How My Teenager Earned More Than $100,000 in High School

My son is now in his final week of high school, albeit remotely at home, and when he finishes, he will have earned more than $100,000 in his four years as a high school student and he didn’t do it by working a part-time job (although he did have one of those too) and he didn’t get the money from us.

Over the years I have seen parents dump truckloads of money into pursuits they think will help their kids get college scholarships. There are the sports parents who pay hundreds of dollars per hour to hire coaches to teach their kids the art of throwing a curve ball or they pay thousands to send their kid to a quarterback academy.

I know a guy who was so obsessed with seeing his kid get an athletic ride to play college lacrosse that he spent thousands of dollars each year on personal trainers, gym memberships, travel team fees and travel expenses and gobs of money on pay-to-play exposure tournaments where kids play in front of NCAA scouts. The dad also signed up his kid for year-round “elite” travel teams. He was spending almost $20,000 per year, investing in the hope his kid would get free tuition in exchange for playing lacrosse for a college.

If a family has the money, you’re probably asking yourself, why not? My point is if the goal was to get an education, the family could have just invested the money spent on coaching, teams and tournaments into a college fund. They clearly did not analyze the return on investment. Experts say that the chances of getting a full ride to play college lacrosse is less than one percent.

For every sports-crazed parent, there are equally overzealous academically oriented parents who are providing their kids with private tutoring, not because the kids are struggling, but because it is part of their intellectual workout regimen. I know kids who in elementary school had college professors as personal tutors because their parents are trying to give their kids an edge. I know middle school children who have private music instructors with doctorates who are charging their parents three digits an hour. Then there are the personal coaches and strategy programs that teach kids the art of taking a test. College admissions is more about a test score and class rank, and less about a holistic journey and the actual attainment of knowledge.

Over the past four years, I have known kids who devoted their weekends and summers to athletic and academic college entrance preparation. Their goal was to earn an athletic or academic ride in college. All the while, my son worked a part-time job, saved money, bought a car, went to school, played on his high school football team for a year, and the school’s lacrosse team for four years, earned his Eagle Scout and a spot in the National Honor Society and still found the time to do a little volunteering in the community. He had friends and they did stuff together, but he was very much a typical high school kid, including lots of brain rotting X-box playing and laying around with his face buried in his phone.

Now as high school comes to a close, we’re starting to see that all the extra money spent on athletic and academic coaching by other parents didn’t pay off. After four years, the kid whose dad spent thousands of dollars on his lacrosse development ended up getting accepted to an out-of-state college which will cost $40,000 per year. He has no athletic scholarship. The academic kid who trained relentlessly on the weekends to get a perfect test score is attending an instate school. No academic free ride was offered. There are others.

There’s the kid who devoted his life to football in hopes of playing in college. No athletic ride was offered, so odds are he is heading to a state school his parents said. They poured thousands into his development as a football player. Similarly, there is the academic kid who poured all his energy to get into a high-brow school. His parents covered everything, including an admissions adviser that worked with him and coached him on his college applications. His dream school rejected him.

Look, if you’re a parent who has spent money on athletic or academic training to help your kid, and you’ve got the money, and it has worked out for them, then great. If your kids had fun training their brains or their bodies over their weekends and summers, great. I truly hope your kid got what they wanted from your investment. But if you’re a parent who has not made the investment into academic and athletic training, before you invest thousands of dollars into athletic and academic college preparation, take a close look at your parental expectations, do some research and then talk to your kids about what they want to do in life and work with them to set some goals.

We have raised all four of our kids to understand that like us, they also have a job to do. Our job as adults is to do something professionally for our employers. We perform, we get paid. Their “jobs” as kids is to go to school and do their best. The payments for their effort in the classroom are privileges like video gaming, owning a smartphone, and participation in extracurricular activities.

Our approach to school has always been to focus on effort and not grades. The end result for us as parents is that the kids learn, not keep a GPA. We focus on their grasp or mastery of the subject, but if we do use grades it is as guardrails to ensure our kids stay on track. For example, we have online access to their weekly class and assignment grades. Weekly, I check their grades to ensure they are on track, sort of like a one-on-one with your boss at work.

When there is anything below a “C,” whether on an assignment or as an overall class grade, I ask them if they are understanding the subject or if there is a problem in the class. Sometimes it is just inattention to detail that will earn them an average or below average grade (and they’ve gotten plenty of those over their lifetimes). They don’t follow instructions, they make a mistake, but they learn from the mistake, and we move on. No consequences. The less than stellar grade they receive is the consequence.

Other times it can be laziness. My kids have admitted to me when we have these weekly meetings that sometimes they knew an assignment was due, but they were “lazy” and they didn’t do it. When those moments happen, they lose a privilege not because I am punishing them, but because privileges are earned. In the adult world if you do not do the work, you do not get payment. It works the same way in our house.

There are also moments of forgetfulness. Our kids’ elementary school taught them in third grade to use a planner. I wish I could tell you that my kids are effective time managers, but the truth is that they are woefully disorganized most of the time. When they forget to do an assignment and they get a zero or an “F” for failing to turn something in, they lose a privilege. We explain to them that they are losing a privilege because we need to remove a distraction to enable them to better focus on their studies. We remind them about the value of using planners and we move on.

And I know we are in the minority here, but the same goes for athletics. If the kids receive a below average grade because they did not try, or they forgot to do the work, they will miss practices and games that week. As parents, we do not tell the coaches that the kids will be absent. Our kids are required to report their absences to their coaches along with an explanation outlining why they cannot participate.

Focusing on grades, isn’t healthy. We prefer to ensure our kids are learning and for us, that has paid off. Because they are actually trying in school, their grades and standardized test scores are solid and good scores and grades are a byproduct of effort. I should note, all of my kids have gone to tutoring multiple times before or after school with their teachers because they were having trouble with the subject matter and sometimes their grades, no matter how hard they try, are just average or below average. Sometimes that happens, so expecting perfect grades isn’t going to do a lot for your kid’s confidence. The key is to get them to understand the subjects.

Hold your kids accountable for their effort. Ensure they are applying themselves. In most cases, if you’re proactive in your kids’ education, meaning you’re checking in with them to ensure they are learning and trying, their grades will reflect their effort. We have always told our kids it is their job to go to school and learn. That has worked for us and it has recently paid off.

This fall my oldest son is heading to the college. His university offered him a four-year academic ride worth more than $100,000. It will completely cover his tuition. Although the school was not even on his radar initially, he accepted their offer after we explained to him that he should consider the scholarship as a salary he had earned in high school. He thought less about the fact that his dream school had rejected him and he started to focus more on the fact that another school was willing to reward him financially for the work he had put in as a high school student. After a few days of consideration, he accepted their offer.

If your kid plans to go to college, rather than focus on paying a lot of money to give them an academic or athletic edge, instead encourage them to apply themselves and have them set realistic expectations. Every family is different, and every kid is different, but there are multiple ways to earn money for higher education and plenty of ways to get free schooling, but all of it requires work and compromise.

If you’ve got deep pockets and you don’t care about money, you are likely not reading this post anyway. But if you’re smart with your money, teach your kids the value of hard work, but ensure they are balanced in their lives. It is easy to make them robotic, one-dimensional beings good at only throwing a ball or solving hard equations. Success, for my kids, is measured on how they live.

If all goes as planned my son will finish college debt free. I hope he has learned that hard work, learning and living a good life is what got him into college and got him a free ride. He’s earned it.

To me, that’s a pretty good return on investment.

©2020 by Steve Alvarez, Burb Dad.