My spouse often says he wishes someone had explained to him how going to a good college could translate into better earnings and more success in his career. Me, I found school boring and irrelevant, while the idea of having a job was totally uninspiring. It was always a given that I would go to college, and my parents packed me off to an excellent school. So, I partied for three years and then dropped out for a while.
It's hard for tweens and teens to imagine what it's like to be an adult with a career and family. Their still-developing brains often find the social aspects of high school much more intriguing than social studies. Homework can take a secondary role — but that's much more likely if your tween doesn't see schooling as essential for his future self.
University of Michigan psychologists Mesmin Destin and Daphna Oyserman found that there's often a gap between students' expectations of going to college and their high-school studying behavior. To bridge the gap, you need to help them see school work now as an investment in their future.
The researchers asked a group of middle schoolers, "Think about yourself as an adult, what job do you think you'll have? What will you be doing in 10 years?" Although 90 percent saw themselves attending at least two years of community college, only half saw themselves working in a field that demanded a college education. Destin and Oyserman call this an "education-dependent adult identity."
"Even among children with the same starting grades, expecting to be a teacher, an engineer, or a nurse when you grow up predicts that they'll invest more time in homework," said Oyserman. "And, not surprisingly, they will have better grades over time than children who expect to have a job in sports, entertainment, or other areas that don't depend on having an education."
In another study, the researchers gave different presentations to two groups of students in science classes. One group heard about the potential earnings of adults with college degrees; the other group learned about how much actors, musicians and athletes made. Each group of kids then answered questions about how they planned to spend their time that evening, and got an extra-credit assignment based on the material they were studying in the science class.
The students who heard about how adult earnings were related to education were eight times more likely to do the extra credit homework as those who saw the presentation showing adult earnings for the entertainment or sports celebrities, careers that are assumed to be independent of education.
With our culture's emphasis on celebrity and the idea that anyone could be the next Justin Bieber just by posting a song on YouTube, it's increasingly hard to instill the studying ethic in our kids. But these researchers say that just a few discussions about how education can influence earnings can help students understand that studying now will pay off later.
Another limiting factor is that some of us were brought up to believe it's rude or inappropriate to discuss how much we earn. And, of course, we'd like to think our kids will choose a career that fulfills them, even if it isn't the most lucrative. (Thank you, teachers, social workers, public defenders and all non-profit personnel.) But let's give them all the information they need to make those decisions.
Do your kids know how much money you make and whether you enjoy your job?