Top Ten Parenting Tips to Promote College Readiness (Part Two)

Last week, we shared the first five of our ten best parenting tips to build college readiness and circumvent the “derailers” plaguing college students today. The sooner we can build these skills in our future collegians, the better prepared they will be to succeed! Without further adieu, here are the final five tips:

 

  1. Respect their need for balance and margin. In an effort to build a foolproof resume for their college applications, many students overcommit and are completely stressed out. Most of this is originating from performance-driven parents who mean well, but who are undervaluing their children’s need for balance, margin, downtime, and sleep. Not surprisingly, rebellion and/or high anxiety are common in college as a result of this pressure.

    This is a reminder to parents to help teens maintain a healthy work/life balance. Be realistic about the time requirements of their activities and avoid overscheduling. Also, encourage them to be highly selective in committing to college activities, especially in the first year when there are so many exciting opportunities. Variety is great, but balance is key.

  2. Develop career savvy. Many high schoolers are needlessly anxious because of pressure to know exactly which career to pursue. However, the reality is they’re still discovering themselves! Also, they’ve yet to take advanced courses in their major, and many haven’t even spoken with actual practitioners to gauge whether a certain career path is a good fit.

    You can play a constructive role with your high schoolers by building career awareness. This means: 1) having them complete career assessments (e.g., careerbridge.wa.gov and www.careercruising.com), 2) introducing them to people with interesting careers, and 3) training them on the process of selecting a career. Also, be sure to develop their marketing skills for interviewing, resume/cover letter writing, and networking. Offer real world career insights, including the qualities that employers value most (e.g., integrity, high standards, dependability, relational skills, positivity, work ethic, and resilience). What I Wish I Knew at 18 has several excellent success pointers to build your teen’s career savvy.

  3. Instill healthy living habits. The Freshman 15 (pounds, that is). The party scene. All nighters. Yes, they’re real. And, too much of a good thing is spoiling many college careers. With newfound freedom and a world of choices—some healthy, some not, and some even illegal—many students are underachieving, anxious, in poor health, and eventually, dropping out. Freedom can be a two-edged sword.

    It’s beyond the scope of this blog to do delve deeply into healthy living habits, but these are a must to nurture before the fact: 1) nutritious and balanced eating (a huge challenge when they enter Carb Heaven!), 2) physical activity and exercise (working out at the gym/joining intramural teams), 3) adequate sleep, and 4) positive stress relievers.

  4. Build their financial literacy. Far too many college careers are abbreviated for financial reasons. Whether it’s due to lack of affordability, poor spending habits, or credit card debt, student financial stress is impacting performance and college completion. Of all the topics where parents mistakenly assume their children are trained in school, this is number one. For too many schools, personal finance is not a requirement or even offered. Parents should assume the leadership role here.

    Some financial musts for your future collegian: 1) understanding needs versus wants, 2) knowing how to develop and adhere to a budget and spending plan, 3) understanding the basics of credit and debit cards (latter preferred for collegians), and 4) choosing a major that will yield a positive return on college investment.

  5. Impose guidelines for technology/social media use. While technology serves many useful purposes, the side effects rarely receive the airtime they deserve. Issues with shorter attention spans, addiction to devices, distraction, lack of motivation, irritability, communication deterioration, wasted time, constant stimulation, and, yes, destructive content, are interfering with student health and success.

    To counteract these influences, institute and enforce healthy boundaries in your household (e.g., time limits) when it comes to technology and social media use. You may lose some “popularity points” with your children, but the stakes are simply too high for a laissez faire

 

We hope these tips are helpful to you, and we encourage you to share them with others in your sphere. Here is a link to the complete article. Let’s set all of our future collegians up for success!

 

 

Top Ten Parenting Tips to Promote College Readiness (Part One)

teen-at-college

“Don’t prepare the path for the child, prepare the child for the path.” 

~ Author Unknown

Or, as we say at LifeSmart, “Give them wings, not strings.”

Preparing our children for a successful launch into adulthood is one of our greatest parenting responsibilities. And a huge milestone! Unfortunately, as we shared in last week’s blog, many college students are struggling at this pivotal time of life. Our nation’s college completion rankings are plummeting, and we are witnessing a surge in mental health issues on campus.

Parents, we need to take the lead in turning this around. So, for the next two weeks, we’ll be sharing our best tips to help set your teens up for a successful college experience.

  1. Stop the helicoptering! Many collegian issues stem from parents’ efforts to manage their children’s happiness and success. A student’s inability to make decisions, cope with stress and adversity, and understand the world doesn’t revolve around them are predictable outcomes of helicoptering. When we step in to prevent failure, do their homework and applications, defend misbehavior in front of authorities, text them incessantly, and hover and control their lives and decisions, they will struggle on their own.

    As authors of Parenting for the Launch, we encourage parents to adopt an empowering approach that increasingly treats their teens as future adults. That means training them with strong internal guiding principles and giving them freedom, responsibility, and accountability to apply them. Yes, it may result in some short-term pain (e.g., a tough life lesson, failure/disappointment, unhappiness, anger), but it’s for the sake of long-term gain (e.g., resilience, grit, problem solving, coping, independence).     

  2. Foster healthy coping habits. Everyone has their stressors, but, during adolescence, they’re often exacerbated. By nurturing self awareness in our children, they’ll be able to: 1) identify the signs of their anxiety (irritability, restlessness, sleeplessness), 2) isolate the source (tight deadlines, relationship strains, exams), and 3) release their stress in a healthy manner. Together, these can help teens and young adults prevent and/or cope with the pressures of the day.

    Which stress relievers work best? It depends. For some, it’s an intensive cardio workout or blasting music. For others, it’s a bath, a good book, a walk along the beach, or prayer/meditation. Respect whatever works best for them, so long as it’s healthy.

  3. Build positive social adaptability. When it comes to social life, the transitions into and out of college are arguably the most demanding. Our support system of family and friends may seem light years away. In What I Wish I Knew at 18, we devote considerable space to social adaptation. We encourage students to explore affinity groups of others who share common interests and values. To make a list of BFF qualities and quietly evaluate new acquaintances accordingly. To stay patient and selective, knowing it’s all about quality and positivity. Parents, you can instill these valuable habits while they’re under your roof by helping them find opportunities to meet new people in new social settings.

  4. Cultivate strong time management and planning disciplines. With demanding courses, endless activities, newfound freedom, and higher stakes, many students struggle with disorganization, distractions, and last minute cramming—all anxiety boosters. During the high school years, parents need to stress that time is a precious asset to be used wisely. Encourage them to use planners, block their time, build in margin, and create daily to do lists organized by importance and urgency. This is particularly important for the procrastinator, who won’t find it as easy in college. Remember, fun is fine, but the work comes first!   

  5. Apply empowering, but realistic, academic expectations. It’s wise to expect some grade deflation in college as compared to high school. The transition is significant, the competition is greater, and students suffer tremendously when parents expect perfection. Today’s students (both high school and college) often face intense and unrealistic pressure from parents to achieve the highest GPAs. Granted, we should expect our students to do their best, but that doesn’t automatically translate to a 4.0. Oh, and one more thing: encourage your collegian to take a slightly lesser academic load in his/her first semester. It’ll make for a smoother transition.

 

Next week, our last five tips! We’d love to hear yours.

Growing Signs of College Unreadiness

university-graduatesHave you experienced something like the following? You’re invited to a high school graduation party brimming with pride and promise. In a few short months, he/she will be heading off to college to fulfill his/her dreams, so it’s a festive occasion. Then, after a semester, a year, or maybe two, we hear the disheartening news: in an unexpected turn of events, our friend/relative/son/daughter just dropped out. That upbeat graduation party seemed like only yesterday, didn’t it? Now what?

By all accounts, stories like this are becoming more common. Here are a few telltale signs:

  • The US college completion ranking among 28 nations has fallen from first in 1995 to 19th in 2012, according to OECD. That’s a substantial shift in a mere 17 years.
  • Many colleges are reporting significant increases in student demand for mental health counseling services. Nearly 10 percent of students are receiving such treatment. (Note: some of this increase may be due to efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and seeing a counselor. This is a positive)

Clearly, though, these are worrisome trends. Why are so many students struggling? Are they unready?

Peeling the Onion

According to the 2013 Association of College Counseling Center Directors Survey1 of 380 colleges, here are the top 10 reasons cited for student visits with counselors over the 2012-2013 period: Anxiety (46%), Depression (39%), Relationship Issues (35%), Psychotropic Medication (25%), Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors (18%), Extensive Treatment History (14%), Alcohol Abuse (11%), Self Injury (10%), ADHD (8%), and Drug Abuse (8%). All of these are concerning, but number five is downright alarming.

That anxiety ranks number one shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the college years are inherently stressful, with students facing new environments, responsibilities, competition, and career decisions. That’s a lot to absorb, as many of us may remember all too well!  Among the most commonly cited student stressors are: relationships and loneliness, competitive academic and social pressure, time management/workload/balance, career/major choice, finances, poor eating/sleeping habits, roommate incompatibility, and handling newfound freedom responsibly. Whew!

Contributors

Obviously, each individual situation is unique, and preparing students for success in this major transition is no easy feat. That said, we believe the following are some of the main causes of college unreadiness and student struggles:

  1. Helicoptering and performance parenting: many of today’s parenting methods, often well intended, are producing students who are ill equipped for adulthood and the performance pressures imposed by their parents.
  2. “College for all” mentality: in recent decades, college has been loudly messaged as the ticket to success. Many students would have been better served choosing a different path.
  3. Inadequate commitment to independent living preparation and soft skill development in high schools: schools vary widely in course offerings involving independent living, college/career preparation, leadership, and soft skills (e.g., resilience). In most cases, these valuable courses, if offered at all, are considered electives. Further, there isn’t formal accountability for success after
  4. Insufficient college onboarding programs: arriving on a college campus can be a “deer in the headlights” experience! First year students could benefit from stronger student transition management programs, including how to handle the most common challenges and “derailers.”
  5. Extended period of adolescence: research is showing that the adolescent stage is lasting longer than before. This suggests that today’s college entrant, on average, may be less mature than in year’s past.
  6. Susceptible age: the years from 18-22 often reveal genetic predispositions to mental health issues. Further, at this time of major decisions and transitioning, the adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development. This is a massive amount of change to endure in a short period.

 

We all have a stake in improving this situation. Next week, I’ll share some parenting strategies to help prepare your teens for a successful college experience.

1”Top Reasons Students Seek College Counseling Centers,” Matters of the Mind, http://www.themillennialminds.com

Three Tips to Help Teens Date Smart

teen-datingAhhhh… the time is finally here. The holiday we all look forward to throughout the entire year that’s filled with candy, glitter, expensive dinners, cherubs, school parties, and cupids. Valentine’s Day!

Okay, I know most of us don’t actually look forward to Valentine’s Day all year. In fact, Valentine’s Day can be a hard time for people who may feel lonely as a single person or unhappy in their current relationship. After all, shouldn’t we all have romantic relationships that resemble the ending of a Hallmark movie?

Even though Valentine’s Day is a rather silly holiday (some debate if it’s even “real”), it can be a good time to slow down and think about how to date smart. If you’re a teacher or a parent of teens, now is a good time to talk to the young people in your life about dating relationships and making wise choices.

Right now more than ever, teens are constantly inundated with messages about dating, relationships, and sex. Thanks to the advancement of technology and social media, “finding your match” can be (or is advertised to be) only a finger swipe away. That’s why it’s important for teens have a strong foundation that will allow them to make wise, empowering, and healthy decisions when it comes to romantic relationships.

Here are 3 “D’s” for Dating that will hopefully lead to healthy, uplifting, and authentic relationships.

 Do: Discriminate

Be highly selective with your choices of dates. The problem is, so many people define their self worth by whether they’re dating someone that they “date for dating’s sake” and often settle for less, compromising their values along the way.

Tip: Know the qualities you admire and that attract you to another person; these are the characteristics that are right for you. Consider making a list of the “must-haves” (values, personality traits, interests, goals, etc.) you’d like in your future partner. And don’t settle for less!

Do: Discern

Be wise when you date. Too many people approach dating so impulsively and emotionally that they simply don’t think clearly. Understand what you want in a relationship, your goals, and expectations and have the courage to move on if it’s not a great fit.

Also, avoid unsafe situations before they happen and never force another person or allow yourself to be coerced into acts that compromise your values, risk getting out of control, or that you’ll later regret.

Do: Be Deliberate

Be patient when you date. This is often the hardest thing to do when the infatuation stage is intense. However, if the relationship is truly meant to be, it needn’t be rushed. If the other person wants things to move much faster than you, it’s time to move on. (Honestly, when I look back, most of my breakups were either from bad timing or when one party was rushing it.) Commit to really getting to know the other person and spending lots of time talking. And, don’t allow yourself to be so consumed with your new relationship that you curtail time with friends.

By applying these 3 D’s to your own life, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success rather than possibly settling for short-term, superficial gratification. You’re much more likely to find the Right One, with fewer peaks and valleys (and mistakes) along the way!

 

Is It Time to Revisit High School Course Requirements?

When we speak to educators and administrators at various conferences around the country, one of the questions we invariably ask is:

“How many of your schools have defined a well prepared graduate for life?”

Sadly, we’ve yet to see more than 10% of audience members respond affirmatively. Of those, comparatively few admit that their school has a specific pathway to build these required skills.

At the same time, out in the “real world,” we find that:

  1. Employers are lamenting the lack of soft skills among younger workers (and applicants), thereby necessitating additional training.
  2. The US ranked 19th out of 28 countries in college completion in 2012, according to an OECD study1. (It ranked first as recently as 1995.)
  3. Colleges are reporting significant increases in student visits to their counseling centers, citing factors such as depression and anxiety.

It is apparent from multiple perspectives that we are falling short in preparing our children for independent life. While this is a complex challenge with many contributors, I’d like to share what I consider to be a primary source of the problems: the course requirements for high school graduation.

The US economy has changed dramatically in the past few decades, requiring different skills than before. Also, post-secondary education has become much more popular, which argues for greater advance preparation.  And, jobs for students during high school are more difficult to come by, limiting opportunities for valuable workplace skill development. In light of these factors, the question is whether our education requirements have appropriately adapted. Many believe they have not—and we agree.

At LifeSmart, we believe students need greater applied learning and skill development and practical preparation for independent living. This would significantly enhance both career- and life-readiness for our nation’s high school graduates.

While people may disagree on which courses deserve the status of a requirement (versus an elective), we believe the following would help address the skill gap:

  • College and Career Readiness: this would prepare students for their next education steps, as well as the four career mastery stages: exploring, qualifying, marketing, and excelling. Valuable perspectives from employers would be included.
  • Independent Living: this would offer students a clear glimpse into “life on their own,” including leadership, soft skills, relationship building, budgeting, and everyday living skills.
  • 21st Century Skills: this would help students build the analytical, problem solving, collaborative, and communication skills needed to succeed.
  • Personal Finance: this would include the basics of budgeting, banking, investing, credit, identity protection, insurance, car buying, and loan applications. (It would also improve our nation’s financial literacy!)
  • Entrepreneurship: this course would expose students to all aspects of creating and managing a business (and learning about capitalism in the process!). Knowing that most students will work in a business or organization, this would offer valuable insights into how the “real world” operates.
  • Communications: this course would include both verbal and written personal and professional communications. In today’s highly collaborative workforce, communication skills are a must. The casualness of contemporary communication has become a major impediment to many young people adapting to college and professional environments.

For some schools, this would involve converting existing electives into requirements, and others would involve new course offerings. Of course, it would be helpful to incorporate these practical skills in other classes where possible.

These are our ideas. We’d love to hear yours!

Let’s Make 2017 the Year of Listening

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

~ Epictetus

Question: what one action fosters unity, common understanding, mutual respect, healing, better decisions, more effective management, stronger marriages, families, and friendships, and greater empathy, civility, harmony, knowledge, and perspective? (I think we can all agree these are worthy causes!) Answer: Listening. If we dedicated ourselves to becoming better listeners. I believe it would change the world.

So, what about making 2017 a year when we do more listening and “sharing with” and less “talking to?” A year when we fully engage with each other to forge stronger relationships and greater understanding? And, maybe a year when we celebrate what unites us instead of focusing so much on our differences?

From my perch, this would go a long way in healing our nation, our communities, our families, and ourselves. Here’s what I’m observing:

  • Almost everything today has become politicized, with people holding entrenched views and often vilifying others simply for having different opinions or solutions (as if this will persuade). We’re talking/shouting at each other, rather than sharing our perspectives and seeking common ground. We’re spending most of our time with people who share our views rather than respectfully engaging and listening to others with different points of view (hello college administrators!). This polarizes and divides, rather than unites, and it’s impairing our relationships, mutual understanding, and civility.
  • Technology is significantly interfering with interpersonal engagement and is eroding our relationships. (Question: was this ever listed as a potential side effect when we bought our smartphones?!?) We’re allowing ourselves to be distracted when we’re together, without realizing how this devalues others.
  • Our careers are so consuming and our schedules so full that we aren’t preserving the needed time to nurture, guide, and listen to our children as we should.
  • Businesses are often so consumed with their bottom lines that they’re not fully engaging all that their employees have to offer. Some are even expecting 24-7 responses to emails, which is interfering with family time.

So, where do we go from here? Perhaps if we try these out, we can reverse course:

  1. When we’re enjoying the company of others, we adopt a no-device rule (unless we are using them together). We fully engage with our eyes, ears, and body language.
  2. We adopt the 40/60 rule in how much we talk versus listen in our conversations. (Note: with parents, it should be more like 30/70!)
  3. We spend more time trying to understand each other rather than persuade each other. We keep our conversations constructive and strive to find common ground where it exists (we might discover that our goals are the same but our methods are different!).
  4. We reserve time to invest in our relationships and fully engage
  5. We exhibit self control, respect, and civility when we differ
  6. We listen to positive influences and tune out others
  7. We seek out varying perspectives in forming our views, making decisions, and teaching students (college administrators, take note)
  8. We put our employees first when we manage our businesses
  9. We take time to listen to our spirit, to pray if we are so inclined, and to bask in the beauty and tranquility of nature. Someone once said that “silent” and “listen” are spelled with the same letters. How cool!

As someone who tends to be outgoing and opinionated, this may be among the most convicting blogs I’ve ever written. But, I’m committing myself to do better in 2017 and beyond. I hope these ideas work for you, and the people you’re influencing, too.

From Dreamer to Achiever: Making Your 2017 Vision a Reality

So, what grade would you give yourself regarding your 2016 resolutions? If you’re like most of us, you succeeded with a few, but fell short on more. Sometimes our goals get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes we fail because we didn’t turn our goals into specific plans and actions (i.e., we stayed in dream land). And, sometimes we weren’t that serious about them in the first place.

In last week’s blog, we encouraged you to develop an aspirational vision for 2017, and we hope you’re off to a great start. Your next and greatest challenge is turning your vision into a reality. Depending on how you’re wired, this may come naturally or not. Regardless, one surefire method is to adopt the Plan, Do, and Review approach that is common in the business world. Yes, it works just as well for us as individuals and families and hopefully for you, too!

Planning

Your first step is to prioritize your vision and aspirations. If your list of desires is a mile long, you’ll become disillusioned and lose interest within months. A better approach is to limit your focus areas to no more than three to five (depending on how involved they are). With such busy lives, there’s only so much we can realistically accomplish. If you achieve yours ahead of schedule, by all means go back to your list and add some more!

How should you narrow your list to a manageable number? First, prioritize them in order of potential value and impact. Some will be a bigger deal than others. Also consider the time required for each goal to the best of your ability, and build in the necessary margin. Finally, pay attention to urgency. Some goals may need to be addressed immediately while others can wait. Be especially mindful of goals with set deadlines (e.g., college applications) and plan with a buffer, in case you fall behind.

Once you’ve settled on your top vision areas, develop specific plans and goals to achieve them. Your goals should include target completion dates and specific, measurable outcomes to help assess your progress. And, be sure they’re realistic and achievable. If they’re not, you will lose interest. Been there, done that!

Doing

Now, it’s do time. You’ve set your course, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Each of your diverse goals will require different action steps and time frames for completion. Daily and weekly to do lists will help keep you on track and build momentum as you progress. These are especially important for larger goals that require lots of steps. If you’re like me, you love crossing off to do list items! Oh, and remember that whatever you do, do it with excellence and, ideally, on time.

Reviewing

Your final step is reviewing your performance. Ideally, you will have shared your goals with the appropriate party (e.g., your supervisor, parents, spouse/partner, friend, or mentor) and set dates to review your progress. Trust me, accountability works just as effectively in our personal lives as it does in a job review! It adds incentive and motivation and helps keep us on track. If you’re falling behind on any of your goals, these conversations can help you make any mid-course corrections. If you’ve achieved them, be sure to celebrate! You deserve it.

Application for Families and Educators

Goal setting and implementation are essential leadership skills to build in our children, and it’s never too soon to begin. Spend time early in the year as a family to set both individual and family goals (e.g., more harmony, less technology distractions, a community service project). Have each family member select a character quality he/she would like to improve, with other members providing encouragement and accountability. Then, perhaps quarterly, enjoy a family night to review your progress and celebrate with your favorite game or activity.

Educators can also have students develop and record their goals at the beginning of the semester, draft a mid-term progress report, and write a concluding paper at the end of the semester summarizing their performance. It’s a great exercise to build vision and intentionality in our young leaders. Based on my many conversations with young adults, there’s a lot of dreaming out there, but nowhere near enough planning and doing. Together, we can turn this around.

 

 

Casting Your Vision for 2017

So, how was your 2016? Despite the holiday frenzy, I hope you took some time to reflect on the year, highlighting your blessings and, yes, considering what might have gone better. What brought you the greatest joy? What were your personal growth successes? Whose lives did you impact the most? What lessons did you learn from your greatest challenges? Does your future look differently?

Soon, the bowl games will be over and it’ll be time to cast your vision for the new year (including completing our goals from 2016!). With a renewed spirit and fresh thinking, some exciting opportunities may be in store.

Here are some tips to help you craft your vision for 2017:

Personal Growth:

Regardless of our age, we can always take steps to improve our personal (and professional) brand. Perhaps you’ve received some constructive criticism. Or, you wish you possessed a quality you admire in others. This list of positive attributes might stimulate ideas. Here are some additional questions to consider:

  • How would you most like to improve your mind, body, and spirit?
  • Which growth goals, if achieved, would have the greatest impact on your life and on others?
  • What new experiences and learning would allow for growth, enjoyment, or potential impact on the community?
  • How might you manage your time more effectively and reduce distractions?
  • Do you have a solid understanding of your assets, interests, and passions?

Relationships:

Positivity is a powerful force in life, especially in our relationships. It’s why we should begin each year by identifying the relationships we’d like to improve and how we might begin the process. (Yes, it generally pays for us to initiate the steps rather than wait for the other party… as difficult as this may be.)

Here are some other questions worth considering:

  • How is technology affecting your relationships with family and friends? Consider making your family time tech free. Technology IS having a serious effect on relationships and communication, so be on guard.
  • For parents: who could become a potential role model and mentor to your children? They’ll help foster new, valuable relationships and help your children build their network. Also, how can you build stronger relationship capital with each of your children?
  • Are politics getting in the way of your friendships? If so, it’s repair time!

Community:

Our greatest sense of joy, purpose, and fulfillment often comes from serving others. If giving back to your community is an area you’d like to strengthen, these questions might help channel your desire into a plan:

  • If you didn’t have to work for a paycheck, how would you contribute to society?
  • If you could solve any problem or pursue any cause, what would you choose?
  • Which people or needs tug most at your heart?
  • Which organizations or programs are aligned with your passions and could benefit from your talents?

Always remember, someone out there needs exactly what you have to offer!

Career:

No matter where you are in your career, there are always opportunities to “up your game.” These ideas might take yours to a new level:

  • For students, take a skills and interests inventory to identify potential matches. Then, as your candidate list narrows, talk with people in those jobs to gain from their wisdom. It’ll either confirm your interest or steer you away. By investing in your career exploration and understanding your talents, passions, and interests, you’ll be in great shape to find a good fit.
  • For experienced employees: 1) is there a new skill/training that will position you to advance? 2) how can you improve your existing job performance? 3) is there someone you would like to be mentored by or whom you can mentor? and 4) what ways can you contribute to your employer’s success that may, or may not, fit within your job description?

Finances:

Finally, we all should be reviewing our financial goals annually as a course of habit. What ways might you learn to save and invest more, spend more wisely, give more to charitable causes, and improve your financial literacy? Are you on a pathway to achieving your financial goals? What tweaks do you need to make?

Best wishes on your vision casting and for a fantastic 2017!

 

 

What Christmas Traditions Can Do for Your Teen

cookies“Aaaaw, do we really have to do        __this year?” (eyes roll)

Got teens?  If so, it may be easy for you to fill in the blank. Many times, these are the years parents get the most pushback from their kids when it comes to family traditions.  (Think Audrey in Christmas Vacation, if you’re a fan.)

But while some Christmas traditions may well need to be put on the shelf as children get older (e.g., a 16-year old on Santa’s lap at the mall to get that annual photo may seem a little over the top to some and downright humiliating to others), many traditions can serve to reinforce the bonds we share as a family.

As our (Arlyn’s) five children were growing up, we went out each year on the weekend after Thanksgiving to cut the family tree (more visions of Christmas Vacation, the slightly-edited-for-language version).  Early on, in an attempt to settle the inevitable squabbles that would arise as we searched for the “perfect tree,” we settled on the practice of having a “girls’ year” and a “boys’ year” to pick the tree. Did this eliminate conflict?  Not always, although it certainly minimized it. What it did do was cement a tradition that to this day continues to forge an impression in our kids’ minds of who we are as a family: we do things together. We communicate. We negotiate. We take turns.  These are important aspects of our family brand—all year long.

The “kids” now range from 19 to 30. And we still go out to cut a Christmas tree together each year … adding sons and daughters-in-law and a few grandkids to the mix, and still alternating girls’ years and boys’ years!

The traditions your family establishes and maintains—like going to church together on Christmas Eve, taking cookies to your neighbors, wearing matching jammies on Christmas morning, or whatever—can accomplish far more than just fun memories. They can be a significant part of creating a strong sense of security, identity, and values in your children. These are the kinds of qualities that can ground them and give them the internal strength they need to navigate the world with confidence.

Trust me, there were a lot of eye rolls and even a few spats over the years on our annual Christmas tree expeditions. (I remember an apple fight that turned ugly one year; the boys found rotting apples in a nearby orchard and decided to pelt the girls with them!). But bottom line, the tradition became something that contributed much more to our family brand than we ever anticipated: our traditions helped to cement our relationships.

What traditions does your family practice at Christmas?  Have you ever thought about what qualities they contribute to your family brand? Please share your ideas and memories with us; we’d love to hear!

An Out-of-the-Box Holiday Idea

Tired of shopping from gift card-laden lists that remove the element of surprise? Tempted to play it safe yet again? Or, are you willing to take a calculated risk and think “out of the box” for the special people/person in your life? Allow me to share a true story that might just influence your decision… and add a little magic, too.

I grew up in a family with limited financial means but who went “all out” at Christmas. Imagine a Norman Rockwellian Christmas on steroids. That would be us! Cookies and candies made from scratch. Tinseled tree. Snowball fights, sled riding, and ice skating. Midnight mass. Caroling in the neighborhood. Home made eggnog. There was nothing like it.

But things were looking different for us in the Christmas of ’79. Earlier that summer, I moved from Milwaukee to Seattle to attend grad school. I didn’t have the money to fly home so this was destined to be my first Christmas away. We avoided the subject during my weekly calls and for good reason. I knew this would be hard on all of us—probably me the most.

However, I decided to play a hunch in early November. What if I flew out to Chicago on a cheap ticket and had someone drive me the rest of the way? Ka-Ching! I immediately made the arrangements with my friend Bruce and didn’t tell a soul. I even sounded a little extra “down” during our December phone calls to help “set the stage.” Okay, I was milking it!

After the four-hour winter drive from O’Hare, I arrived at my brother Rick’s house where I plotted the big event for the following morning. I would be placed inside a large cardboard box sent from the North Pole on my parents’ upstairs apartment doorstep. Rick would ring the doorbell and “ditch” out of sight. And, at the appropriate time, I would jump out of the box and shout, “Merry Christmas!!!”

Now, I’d like you to imagine this for a moment. You are inside a box about to startle the living daylights out of your parents who are clueless to what they’re about to experience. Try to imagine.

My heart was pounding like never before as I sat inside the box. Eventually, my mom answered the door and immediately called out to her (visiting) friend to see what was on the doorstep. For reasons of space, I can’t replay the entire event, but imagine two ladies in their sixties trying to lift this mysterious carton into the apartment, utterly clueless as to what was inside. After they put in some effort, I knew it was time. I counted to three, and jumped out, providing the most delightful shock of our lives. Within five minutes, the story spread like wildfire throughout the apartment complex. A surprise for the ages.

My first Christmas away would have to wait for another year. Simply unforgettable.

As I reflect on that moment, I am reminded of what made it so special:

  1. It was a complete surprise—certainly not on their list!
  2. It was a gift from the heart—it spoke volumes about their importance to me
  3. It was creative—you might say, “Out of the box!”
  4. It made a lasting memory

And, wouldn’t you know it, but years later, I would receive my all-time favorite gift—one that possessed these same qualities.  It was an engraved license plate frame from my kids on Father’s Day that says, “Dad’s are Cool!” Now, that’s a keeper!

So, to you adults: who might benefit from an out-of-the-box type of gift that reveals how much you care? And, to you teens: what might you share with your parents, teachers, mentors, etc., that honors them for their investment in you?

It needn’t be any more elaborate than a handwritten note, straight from the heart.

Merry Christmas everybody!