is there something in that story that really surprised and shocked you, given your background on top of everything else?
That’s a really good question. I mean, I think what surprised, I guess it shocked us was the the depths of of desperation that were happening, I mean, doctoring, test scores, faking student resumes, really, you know, bribery and scandal. I mean, it’s There’s a wonderful book, and we were able to talk with the authors, Jen and Melissa blanking right now. But this book called unacceptable that really takes you through they were the Washington Post reporters that broke the story. And that really followed it closely. And it’s fascinating nonfiction read if parents want to really see how that whole a lot about how that whole scandal unfolded. But I think what we see in our practices are little signs, and that that could lead to something extreme, but hopefully, that shock wave, you know, limited it, I think some families must have taken a big breath or sigh of relief, because apparently this scandalous college counselor worked with, like 750 families doesn’t mean they were all doing illegal things. But I think there’s, that was just the tip of the iceberg that we kind of saw. And that being said, I think that parents, you know, certainly might have taken a breath to kind of realize it’s too much. But what Jen and I see are little moments of this, like, we see parents crafting the emails for their students, parents making the appointments for their kids, parents speaking over their kids, when we have like a initial consultation. And because oftentimes, we invite the parents to that first meeting, and then we work one on one with the students after that. So this sense that the kids can’t speak for themselves, or think for themselves, or choose their classes or choose their activities. It’s like the kids are becoming this little robot to their parents. And oftentimes, it’s just rooted in kind of a pride and a sense of what we have coined, or we haven’t coined it, but we’ve heard this term around competitive parenting. So I’d say as parents are starting to feel this sense of competition with each other over how their kids are doing in school, or where they go to college, and just, it’s gotten out of control. And so some of its regional, it’s not just private school parents, its public school, parents, too, might even be some homeschool parents, but we didn’t look very closely at that, at that demographic. So I would just say, you know, that level of intensity has increased, if we want to look at the college sides of things, you know, colleges are, you know, opened up the floodgates with the Common Application taking away required test scores, in some cases. And the fact that colleges haven’t grown their schools and grown their class sizes, they’re still the same size. They weren’t before. I always wish they would spend a lot of money on more dorms and just accepting more students that would solve one problem. Instead of building new athletic centers. They could build more more housing and hire more teachers and more professors, but that’s a different that’s a different problem.

Certainly, now you’re watching this scandal. unfold. You decide to use this as the catalyst for a book. You know, when you take us take us through some of the key research that you uncovered, that you undertook in the writing of the parent compass.

Sure. So we looked at so the book is interesting because it’s really a combination of our microcosm of clients. So we use some case studies of students we’ve worked with and families we’ve seen through the years, but we looked at the data. So we looked at the Pew Research Institute, we looked at challenge success, we consulted with experts and thought leaders, Lisa demore. And, you know, lots of you know, Laurie Gottlieb and different different scientists that were also kind of working in these fields, working with teens, as therapists as teachers is headmaster’s, et cetera. And the data was telling us that the depression was increasing significantly. And now the headlines are even more extreme. I mean, we have a worldwide you know, crisis and teenage girls and depression and the highest rates of suicide, and all of that going on right now. So we consulted the data, and we sourced it all in the book. And we kind of distilled it down and made it into a very user friendly way to see the data. So there’s not a lot of charts, it’s much more of a conversational book that kind of takes you through your own self examination as a parent, first and foremost, which we have our initial chapter is looking backward. So what baggage do you bring to the table as a parent? What was your educational background? What are your own personal biases? You know, what are your partners? If you’re a single parent, then you’re obviously doing this on your own? But how does that inform the way that you’re parenting or impact the way that you’re parenting? And then how do you connect that with your particular team, because as we know, each team is different, their styles are different, their communication process is different, their academic ability and level is different. So it’s trying to marry those two things, having us take a deep self exploration and then sitting down with our teen and trying to open up a dialogue and conversation so that they know we’re there with them shoulder to shoulder as support, but we’re not there to fix and micromanage and, and, you know, do all the extra work for them, we want them to do the work. And then we want them to feel how good it feels to succeed or how hard it feels when they might fail. So that’s where the book starts, we have a chapter on how the importance of listening. So we get really into kind of some of the data on that we have a chapter on good question asking because going with good listing, we have to be asking the right questions. So parents tend to say how was your day at school? That’s one of the worst questions we could ask because usually we get an eye roll or a grunt. And it’s not very creative. So we looked at the research on questions, and the kinds of questions that were kind of more creative, more thought provoking, more open ended and thoughtful. Some of the table topics, we talk about the importance of family meals, and we explore, you know, the family dinner project was was a place we turn to for a lot of support. And our foreword was written by Chris, by Denise Pope of challenge success. She’s the co founder of this amazing organization, if you don’t follow a challenge success, and you have a teenager you should be because they actually go into high schools around the country boots on the ground, to try to redefine what success is for students. And our mission is really aligned well, with challenge success. So when Denise saw the book, she said, this is a lot of what we’re trying to say, let’s teach parents these better skills, but they go into schools, and they survey students, they survey parents, they survey the faculty, they serve the administration, and they try to create more space in a student’s day with later start times more passing time between classes. They create challenge success, you know, clubs at the school, so that keeps the dialog open. And they do all of this data research, which we also include in the book on the importance of you know, of schools, understanding that success can’t be determined by grades and test scores alone grades, test scores, activities, that’s kind of not it. Success can be redefined as do we have kids who are resilient? Do we have kids who are happy? Do we have kids who feel that they can self advocate and navigate? And so challenge success really turns the idea on its head? So we just we love them? We’ve partnered with them on on events and podcasts and things before. And so I would say we’re kind of rooted in that same philosophy. And then the book continues on what’s the parents role in the college admission process? What about if you have a kid who’s not going to college, we have a whole chapter on alternative routes. And so we really try to give a taste of you know, technology is also in there. That was our most challenging chapter of you know how to manage technology in your home. But we do it in a user friendly way. People say you can read the book in a weekend and you can start implementing some of the strategies by Monday morning, and some will work and some won’t. Some will work with some kids and some will work won’t work with other kids. But we have the feedback we’ve gotten from book clubs and parent groups has been wow, if I just rephrase that a little bit, or if I just approach it with a different angle. By pulling back my kids actually getting happier. They’re actually opening up more they’re actually sharing more so Uh, those are some of the highlights, I guess I would say of the book. But I would just encourage people to read it and and be willing in their communities to kind of join the parent compass movement, because we’re trying to kind of create a movement, not just a book.

Well, lots to dig into and what you just described there, I’d like to start with, could you share some specific examples or strategies that will help parents in some way resist the urge to over parent to helicopter parent to parent intensively as some people call it? Do you have anything you can share there?

Sure. So one great thing is I’m not wearing it today. But my co author John Curtis gave me when when we when the book came out a parent compass like a necklace with a little compass on it as a tangible reminder for me, and for everyone to try and follow your parent compass. And I should probably really define what does it mean to follow this compass that we’re talking about the compass is really a reminder to check yourself so that you don’t become that intense competitive parent, it’s really hard to do. It requires some bravery and willingness to kind of put a different hat on and not let the peers around you that might be more toxic. And, you know, the comparative parents and the competitive parents to sort of let that roll off and say, Okay, I’m looking at my little roof and the four walls where I live and the people in my home, and what can I do here to do it a little better, because this frenzy grows, when sometimes when we talk with other parents, or when we find ourselves at the school or the back to school nights, or we’re here at the cocktail parties, what other people are doing, and we feel like we need to tutor and keep up and poach, and do all these other things. And it just, it turns into this, you know, just sort of terrible spiral. So the parent compass and following it, the best things I think we can really do as parents are kind of slow down, parent more intentionally, and follow kind of more of Carol Dweck, UX research where we talk about, you know, kids feeling like the process is more important than the outcome. And college is not a prize to be won at all, it’s just a place that you’re going at a stage in your life, it’s a match to be made, not a prize to be won. And I think that, you know, we tend to kind of look at the destination as we have to go from here to here to here in this direct way. And here are the steps we need to take to go there. And I think as adults, we know that it’s not a direct way, it’s curvy and circuitous and, and we have had different careers and different paths that we’ve taken bring us into new directions. And so I guess, you know, if I had a silver bullet for every parent who was like telling me what we’re supposed to do to look good for college, and I say that in quotes, because that’s what people are sort of seem to be going after this sense that there’s this ranking system. And we have a chapter on you know, avoiding rankings and not following the US News and World Report, you know, freak out, and really understanding you know, what it is that your kid might want in this next journey. So tangible things might be anytime you go on a family vacation, if there’s a college campus nearby, go walk around, feel what it feels like with your teen or tween and show them what this environment is that their guests apparently working towards if colleges in their future, so that they have a sense that oh, these are just kind of regular real people. And they’ve done whatever they’ve done. And they seem to be having a pretty good time here, read the student newspaper, go by the coffee house, ask students along the way, not just your tour guide who, you know, is kind of also hired by the admissions office to kind of sell the school to you. But talk to students and don’t be afraid and be shy to kind of go up to them. So I think that’s one great thing. And you can start that at any age. Another great thing parents can do is to stop speaking for their kids. That can that means for with teacher relationships, at the doctor’s office at a restaurant, you know, let your kids order their own food, let your kids make their own appointments, let your kids you know, advocate to their teachers and doesn’t mean you can’t roleplay with them doesn’t mean you can’t, you know have conversations to help them plan or check in afterwards. But you shouldn’t be picking up the phone or sending an email from your email account to their teachers pretty much from high school on but even in middle school, these kids are really ready to start doing this on their own. It’s a little tricky because you still have those parent teacher conferences sometimes in through middle school, so you’re still involved but you should be viewing yourself as a consultant. You should not be viewing yourself as a manager and that’s my career as research who’s written some wonderful books on parenting teens and has been a headmaster for 20 plus years of a you know, a high school in Southern California and his view is you know, you should get fired as the manager by about Middle School, which is a hard feeling right because from birth till Middle School, we have driven them everywhere. We’ve closed them, we fed them we’ve you know, taken done all these things. for them, but it’s time for them to start doing it themselves. So get fired, and then hope that you get hired by your kid as a consultant where you can be in the passenger seat and not the driver’s seat. And I will tell you, it’s amazing what it does for your relationship with your team. Because as you know, of a parent of kids who are out of the teen years, it comes back to you, it comes back to you in spades, they start to understand why you might have been harder on them, or why you let them fail, or why you didn’t show up with the homework and the Forgotten lunch every time. Because once they feel the sting of that, they remember. So those are some I know, it’s a little all over the place. But those are some thoughts, though

Those are really important points. And I think, you know, when you talk about self advocacy, which is partly what you’re talking about there in some of those examples, you know, it applies across the board to every aspect of life in order for a person to cultivate and be nurtured to be independent. They need to be able to make their own decisions and stand on their own two feet. Let me ask you, Cynthia, one of the things that the book talks about, is how to nurture grit in children. How would you suggest that this can be achieved, because this is also related to what you’re talking about in terms of self advocacy? Sure.
So So I mean, going back to kind of two examples that I talked a little bit about Carol Dweck would be, you know, someone and Angela Duckworth, who both have written books on the topic. But um, you know, when our kids are learning to tie their shoes, all we want to do is just tie the shoe for that we need to get out of the house, we want to tie the shoe. But if we watch them struggle, and we let them figure out the bunny ears in the loop, and however many times it takes and we avoid the Velcro, then you see that feeling that you know what they finally can do it. So the concept of the idea that I can’t do it, we want to add that word yet to the end, we want it when our kids are struggling and they say Mom, I need your help Mom, I can’t do it, we want to say, Well, you can’t do it yet. But let’s figure out together when you’ll get there. And we do spend some time in the book kind of just breaking that down in a very, very basic way. But it goes back to a little bit what I was talking about earlier in our interview about, it’s directly tied into that self advocacy piece. And it’s directly tied into them doing hard things. So the hard things really, I’m oftentimes, I’ll use a good example of, you know, with a teacher, so your kid comes back, and they’re really disappointed about their grade. And whatever it is. And you say to them, I don’t care really about the grade, I saw how hard you worked. I know how hard you studied, I’m sorry, the questions didn’t line up with everything you studied. But let’s figure out moving forward either what you can do differently or how you know, or going to the teacher to kind of learn, you know what, what you did wrong, so that you can self correct from that. And they’ll say, well, the teacher didn’t ask any of the questions that were on the review sheet, or this or that or whatever. And so your job is to say, Oh, I totally get that. That must be so frustrating. I split again, I saw how hard you worked. I was quizzing you on those index cards, and we talked about at dinner, you know how much time you’d already put into this essay, or whatever it might be. But then it’s equipping them to say, Okay, now out of this discomfort, or this feeling of disappointment that you didn’t maybe earn the grades you wanted, when you as a parent are supporting the effort and supporting that part of the journey, then you can say, let’s brainstorm together or have you thought about what you might want to do the next time around now that you know, this is what your teacher has done or presented. And kids are sometimes strangely afraid to go to their teachers because of this authority relationship. And, you know, I I’m very old school old fashioned. I wrote books on study skills and time management and college essay writing. I’m a big believer in the index card, I think, you know, don’t write things on your phone, write them down on paper, and kids can bring an index card in and talk to their teacher because they get nervous. And they forget to ask the certain things they might want to ask because of the, you know, the nerves involved or the feeling of the power dynamic. And so sometimes you’ll say to your kid, oh, how did that talk, go with your teacher. And they’ll say, Oh, I forgot to say XY and Z. But if they bring in their index card, it’s okay. The teacher will say they planned some things they wanted to ask them, so they don’t have to memorize and hold it all in their head, but you can guide shoulder to shoulder and help them with that. So I really think it’s a re direction for parents to not say, How did you do on this? You know, what was the result? But more? You know, in general, how did things go today? And, you know, were you How did you feel about about the effort that you put in? And do you feel like you’ve learned some things that you can know for next time because as we know, life is this continuous journey. And all of this does translate to what comes after when you have co workers and when you’re in the real world and when you have a boss or all of that.

Now, the parent compass was published in the fall of 2020 during the height of the global pandemic. Has the message of the book become even more timely and relevant, in your estimation as a result of COVID-19? And if so, in what ways?

Yeah, thank you, Lianne. for that great question. I think that we it was funny COVID was beginning as the book was going to press, and we were offered an opportunity to revise the book, once remember, when we thought COVID would last 30 days. So we will revisit the book realizing schools might shut down or some weird stuff might be happening in our future, we don’t know what, and we read the whole book, and we really didn’t feel there was anything different, we would have said, and strangely, the book has really held up and we think it’s become even more relevant, because as this, you know, online schooling year or two occurred, and as this sense of kind of heightened panic and heightened, worry, you know, was happening, have kids losing opportunities, and this and that, I think, what also came maybe one of the Silver Linings was that some parents, yes, their panic escalated and increased, and therefore, they needed the parent compass more than ever. But I also think that some parents gained a sense of flexibility. And just knowing that, you know, take a gap year, that’s okay. Like, a decade ago, a gap year was like, what went wrong? Like, did your kid not do very well? Or now people are like, Oh, that’s so awesome. What are you going to do? What’s your plans. And so I think the sense of maybe putting off college for a year, maybe taking a different route, spending some time at community college, I think a flexibility has occurred. And that’s what we kind of talked about in the final chapter for parent compass. But I think the content itself is pretty Evergreen. And I think during COVID, it held up well. And I think it will really hold up well going forward, because it’s just really an etiquette book to remind parents to stay on the path and not go outside the rails. And it’s hard to do, um, Jen and I to share our own stories of mistakes we’ve made along the way, we are not perfect, we’re not here preaching that we do it perfectly, we’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of teams. So we feel like we have the finger on the pulse of what they’re going through. But we’re not doing it as their parent, we’re doing it as a as a cheerleader, and as a support network. But for parents, so when I put my parent hat on, I remind myself to follow that compass, you know, pretty often, it could be almost weekly. So it’s a practice. And I think it’s a practice that’s attainable. And I think it’s really for the benefit of these young people who who have a lot of weight on their shoulders, I think more weight than ever in the world that we’re living in, unfortunately. And that’s a different, that’s a different interview that we could have together. But, but that being said, and we feel very good about the title, just kind of staying out there and the message continuing to grow. And we’ve seen that happen in book clubs, where communities have started to embrace the book together. And parents are finding other like minded parents and talking about it and sharing their own experiences with their kids. So that there’s this village that they’re building, you know, admitting the flaws along the way, not having it all seem glossy and beautiful and perfect all the time that, you know, we’re, as we’re seeing on social media, but parents are saying, you know, I’m really struggling here with my kid. And another one can say, same with me, you know, what did you do? Oh, here’s what I did, oh, this chapter really helped me when I was struggling with that. So we feel really good about it. And we hope that you know, the audience’s continue to grow it is being translated into Gosh, into it. Well, it’s going to Indonesia, and I think it’s going to Vietnam as well. So we’re looking forward to the fact that other countries will even be able to read versions of the parent cup as to

well, and you know, you hit on so many important points, their vulnerability, and humility of parents of you know, going through these different ages and stages is, is so important. I’m curious, Cynthia, as to your personal parenting story, in what ways? Would you say that your parenting approach has shifted, pivoted, changed, been impacted by you, a co authoring the parent compass?

That’s a great question. I admit my biggest flaw in the technology chapter, the chapter begins with a story about me being really reprimanded by my then 12 year old, telling me, you know, Mom, you know, coming up to me, and really, actually pulling me off of my computer screen off of my cell phone screen, and putting her hand on my hand and saying, Mom, you know, come off, we need to talk. And I realized that, you know, I think COVID made that really hard, because we were even more attached to our screens than ever. And here was the teen holding up a mirror to me. And so my kids kind of joke that I have more of a tech addiction than they do, which is nothing to brag about. And so I would say it is it has helped me there. It hasn’t fixed me completely, but it’s something I’m very much more aware of. And I’m working on my daughter’s set up these. She looked at everybody’s controls where you can look at how much time you spend on various platforms. And, you know, I think I won the prize for the worst. So that’s something I I’m working on as a parent, I tell the Star Wars camp story in the book, which is a story when my younger my boys who are out of the house now wanted to make some money in the summer, and we’re looking for creative ways to do it. And, and they decided to start this little Star Wars camp in our community. And that, you know, they have campers, and they did Star Wars parades and Star Wars, Lego building, and everything was Star Wars themed and, you know, different planet visits around the park and clips from the movies, etc. And everyone asks me about the Star Wars camp and what it looked like they ran it for five years, they made a tiny little salary for themselves, they they recruited their younger siblings to help out and I like to use that story as an example of find what your kids love and like, and support it in any way you can. I think it’s something I did a good job doing as a parent, because it wasn’t things I was interested in it was about what excited them. And so I hope that kind of modeling that I’m not just putting you know, I don’t mean to like put myself out there and say, Oh, we did such a great job. But we made plenty of mistakes. My husband calls all those the gray areas, because there are so many in parenting. But it’s a it really was an experience that my kids look back on. And they felt like they were resourceful. They created something themselves. I supported it with, you know, the paperwork and the chaperoning. But mostly they put on this little summer camp and and once it ended, the neighbors were like, wait a second, where did the Star Wars camp go, they wanted to pass the torch down to another family. They had a movie camp in the afternoon, they grew it. So in the afternoon, kids would come over and watch the movies and eat popcorn and app cut up apples and talk about all the easter eggs in the movies, etc. So what I would say is, you know, that’s been something that was reinforced by the parent compass that I felt like, you know, I want to try and engage in what excites my kids, whether it excites me or interests me or not. And I think that gives them a lot of self confidence. It gives them a feeling that you appreciate and see them and love them for whatever it is that excites them because we had our turn, right? We all got to be teens and we all got to make our own choices and now they get to make them.

Absolutely. Cynthia Muchnick off co author of the parent compass, navigating your teens wellness and academic journey in today’s competitive world. We really appreciate your time and your insight today.

Thank you so much for hosting me. It’s been a pleasure and your questions were great. I really enjoyed it. And I hope people will follow us on Instagram at parent compass or our website at www parent compass or any of the other channels where they might find us or find a book.

Thanks so much, Cynthia.

The source of much of that angst, Muchnick believes, could also be traced to a common denominator.

“What we found was this direct correlation between how they were parented that also contributed to that behaviour,” she continues. “It doesn’t mean that it was the cause. But I think that so many of the things parents were doing, were adding more complexity and more intensity to these teens’ lives.”

Then came a troubling, if not defining moment that confirmed an extreme outcome of the trends Muchnick observed — Operation Varsity Blues — the college admission scandal in 2019.

“The message it was giving teens was that parents didn’t feel they [kids] were good enough that they could do it on their own, that they could be successful without parents,” Muchnick told Lianne Castelino for Where Parents Talk.

That scandal, which snared global headlines for months and resulted in criminal charges and jail time, revealed an elaborate  scheme involving bribery and fraud  in which the children of many wealthy families paid to gain admission to elite American colleges and universities.

The story stunned Muchnick and her friend, fellow educational consultant Jen Curtis, in ways they had not foreseen, highlighting the far reaches of competitive parenting, among other troubling factors.

Book Cover.The Parent Compass“I guess it shocked us was the the depths of desperation that were happening,” continues Muchnick. “I mean, doctoring test scores, faking student resumes, really, bribery and scandal.”

Operation Varsity Blues propelled both Muchnick and Curtis to action.

“We wrote The Parent Compass really as an antidote to that [college admission scandal] as an effort to be an etiquette guide for parents in these very tenuous tween and teen years,” she says.

Published in September 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic raging and many schools around the world shuttered for safety, The Parent Compass: Navigating Your Teen’s Wellness and Academic Journey in Today’s Competitive World provides parents strategies and resources and most importantly, a mirror.

“What’s happened is we’ve seen this flip, probably over the last decade where parents are micromanaging, fixing, controlling, and really dictating every step of their teens lives to the detriment of their teens,” she says. “The book really is an effort to remedy that and remind, parents —- to say look, your bad behaviour should really stop for the sake of your kids.”

During her interview with Where Parents Talk, Cynthia Muchnick also discusses:

  • Why she believes adolescence is the best stage of development
  • Trends observed involving youth, their parents, and college/university admission decisions
  • Strategies for parents to avoid the trap of competitive parenting
  • How The Parent Compass represents a guide for moms and dads
  • What students who succeed reveal about how they were parented
  • Cultivating healthy relationships with kids, especially during the tween and teen years

Related stories:

Why Good Students Suddenly Struggle

Tips to Successfully Navigate the First Year of University with Dr. Janet Miller

How to Support a Child with Choosing a Career

Post-High School Education Options for Students


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