Finding Gratitude in all Circumstances

I am thankful for my five little neighbor girls, who among other things, throw wet leaves at me.

~ Dennis Trittin

It’s Thanksgiving Week, and that means our usual blog on the topic of gratitude. In normal years, this marks the beginning of the holiday season with tremendous anticipation, but this year has a heaviness to it, doesn’t it? We’ve been enduring one “Kaboom” after another, and, let’s face it, we’re having to work a little harder at being our usual thankful selves. Although we’re called to be thankful in all circumstances (yes, all!), some years are easier than others.  

So, I decided to do something a little different this year. Rather than my expounding on “all things gratitude,” I sleuthed out my favorite quotes from others that I think have special relevance this year. For your convenience, I grouped them into four thematic buckets, because each has a different spin on the topic. I hope they speak to you as much as they do to me.   

What it Is

Dictionary.com defines gratitude as, “The quality or feeling of being grateful or thankful.” I like their description of it as a quality or feeling, because gratitude is part attitude and part choice. Along with “Joy,” it occupies a special place as one of my two favorite words. Here are some great quotes that capture the essence of gratitude:

Gratitude is the memory of the heart.

~ Jean Baptiste Massieu

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, 
but rejoices for those which he has.

~ Epictetus

Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.

~ Voltaire

What it Does

Gratitude offers so much to us individually and collectively. We are naturally drawn toward uplifting, “glass is half full” people in contrast to those who act entitled or unappreciative. The differences in mood and outlook are day and night, and no wonder. Here are some great sentiments on the value of gratitude: 

Gratitude turns what we have into enough.

~ Melody Beattie

Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. 
It liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation.

~ John Ortberg

It’s a funny thing about life. Once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, 
you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.

~ Germany Kent

Things turn out best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.

~John Wooden

Replace fear with gratitude, and the whole world changes.

~ Terri Guillemets

The Spiritual Connection

Arguably, few things do more for the soul than being grateful. It’s a powerful combination of thankfulness and contentment, which we all long for but don’t always possess. Here are some inspiring words that have special meaning to me from a spiritual standpoint:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances,
 for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

~ Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

For each new morning with its light

For rest and shelter of the night

For health and food, for love and friends

For everything Thy goodness sends.

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our Challenge

So, how do we take an attitude of gratitude to heart, even in times when we’re unsettled, weary, fearful, hurting, lonely, or angry? In addition to gratitude journals and jars, meal conversations, or evening prayers, here are some great quotes to guide us along: 

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. 
The other is as though everything is a miracle.

~ Albert Einstein

There is no greater difference between men than between grateful and ungrateful people.

~ R. H. Blyth

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.

~ Tecumseh

Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.

~ Alphonse Karr

Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence; 
we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart.

~ Larissa Gomez

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that 
the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.

~ John F. Kennedy

Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at LifeSmart!

P.S. We’d like to thank the following sites for the quotes referenced above: Quotegarden.com, CountryLiving.com, HealthyHappyImpactful.com, Success.com, and Inc.com

[Video] Our Tip for Raising Younger Leaders

If you’re a parent, caregiver, educator, or mentor of elementary-aged kiddos, this one’s for you!

Earlier this year, I was invited to speak at a Moms program that focuses on the K-5 stage of parenting. Given that most of our parenting talks focus on the teen and young adult years, this was a fun extension of our mission of training up leaders. After all, it’s never too early to start building those skills that will serve a lifetime! 

It’ll come as no surprise that my in-person talks were cancelled. But, at the host’s request, I created a video of my talk that we were later able to edit for general audiences.  “Parenting Today with Tomorrow in Mind,” offers encouragement and parenting strategies to navigate the elementary-aged years, while providing a glimpse ahead to the dynamic teen years. Here is a sneak preview of some topics I address:

 ·    Cultivating self-awareness, leadership skills, core values, and life skills
·      Creating a positive home environment
·      Parenting tips and ideas for raising “littles”
·      Parenting styles and their impact

I hope you, and your friends who are “in this space,” enjoy my talk and this video!

You can access it here at:  https://vimeo.com/413783760

To better parenting!

 The LifeSmart Team

7 Great Books For Your Parenting Toolkit

As co-authors of two parenting books (Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real Worldand Wings Not Strings: Parenting Strategies to Let Go with Confidence), we greatly enjoy (and benefit from) the writings and perspectives of our peers. We especially appreciate books that discuss the state of children and young adults and those offering practical parenting tips to add to our quiver. Truth be told, writing parenting books is a convicting experience because neither we, nor anyone else, is a perfect parent. As such, the works of others provides new insights and reality checks on the guidance we give through our writings. 

In the past several years, we have read numerous books that we wish we had while our children were under our roofs. Each offers unique insights and thoughtful advice and wisdom. So, with a spirit of gratitude to these authors and our desire to encourage and equip those of you who are parents, we offer these book recommendations to add to your parenting quiver. 

Parent on Purpose, by Amy Carney. Amy offers compelling wisdom and strategies to help parents lead, love, and launch their children to fulfill their dreams and purpose. It’s an inspiring and practical guidebook to building and sustaining a strong family.

Get the Behavior You Want without Being the Parent You Hate! by Deborah Gilboa, MD. Dr. G guides readers to raise children who are responsible, respectful, and resilient—her 3 R’s. Geared toward parents of young children to pre-teenagers, she offers practical tips for growing these leadership skills in different stages of childhood. 

Boy Mom, by Monica Swanson. Don’t be fooled by the title because this book is just as compelling for moms of girls! Monica tackles challenging issues like focusing on the big picture, setting boundaries, building a strong relationship, fostering confidence and emotional health, cultivating strong character, and teaching the value of work, with uncommon wisdom and flair. 

How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough. Paul takes head on the fallacy that success is about smarts. Rather, it’s about non-cognitive (character-related) skills such as grit, optimism, resilience, motivation, integrity, social agility, gratitude, and resourcefulness. It’s a healthy reminder to parents of the importance of building a leadership foundation in our kids. 

Your Teenager is Not Crazy, by Dr. Jeramy Clark and Jerusha Clark. The teen years are filled with angst and wonder. This book shares the changes teens face, and with uncommon compassion and empathy, offers practical advice to help them navigate their biggest worries and challenges. It’s a book every teen would want his/her parent to read. 

How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims. With the uncommon perspective of a former dean of freshmen at Stanford University, Julie understands the young adult landscape like few others. With this firm foundation, she attributes many student challenges to the way they are parented. This is a no-nonsense challenge to helicopter parenting in order to build independent, competent, and confident young adults. 

Connect with Your Kid: Mastering the Top 10 Parent-Child Communication Skills, by Dennis E. Coates, PhD. An expert in brain research, Dr. Coates expands his territory into the softer aspects of parenting: building an enduring relationship and communicating effectively in the often-charged teen years. He offers essential skill-building tips in areas such as listening, coaching, encouraging, appreciating, giving feedback, engaging, and resolving conflict. 

We strongly endorse these books and are confident that they will help you become the best parent you can be. 

Happy Reading,

The LifeSmart Team

Can Good Business Principles Make us Better Parents?

I know what you’re probably thinking. “Is this guy crazy? What could business principles have anything to do with the way I am raising my children?” And “Can parenting well really make me a better supervisor?”

But, hear me out. I actually think you may be surprised!

As most of you know, I enjoyed a successful, 30-year business career before founding LifeSmart Publishing. Through most of it, I worked for an incredible global company, Russell Investments, who was awarded “Best Place to Work” any number of times. And, I spent 27 years evaluating organizations and leaders—researching and observing the best and brightest. I learned their best practices and applied them to the best of my ability when managing my employees.

During this period, I also became a father of two kids who are as different as day and night—that would be Michael and Lauren. After some time, I realized that what I learned in the business arena could be applied to my parenting… and, what I learned in my parenting could be applied to my management! And I think my lessons can work for you, too.

So, here goes—six successful business strategies to help you become a better parent!

1. Adopt a goal orientation: We all achieve more when we set goals. Whether it’s a five-year strategic plan or a daily to do list, our goals give us focus, direction, and a target to hit. They help keep us motivated, too. And, so it goes with parenting. What if we were to set goals for our parenting? For our families? And, to encourage our children to be consistent goal setters? No doubt about it, we’ll accomplish more. You can find a sample Parenting Mission Statement here which helps us develop family goals.

So, be as strategic as you can and don’t let the day-to-day busyness keep you from achieving your longer-term goals.

2. Utilize effective motivational techniques: Whether we’re in the management or parenting realms, we notice that some people are self motivated while others need a little nudge. Researchers have discovered that among the top motivators of a workforce are being: 1) appreciated and recognized, 2) invited into and involved in decisions, and 3) understood by their “boss.” And, so it goes with parenting a teenager, doesn’t it? We regularly hear complaints from teens that their parents: 1) seem to stress their performance rather than the person they are, 2) make all the decisions or minimize their input, and 3) don’t listen to or try to understand them and their world. The parallels are striking, aren’t they? 

3. Empower rather than micromanage: Most of us loathe having controlling supervisors who hover, nag, interfere, and manipulate. We feel disrespected, devalued, disempowered, and distrusted, and rightfully so. And, so it goes with the helicopter parent who employs these same micromanagement tendencies with their teens. Isn’t it interesting that we detest it when it happens to us at work, yet we can fall into this same trap when we parent? But, when we adopt an empowering parenting style, our teens will develop greater self confidence and decision-making skills. 

4. Promote high standards and strong character: As managers, we certainly want our employees to perform. And yet, the most successful leaders stress the importance of upholding high standards of excellence, including strong character and ethical behavior. Qualities like integrity, dependability, initiative, team-mindedness, positivity, self control, work ethic, and resilience are telltale signs of excellent employees. So, when it comes to parenting, let’s remember to honor the great character traits and behaviors in our children, not just their outcomes. It will serve them well in all aspects of life.

5. Engage in effective collaboration: In today’s more relational workplace, teamwork is highly valued. Being able to work effectively with others with different skills, styles, and backgrounds in a harmonious way produces happier workers and better outcomes. The same is true of families who value one another, work together on family projects and chores, and invest in their relationships. While the teen years can bring extra relationship challenges when children express greater independence (and sometimes appear to devalue their parents’ input), it nonetheless is helpful to reinforce the “family as team” whenever possible. One team, one dream, does pay off. 

6. Commit to continuous improvement: As the world has become more competitive, companies are managing their personnel more intensively. Nowadays, we have to deliver excellent performance just to keep our jobs. So, it’s not surprising that employees who are committed to continuously improve their skills through training, etc. are best positioned to succeed. And, so it goes with our children. By building a growth mindset and a love of learning and self improvement in our children, parents can prepare them for the demands of the real world and help them fulfill their dreams. So, encourage your children to seize those opportunities to sharpen their body, mind, and spirit. It’s huge.

So, taking a page from the business management playbook can actually help in our parenting and pay dividends, too. Keep an open mind, give it a try, and let us know how it goes. 

We invite you to explore our two parenting books, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and Wings Not Strings: Parenting Strategies to Let Go with Confidence. Each reinforce these lessons and offer parents practical strategies and encouragement for navigating the teen years.

To better parenting…and managing! 

Financial Lessons from 2020 (So Far)

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

~ Benjamin Franklin

Life is filled with lessons learned the hard way. Sometimes we genuinely don’t understand the risks in advance, but often we do and take our chances anyway. “It won’t happen to me.” “I’ll get around to it soon, I promise.” “I’ll just deal with it if it happens.” And, then, the unexpected strikes. Our company goes belly up. I get laid off after 30 years of service (or because I was the most recent hire). Or, in the case of 2020, we have a brutal pandemic that causes societal chaos in our lives and livelihoods. Lessons learned again, the hard way.

When I wrote What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead, my goal was to provide students advance wisdom for their upcoming transitions into adulthood. 109 Life Success Pointers—well beyond an ounce—and including a chapter on financial matters. Oh, how many of them have been put to good use this year! 

Regardless of how well prepared you were for the economic risks in 2020, we thought it would be helpful to reiterate some key financial pointers to help you navigate today’s turbulence and prepare you for the next battle.

  1. Build an emergency fund for unforeseen circumstances. One of our first financial priorities is to create an accessible fund of liquid, short-term investments amounting to four to six months’ worth of your expenses. When times are hard, as 2020 has proven to be, this fund can help soften the financial blow and provide a source of cash for critical needs. Generally speaking, the greater the uncertainty, the greater the number of months reflected in your emergency fund.
  2. Keep your fixed expenses under control. Hard times are made harder when over 40% of our income is devoted to paying our fixed expenses (housing, utilities, debt payments, etc.). These expenses must be paid regardless of our circumstances, unlike discretionary expenses (travel, leisure, dining) that can be curtailed. Generally speaking, the lower the percentage of our fixed expenses, the greater is our ability to navigate difficult economic circumstances and maintain peace of mind. Those who apply this practice live within their means and can still generate positive cash flow. 
  3. Use credit sparingly and wisely. It goes without saying (but we still will!) that those who are conservative with respect to credit card usage are better able to withstand financial turbulence. Large credit card balances increase the cost of our purchases and represent significant fixed costs that must be paid to maintain a good credit rating. During tough times, a cash-only approach to spending helps us exercise prudent financial discipline. 
  4. Diversify and periodically rebalance your investments. The pandemic has caused significant gyrations in the stock market this year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ranging from 18,592 to 29,551 in a short period of time! This volatility illustrates the importance of holding some fixed income securities to reduce risk, and of monitoring your allocations to stocks and bonds to ensure they’re within acceptable ranges. For example, at market highs, your allocations to stocks may have gone above your target range, in which case you could have trimmed your exposure, lowering your risk. At the same time, at market lows, your allocations to stocks may have fallen below your targets, indicating it’s time to increase your exposure and buy at lower prices. 
  5. Don’t let your emotions interfere with your investing. There are two facts of life when it comes to investing that can get in the way of making sound decisions. First, the markets tend to decline more quickly than they rise, which is scary. Second, the market bottoms when the news is still bad. We want to wait until the news is better, but we will have lost our opportunity to buy at much lower prices. For these reasons, individual investors often display a “buy high, sell low” approach to investing when the reverse is the way to go. Over the long term, this tendency lowers our investment return. This is one reason why automatic investment programs are so helpful—they help take the emotions out of our investing.  
  6. No matter the circumstances, remain a cheerful giver. Even during financial hardships, it pays to find ways to help support those in even greater need. Sure, we may not be able to write as large of a check to our favorite charities, but even a little is good for the soul and for others. We can also be searching for opportunities to donate our time to these causes—another great way of cheerfully giving to humanity. It helps keep things in perspective, too.

Whether you check all, a few, or none of the above six boxes, we hope this encourages you to explore how you can “up your financial game.” It will not only help your financial picture, but also increase your peace of mind. 

Best wishes to you and yours,

The LifeSmart Team

The Truth for Youth Podcast: Life Lessons with Dennis Trittin

One of the most encouraging and inspiring aspects of our work at LifeSmart Publishing is meeting amazing young people who are motivated to impact the world. One such person, Jonah Swanson, is an incoming first-year student at Westmont College who is already making a difference. In addition to his studies, he is passionate about bringing practical life wisdom to youth through The Truth for Youth Podcast he created. Since this is perfectly aligned with LifeSmart’s mission, it was an honor to be invited for a two-part interview to discuss our book, What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead. Please note that, as a Christian, Jonah’s goal is to provide insights on contemporary life issues young people are facing through a lens of faith. 

In Part One, we focused on the book’s first two chapters: Life Perspective and Character. With each chapter, I selected five of my most pivotal and timely Life Success Pointers. In Life Perspective, we discussed the importance of developing a positive and healthy outlook, as this frames the way we live life. It is very difficult for young people to flourish in life without getting this one right! In Character, we tackle the all-important question of who we are and our personal brand we bring to this world each day. As students enter adulthood, a strong character foundation makes all the difference. 

In Part Two, we tackle chapters three and four: Relationships and Communication, and Adversity and Spirituality. With emerging adults often entering new environments and leaving home, their ability to make new friends and ambassadors is key. And, with all of the change, pressures, and decisions in the young adult years, everyone experiences adversity in one form or another. The question is how they deal with it when it’s their turn. Finally, these years are especially foundational for building and sustaining a healthy spiritual life; we explore some strategies to foster that. 

I hope you, and the young people under your influence, will have an opportunity to listen in and to get acquainted with Jonah and his work. Here are some links to help you get started:

  • To subscribe and listen click here.
  • To learn more, listen in, and view links and information referenced in the podcasts, click here.

Thanks, Jonah, for your heart for youth and for inviting me on your podcast! And friends, I hope you enjoy the shows! 

4 Concerning Reports About Today’s College Experience

Maybe it’s the time of year. Or, maybe it’s a sign of the times. If you ask me, it’s both…

Over the last several weeks, with a new school year upon us, I’ve been reading more concerning reports about today’s college experience. Some are from reflective faculty members who witness it firsthand, while others are from parents who are footing the bill and employers who are hiring young adults. No, they are not necessarily new issues, but the confluence and intensity are palpable. I realize these concerns cannot be generalized to all colleges, but from all indications, they’re becoming more pervasive and disturbing. But, before getting to the specifics, I’d like to prep you with a story…

Once upon a time, a group of music aficionados from all walks of life banded together to create an experience unlike any other. One to be enjoyed by people from every background and generation. One to celebrate what we know and love and to explore new possibilities. One so inspiring that people from all over would return in masses each year.

The event, America’s Virtual Music Experience, would be a week-long, outdoor summer festival that would celebrate the best of every music genre in our nation’s history. Individual stations would be set up for each category, and the audiences would be treated to all-time great performances (selected from fan surveys and music experts) that best represented the genres. In this smorgasbord of creativity and diversity, people could savor the best of: Rock and Roll, Folk, Jazz, Bluegrass, Gospel, Easy Listening, Hip Hop, Soul, the Blues, Country, Classic Rock, Pop, Rhythm & Blues, Spirituals, Metal, Americana, Funk, Disco, and Ragtime. Amazing! The founders were unequivocally committed to quality and variety to fulfill their mission. And fulfill it, they did.

Imagine the joy of three generations sharing their favorite music genres with each other. Grandpa loved Jazz. Grandma adored Gospel. Dad preferred Classic Rock, while Mom was an R&B fan. The son, oh how he worshiped Hip Hop, while the daughter was filled with Soul. Sure, their respective favorites would remain the same, but they left with new appreciation for the other genres they sampled. The energy on the way home was kinetic as they recounted their day. The memories would last forever.

Some five years later, the family decided to relive this, their all-time favorite experience. But something was different this time—they could sense it. Maybe the novelty had just worn off. Or, maybe there was more to it. After wandering around for a while, Grandpa was the first to notice something—there were fewer multi-generational families in attendance. What was that all about? Soon after, Grandma commented that her favorite Gospel station was nowhere to be found. Also, conspicuously absent were the Country, Americana, Easy Listening, and Jazz stations! Even some of this year’s song selections were lacking, unlike before.

At the same time, the grandson counted four stations devoted to Hip Hop, and the granddaughter noticed three for Metal! Sadly, they were really looking forward to the “forgotten” ones, because they enjoyed the variety as much as their favorites. Now, in order to experience them, they’d have to go elsewhere. But, why?

Curious, the mother and father called the event producers to find out why things had changed. They learned that last year, three of the five original founders retired, handing over the reins to some new faces. It just so happened that none of them were fans of Gospel, Country, Americana, Easy Listening, and Jazz, so they were deemed expendable (much to the chagrin of their sponsors!). But, because they loved Hip Hop and Metal so much, they decided to make room for more! And, they decided to select the songs by themselves, rather than go with survey results. Surely the audience wouldn’t notice it much, and besides, the new music mix was better anyway. Or, so they thought. 

Clearly, the current regime did not share the founders’ unwavering commitment to diversity and quality, as they willingly changed the nature of the event. With each passing year, more of their least-favorite genres were dropped.  Not surprisingly, the family never returned, and the reviews began to sour. You see, America’s Virtual Music Experience wasn’t the same inspiring, diverse, and universal experience anymore. It had lost the magic of the original.       

So, what on earth does this has to do with college, you ask? Why did I even tell you this story? I created this analogy to capture the essence of the concerns I’m hearing:

1.     Colleges have become increasingly politicized and biased. My college years were spent during the Vietnam War and Nixon debacle, as well as the Cold War and malaise of the Carter years. Despite that fodder, I cannot recall a single class where professors (who, in their power position, ought to be held to a higher standard) expressed political views in the classroom (much less proselytized them). Numerous reports indicate this is now widespread, especially among Humanities courses where professors are decidedly slanted toward one political party. This impacts free and open discourse, diversity of ideas, and objectivity, which are vital to achieving the college mission. It is also manifested in the worldview imbalance of professors, speaker selections for campus, fair treatment for clubs, shaming/canceling of professors with “minority” views, and incidences of grading bias. While some of this is anecdotal, it is well documented and contrary to the virtue of exploring best ideas without fear of retribution. 

The solution? I recently read a profound meme from Kevin Tiddy: “If your students know your political affiliation, you have failed as a teacher. Teachers are there to help students think for themselves, not to think like you.” I couldn’t have said it better, and judging from the feedback from his post, many others agree. It’s beyond time for college presidents to put it into practice and demand accountability. #educationnotindoctrination.

2.     Colleges are facilitating a “victim vs. victor” mentality, impeding grit and resiliency. Tenured professors and employers are reporting alarming fragility among students when dealing with challenges, classroom discussions, and even constructive feedback. While a certain degree of empathy is a good thing, colleges are increasingly displaying coddling behavior toward students rather than fostering grit and resilience and treating them as adults. This is ill-preparing their students for life in the real world. 

3.     College students are increasingly engaging in caustic communications instead of demonstrating civil discourse, mutual respect, and conflict resolution skill. Newfound independence often comes with a price of arrogance and boldness in young adult communication. Nonetheless, we are witnessing growing verbal aggression with both peers and adults. Sadly, I’ve read and heard numerous reports from devastated parents who “no longer recognize” their young college student and are unable to carry on a civil conversation or be treated with respect. While colleges are designed to expose students to new ideas, it appears they are failing to teach students the responsibility of disagreeing in an agreeable manner. This is an urgent need.

4.     College students are increasingly revealing socialistic and anti-American tendenciesIt is quite baffling that today’s entrepreneurial young adults are increasingly supportive of Socialism. Granted, they may be new to economic and political philosophy (so some naivete is understandable), but these concerning views aren’t just happening by accident. Related, it often appears that in our attempts to celebrate diversity (a worthy cause!), some institutions are unintentionally causing disunity and disharmony. If we don’t also consider what unites us as Americans, we lose societal cohesion. We need both.

Like the successors to the founders of the American Virtual Music Experience, it seems like many colleges have lost their way, and their sense of what made them great in the first place. Whether intentional or not, we’re seeing the profound effects in many ways.

It’s time for colleges to take stock and reset. Let’s get back to scholarship, citizenship, and leadership.

The Most Important Goal For This School Year…

In a world consumed with constant distractions and multitasking, it seems like we’re becoming more like bumblebees—paying short visits to one flower after another. We’ve never faced “incoming data” like this before, and it’s affecting our attention spans, stress levels, and ultimately, our productivity.

With the world of politics feeling incredibly polarized, the news cycle (with lots of alarmist stories!) going 24/7, and social media at the very tips of our fingers, life feels distracting, overwhelming, and at times, suffocating. How do we stay focused and working toward our goals?

How can we help our children navigate this noisy world where they’re being pulled in so many directions? How can we help them understand what they should pay attention to and what things should probably just be ignored?

In my years of evaluating leaders, I’ve come to appreciate what virtually all of them have in common:

  1. Vision: They have an overarching idea of where they want to go, the person they want to become, the impact they would like to have in this world, and the life they want to live. This focus on the future allows them to “drown out the noise” so to speak, and focus on moving forward.
  2. Intentionality: a commitment to setting goals and plans to turn their vision into a reality. Goals that are challenging but realistic, specific, and measurable. They choose not to waste time on activities that do not bring them closer to their goals.
  3. Relentless Effort: They are self-motivated and focused like laser beams to achieve their goals and implement their plans. They don’t just work hard—they work smart. They have high standards and manage their time effectively and efficiently. And, they regularly review whether they’re on track and make midcourse corrections along the way.
  4. Resilience: They have an ability to overcome and learn from their mistakes, shortcomings, and failures. They don’t let disappointments defeat them; rather, they face their challenges head on and persevere. After making a mistake or experiencing a hardship, they get back up and try again.

With a new school year upon us, this is a great opportunity to teach your children and students how to ignore the constant “noise” from the outside world and apply these concepts in their lives. Arguably, this could be their most important learning lesson of the year!

So, whether you’re a parent, teacher, mentor, or coach, have the children under your influence set new goals and strategies for the coming year. Encourage them to develop at least one goal in each of the following categories:

  • Career: surveying career matches, attending job fairs, creating a resume, sharpening interview skills, meeting people in careers of interest, etc.
  • Education: improving a GPA, taking valuable courses, reading specific books, watching/listening to media-based programs/trainings, etc.
  • Character: developing strengths, addressing weaknesses, modeling qualities/soft skills of admired people, etc.
  • Relationships: improving existing relationships, building new ones (peer, network), etc.
  • Skill: learning a new skill for personal growth, fun, creativity, etc.
  • Service: volunteering time and talent to support your community
  • Experience: checking off a “bucket list” item or two

The more we can instill the value of setting goals, plans, and strategies for life in our children at an early age, the better positioned they will be to achieve success, fulfillment, joy, and impact. Otherwise, especially in this day and age, they’ll be destined for distraction and random outcomes. It may be a mindshift for them, but they and their dreams are worth it! 

And, trust me, one day they’ll thank you for it!

How to Start Treating Your Teen Like a (Real) Grown-Up.

affection-dad-daytime-960829Parents: how many times have you heard your teen say, “You treat me like a kid!” How many times have you responded, “Well, it’s because you act like one!”?

Teens are constantly and increasingly tugging at the reins, wanting more and more slack. When teens ask to be treated like adults, what they’re really wanting are the privileges of adulthood. A car. Money in their pockets. Decision-making authority. Autonomy. Unfortunately, because of the nature of childhood (immaturity) and the tendency of some parents to rescue, pamper, and enable— that day never comes (or doesn’t come soon enough).

With summer almost over, many teens are entering “the next phase” of life, which for some recently-graduated teens looks like college or an internship, and for other teens, it’s their first year as a high school junior or senior–their last years of youth. Some teens might be entering thier first year of high school and they’re ready for much more freedom (at least they think they are).
Have you ever wondered, when I am SUPPOSED to start giving them more leash?

The reality is most teens are ready for more responsibility than we give them and need opportunities to exercise it. Adults have extra rights and privileges that kids look forward to enjoying and usually want now. But remember that for adults, those privileges are usually attached to responsibility. For example:

  1. I have a car (privilege). I must earn money to fill the tank and pay the insurance and maintenance (responsibility).
  2. I can stay up (or out) as late as I want to, every night (privilege). However, I have children who need to be off to school early in the mornings, and a busy daily schedule that requires me to have enough sleep to be in top form (responsibility).
  3. I can make any decision I want to (privilege). However, I have a spouse and children (and neighbors, employers, coworkers, friends) whose lives and happiness are influenced by my decisions. Sometimes, what I want to do is outweighed by what honors and benefits others (responsibility).

What children need to understand is that privileges, in the real world, are attached to responsibilities. If we give them the privileges, but don’t require responsibility, we set them up for an entitlement mentality—and for struggles in the real world. Folks, this is a pervasive issue.

So, the next time your teen tells you he or she wants to be treated like an adult, do it! Treat him or her like a real adult—not just with privileges, though. Make sure there are responsibilities to go with them and explain the connection. You don’t need to give up full control all at once. But, you can start by requiring them to do things like:

  • Contribute to their own income by getting a job (or babysitting, etc.)
  • Buy their own car (or make a significant contribution to it) and pay for all or most of their gas
  • Make their own appointments (dentist, doctor, hair, etc.). Encourage them, as much as is appropriate and realistic, to go to the appointment themselves, fill out the paperwork, etc.
  • Do their own laundry and make their lunch
  • Clean up the house before and after they entertain friends.

If you are a parent who draws a great deal of identity and personal fulfillment from doing things for your children, it can be difficult to change your habits. You may feel like you’re being mean. But, if you want to set them up well for the launch and equip them to be happy, healthy, functioning, and successful adults, it must happen, especially now, as the school year is transitioning them to a new season (first year of college, senior year of high school, etc.). It will pay huge dividends in the long run to start moving now to the passenger seat and becoming more of a cheerleader/coach as your teen learns to operate in the driver’s seat of his or her life.

This is a wonderful time to check out our parenting books that can guide you and equip you as you navigate this new seaason of parenthood. Wings Not Strings and Parenting for the Launch can be purchased here.

Building Better Decision Makers

pexels-kat-wilcox-923657It is undeniable that the quality of our decisions has an enormous impact on our happiness, well-being, and life success. With the benefit of time and reflection, we can see how the cumulative effect of our decisions, both good and bad, has led us to where we are today. And, they have an enormous impact on where we will be tomorrow.

All of us guiding children have a special responsibility to develop their decision-making capability. (Not surprisingly, employers routinely cite decision-making and problem-solving ability as among the most important qualities they seek in their employees.) However obvious this sounds, it’s easier said than done. Among the challenges are:

  1. Our brains are wired differently. Some children are more analytic while others are more intuitive, creative, or impulsive. This greatly affects how we naturally make decisions.
  2. The types of decisions we make vary widely. Here are just a few examples:
    1. Yes or no. Here, our options are binary. We either do it or don’t.
    2. Multiple options. Here, we have several different choices, each of which have their advantages and disadvantages. Think college or career selection.
    3. Now or later. Here, our decision involves when. A good example is do I borrow money to buy a computer today or save up for it and purchase in the future.
  3. The context of decisions varies. Examples include our health (food we eat), finances (spending, investing, budgeting, charitable giving), career, relationships (friend selection), faith, activities/entertainment, time management, and a host of other arenas. Some lend themselves to objective criteria while others are highly subjective.
  4. Some are more consequential than others. The impact of choosing which outfit to wear to school pales in comparison with which career to pursue. This has major ramifications on the depth of research and consideration that ought to be applied to different decisions.
  5. Values may come into play. Some decisions will test our adherence to our core values and integrity. With children, this surfaces mightily in friend and activity selection. The consequences and potential regrets can be life altering.
  6. Educators are not always prioritizing decision-making skill development in the classroom. An increased focus on “teaching to the test” and varying course offerings and instructional methods naturally leads to inconsistencies in outcomes. It also produces a false sense of adult readiness in our students that reveals itself after high school.
  7. Parents are missing out on opportunities to build these skills. With control-based parenting approaches such as helicoptering now widespread, many parents are making decisions or micromanaging children in ways that are contrary to building independence and decision capability. It is also breeding a fear of failure mentality in children.

What to do?

Here are some suggestions that can help build these critical skills:

  1. Provide exercises and homework that challenge students with real life decisions with varying outcomes. College and career selection, grocery shopping within a fixed budget to make a meal, and how to save up to purchase a car are excellent examples where critical thinking can be put to the test. It’s especially helpful to teach them to: 1) identify key decision variables, 2) analyze pros and cons (or costs and benefits) of different options, 3) and consider potential consequences of the various choices.
  2. Resist giving children “the answer” when they ask. As parents, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of solving their problems, making their decisions, and telling them what to do. We want to be helpful. It’s easier. We’ve been there, done that, and can swiftly give them the answer. However, a better approach is to thank them for asking but to have them think it through and offer their preliminary decision before you share your opinion. It not only builds their decision-making skill, but also demonstrates your confidence in them.
  3. Share the “why.” Some of us grew up in the “because I told you so” age of authoritarian parenting. It was certainly an efficient way to parent, but it didn’t build wisdom and perspective. One of the most common qualities of successful decision-makers is their ability to factor potential consequences of various choices. Teaching them how to make decisions and why they’re important makes training more relevant to our children.
  4. Give them opportunities to build skills. This can include activities or fun “what if” scenarios that make for energized classroom discussions or dinner table conversations. There are any number of ways you can foster critical thinking using real life examples. Review the life categories mentioned in point 3 (decision contexts) and create discussion topics. What factors are important in choosing a career and how will you approach it? What might be the consequences of spending most of your free time playing video games versus other options? What are the pros and cons of the various colleges you’re considering? How will you react if your values are tested at a party? What goals are most important to you and how will you achieve them? How will you save up for that car you want? What are the most important qualities you desire in a friend and how will you apply them in your relationships? How can we save more money as a family to fund our summer vacation? You get the idea.
  5. Share your experiences. What key decisions have you made and how have they turned out? What lessons did you learn from decisions that didn’t turn out well? With perfect hindsight, could you have approached it differently? (Note, sometimes we give it our best thinking, but things just don’t go our way, and that’s okay!)

Let’s all commit to seeking out creative opportunities to sharpen these skills in our children. It won’t take long for them to forget the facts they memorized to ace a test, but by teaching them how to make decisions, you can give them a gift for a lifetime.