8 Financial Mistakes to Avoid at All Costs

Money, money, money. Few things in life generate as much interest, yet demand more responsibility. Money is taken into consideration with almost every life decision we make (which is one reason why personal finance courses should be required in every school)! And while money itself will not bring happiness, mismanaging it can surely ruin a person’s chances for success, and cause a lot of UNhappiness.


The principles of wise financial management aren’t that tough to master. Truly, you don’t need to have a degree in finance, be a math whiz, or consult a professional financial consultant in order to make smart choices. You simply need to know the basics and abide by certain key principles. It pays to avoid these eight common financial mistakes (and understand their consequences if you don’t):


  1. Failure to set goals and plan for major purchases and retirement. It’s crucial that you plan for large purchases (homes, cars, big toys) by accumulating savings, while also making sure you’ll have sufficient resources for retirement. These types of purchases should never be made on impulse or funded by withdrawals from your 401K.
  2. Spending more than you earn and failing to budget and monitor expenses. These days, it’s impossible to get away from ads (they’re on Instagram, Facebook, Billboards, YouTube videos, commercials, etc.). We are constantly bombarded with the idea that we need this or that. It’s important to resist the urge to spend, unless each purchase is within the budget you’ve set. If you don’t have a budget, set one…now! Overspending is the most common source of financial difficulty and stress.
  3. Incurring too much debt, including excessive credit card usage. If you have to put it on a credit card, you probably can’t afford it. That is, unless you pay off all of your credit card balances at month end.
  4. Investing too little and starting too late. In order to build a sufficient nest egg for retirement, you’ll need to save and invest 15-20% of your income. And, the sooner you begin, the greater your assets will accumulate. Start a monthly investment program as soon as you’ve developed an emergency fund worth six months of expenses. This should be a priority in the first year you begin your career.
  5. Incurring significant fixed expenses that can’t be reduced in difficult economic times (e.g., spending too much on housing and cars). Your mortgage or rent payment should not exceed 25 percent of your monthly income. And please, avoid those crazy high car payments!
  6. Ill-timed investment decisions (“buy high, sell low” habits and market timing). Too many investors make decisions on emotion. They take too much risk when the markets are high and panic sell when markets are in decline. Studies show the average investor loses around 2% a year due to poorly timed decisions! Regular investments in a well-diversified program serves investors better.
  7. Impulse buying and lack of value consciousness when shopping. Have a strong grasp on the actual value of the stuff you’re buying. Are those jeans really worth $175 in the long run? How could buying less expensive jeans and putting that money toward something else impact your financial situation in the long run?
  8. Lack of discipline and personal responsibility. This is one of the most important tips. Making sure you have positive cash flow and that you’re set-up well for the future takes some serious discipline and self-control! If you need some help with accountability, consider downloading spending tracker, like those available on mint.com. It’s eye opening how our spending on little things adds up.


Because finances aren’t taught enough (if at all) in secondary school or college/university, parents are advised to assume a leadership role. These are CRUCIAL life skills that will set your young people up for success in the real world (and help them avoid potential crises).


Periodically check how you’re doing in these areas, too. If we can all successfully avoid these traps, we’ll be in excellent financial shape! It does wonders for our stress levels, too!







4 Tips to Help Your High School Student Succeed

We just finished up an amazing week at the National Dropout Prevention Network conference in Detroit, MI. The LifeSmart team was able to share our perspective on what we can do as educators, mentors, and parents to help set teens up for success and graduate high school with their peers. Consequentially, we’ve got high school graduation on our minds—even if Halloween hasn’t yet arrived!

Are you a parent or a teacher of high schoolers? Have you ever wondered what YOU can do to prevent the potential of your students’ dropping out, or how you can equip your student for optimum success? Unfortunately, one million kids leave school every year without a diploma. We’d like to share with you our top four ways to equip high school students for success and help them cross the graduation finish line.

  1. Instill resilience. Let’s face it. Life gets difficult. And it can be especially difficult for students who are dealing with struggles at home (broken families, drugs and alcohol, emotional/verbal/physical abuse), or who come from a low-income background. One of the most important qualities for young people to embody is resilience; learning to handle adversity with courage, integrity, and determination. Take time to talk with your teen about obstacles (because that’s exactly what they are, obstacles—not derailers!) and the importance of overcoming them, growing from them, and, ultimately, becoming an “inspirational encourager” to others who are facing similar challenges. Always be mindful of what other side to today’s valley might look like..
  2. Cultivate your relationship. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, it’s important to cultivate a relationship with your student, especially if you notice the dropout “warning signs.” Take time to talk and learn what makes him/her tick. Are they feeling alone? Is there a certain subject they just don’t get? Are they overwhelmed with too many commitments? Position yourself as an ally—someone who can be trusted—and cultivate a relationship of trust, acceptance, and encouragement with your teen. And, while you’re at it, always seek opportunities to affirm their uniqueness and value. It’s a powerful way to build hope and belief in themselves and their future. They’ll never forget you for it.
  3. Rely on community resources. I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old saying, “It takes a village.” It’s true! Without the wider community supporting the schools, and without parents and schools relying on resources within the community, success would be hard to come by. There are great organizations out there (like the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and more) that can help your student make friends, bond to other positive influences, and stay on track. Also, encourage them to identify their interests and passions, to offer a glimpse of what their future can look like. It builds motivation, too.
  4. Make sure your child is surrounded with positive influences. Remember, your student needs to have other wise and encouraging voices in their life other than their parents and teachers. In fact, research shows that each student needs at least five adults in their life who are there to offer support, wisdom, advice, trust, and encouragement. Sometimes kids listen to non-parent voices the best! The same goes for their friends. If you notice your student is hanging around with the wrong crowd, or tapping into destructive media influences, address it immediately.


Our students are our future—and their success is of utmost importance. Let’s position ourselves as their safety net and rally around them with the support the need to ensure their graduation and life success.

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Four

Millennials—you’ve probably heard some pretty strong statements about them. “No work ethic, too dependent on their parents, irresponsible, addicted to technology…” But in this four-part series, I’ve been addressing what steps we can take as parents, secondary educators, and college educators, to better equip them for a long line of success. And today, I’d like to talk to those on the fourth leg of the relay race—our employers. (If you missed the first three parts in this series, you can find the links to them below.)

Employers, I take it you’ve already received a few new, younger workers from parents, high schools, colleges/vocational schools, etc. Some of your new hires have arrived well prepared with the skills and attitudes you value, while others are lacking. It’s with these latter cases that many of today’s unflattering stereotypes about Millennials are being formed.

I know some of you have even resorted to specialized management training to deal with interfering parents of young employees. Many of you are also experimenting with ways to help your more experienced staff members relate to incoming “needy” Millennial co-workers. Some workplace consultants are even advising companies to adapt in all kinds of (often unorthodox) ways order to accommodate/pacify Millennials—as if they arrived from some other planet. Yes, it’s come this far. How sad.

What to do? Here are some recommendations that can serve all employees, including Millennials, in your workplace:

  1. Build a contagious culture of excellence with high expectations and standards for all. Develop an inspiring mission, vision, and values statement with the input of employees. Then, through relational management, set each employee up for success by defining excellence on the job and coaching employees to achieve it. Management should be invested in the success of each employee, providing feedback and guidance along the way. While less experienced employees have a longer learning curve ahead, workplace standards should not be compromised for them. Nor should invaluable constructive feedback be withheld because of a coddling view that they can’t take it. Let them rise to the occasion. Most will.
  2. Incorporate mentoring as a part of new employee training. One of the quickest ways to workplace success is tapping into the wisdom of experienced and highly valued employees through personal relationships. A mentor program, where younger employees are paired with seasoned personnel, is an invaluable asset for onboarding, professional growth, and network building. It will also help reduce the generation gap among older and younger employees.
  3. Partner with schools and colleges in your community to offer real world perspectives from the workplace. Since many students lack the work experience our generation enjoyed decades ago, insights from the professional community can be especially beneficial in filling the gap. Also, your company and area students will benefit tremendously from an internship program.


This article was intended to call out some of the issues we are facing regarding the training of our young people for life success. Because so many parties are involved—parents, primary and secondary educators, colleges, and employers to name a few—it’s a complicated subject. Evidence indicates that we’re missing some key training components, in part because of a mistaken notion that someone else is covering the territory. Our young adults are bearing the brunt.

Excessive coddling is also taking its toll. The pendulum has swung from the “sink or swim” parenting mentality in my generation to one of overprotection and control today. We need to restore a healthy balance.

Our younger generation has so much to offer. With holistic, relevant, and sustainable training methods that cover all the bases, guided by an attitude of empowerment, they will soar. Let’s all do our best in making this happen.

If you missed the first three parts in this series, you can access the article in its entirety here, in our resource center.


Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Three

Our nation’s colleges and universities have a powerful, two-fold influence on preparing young adults for life success. On one hand, they play a role as receiver of our high school graduates. On the other hand, after four plus years of educational effort, they serve as senders of their graduates to employers, communities, and independent life. They’re rather like the third leg of the relay race from parents to schools to colleges to employers.

The implications of this positioning are profound. College educators, via their admissions criteria, have an enormous influence on the high school agenda, especially in the area of course requirements. They are the proverbial tail wagging the dog when it comes to high school academic programs. Frankly, I believe this is an undue, and not always beneficial, influence.  Academicians, who often lack work experience outside of the classroom, are setting the agenda. Based on their actions, they seem to undervalue practical leadership/life skills training (e.g., personal finance) that is so relevant to students. Otherwise you’d see these courses reflected in their admission requirements! Not surprisingly, high schools design their course menus to satisfy the demands of colleges. That’s an issue. I would argue, a big issue.

Secondly, college course offerings and their own graduation requirements are often lacking in practical life training. Rather, their first few years emphasize traditional academic subjects that are often redundant from high school, and irrelevant to life after college for many students. In other words, college course requirements appear disconnected from their role in preparing students for independent living. This is also a big issue.

Thirdly, colleges are often shortchanging students in the area of employability and job acquisition. Despite their massive investment, students are not always required to take career readiness and job search courses to help them achieve a positive return on their college experience. Today’s graduates are increasingly ill prepared to navigate today’s recruitment process. If colleges aren’t accountable for this training, who is?

Several of my recommendations to colleges echo what I shared in my thoughts for high schools. However, because of the unique positioning of our colleges in preparing young adults for real life, others are specifically directed toward them.


  1. Apply my points 1-3 and 5-7 from the secondary school educators’ recommendation list to your college/university institution. Unlike the high school setting, the next step for most college graduates is a well-suited career. Accordingly, this should have significant ramifications on college programs, rather than predominantly focusing on academics for academics’ sake. However, based on employer feedback, this is not generally the case. I encourage colleges to allow employers to command a voice on this topic to do a better job of representing the end users receiving your graduates. Invite them to share in your classrooms—to offer valuable perspectives outside of the academic bubble. Most importantly, solicit their views on what constitutes a well prepared graduate for life and reflect their perspectives in your program. Just as your views are influencing the secondary school agenda, so should employers be influencing yours.
  1. Focus more on leadership and life-relevant training and (comparatively) less on redundant core requirements that are often found in high school. While a broad-based educational foundation is important, far too much of the college experience (and dollar!) is devoted to courses that are simply not as relevant or practically beneficial to students. The opportunity cost is too great.
  2. Completely revisit the academic admissions requirements imposed on our high schools. Aside from a base of core academics, it would better serve all students to incorporate leadership and practical life training to a greater degree. (Does anyone really believe that a two-to-three-year foreign language requirement for high school students is more important to life than financial literacy?!? Yet, the former is usually required, and we’re silent on the latter.)
  3. Assume greater accountability for student career success. All colleges and universities should be required provide success measures of their graduates in landing a job (both within and outside of their major). This would not only be beneficial to families in the college search process, but it would also help students in selecting their major. (Wouldn’t it be helpful to know the percent of students who landed a job in each major?) Also, students should be required to take a comprehensive career-readiness course involving career exploration, qualification, marketing, and excelling. With the lack of jobs for youth and young adults, many are entering the workforce extremely green. All colleges should seek partnerships with area businesses to offer students real-world perspectives, internships, and recruitment for future jobs. The bottom line: colleges need to take more ownership in providing graduates with a significant return on their sizable investment.
  4. Dispense with the political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings, segregated dorms, and disrespectful guest speaker treatment/disinvitations. These efforts merely delay students’ ability to relate/communicate with others, resolve conflict, problem solve, handle adversity, and respectfully consider differing views and perspectives. Unfortunately, this heightened form of coddling has become routine on campuses, and it will only inhibit your students’ ability to navigate life. (Thank you Dr. John Edison, Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, for your example.)

I truly believe that if we all made a conscious and concerted effort to make some changes, we would see the next generation thrive. Isn’t that something we all want to see?

You can access parts one and two of this series here and here, or, you can read the full article in our resource center.



Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Two

It’s not uncommon to hear negative generalizations about today’s young adults (AKA millennials). There’s a lot of blaming going around, but have we ever stopped to ask ourselves what our role might be? Or, what improvements we can make to their training? Today’s post is part two in our four-part series about equipping and fostering success in young people, with a special message to secondary school educators. If you missed our post for parents earlier in the week, you can find it here. Or, you can access the entire article at the bottom of this post.

Today’s secondary schools face enormous challenges in covering all the bases and setting students up for life success. In addition to their core education efforts, our teachers also deal with tremendous regulatory demands and increasingly fragmented families. As a former school board chair and educator, I honor their tireless investment in our younger generation.

Importantly, our secondary educators play a vital role in preparing their graduates for college, career, and life. So, it’s appropriate to consider their influence on the general state of our young adults. In doing so, I’ll approach it as an advocate for two key constituencies: the students themselves and the institutions receiving their graduates (most notably, colleges and employers).

Importantly, secondary students are not in a position to advocate for themselves, and they assume they are receiving the education and training they need for life. And, why not? Meanwhile, our colleges and employers assume their students will arrive prepared for college, career, and life. Again, why not?

However, it is clear from our weak college graduation statistics and the feedback from universities and employers, that these assumptions are often erroneous. Far too many students are dropping out and/or lacking the basic skills that employers are seeking. So, while many students are book smart, signs are they’re not always life smart. This is a predictable outcome when leadership development and practical training occupy a secondary role in our schools.  In too many cases, student training is neither holistic nor sustainable.

With all that in mind, I respectfully offer the following recommendations to secondary school educators who are serving our today’s students today and tomorrow’s collegians and employees:

  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive vision for a well-prepared graduate for life. My favorite Stephen Covey habit is “Begin with the end in mind.” Importantly, it applies just as much to organizations (like schools) as it does to people. However, in my years of speaking at schools and conferences, I have never witnessed more than 10% of the audience state that their school has defined a well-prepared graduate. Never. This is an urgent priority because it frames everything. What skills, character attributes, and knowledge do our graduates need to succeed in life? That our employers and universities desire? We must know this.
  2. Create the necessary pathways and programs to implement this vision for all This will likely involve new courses, reprioritization, and integration of concepts (e.g., leadership).
  3. Require leadership and life skills courses for all students. These courses, often under the purview of FCS and CTE (Family/Consumer Science and Career and Technical Education) are simply too important to be considered electives. In addition to leadership and character skill building, all students should receive practical education in post-secondary preparation, career readiness, communication and relationship building, financial management, citizenship, manners, and self awareness. We can no longer assume that our students are learning these vital skills at home. (In too many cases they are not!) This will likely involve some reprioritization of other courses to make room for these essential topics. The keywords are “holistic,” “relevant,” and “sustainable.”
  4. Dispense with the “college or bust” mentality. The significant first-year college dropout rate reveals the unintended consequence of an overemphasis on college as the immediate next step. For many high school students, other options such as employment, vocational schools, community college, trade schools, a gap year, and military or service are better fitting options. These are not “second rate” choices.
  5. Prepare all students for a professional environment. Among the biggest complaints about today’s younger workers involve their casual written and oral communications and manners. Clearly, this is an adverse consequence of today’s tech-laden world. Communication is such a success driver in life, and, it deserves to be a greater priority in our schools. Also, courses in entrepreneurship, that would expose students to all aspects of managing an organization, would be beneficial. While the latest rage is STEM (or is it STEAM…?), it’s important to recognize that most jobs, even in those types of organizations, do NOT require advanced math and technical degrees. Let’s remember that as we develop our course menus and requirements.
  6. Promote leadership and character, and reward students accordingly. So often, academics and athletics command the greatest award attention in our schools. Ask most employers and they’ll gladly prefer a 3.5 GPA with great character to a 3.9 with little else. How many leadership and character awards are offered in your school?
  7. Cease with the grade inflation. This form of coddling proves to be a short-lived source of self esteem when students face the reality of competitive environments like college and the workplace. Let’s be honest, we’re doing them no favors.


Teachers, we are so grateful for you and your tireless efforts. Keep up the good work as we all work together and learn from each other, mastering our roles as “next generation equippers.”


Next week we will address this topic with college/university educators, as well as employers. If you’re interested in gaining access to all four parts of the article, you can find it here.

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part One

Like most of you, I hate stereotypes and generalizations. They’re unfair and usually do more harm than good. It’s why I’m not a fan of “bucketizing” people into this/that gender/age/ethnicity/economic/religious/political category. To me, the main “fruit” of these efforts is disunity.

But, at the risk of not taking my own advice, I’d like to weigh in on the conversation about a group that is perhaps more stereotyped than any these days. . . Millennials. Having raised two of our own and as an author/publisher/mentor/educator devoted to training up our next generation, I feel a special bond toward them. But, judging by what I read and hear, it’s as though their foreheads are etched with a “scarlet M.”

You’ve likely heard their negative labels: entitled, lazy, fragile, impatient, narcissistic, distractible, relationally challenged, needful, and the like. Hopefully, you’ve also heard the positive: passionate, creative, connected, entrepreneurial, idealistic, and globally minded. (As a product of the Sixties and Seventies, it makes me wonder what was said about us!)

But, here’s the deal: IF some of the negative stereotypes of Millennials have some merit, I don’t believe it’s only (or even primarily) because of them. Much of that responsibility lies with us—the generation that has parented and trained them. By all accounts, we are not equipping them as fully as we should—not parents, not schools, and in some cases, not employers. We’re also struggling to let go. Big time!

Too often, instead of releasing eagles to soar with confidence, we’re releasing young adults that we continue to control, coddle, or inadequately equip. Generally speaking, we’re not providing the practical, relevant, holistic training they need to succeed in adult life, and it’s showing. I believe this is attributable to several factors: 1) parents and educators assuming the other is covering the training (e.g., finance, soft skills) so it falls through the cracks, 2) consequences of the breakdown of the American family, and 3) educators focusing more on training the mind than the whole person for adulthood. It’s no wonder that the stage of adolescence continues to grow. And grow.

That’s on us. And, we need to do better. For them.

So, for the rest of this blog series, I’ll be offering my recommendations—to parents, secondary school educators, colleges, and employers—to help set our younger generation up for real world success. Due to space limitations, it’s an incomplete view, so I’ll focus on my best ideas.

In this first post, I’ll address my thoughts to parents. After that, I’ll concentrate on secondary school and college educators, and finally, employers. We all have a stake in this game. I’m sure you can add to my ideas, and you might even disagree with some of my views. I welcome your contributions. That’s what makes it a conversation!


To Parents:

We all want our children to be happy and successful, but sometimes we get in their own way. In fact, discussions with those receiving our high school graduates (e.g., universities and employers) reveal the downside of helicoptering, performance parenting, excessive coddling, and absentee parenting: students struggling with self confidence and coping with the demands of adulthood. Consequently, parents are calling professors to complain about grades. Parents are calling employers to complain about their “kids” being overworked and underpaid. Parents are even coming to job interviews! Many parents are so invested in their children’s success that they won’t let go. Is it any wonder so many young adults are having difficulty growing up?

With that, here are some suggestions for raising our parenting bar and releasing a new generation of well-prepared and confident leaders:

  1. Adopt an empowering parenting vision and mindset: what if we replaced “raising children” with “raising future adults?” This mindshift can make a world of difference. In our book on this topic, Parenting for the Launch, we call it, “giving them wings, not strings” and “moving from driver seat to passenger seat.”
  2. Emphasize character and “soft skills” over performance. Success in career and life requires a solid leadership foundation made up of qualities like integrity, reliability, high standards, kindness, respect, other-centeredness, work ethic, humility, positivity, and manners. It also requires attributes like self control, resilience, interpersonal skill, decision-making, time management, and communication. These are sustainable leadership qualities. Where are we placing our emphasis?
  3. Invest in your relationship. It takes both quality and quantity time to build a relationship that endures. “I didn’t spend enough time with my children” is an all-too-common regret you never want to experience! Stay fully engaged.
  4. Surround them with positive influences and adult role models and mentors. Use every opportunity to introduce them to great people! These invaluable third party voices offer friendship, wisdom, and connections to help grow their network. It also builds communication skills and respect for adults.
  5. Help them build self awareness. In the teen and young adult years, it’s critical to understand one’s assets, nature, and passions. Parents can contribute valuable insights that instill vision, belief, hope, and a sense of value.
  6. Encourage them to stretch themselves and take risks, even if they may not succeed. Help them embrace new experiences and challenges. Regardless of the outcome, winning is in the journey. Build a “Go for it!” attitude..
  7. Limit their use of technology and impose tech-free zones during family times. Be highly attentive to the addictive tendencies of technology, especially if it starts to affect their relationships, communication, and productivity.  And, don’t let devices and TV serve as a “babysitter.”
  8. Be strategic about preventing some of the common stereotypes. That means promoting a strong work ethic (chores help!), instilling other centeredness (volunteering for the less fortunate), learning to accept constructive feedback, being able to build authentic relationships, developing their ability to problem solve and handle disappointments and conflict, and teaching them how to communicate professionally with adults.
  9. Resist the temptation to solve their problems and manage their performance. These are self confidence destroyers that hamper decision-making and can create co-dependence.


If you are the parent of a millennial—what steps have you taken to help make them more “real world ready?” Are there any tips or pointers you would add to this list?

Later this week, I will be addressing my recommendations to secondary educators (with two more parts in the series coming next week!). I’m excited to share this blog series with you and hope you’ll continue to read on and engage as we discuss our roles in equipping the next generation for success!

If you’re interested in accessing the entire article (how we as parents, high school teachers, college professors, and employers can help equip millennials for success) in one place, you can find it in our resource center here.

Teach Your Teen to be Smart about Technology Use

As parents, educators, mentors ,and coaches, most of us have noticed something about the teens and young adults we work with daily: THEY’RE GLUED TO THEIR PHONES!

We’ve probably all said it: “Back in my day, we didn’t even have cell phones…” And yes, that’s the truth. And we did just fine! However, it’s important to acknowledge the element of connectedness that millennials and the following generations possess. Thanks to the advancement of technology—most notably social media and smart phones—teens are able to be more in touch than ever and engage in the world around them in a way that was never possible for us. The sense of community and camaraderie that is fostered from this connectedness is pretty amazing!

That being said, it’s vital the teens in your life know that there’s a time and a place (and an amount!) for technology, social media, and smart phone use. Although it has many benefits, technology has some downsides that we need to consider. We should be considering these “cons,” so to speak, for the social, psychological, and physical health of our younger generation.

Here are some factors to ponder:

  • We text or email rather than talk. This is having significant consequences on communication skills—ask any college professor or employer. We now have a bull market in remedial reading and writing programs, and many young people are having difficulty carrying on conversations with adults.
  • Our lives are more distracted because of our numerous interruptions (a text message, a new Facebook message, an Instagram comment, an event reminder, an e-mail, etc.) and our attention spans have shrunk.
  • Kids spend less time using their imaginations, reading, and being active.
  • We lose the ability to read body language and social cues in other people.
  • Our waistlines are growing as we’ve become more sedentary.
  • We sleep poorly, as online activities keep us up too late and the constant stream of information makes it difficult to turn off our brains. Also, staring at a screen before bedtime can mess up our internal clock and make sleep more difficult.
  • We are being consumed by “busyness” and it is affecting our responsiveness to true priorities, such as family togetherness, activity, spirituality, service, etc.

Funny, I don’t recall seeing warning labels about these side effects when I purchased my smart phone!

I know I’m probably sounding like Fred Flintstone, but I believe there’s some middle ground. When I hear about car accidents occurring because of drivers’ texting, or when I observe my daughter and her friends’ texting when they’re supposed to be enjoying each other’s company, I think the pendulum may have swung too far.

Here are some ways you can encourage the young people in your life to be smart about technology use. Let’s help them (and us!) find that middle ground:

  • Strongly consider setting technology-free hours within your home. For example, between the hours of 6pm and 7 pm for dinner, and from 9pm or 10pm until morning.
  • Parents, place limits on the amount of time your children spend on technology each day. Be on guard for any collateral damage from technology use (e.g., relationships, communication, productivity, motivation, attention spans, irritability).
  • Lead by example, and show the teens you know how to enjoy life’s special moments without their phone. Go for a walk and enjoy good conversation (no need to post a filtered Instagram shot of the scenery!). Go outside and play volleyball or basketball or kick-the-can. Go for an all-day hike on the weekend, and challenge everyone to leave their phones alone the entire time.
  • Disengage from phone use when you’re together at coffee shops, restaurants, and the like. All-too-often I’ve seen parents as phone addicted in public as their kids. Isn’t this supposed to be “quality time?”
  • If you’re a teacher, make sure your classroom is a phone-free zone. Encourage practices that help strengthen your students’ creativity, activity, and resourcefulness.

Remember that time is a precious asset and that relationships are designed to be personal.  Your brain was designed to be active. Your body was designed to move. Don’t let your electronic devices interfere with any of that!

Three Tips to Help You Excel in College

School season has arrived and most of us have settled comfortably (hopefully!) into our classrooms, dorm rooms, or lecture halls. For many students, it’s the first year in the “real world,” experiencing life at college and away from their parents. For others, they’re still in high school, but itching to get the best grades so they can land their dream school. It can be an overwhelming feeling, but I have wonderful news for you.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to get GOOD GRADES!

 Each of us has a learning style and study methods that work best. Also, some of us have shorter or longer attention spans, some of us can still function on limited sleep, and some of us can handle overcommitment through effective multitasking. Some of us need solitude to concentrate, but others not. So, knowing yourself will make a big difference in performing at your best.

But that said, it’s important to understand and practice some universal secrets to academic achievement. These secrets lie within the 3 P’s.


  1. The first success ingredient is good planning. This involves making a study calendar a few days to a week out. It may seem like a drag, but it’s the best way to ensure you always have the time you need to study. You can find a reproducible homework and study planner on our website.
  2. This means staying committed to your study schedule, becoming a skilled time manager, and finding a study environment that works best for you (Your room? The library? A quiet study room?). You can use the reproducible daily schedule on our website to help with this. Remember, your brain works like a muscle—the more reps you have in reviewing your material, the more likely you will be to retain it. Try to avoid having to read new material the night before—use the last day(s) for review only.
  3. Deliver what your audience (i.e., teacher or professor) is looking for and enter your exams with supreme confidence that you’re prepared to excel. Be rested, alert, and ready to go. Don’t forget to eat right to fuel your body! (Bring a snack or water if it keeps your mind sharp.) If given the option, answer easier questions first (especially with essays). This gives you extra time to contemplate your answers for the more difficult questions. And, remember during essays, the graders are looking for key words and phrases. Finally, allocate your time wisely among the questions to complete your work at a decent pace.

Students, if you can fully appreciate the need for planning, preparing, and performing, you’ll be well on your way to achieving repeatable academic success. Not just a one-time lucky strike, but predictable success. How’s that for a GPA boost? In this increasingly competitive world, academic performance is critical!

Teachers, how have YOU helped the students in your life become organized and disciplined studiers? We’d love to hear your ideas or any other suggestions you’d add to this list!


Be On Guard for Media Bias

Consider this hypothetical set of facts: the US Government just reported that the nation’s GDP (gross domestic product, an indicator used to gauge the health of a country’s economy) grew at 4.0 percent last quarter. This compares with 6.0 percent for the prior quarter and 3.2 percent for the long-term average.

How might this be reported by the purveyors of our news?

Well, first let me tell you how I’d report it: “US economic growth remained strong by historical standards, although it decelerated from the previous quarter.” Accurate and unbiased.

But, let’s say that the media outlet is biased in favor of the sitting President. You’re liable to see something like: “US economic growth remained stellar by historical standards in the latest report, exceeding the long-term average by 25 percent!”

Now, let’s say the news outlet is biased against the sitting President. You’re more likely to see something like, “US economic growth plunged 33 percent from the prior quarter, causing some to believe a recession is on the horizon.”

See the difference? The fact is, media bias is everywhere! And, in election years like now, it’s on steroids!

 I must confess that when I was 18, I had no clue about how much distortion, bias, embellishment, selective reporting, and outright falsehoods exist within the media and among supposed authority figures. We assume that our news reports are accurate and truthful, until we realize that many outlets have an agenda. After all, they have a bully pulpit and can influence our perception of the facts. And, the uninformed and undiscerning will never know. But, not you!

Here are some of the more common clues that your news sources have a slant:

  • Their sensational headlines steer readers toward the perception they want
  • Their opinions don’t stay on the editorial page, confusing readers over what is fact versus what is spin; their opinions are embedded in the articles, often by emphasizing “experts” that reinforce their view
  • They locate positive news items (to their leaning) in the front pages and negative reports toward the back
  • They deliberately feature news items favorable to their views while avoiding news hostile to their view (note this is incredibly common and difficult to detect because one needs to review sources on both sides to notice what’s missing)
  • During elections, their editorial boards strongly favor candidates of one party over the other
  • They take “snipits” of comments or video clips out of context to deliberately mislead
  • They “rereport” articles from news agencies and sources friendly to their editorial leanings

In addition to the print and online journalists, we also observe media bias in our national news reporting and, especially, among radio shows. In addition to the above list, it’s commonly revealed by: 1) the mix of guests they select (skewing in their “favor,” 2) the nature of questions they ask during interviews (often editorialized and slanted), 3) the tone and body language they exhibit with their guests (friendly versus hostile), and 4) the airtime they allow guests favorable versus disagreeable to their views.

Interestingly, when you review the national and state political scene in our country, Americans are essentially split in their leanings. However, studies consistently report that America’s news media and college professors lean left of center, on average. It’s something to be aware of as we filter our news.

The bottom line is this: some try to inform, some try to persuade, and some think they’re informing when they’re really persuading in disguise. That’s why being a discerning skeptic of all we read, hear, and watch is so important.

So, in this election year, have your media (and professor) bias detector on overtime, and use this season as a learning experience for your children and students. Have them watch/read/listen to folks on the political Left like Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow, and news sites like the New York Times and Slate), and contrast that with the reporting you’ll receiving on the Right from the likes of Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and the National Review. Watch the post-debate commentaries on different news networks to gauge their different perspectives and angles.

It’ll be an eye opener, for sure.

How do you detect media bias? Do you factor it into your interpretation of the news? Do you consciously seek out alternative views when you develop your political opinions?

The Value of Values: Part 3

What do you value most in life? Is it your collector’s hot rod? Your job? Your beach house? Your iPhone? Or, is it something less tangible, like integrity, family togetherness, spirituality, respect, or serving others? Hopefully, it’s one of the latter.

In case you’ve missed it, we’ve been talking a lot about values around here lately, and stressing the importance of instilling strong values in the young people we parent, coach, mentor, and teach. As ethics, morals, manners, and values have become de-emphasized in the public square, political arena, entertainment industry, and corporate boardrooms, we’re witnessing a downward slide in our nation’s character. When character is disregarded or devalued, relativism, “meism,” and chaos fills the vacuum. There’s just no getting around it.

In this last part in our series, I’d like to discuss three more elemental values that are instrumental in creating virtuous and admirable character. Upholding (and believing in) these values not only benefits the upholder, but also his or her family, friends, employer, classmates, coworkers, and beyond. By restoring our societal commitment to character and values, it would truly be a world changer.

  1. Patience. Have you ever lost your patience while waiting in an endless line, or dealing with a finicky customer? Have you ever thrown out some not-so-nice hand gestures in a fit of road rage? Or, how about when you throw a tantrum with your family or friends when things don’t go your way or people disappoint you? The fact is, losing your patience usually does more harm than good in almost every situation. Learning to be patient in all circumstances makes us more pleasant people to be around and allows us to handle stressful situations and conflict in a more level-headed manner. Taking a deep breath and counting to 20 before responding is wise medicine. After all, today’s impatience is often tomorrow’s apology.
  2. Courage. Do you handle tough situations with bravery, or are you more inclined to backing down or withdrawing? Of course, there’s a time and a place for walking away, but sometimes, courage is key. Courage means never letting your fears drive your life, and instead, stepping out of your comfort zone and always doing the right thing and standing up for yourself (respectfully), no matter how un-cool it may seem.
  3. Self-control. This is likely a tough one for many of us. Self-control can be related to our outward behavior (for example, how we impulsively react when we are annoyed or angry), as well as our internal motivations (for example, our relationship with food). When you practice self control, it means that you are able to manage your impulses and respond to temptation in a way that benefits yourself and others. Instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, you’re able to reel yourself in and think about your choices before you actually make them. This is a big one, friends. Consider taking a moment to self-check and see if there are any areas where you could use greater self control.

In case you missed the last two parts in this series, you can catch up on them here and here. For our comprehensive positive traits and values list, click here. We encourage you to discuss them with your families and students as a great self-awareness project. Which ones are we modeling well? Where could we up our game? Are any of them outdated? What others might you add to the list?

Thank you for being a part of this series! Have a great school year!