Making the Most of Our Campus Goodbyes

For most of us, August is one of our favorite months. Memorable vacations, campfires, trips to the pool, Little League playoffs—all packed in with a sense of urgency, for school is just around the corner.

But, for others, August is a time of dread. Take, for example, parents wondering how they will hold it together as they bid farewell to their incoming freshman at his/her new campus home. Their imaginary “practice sessions” didn’t usually end well, so they fear a looming disaster. Sound familiar?

I’ll never forget our first college goodbye experience. Our family set foot on the beautiful campus of Pepperdine University for a 2+ day orientation. The goodbyes wouldn’t come until day three. My wife and I were composed through day two, which was cause for optimism. But, then came Showtime.

We all met in the gym—imagine a jam-packed facility filled with families dreading their final moments! The administrators gave great talks (especially the “don’t helicopter” ones).  All was well until, with no warning, the speaker said, ”Parents, now it’s time for you to leave.” It wasn’t just the abruptness that caught us off guard, but imagine a gymnasium filled with a thousand goodbyes! Are you kidding me? Don’t they know that tears are as contagious as yawns?!? I could feel my composure slipping away, and by the time it was my turn, all I could get out was, “Thanks.” (Postscript: a few days later I penned a letter to Michael saying everything I planned on. And, I did much better the second time around with Lauren!)

Now, from the benefit of experience and as an author of books for parents and teens, I look at this time as an incredible blessing and opportunity. It IS a huge milestone for parents, so there WILL be emotions. That’s okay. After all, this once newborn is now a young adult primed to fulfill his/her dreams and purpose! And their parents played a huge role in shaping this once child for a promising adulthood.

With that, here are some tips to make the most of your goodbye (from both your perspective and that of your teen):

  • Share the honor and privilege it has been to be their parent
  • Let them know you are proud of the person they have become
  • Affirm your belief in them—the person they are, the choices they will make, and the future that lies ahead
  • Acknowledge (and abide by!) your new role as chief coach and encourager. Remember, you’re releasing an eagle to soar, not a kite to control.

(Note that these don’t have to wait until the final goodbye, but they are important messages to share at some point.)

But, now, for a little tough love. There are far too many stories of parents who are holding on for dear life rather than letting go, and it’s not helpful. Here’s a sampler:

  • A mother showing up with her 24-year old son at his final job interview. She cost him the job.
  • Employers who are conducting workshops for managers to deal with parent interference
  • Parents incessantly texting to check in
  • Parents who complain to professors about their student’s grades
  • Parents who feel it’s their duty to intervene when their student faces challenges or the risk of failure
  • Parents whose identity is so consumed by their role as mother and father that they choose to remain in the driver seat rather than move to the passenger seat.

These are real and they are becoming increasingly common. They are self confidence destroyers and entitlement mentality boosters. We can do better—especially for them, but also for us.

 

Few milestones are as emotional and meaningful as our goodbyes when our kids leave home—to colleges or otherwise. Sure, we will miss them, but we can also look forward to a new adult-to-adult relationship, too. So, let’s strive to fill our goodbyes with gratitude, belief, confidence, and love.

 

Have you experienced a college goodbye? How did it go? What other ideas can you share to encourage others in the “letting go” process? We’d love to hear from you.

 

P.S., We invite you to check out our book, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World. Here’s a link to learn more.

Avoid College De-Railers for Optimum Success

The United States has a respectable college enrollment rate—in fact, it’s whopping 70 percent. We can be proud of that. But here’s a startling fact: more than 30 percent of those students will drop out after their first year. That means one third of the people who start on their post-secondary education don’t make it to their sophomore year. We should be concerned about that.

What do these statistics tell us? I interpret it this way: Our society does a great job of encouraging young people to enroll in college or university after high school. It’s of high importance, or else so many people wouldn’t choose this path. However, somewhere, somehow, something is going awry. Are students not receiving the preparation they need to succeed at independent living? Is the “college or bust” message dissuading students from better fitting alternatives? Is school too expensive? Do students feel unimportant and unvalued in their larger classes (small fish in a big pond effect)? Are students making choices that derail their educational career?

It’s likely a combination of all of the above, but today I want to talk about choices—specifically, those that prematurely end college careers. Derailers come in many forms, so we encourage you to discuss these with your student(s) before they land on campus:

  1. So much freedom, so soon! Although academics and a future career are the core reasons for attending college, other (more) appealing activities abound! Use your newfound freedom to become a wise manager of your time and priorities. Sure, it’s great to stay up as late as you want,, but remember the choices you make with your recent autonomy will affect your class attendance, your overall academic experience, and even your financial aid package. Put simply: Don’t skip class! Similarly, be wise when making your social, recreational, and activity choices. The party scene and all it’s trappings can easily be the beginning of a very slippery slope. Remember, studies are the top priority—your “job” so to speak. The rest is frosting on the cake.

 

  1. Financial irresponsibility. I’ll never forget what it felt like to check my bank account when I was in college. It wasn’t unheard of to only have 50, 25, or even 10 dollars in there. Frivolous spending on unnecessary eating-out, coffee, clothes, or entertainment could have seriously de-railed my entire college education. If you’re in a similar boat, keep your end goal in mind to help you curb the temptation to spend. Remember, if you save now and focus on school, you’ll reap the benefits later. Budgeting and self discipline make all the difference.

 

  1. Poor study habits. College is harder and more competitive than high school. There are longer papers, more intense exams, and higher expectations. Discipline and focus are key if you want to succeed (and make it to graduation!). Manage your time wisely, create a study planner, and don’t participate in “extra” activities until all of your homework and studying are complete. (If you’re looking for more advice on creating good study disciplines, we devote an entire chapter to it in What I Wish I Knew at 18. You can buy the book here.)

 

  1. Surrounding yourself with the wrong people. It’s crucial that you surround yourself with positive influences during this time in your life. Hanging out with the wrong crowd can hinder your success in a variety of ways (and just because you’re not in high school anymore doesn’t mean you’re immune to peer-pressure!). Creating lasting friendships with like-minded people can take time and effort, so be patient and know you may need to put yourself in new environments in order to make new friends. Think “positivity” in everything you do and everyone you are with!

I hope this advice—coming from someone not too far removed from the college experience—can help you prepare your student for what’s ahead. And, if you need one more statistic to show what’s at stake, I’ll leave you with this: college dropouts make one million dollars less over the span of their careers than individuals with degrees!*

Success in college comes from knowing what to do and what de-railers to avoid. By discussing these before the fact, we can improve our graduation rates and the futures of our next generation.

*Source: “The Economic Value of College Majors,” by Georgetown University Center on Education and The Workforce. https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Exec-Summary-web-B.pdf

Facing Adversity? Reach Out to Others.

Sometimes life just isn’t easy. Of course we wish it was, but bumps in the road, let-downs, and even heartbreak are inevitable. I bet you can think of more than a dozen situations when life just hasn’t gone your way. When we go through adversity, it’s easy to lose perspective and become consumed by our own situation. Sometimes, the hardships are significant and unquestionable. Other times, we might be making more out of our plight than it deserves, or as my mom used to say, we make mountains out of molehills.

Whether or not that is the case, there is a proven and effective solution for working through loss, obstacles, and adversity that may surprise you (and may even seem hard to do). It comes not by increasing our attention to our situation, but by focusing on others. You may not realize it, but it’s a total “win-win” situation. Let me explain…

 “A few years ago in a small, rural town in Oregon, a teenage boy died in a drowning accident. In all likelihood his death could have been prevented if an ambulance and trained medical personnel had been available. However, this small town was too poor to afford these services.

The boy’s mother grieved for the loss of her son, but she also transformed her grief into a service to her community. While she could not regain her son, she worked to prevent a similar tragedy. This resilient and determined woman became trained as an Emergency Medical Technician. After completing her training she raised money to purchase an ambulance and trained volunteers to help her. It is estimated that this volunteer ambulance service has saved the lives of over 100 people who might have died, like her son, due to a lack of emergency care. When interviewed, this woman said, ‘It’s easier to forget your own loss when you are busy helping others.’”*

If you’re currently in the valley and navigating a trial, find a way to help others even less fortunate than you. This could be a community service opportunity, a mission trip, or a visit to a soup kitchen, hospital, or just taking someone a meal. Or, reach out to a friend who you know is also going through a hard time. Offer to take them out to coffee and give them your undivided attention. Your compassion, encouragement, and maybe even your suggestions might make the world of difference.

When you look outside yourself and focus on others, truly remarkable things can happen. For one, you may find your situation isn’t as troubling or bleak as you thought. Learning of others’ struggles may make you feel more grateful for what you have. Secondly, you’ll experience joy and satisfaction from helping others. You’ll begin to count your blessings, which are easy to forget when facing tough challenges. It also helps you forget your own problems for a while and gives you a completely new perspective (which, many times, is exactly what you need!). Thirdly, just knowing you’ve helped someone out and lifted their spirits is enough to raise your own!

Have you ever reached out to other people in the midst of adversity? What effect did it have on your outlook? What became of your situation? As always, we’d love to hear from you!

*Story excerpted from The Healing Power of Service, by Edward V. Brown, as shared on www.energizeinc.com.

A Millennial’s Guide: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

Recent high school graduates: do you ever feel unsure of what’s to come? Are you anxious about your future, whether it’s over your relationships, choice of major, or career goals? Do you wonder if life after high school is all that it’s cracked-up to be? Parents: Do you worry about the day when your teen will move out and enter the real world? Are you worried they aren’t fully equipped? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, here is some encouragement and insight in this third installment of my “What I Wish I Knew Before College” series.

In case you missed the first two posts on this topic, I’m Heather Sipes, the Communications and Marketing manager for LifeSmart Publishing. I am a millennial myself, and eager to help you and your student(s) navigate this season of change. You can view the previous weeks’ posts here and here.

Without further ado, let’s get started. I’d like to close this series with the singular final thing I wish I knew the summer after I graduated high school. If I knew then what I know now, I feel that I (and my parents!) could have started on a much stronger foot.

You might have mixed feelings about your parents. I’ll never forget the week I moved into the dorm in my freshman year. My mom flew down to help get me moved in, and she was more than helpful. She stayed in the dorms with me the first couple nights, and I could tell she was excited for this new season in my life. She wanted to be engaged and involved with all that she could—probably because deep down, she was experiencing the mixed emotions of “letting go” and wouldn’t see me for a couple months. I, however, seemed to have different feelings.

I wanted to meet new friends and flap my newly independent wings. I wanted to hang out late in the dorm rooms with my new hall mates—not my mom! I’d been waiting for my whole life for this stage, yet my mom was lingering around, taking in these final moments before heading home. Looking back, I feel deep remorse about the way I treated her that week, and wish I could have a do-over.

This is what I’d like to impart to you, ten years later. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can imagine how my mom must have felt that week: Scared to let go, sad to say goodbye, and nostalgic about memories with her once little (now big!) oldest daughter. It’s totally relatable. I can’t even bear to think about one of my little girls growing up and moving somewhere two states away!

Teens, remember this: Please, please, please try not to take your parents for granted. Know that all of their “hovering” and all of their “hanging around,” is because they love you. They’re proud of you and actually enjoy spending time with you. They love being with the adult you’ve become. They don’t want to put a damper on your next chapter, they simply want to soak up every minute with you they can. Cherish and embrace this and don’t hold back from exploring what a new adult-to-adult relationship can look like with them (rather than parent-child). You may not even realize there is a special, unique friendship with your parents just waiting to be kindled.

Parents: Know that things might get a bit awkward during this time when you want to be present, but they’re feeling pulled to practice independence. Let your teen know that you’ll give them space if they need it, but also tell them you’re always there to help, guide, or offer support. Remember to be their chief encourager during this time as you move from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat. Being on the sidelines isn’t a bad thing—you’ll get to root for and encourage one of your favorite people in the whole world. Be their biggest fan—they’ll need it in the years to come!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as the back-to-school season is approaching. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments—I’m happy to provide any help that I can. Thanks for stopping by!

A Millennial’s Guide: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 2

Hi, it’s Heather Sipes, Life Smart Communications Director and “upper millennial,” back for round two! I hope you’re enjoying this series focusing on the things I wish I knew before I started university. Hopefully this is a great resource for those of you who are teens, and also for those of you parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches who are guiding them. In case you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

This week, I’d like to focus on some other aspects of post-high school education that aren’t usually talked about beforehand, but will give you a broader understanding of what’s to come.

  1. If you’re religious, you might come to question your faith. My spiritual beliefs were a big part of my life when I started university. I went to a Christian liberal arts college, and I half-expected some of my classes to feel a bit like Sunday School. Boy, was I wrong! College completely rocked my entire faith system and forced me to question WHY I believe what I believe. One of the greatest takeaways from my college experience was that I built a strong foundation for my personal spiritual values, and learned to not just believe in them because my parents told me they were true. (You’ll soon learn—“because my parents said”—is not a good reason to believe anything! Sorry, parents! We still love you!)

 

Even if you aren’t religious, you’ll learn that asking WHY in regards to your long-held suppositions will benefit you greatly in life. By digging deeper into your beliefs and premises you will build a stronger foundation of knowledge, confidence, and truth to sustain you in life.

 

  1. This is the only time in your life that you’ll live footsteps away from a gym and your membership will be free. The “freshman 15” is not a myth. It is not going to happen to everyone else except you—no one is immune! When you don’t have class, make physical health a priority and utilize the resource of your school’s free student athletic center. Or, look into joining an intramural sports team (what a great way to make new friends!).

 

Ten years from now, you may be enjoying your local fitness club membership, but it won’t be because of the weight you gained in your freshman year of college!

 

  1. Don’t carve your major and minor choices in stone before you start school. If you told me in high school that I wouldn’t end up majoring in what I was convinced I was going to major in, I never would have believed you. Guess what? I changed my major twice, and that’s the norm! It may sound cliché, but keep an open mind, and take a wide variety of classes your freshman year (especially your first semester or quarter). You never know what may spark an interest you didn’t even know you had! Also, don’t be surprised if your anticipated major loses its appeal when you begin taking upper courses. It happens all the time.

 

I hope the above information is helpful as you, or the teens under your influence, navigate this special time in life. Stay tuned for next week when I will share the final installment in this three-part series.

What do you wish you knew before you started college or career? If you knew then what you know now, what would you do differently?

A Millenial’s Guide: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 1

For the next few weeks, we’re delighted to have Heather Sipes, Social Media and Communications Director at LifeSmart, offer her insights to our audience. Take it away, Heather!  

My first year of college was about 10 years ago. I was bright-eyed and my heart was bursting with idealistic dreams for my future. It was hard to not romanticize this next step in my life, and I was convinced I was about to embark on the most fun, life-changing, and insightful season. I mean, these are the best years of our lives, right?

Indeed, my college experience was pretty amazing, but there are several things I wish someone told me before I started—preferably someone from my generation, who had recently completed their college work. Someone with fresh, practical advice to help prepare me for the next season. That’s what I’ll be doing for you and your students in these next few emails.

So, from older millennial to younger millennial—here are some things I wish someone told me the summer before my freshman year of college.

 

  1. See college as an opportunity to expand your interests and activities. A lot of us were wrapped up in our identity as high schoolers. I was a cheerleader and an honor student. That was pretty much my entire sphere, as my life revolved around cheer practice, games, and studying. Rinse, wash, repeat. I’m sure many people can identify with this same notion: you’re either a football player or a star track athlete or a debate champ or the ASB President. Your main activity feels like WHO YOU ARE. (Often, our parents can get wrapped up in this identity too, and they put pressure on us to continue our singular pursuits in college because it feels to them like our non-stop ticket to success.) But I want to encourage you to open yourself up to new interests and activities in college. Don’t feel guilty if you decide to ditch your high school sport or activity. You will be amazed at what you have inside that you never knew was there. Seriously! I fell in love with philosophy in college. I never knew I had it in me!

College is also an opportunity for a do-over. Maybe you didn’t like your identity or reputation in high school. Maybe you didn’t study enough or you partied or skipped too much. See college as an opportunity to start fresh, explore new opportunities, and find yourself a niche. Or, maybe you don’t find a niche, but you sample a wide range of things you’ve never done before. Even if nothing sticks long-term, your world will become bigger and you will become well-rounded.

 

  1. Your class attendance is directly correlated to your grades. I’ll never forget how excited I was at the prospect of showing up to class only when I felt like it. There was no mom in the dorms to wake me up for class and no pressure to attend when I could simply do the assigned reading that night. I was told that lectures weren’t really “that important” and that professors never took attendance. BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU TO GO TO CLASS! Get out of bed, show up on time, listen to the lecture, take notes, and participate in discussions. I don’t care what anyone says. Your presence in the classroom (or lecture hall or auditorium) will have a direct impact on your grades. Even if you’re able to look up lecture notes online, they will not serve you as well as your physical presence in the classroom.

 

  1. That party won’t be as fun as you think. Many young people entering university have visions of weekends spent partying with peers. Weekends filled with booze and binges and loud music and bad decisions. It’s crucial for them to know that this avenue is not It is not enjoyable as you imagine. I certainly never experienced a college party and thought to myself, “This is so uplifting. I am making so many life-long friends.” The magnetic allure of the partying lifestyle (including both alcohol and promiscuity) is superficial, dangerous, and a slippery slope that will add little value to your life. For many, it becomes their college de-railer.

 

Take it from me, your best friends will likely be made in your dorm hall or a shared class rather than at a boozy party. Your serious college boyfriend or girlfriend will not be that random hook-up you hardly remember. Your best memories will be your sober ones. Hopefully you’ll learn this lesson early in the game—or, better yet, before it starts.

 

I am so happy to be a part of this series and share my insight. Remember to enter your college years with an open mind and be ready to embrace whatever life throws your way. Stay tuned for next week when I’ll introduce part two to this Millennial’s Guide to college life. Thanks for stopping by!

3 Ways to Help Teens Be Their Best Selves

I’m sure we can all relate. There are teens in your life (whether your children, students, or mentees) whom you want to see thrive. You want nothing but the best for them, and it can be discouraging when they make unwise decisions or when they perform poorly in a class, job interview, presentation, networking opportunity, or the like. Your first instinct is to wish you could have been their “inner coach.” But, then you realize that much of our personal growth comes from our disappointments and mistakes.  Experience is the best teacher of all, isn’t it?

However, since we are the ones with the life experience, it is our job as parents, teachers, and mentors to share our wisdom and lead by example. We want the teens in our lives to be their best selves in all arenas of their lives (school, relationships, sports, family, spiritual life, job, etc.), so it’s up to us to show them our best selves as well.  Here are three ways that you can help your teen be his or her best self and excel to the best of their ability.

  1. Remind them about the importance of positivity and an uplifting attitude. No one enjoys a Debbie Downer! This is especially true at job interviews and other similar networking opportunities. If your teen is looking for a last-minute summer job or hoping to nail down an internship, talk to them about the importance of positivity. Employers are much less likely to hire someone who has a negative, sullen countenance. Make a concerted effort to model this behavior yourself. When an unexpected situation arises, do a self-check and note the kind of behavior you are modeling around your teen. Positivity is not only good for our own morale, but also the morale of others. An attitude that uplifts others will benefit them not only on the job search—it will likely impact every area of their life for the better!
  2. Help them master the art of making a great first impression. As teens mature, their relational skills become that much more important. There are new friends to make, new jobs to land, new ambassadors to cultivate for their network, and perhaps interviews for college and scholarships. Today’s younger generation is far more casual than their adult counterparts, and many are flunking the test in more professional settings. The sooner they can develop an A game when meeting new people (especially adults!), the more successful they will be. Create fun role-play scenarios that involve new social settings and job interviews to help them build confidence when meeting new people. And, encourage them to view every adult they meet as potentially the most important person they’ll ever know. Trust me, they WILL stand out if they do.
  3. Don’t forget to instill an appreciation for (and the practice of) politeness. ‘Pleases’ and ‘thank-yous’ go a long way in every facet of life (job interviews, networking meetings, social settings, first dates, etc.). This is another area that we as parents and teachers can model ourselves. Do we make a conscious effort to be polite to both strangers and friends? How about within our families? Impress upon your teen that manners are essential to building a great personal brand.

 

One of the greatest assets we have to offer the teens in our lives is our wisdom and life experience. Let’s use it to their benefit by building the life skills that will help them thrive in the real world. It starts with leading by example—because our actions usually speak louder than our words!

6 Easy Ways to Show You Care

I hope this post finds you refreshed and uplifted after a Father’s Day well-spent with your family. Father’s day is such a special time to focus on the dads in our lives and show them our appreciation and love. This day always reminds me of the value of relationships—of mine with my parents and with my kids. I’m reminded of the strategic impact that fathers have in the roles of their children, even years after they’ve left the house!

As I reflect on the value of the relationships in my life, I’m reminded of our culture’s vulnerability to two conflicting priorities: relationships and things. While our society has progressed in many respects over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we’ve regressed in terms of relational health and depth. Sadly, with the distractions of technology and busyness, it seems to be getting worse.

Have you taken the time to think about what you really value in life lately? What are you communicating about your priorities to the ones you love—whether intentionally or unintentionally? You can use the following list as either a self-check or a to-do list. Either way, we hope it gives you some inspiration and ideas for communicating your love to others (dads, friends, children, and beyond):

  1. Be fully in the moment. When you’re with someone, be completely engaged (not on your phone, scrolling through Instagram, playing Candy Crush, Snapchatting, etc.).
  2. In a tug of war between relationships and tasks, give the edge to relationships. Our tasks may seem urgent, but relationships should take priority. This is especially true when our children need our attention. Compromise your inconvenience for the times they need your counsel.
  3. Keep family and close friends at the top of your priority list in terms of time and energy. Don’t just give them the leftovers! They deserve your best self.
  4. Express appreciation regularly. Be grateful for the people in your life and share your feelings with them. (I doubt that my kids could have known that my all-time favorite Father’s Day gift from them would be a license plate frame with the engraved words, “Dad’s are cool!”)
  5. Praise them in front of other people. Say something nice about then when they are in earshot. You will help build their self-worth and indirectly communicate how much you value them (parents, this is a great pointer for you!).
  6. Forgive offenses quickly and (really) let them go. After all, you’d want your loved ones to do the same for you, right? On a related note, pick your battles carefully and when arguments do arise, keep your cool and be an agreeable disagreer.

 

Do the people you love know how much you care about them? What creative ideas, license plate frames or otherwise, would you be willing to share?

7 Relationship-Building Activities to Do with Your Teen This Summer

Now that school is out and summer is in full swing (already?), you maybe be wondering, “Now what are we going to do for the next two-and-a-half months?” Summer is the best time to take advantage of your teen(s) presence and availability—use it to slip in some special moments that will build your relationship and just have fun.

  1. Go on a hike. What better way is there to have an impactful conversation and build relationship capital with your teen than enjoying the great outdoors and some fresh air? Take this time to ask them questions, like their favorite thing about the past school year, what they value, goals for the coming year, and where they see themselves in five years.
  2. Play an outdoor game. Some of my favorite memories with my family happened outside on the lawn, usually right after dinner (magic hour!). Play a game of kick-the-can, “lawn golf” (example here) or corn hole. These games make for great laughter, friendly competition, and help us unwind after a hectic week.
  3. Go to a sporting event. There’s nothing like a Major (or minor) League Baseball game to help you bond with your teen. Don’t forget the garlic fries and a good selfie!
  4. Innertube a river or stream. This one might sound a little lame, and I thought so too until I did it for the first time! I hooked up with a pal and we slowly floated down the gentle rapids while sipping cream soda. It made for some seriously awesome conversation and relaxation.
  5. Consider planning a progressive dinner with your teen’s friends/friends’ parents. If your teen is part of a large group of friends who all live in the same general area, think about a progressive dinner. Appetizers at your house, dinner at a friend’s house, and dessert at yet another! It’s a great way to spend quality time with your teen, see them in their element, and get to know their friends’ parents a little better.
  6. Go on night walks and build campfires. It’s amazing how conversations open up under the stars with a s’more in hand!
  7. Create a dream board. Ask your teen if they’d be willing to make a dream board or notebook that contains all the things they’d like to see happen in the next couple years. Get creative and cut out pictures (examples: a cap and gown to represent high school graduation, the logo of the company they hope to work for, a picture of the mascot of their dream college, a picture of the car they’d like to buy…the options are endless!). This is a great way to keep the end prize(s) in mind as they enjoy the summer.

Remember, your teen experiences a ton of pressure during the school year with academics, extracurricular activities, plans for future college/career, and more (I still remember it vividly!). Use the summer months as a time to help them relax and de-stress (note: this is good for adults, too!). Remind them that it’s okay to slow down and take a breather. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and these younger years will be gone in the blink of an eye!

What timeless memories can you build with your teen this summer?

An Invaluable Summer Project for Your Teen

Summertime offers many wonderful opportunities to enjoy, explore, and create. We might travel to distant places or camp in a nearby park, gazing at the stars with our s’more in hand. We might read books, check out a concert, take a class just for the heck of it, or learn a new skill. We might even shoot our record round of golf! The possibilities are endless.

But, here’s an idea that meets the “enjoy, explore, and create” test, but costs nothing, can be done anywhere, is not weather dependent, is sure to please all involved, and might just be the most valuable summer project EVER for your high schooler (and maybe even for you)! Any guesses?

The answer is to develop your very own Personal Balance Sheet. (And, I’m not talking about the financial kind.) It might not be as thrilling as a raft trip down the Snake River, but hear me out.

The high school years should be a time of self-discovery and self-awareness. You know, being able to answer the fundamental questions of: Who am I? What do I have to offer? And lastly, What are my opportunities for fulfillment? After all, if your teens haven’t already, they’ll soon be taking courses or attending programs on college and career planning to plot their course. All of this planning implies that students are sufficiently self-aware to judge correctly.

But, is this true?

In my visits with high school students, I’m struck by their lack of self-awareness. All too often, I see students who are insecure about their future because they don’t perceive their value. They don’t understand how they can make a difference. Sometimes it’s from the feeling they can never measure up to the standards of performance-driven parents. Others lack affirmation and a loving support structure. Regardless of the source, too many students are making fundamental life decisions about their future without first having clarity about their identity and dreams. It’s the proverbial cart before the horse.

 

To address this need, we’ve developed a self-discovery leadership assignment that we call the Personal Balance Sheet. Think of it as a personal adaptation of the balance sheet from the business world, but with different categories and without actual numbers. It inventories our assets and our constraints (which a business would term a liability) and creates an overall statement of our value proposition to this world. Wow!

The Personal Balance sheet, which you can access here, is a fantastic project for the entire family or for schools to assign over the summer. It begins with the students taking an open-ended self-assessment of what they consider to be their greatest assets and constraints. But, even more important, they conduct interviews with selected adults in their lives (e.g., parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, mentors) who know them well and have their best interests at heart. From them, they receive their perspectives of their greatest strengths and constraints. The initial list developed by the student is enriched by the invaluable viewpoints of others. It’s both inspirational and revealing.

The end result of completing this exercise is a much more complete and accurate understanding of ourselves—who we are, what we have to offer, and how we might direct our future to make a difference! Just in time for all of our next step preparations, but this time, from a position of strength and clarity!

May this be the summer of self discovery for the teen(s) in your life!