LTE for Portfolio – bmdpiano

What Parents Should Know About Self Help Books

To the Editor:

Re “Cutting the Cord: What Parents and Teenagers Need to Know” (news article, Aug. 23):

Judith Newman’s mention of “adulting” books in her article sends the message to new college parents across America that self-help books are the answer to college preparation. While it is agreeable to get a better understanding of how to send an incoming college student off prepared, the article alludes to a multitude of “adulting” books that act as if they’re qualified to fix the college readiness process. In the end, these idealistic books will not improve the readiness of a new college student. For that to happen, parents need to share their personal experiences and thoughts. .

As a college freshman myself, I have been thrown into the deep end without a self-help book and am learning to swim by experience. As preparation for my first college semester, I relied solely on the experiences and advice my parents gave me as well as the advice of current college students. It has been three weeks into the first semester and I have been able to take care of myself. This includes doing my own laundry, keeping a clean dorm, and feeding myself properly. Additionally, I know that if I ever needed assistance with coping, there are many resources on campus to help me do that.

When beginning the school year, freshman are always informed of the valuable resources available to them. This includes their RA, emotional support at the wellness center, or any department head. I have used these already, but because of my parent’s strong advice, I did not struggle as much as one would expect a freshman would. I can personally say that my mother has used parenting advice from an article and it was too forced. It did not help me at all. The way she phrased the advice was by telling me she read an article and what it suggested parents to say to their children. It was obvious that she couldn’t connect the advice to an anecdote. Without personalization, advice is artificial and ineffective. Parenting should set guidelines to be careful with certain aspects of college, but the rest should be learned by physically doing. Some parents are not in favor of the “experience teaching life skills” approach, but for those parents who are less apprehensive, self help books could suggest risks that have not been considered before. Many of these risks could not be an issue in the first place, but because of the guide books, they have created unnecessary worries.  

According to the “Learning Pyramid: Average Retention,” 75% of the information we learn is retained when people practice by doing and saying the actions/steps and 90% of the information is retained when we teach others a specific task. Kinesthetic learning types show to be the best way to retain and learn new information. Reading or being told information from a guide book only encompasses 10-20% of learning retention, which would not be helpful to a new college student living on their own. From living on my own, I can confirm that experience is the most effective teacher because as a people, we learn best by doing it ourselves. If we mess up, we know to try another way and show how we’ve grown from our mistakes.

We, as college students must explain how we would like to be taught valuable life lessons. Parents owe it to their children to give them truthful and natural advice and allow them to experience the world. They must realize that their children are going to be on their own now and there won’t be many more opportunities to share heartfelt advice with them. This could be done in a simple conversation between the parents and their child, as this relationship is the most important people can have. As parents express their concerns about college, their child can assure them of the knowledge and resources that are available to them if needed. Parents will begin to understand the correct concepts and quit using the self help books as a guide to raising their children.

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9 Responses to LTE for Portfolio – bmdpiano

  1. davidbdale says:

    —Why “was sending” instead of “sends” or “sent” in the first sentence?
    —You go a bit too far with “the answer to all their dilemmas” unless you’ve read them and they actually do radically overpromise.
    —Eliminate 2nd person language such as “your.”
    —I think I’ve mentioned before the books she named (didn’t even necessarily recommend) are not novels.
    —Similar overreach on your part with “fix everybody’s life.”
    —Once more with “will not improve the readiness.”
    —Overall, you needn’t condemn Newman in order to promote your own point of view. Experience can be preferable to self-help reading without the books being useless or harmful. You’ll gain credibility by being even-handed. Your idea is good, but the other doesn’t have to be evil.

    Very reasonable.

    —I’m struggling to imagine how you would know that parenting advice from a book would be “too forced” to be effective. If only you could illustrate with an example of a piece of advice your parents got from a book that really backfired! Any chance of that? Otherwise, the claim is weak.
    —In general, this paragraph is VERY SHORT on specifics. “Set guidelines” and “certain aspects of college” and “the rest” and “physically doing” and “risks that have not been considered” and “risks that might not be an issue” and “unnecessary worries” pile up to suggest that your own advice is—just as you critique the books—ineffective because not connected to anecdotes.

    —Strange phrasing: “Kinesthetic learning types show to be the best way”
    —The statistics are strong and well-placed, Piano, but the most impressive one (90%) is achieved only from teaching others. We look in vain for your example of how you learned valuable lessons of college life by teaching life skills to others and are disappointed when we don’t find it.

    —I don’t seem to be able to elicit any emotional language from you, Piano. It would help here, but if you’re uncomfortable about it, that’s OK.

    Anything useful here? I’ve removed your post again from the Feedback Please category. Put it back if you need more help, and leave a comment to say what you’re looking for.


  2. davidbdale says:

    When I provide Feedback, I DE-select the Feedback Please category so the post departs my queue. You’re always entitled to more, but you have to ask again by selecting Feedback Please again.


  3. davidbdale says:

    Yes, Piano, your letter is improving. Your objection to Newman’s article is more focused, and you’re making your own claims more clearly. Let’s see if there’s anything else I can do to interfere. 🙂

    Making promises and providing regular rewards is essential to good writing. Let’s look at your paragraphs and see what they promise and deliver.

    P1. You deliver a provocative claim that “self-help” books don’t help. But you make no promise. You end with a claim that books won’t help ready a student for college. Promises are available to you. Suppose for example your paragraph ended with this: “In the end, these idealistic books will not improve the readiness of a new college student. For that, parents will have to share their own knowledge and experience.”

    See the value of that? It brings an end to the first claim and urges the reader to come along for advice on how to proceed now that you’ve debunked the books. It doesn’t give away the whole story, but promises that the answers are coming.

    P2. Now that readers have a REASON to read further, they’ll give you time to develop this personal material. It’s well placed for several reasons, including that you’ve just suggested that personal experience is more valuable than written advice. But does it make an additional promise to keep readers reading? (By the way, this paragraph now ends with “resources on campus to help me do that.” I broke your long paragraph into two paragraphs.) If it does end with a promise, that promise is that you’ll describe campus resources. That may not be the case.

    P3. (Begins with, “I can personally say that if my parents used parenting advice from a book, it would be too forced or experimental and I would not feel prepared at all.”) This new paragraph builds on the promise made in P1 and your own personal experiences in P2. It delivers rewards: Parents should set guidelines. Students will learn their own most valuable lessons. Books do more to raise needless concerns than to calm fears. But does the paragraph make a promise to keep readers reading? If so, based on where the claims are found, the promise seems to be that you’ll identify problems the books cause. Is that what you want?

    P4. Plenty of rewards here, Piano. Lots of cool data and surprising claims about learning with our bodies. Does it make a promise?

    [Extra Credit: If your reasoning is effective, you’ll never have to tell your readers what your evidence proves. In fact, telling them what it proves is a good way to prompt their resistance. You can hide tht conclusion by avoiding the “this proves” language. In this case, something like “from my own experience at college, I can confirm that I’ve learned my most valuable lessons by doing.”]

    P5. Promises are not required in the last paragraph. If they’ve read four, your readers will finish reading five. Provide big rewards. Here you’ve generalized and abstracted a very personal and emotional situation. (If it were a song: Mothers be good to your daughters, and daughters be good to your mothers too.) Champion the pathos here, Baker. It’s the opposite of the intellectual self-help you’re criticizing. “Expressing concerns” and “beginning to understand concepts” don’t play the violins. You want scared parents and overeager kids and confessions that verge on the tearful as both express how much they mean to one another. And that’s an experience that can teach real lessons. Right?

    As before, please react to this feedback, Piano. I appreciate your willingness to continue to work on posts that start to feel “finished.” That I keep coming back with further advice can be discouraging to students who think their work is at the “final polish” stage. I hope my recommendations will seem reasonable and helpful. And thank you for this opportunity to interact with your and your writing, I enjoy the interaction.


    • bmdpiano says:

      Thank you so much for the feedback! I have not had a chance to edit the letter further, but when I do, I will definitely follow up.


      • davidbdale says:

        You know I’ll be there to read it, Piano, like the most attentive audience you’ve ever had. Picky of course, ridiculously picky, and a bit of a nag about things I think are important. But still, that kind of attention means something. I will always take what you do seriously.


        • bmdpiano says:

          Hello! Sorry this is very close to the feedback deadline. I went over the previous feedback and took your advice on the promises. I added in subtle ones to intrigue to the reader. I also added more sentences in the last paragraph to channel the emotional side of the argument. Let me know if I improved the letter and if there any little tweaks I can still make to the LTE. Thank you!


  4. bmdpiano says:

    Hello! I used the feedback you gave to revise my letter! It was very helpful, thank you. Please let me know if I used the feedback correctly. I had redirected my claim a bit to fit the article better.


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