upper school students using makerspace whiteboard togetherYou are looking at school like Mounds Park Academy because you want the best for your child. You want your child to grow into a free spirit, a risk taker, a right maker, dreamer, and a doer. You want an independent thinker. Yet should your child, whom you have raised to be a respectful, decisive, critical thinker, make their own school choice? And what is your role, as the parent, in the school search process? This is a question that the Office of Admission is asked regularly.

Depending on the age and maturity of the child and the reason your family is changing schools, the continuum can range from a parent making the decision solo, to a combined decision making process, to the student selecting from the parent’s list of approved schools, to, in some cases, the student making the decision completely on their own. Where each family falls on this continuum is vastly different.

How Young Is Too Young?
Educational choices stick with a child for their entire life, so balancing the natural desire to provide a platform for your child’s input while knowing that what they decide has substantial implications on their future is critically important. The best parent-child partnerships blossom when both sides see this decision as a learning opportunity. Incorporating your child on this journey and welcoming them to contribute can be an incredible chance for them to develop maturity and show their growth. But as every child development expert will tell you, there’s a time and a place for a child’s choice, and there is a time when mom or dad needs to make the decision.

So, at what age should your child have a role in their school decision? It depends. Is your child ready for mature, thoughtful reasoning? We have seen remarkably mature Middle School students; and we’ve also seen Upper Schoolers who are not displaying age appropriate decision-making abilities. One way to gauge maturity is to examine other choices your child has made. Are they spending their free time appropriately? Are they choosing to surround themselves with good people? Are they generally making decisions based on what’s best for them in the moment, or what’s best for them long term?

Building A Criteria Roadmap
We recommend that you ask your child to build their own school choice criteria, and as the parent, you should do the same. How close are your lists? If your child puts what’s for lunch, the size of the playground, or where their friends are choosing to attend, then you know that they are most likely focused on what will most benefit them in the now, versus what will lay their foundation for a strong future. If their list includes student teacher ratio, curriculum information, and school culture, then they are showing the maturity, thoughtfulness, and seriousness to be trusted with a larger role in their school decision.

In the end, even a mature, responsible, decisive student is still a child. We believe that your child will be most successful if you, as the parent, do not relinquish your responsibility to be, well, a parent. You can see past next week, and make decisions based on that. Most children can’t. You have spent your entire parenthood thus far with your child’s long term success in mind. The decisions that will shape your child’s educational future and their life beyond should be based on your family’s values and priorities. Unless your 12-year-old has an adult’s grasp on what those values and priorities are, then you as a parent should be driving the decision.

middle school students at recessA Personal Story From An MPA Parent
I’m the parent of an Upper School student who has been at MPA since kindergarten. He is very passionate about his activities within the school and particularly within our community where he’s developed an intense bond with a group of amazing friends. There have been times, periodically, when he has expressed a desire to attend our local public school where many of those friends are. As a parent, my natural instinct is to want him to be happy and to value his opinion. Instead of falling back on those inherent principles automatically, we consulted with the child development and academic leaders at MPA.

They shared with me that even as a child who is very bright, he is not always capable of knowing precisely what is best for him. It’s a simple fact of brain development. His frontal lobe, the decision making part of the brain, is developing at such a rapid pace that it becomes difficult to make any choice that is not comfortable, that is not focused on the here and the now, and that is not intimately familiar. In other words, his brain is just not yet wired to make any choice that stretches him outside of his comfort zone.

For my son, this particular group of friends represent his greatest comfort zone, and I respect and appreciate that he’s developed such close connections with them. Early in his life, I read somewhere that having many “tribes” of friends is good for children—they provide variety, constant support, and create a more flexible and resilient child. As he advocated to make a school change several years ago, I told him that these “tribes” will continue to exist no matter where he attends school and that’s been quite comforting to him. Does it require a little bit more work on our part? Yes. But It has all been worth it, seeing how he benefits and how some of his “tribes” are starting to co-mingle.

In the end, my husband and I could not allow him to make his school choice when his college readiness and his future will be so greatly impacted by where he attends high school. Because he, as a teenager, couldn’t always see the academic, social, and emotional advantage that an intimate learning environment like MPA offers, and instead focused on where his closest friends go, we knew he was not ready to make this important decision.

As a senior, he’ll have another very important choice to make. We know that the Upper School at MPA is preparing him to make a college decision based on his true values and priorities.

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