Ken Rona on How to Be a More Engaged Parent

In Chapter 4 of 15 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, digital media executive Ken Rona answers "What Does It Mean For You to Be Engaged in Your Children's Education?"  Rona reflects back on his own childhood education experience growing up with Eastern European immigrant parents and taking on school more or less alone.  As a parent, Rona shares how he stays engaged as an advocate for his 7-year old daughter and his son in Pre-Kindergarten. 

Ken Rona is a Vice President at Turner Broadcasting, where he leads teams across advertising sales, big data software development and business strategy.  Rona earned a BA and MA in Political Science from Stony Brook University and a PhD in Behavioral Economics from Duke University. 


Erik Michielsen: What does it mean for you to be engaged in your children’s education?

Ken Rona: I think folks would say I’m a very engaged parent. When I was growing up, my parents were busy earning a living. That they worked very hard to keep food on the table, and keep us, you know, in clothes, you know, we had a lower middle cla—what I would call lower middle class existence. And we had everything we needed but not much more. We had, you know, a few toys but it was, you know, a pretty modest life. And I kind of had to figure out school by myself. I more or less was left alone to kind of figure that stuff out. And I made some choices—I’m not exactly sure that they were wrong, I mean I certainly turned out well. 

But certainly early on, certainly like from junior high school, high school, and into college, parents weren’t very involved. Partly by my design, truthfully, they probably wanted to be more involved and I kind of kept things at arms bay and—because I thought that I could make—I was a person on the ground, right, I was a person that could make decisions better. And part of it is because my parents were eastern European immigrants, right? 

So part of my involvement with their education is to say I believe that you can have a better experience than mine in school. And I am one of the science dads, me and one of the other dads come in and do science experiments for the kids. Charlotte certainly understands what an experiment hypothesis is—at least on a basic level. I’ve tried very hard not to be, you know—what I’m committed to is not being a helicopter parent, right? The kids have to figure out their own way but in an appropriate pace, right? 

So I’m sure by—I’m sure by grade 12, our involvement will be much less after colleges are picked. But for now, I’m very committed to staying engaged and making sure that Charlotte has a good experience and that she has an advocate. So I would say actually that the primary way I’m involved with Charlotte’s school is that I’m an advocate for her, not that—and I’m trying to teach her to advocate for herself. Both my wife and I would say that I think that—and you know, she’s 7, so she’s not really in a position—although she does a—I think a pretty good job of it. 

So my involvement is, you know, is to be an appropriate advocate. I’m not planning on—I’m not planning on being one of these parents that calls up your kid’s first job and say why didn’t you promote him, right? That’s not—That’s—They’ve gotta run there.  But I think at age 7, at age 8, you know, for the foreseeable future, her mother and I and Doyle—you know, Doyle requires less advocacy at this moment, because he’s in preschool, but I would expect that we will continue advocacy, but interestingly you know, we—You also have to be really thoughtful about when you don’t advocate. 

So—just today, we got the class list for what class she’s—Charlotte’s gonna be in next year, and she’s—there are 3 classes in her school, each class has 21 kids, and there’s a shuffling from year 1—from 1st grade to 2nd grade, and Charlotte’s—like we’re not super thrilled with Charlotte’s shuffle. There are a very few friends from that class in her new class, right? Seems like—and I think that’s a shame, right? Because we just moved to Atlanta. And I—My wife and I haven’t discussed it but I’m pretty sure we’re on the same side of it like we’re not gonna advocate for changing a class, we’re not gonna—like Charlotte’s gotta kind of figure out how to be successful in an environment which is very friendly, right. Is it exactly what I would’ve wished for her? No. But like that is part of our existence, right, that you—that—this is not an incredible hardship, right? She certainly has friends in the class, she will make other friends. She knows all of those children. I would’ve liked that one or two of her close friends would’ve been in the class, that didn’t go that way. It’s gonna be fine, right? 

So I think that part of what you need to be able to do in supporting your children’s education is knowing when to not advocate, right, when to hold back and not be involved, because I think being involved is actually easy. You can just say yeah I gonna be involved. I think restraint is the harder part.