How to Become an Empowering Parent

animal-avian-bird-3114473Our goal as parents should be to raise well-prepared, self-confident future adults who are ready to fulfill their dreams and purpose. Our goal should not be for them to “stick around” as long as possible, to control as much of their lives as we can, or to be their best friend. No, in order to be a parent who empowers, our parenting philosophy and approach need to be aligned accordingly

Of course, it sounds easy to be a purposeful and intentional parent, always keeping our goals in mind. However, it’s more challenging than it sounds! With our busy lives (jobs, activities, travel, friends, kids’ schedules) and constant laundry list of daily to-dos, we are pulled in many different directions. The long and short of it is this: once our teens mature, it’s time to say “goodbye” to a control-oriented approach and “hello” to coaching and empowering. This means giving incremental freedom as our children demonstrate maturity, responsibility, and integrity.

This is one of the greatest gifts we can give them—our belief in them.

So, how do we actually DO empowered parenting?

There are several pillars that we recommend you make a part of your parenting approach, but today we will focus on your parenting philosophy. Philosophically, it all starts with adopting an empowering mindset. Embrace that you are no longer raising a child, but an adult you want to see reach his or her potential. This shift makes a huge difference! Here’s how to get started:

  1. Establish strategic parenting goals. Productive people are goal setters, and this applies to parenting, too. Develop goals and values to guide your children and create your family’s “brand.” This makes a great team-building project to do with your children and can help you better understand each other as you grow together and look forward to the future.
  2. Don’t forget that you’re their parent, not their friend. When our children are little, there’s a maturitychasmbetween us, and it’s easier to feel like the one in charge. However, that gap narrows in the tween years and even more so when they’re adults. When this gap shrinks (and concurrently, when our teens exert more independence and pushback), many parents mistakenly move into a friend role. In their mind, it will help keep the peace and their teen happy. However, this can lead to chaos and disrespect, and your teen can miss out on important life lessons.
  3. Remember, it’s their This may seem to contradict the pointer above, but when held in healthy tension, it actually doesn’t! The difference is the driving philosophy that raising self-confident children is about them, not about us. It’s about helping them understand their potential and chase after their own dreams. We must not impose our own desires, as it will deprive them of the freedom they need to soar. To do otherwise will breed resentment in the adult years that is difficult to overcome.
  4. Teach for independence. Often, parents fall into the trap of doing things for their children because it’s easier, takes less time, gives them a better outcome, etc. However, in order to empower, make sure that instead of doing it for them, you show them how to do it. After all, the acid test of parenting is whether your children can do something well without your help or reminders. This is a vital step in developing the life skills they will need to master as they enter adulthood.

With these pointers applied to your parenting philosophy, we are confident that all parents can position their family for a successful launch. By being intentional and purposeful, we can empower our teens and give them the wings—not strings—they need to soar.

For more information on empowering parenting, we invite you to check out our new book, Wings Not Strings.

 

A Guide for Gen Z: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

family-3817047_1920Recent high school graduates: Do you ever feel unsure of what’s to come? Are you anxious about your future, whether it’s over your relationships, choice of major, or career goals? Do you wonder if life after high school is all that it’s cracked-up to be? 

Parents: Do you worry about the day when your teen will move out and enter the real world? Are you worried they aren’t fully equipped? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, here is some encouragement and insight in this third installment of my “What I Wish I Knew Before College” series.

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

Without further ado, let’s get started. I’d like to close this series with the one final thing I wish I knew the summer after I graduated high school. If I knew then what I know now, I feel that I could have better positioned myself for this big change.

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

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

This is what I’d like to impart to you, ten years later. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can imagine how my mom must have felt that week: Scared to let go, sad to say goodbye, and nostalgic about memories with her once little (now big!) oldest daughter. It’s totally relatable. I can’t even bear to think about one of my little girls growing up and moving somewhere 2,000 miles away!

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

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

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

 

A Guide for Gen Z: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 2

laptop-3087585_1920Hi, it’s Heather Sipes, LifeSmart Communications Director and “upper millennial,” back for round two! I hope you’re enjoying this series focusing on the things I wish I knew before I started university. Hopefully this is a great resource for those of you who are teens, and also for those of you parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches who are guiding them. In case you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

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

  • If you’re religious, you might come to question your faith. My spiritual beliefs were a big part of my life when I started university. I went to a Christian liberal arts college, and I half-expected some of my classes to feel a bit like Sunday School. Boy, was I wrong! College completely rocked my entire faith system and forced me to question WHY I believe what I believe. One of the greatest takeaways from my college experience was that I built a strong foundation for my personal spiritual values, and learned to not just believe in them because my parents told me they were true. (You’ll soon learn—“because my parents said”—is not a good reason to believe anything! Sorry, parents! We still love you!)
Even if you aren’t religious, you’ll learn that asking WHY in regards to your long-held suppositions  will  benefit you greatly in life. By digging deeper into your beliefs and premises you will build a stronger  foundation of knowledge, confidence, and truth to sustain you in life.

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

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

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

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

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

A Guide for Gen Z: What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 1

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For the next few weeks, we’re delighted to have Heather Sipes, Communications Director at LifeSmart, offer her insights to our audience. Take it away, Heather!
My first year of college was 12 years ago. I was bright-eyed and my heart was bursting with idealistic dreams for my future. It was hard to not romanticize this next step in my life, and I was convinced I was about to embark on the most fun, life-changing, and insightful season. I mean, these are the best years of our lives, right?
Indeed, my college experience was pretty amazing, but there are several things I wish someone told me before I started—preferably someone from my generation, who had recently completed their college work. Someone with fresh, practical advice to help prepare me for the next season. That’s what I’ll be doing for you and your students in these next few emails.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

~Heather

9 Keys to Winning New Friendships

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January and August. Two months that are as diametrically opposed as day and night, but that share one important characteristic in common: they are the months of new beginnings.

In August, my mind naturally drifts to the new transitions our students will be facing. Perhaps they’re entering high school from middle school, in a new setting and back to being the lowest rung in the ladder. Or, perhaps they’re entering their senior year, knowing this will be their last in familiar territory. Or, maybe they’re off to college, university, trade school, the workforce, or service, in completely new surroundings. With few exceptions, these transitions will make their previous ones seem like a cakewalk by comparison.

No matter what transition they will experience, each will pose unique opportunities and challenges—not only in how they will do, but also in how they will fit in. To that end, change that entails a new environment is generally the most socially demanding of all. That’s because some current friendships will naturally fade away while we seek to grow new ones. It’s why our ability to cultivate new friendships isa critical skill to foster in the children under our guidance.

So, whether you’re an adolescent embarking on a new chapter or a parent or caregiver providing support and encouragement, here are our top tips for successfully landing great new friendships. . .

  1. Remember you are worth knowing! It’s natural to have some doubts when we face new social settings and living environments. This is especially true if it seems like it’s taking longer than we expected to make new friends. But, remember, you are a unique person with great qualities, experiences, interests, and passions and you will be a great friend to others. Own that.
  2. Be choosy. As a Skippy lover, I was nonetheless persuaded years ago by the, “Choosy mothers choose Jif” commercial! And, oh how this applies to friend making! So, make a list of your most important values and interests in a friend and put that into your mental filter as you meet new people. Some will pass your “taste test” but most will not. And, that’s okay.
  3. It’s all about quality. So many young people are misguided by social media into thinking that friendships are all about quantity. Nothing can be further from the truth. All it takes is a few close friends who you enjoy and can trust and you’re on your way! Take depth over breadth any day.
  4. Remember, it’s not a sprint. One of the worst traps we can fall into is trying to make new friends fast. Often, it’s out of a sense of loneliness and impatience. These are the times we are most vulnerable to compromising our standards, and that never ends well. Your patience in waiting for the right fits to come along will be rewarded. Time and testing are necessary ingredients to determining a good match.There’s no need to rush.
  5. Positivity is key. There is a great saying that you become the average of the five people with whom you spend the most time. That’s huge! So, as you meet new people, ask yourself whether they are bringing you and your standards up or down. You’re too important to have any use for the latter. Do you feel you have to change who you are just to fit in? By surrounding yourself with positive and uplifting people, you’ll win in the short run and long run. Oh, and if you want a recent example of a friend-making machine, google “Hinako Shibuno.” In just four days, she literally endeared herself to golfing fans around the world—for good reason.
  6. If they’re not a fit, that’s okay! Friend making is a bit like going to the local buffet. Lots of choices—some you like and others you don’t. In the same way, not everyone is meant to be your friend. Relationships progress in stages, from acquaintance to prospect to friend to VIP. With each stage, fewer and fewer will advance as we get to know them better and gauge the fit. The fact is, most people you will know in life will only stay in the acquaintance stage and that’s okay.
  7. A vibrant tree needs pruning and new growth. One of the most difficult realities with relationships is that some are forever and others for a season (although we don’t know it at the time). As we enter new stages and environments, it’s common to drift away or prune some old relationships where we no longer have the same degree of connection. As difficult as this can be, it’s perfectly normal. Our new friendships are there to take their place.
  8. Get in the game. In life, our best friends usually share our interests and values. So, it makes sense for us to be strategic in where and how we look for new ones. Think about the things you enjoy the most, and then identify where people who share your interests hang out. It could be a club, organization, course, activity, or whatever. Take steps to be present where they are and friendships will naturally flow. The same is true of your values. Where can you find people who share them? Once you know, it’s a matter of getting in the game and seeing where things lead.
  9. Be inquisitive and other-centered. We’ve all known people who try so hard to make new friends that they spend most of their time talking about themselves and how great they are. It’s a constant struggle for them. Contrast this with people who are genuinely inquisitive when meeting others and who let them do most of the talking. They are the friend magnets. When you go out of your way to show interest in others, it will resonate. Then, it’s a matter of time and mutually shared experiences that will determine whether they’ll rise to the level of “friend.”

May yours be a lifetime with new and wonderful friendships!

 

 

Are There Shortcuts to Success? You Might Be Surprised.

cheerful-colleague-desk-1169953One of my favorite things to do during talks and workshops is to ask provocative questions and see how the audience responds. A recent example during some educator workshops was, “How many of you believe there are shortcuts to success?” More often than not, only a small minority will raise their hands. Whether it’s because that’s what they truly believe or because they think that’s what the speaker wants to hear, few audiences believe in shortcuts. Then again, most of the time when we talk about shortcuts, there is a negative connotation, isn’t there?

Well, you might be surprised by my answer. Based on my personal experience and my decades of evaluating successful leaders, I believe the unequivocal answer is, “YES!” And, I also believe that if these tips are shared with the young people in your lives, you will give them a big head start in fulfilling their potential!

In this blog, I’ll share three foolproof strategies that, when implemented, will “fast track” a person’s success and help him or her stand out from the crowd. And, the best news: it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to successfully apply them and reap the rewards.

Strategy One: Gain from the wisdom that surrounds you. It’s so unfortunate that few teens and young adults actively seek wisdom from the adults in their lives. Whether it’s because of overconfidence that’s common in the teen years or because they believe adults are too busy to spend time with them, the end result is forgoing a free gift that’s right in their midst.

There is so much to be gained by spending time with admirable adults who can share wisdom that comes with experience. What led to their success? What were their biggest mistakes and regrets that they would do over if they could? What advice would they give you at this pivotal time of life? What qualities do they most respect in people? What were the biggest decisions they made and how did they make them? How do they define success and what brings them joy? Would they, one day, be willing to serve as a reference?

Priceless conversations. Timeless wisdom. All there, just for the asking.

Strategy Two: Solicit and embrace feedback.  Who doesn’t love receiving a compliment—especially an unsolicited one?!? Chances are, it means that whatever we’re doing, we should keep doing it! However, especially in the early years of our careers when we’re inexperienced and a little naïve, some of the most beneficial feedback is in areas in which we can improve. We’ll call them “growth opportunities.”

One of the most common criticisms we hear about younger employees is their disdain for constructive feedback. Today’s managers feel like they are walking on eggshells if they have to correct or even gently criticize them. While they’ll gladly receive praise for the positives, they disdain negative feedback. And, by doing so, they are missing out on one of the most powerful success shortcuts of all.

During my career, I actively sought constructive feedback. Sure, I wanted to hear my strengths, but more importantly, I wanted to know the ways I could improve my performance, professionalism, and impact. So, rather than wait to hear my “weaknesses,” I proactively sought it from my supervisor and other leaders in the company. It was pivotal to my success and “took the sting” out of listening to my shortfalls.

Sometimes correcting our weaknesses has more impact than growing our strengths. But, because both are needed to be successful, young people can really stand out by taking this strategy to heart. (Oh, and this also works in our relationships, but that’s for another time.) Sure it takes courage, but it’s so valuable to our growth.

Strategy Three: Go above and beyond to maximize your impact. It’s interesting to observe the MVPs of a workforce versus the average performers. In a nutshell, they bring an entirely different mindset to the job. The MVPs are always looking for new ways to add value to their job, department, and organization, while average performers tend to stay focused on their day-to-day job responsibilities and not much beyond that.

In the workplace, superstars will find a way to: 1) increase sales and customer loyalty, 2) improve efficiencies to reduce costs, 3) innovate new products/services and methods, and 4) assume a leadership role on projects, teams, etc. Now, depending on one’s job specifications, not all of these will be possible at any particular point in time. BUT, regardless of one’s job, this pivotal question always remains, “What can I do to maximize my impact and add value to my employer?” Resourceful people always seem to find a way… in part because it’s wired into their very being. And, by sharing examples with the young people in your life, you can help stimulate this kind of motivation, creativity, and passion in them, too.

We believe these three strategies can have an amazing impact on the young people under your guidance. Let us know how they respond. Yes, they are shortcuts to success, but good ones indeed.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reversing the Pattern of Entitlement in Young People

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As I was enjoying a much needed relaxing weekend, I was reflecting on how the employment world has become so competitive. It struck me how we have to raise the bar in order just to stay even.

The question is: are we even staying even?

Two groups of people immediately came to mind when considering who could best answer this question: employers of young people and school counselors. After all, they’re the respective “consumers” of the nation’s schools and key leaders in guiding our students.

I talked to a manager of a coffee shop the other day who also teaches high school “tech-ed” courses. He vented about the lacking social skills, work ethic, and dependability of his employees and students, lamenting how they act like they’re owed something. He faces an uphill battle because he sees how their parents are routinely feeding these attitudes, enabling their child’s sense of entitlement.

This insightful insider commented that when parents do things like make last-minute absentee calls on behalf of their teen, give teachers flak when their students aren’t doing well in a class, or make nasty phone calls to employers when their child doesn’t get the promotion, raise, or extra hours he/she “deserved,” they’re doing their children a huge disservice in the long run.

Another person I spoke with, a veteran school counselor, shared how already in the first week of school they faced numerous issues with student disrespect and parental entitlement. Regrettably, this is consistent with a survey of school counselors I conducted a few months ago. Student apathy, “entitlement mentality,” and lack of parental support were among the top five issues they cited. 

Now, juxtapose this with a conversation I had with a determined Indonesian high school student after my talk, “Developing the Great Leaders of Tomorrow” during my book tour stop in Bali.

“Mr. Dennis,” he said, “I’m not as smart at academics as I’d like to be. But, can I still become a great leader?” he asked with great concern.

This kid gets it. No, success is not just about “book smarts—far from it.” It’s about being smart about life, without an attitude of entitlement. It’s about having the willingness to work hard and deliver excellence in all you do. For a host of reasons, too many students aren’t getting this message today.

All of us—parents, teachers, school and college administrators, and media/culture drivers, have a stake in reversing this trend of entitlement. This means honoring and modeling hard work, personal responsibility, strong ethics, perseverance, and preparing young people for a world that won’t revolve around them. It means teaching that failure is part of life and self-esteem is something best earned.

It means that as parents, our value isn’t defined by a perfect performance from our children, but whether they are people of excellence who strive to do their best. And, yes, it means assigning responsibilities to the privileges our young people naturally desire. That means adopting a “work comes before play” approach in the home, placing healthy limits on technology and entertainment, and building a helping, team-oriented attitude with chores so the household runs smoothly. It means remembering you’re in a position of authority, not a co-equal friend. It means choosing not to defend your child’s misbehavior or poor attitude to authority figures. Finally, it means providing our children opportunities to volunteer to help the less fortunate.

And, for our schools and universities, it means reversing the course of grade inflation that is causing students to feel a sense of entitlement that everyone deserves (and is receiving) good grades. It means that administrators, coaches, and teachers reemphasize the importance of respect to students, parents, and staff. Although well intended in many respects, the self esteem movement has contributed to serious unintended consequences—with entitlement, disrespect, overconfidence, and emotional fragility among the most obvious ones. A little tough love can, and will, go a long way to reversing these trends.

So, now that the school year is over, let’s get to work…on this!

 

Limited Time Offer: Grad Season Sale!

Graduation is just around the corner, and people everywhere are looking for the perfect gift to honor a new crop of students poised to take on the real world.

We say, “Look no further!”

This is the best time of year to give a keepsake gift of What I Wish I Knew at 18. It’s conversationally written and filled with practical wisdom to guide your teen to a lifetime of success. With tips on building a strong leadership foundation, making smart financial decisions, positioning for a great career, mastering great character, excelling in college, and forming new relationships, this book is a treasure for navigating life after high school.

Graduation is also a pivotal milestone for parents. That’s why we wrote Parenting for the Launch. It’s designed to encourage and equip parents in preparing their teen (and themselves!) for a successful launch. It’s filled with powerful parenting strategies to navigate the teen years and build a strong and enduring relationship.

To join the celebration, we’re offering special graduation pricing on all of our print resources, valid through June 20, 2019. We’re offering each book at $15 apiece—

20% off our regular retail price!

You can purchase books here, or call 1-800-BOOKLOG to order by phone. 

Be sure to use the Promo Code: LS20

This season, we’re inviting you to give a gift that will last a lifetime.

One Unforgettable Gift to Give Your Teen This Summer

academic-dress-beautiful-facial-expression-1139249One of life’s pleasures is giving our children a truly meaningful and unexpected gift. But, let’s be honest—with the convenience of gift cards, technology, and online shopping, it might be easier to stick with their Amazon wish list. (I know it’s my surefire way of guaranteeing they’ll like my choice!) Well, today, I’m going to share a gift idea they would never conceive of, but which will go down as one of their most valuable ever. And it won’t cost you a thing. It could be the perfect solution to the graduation gift situation you just haven’t been able to figure out.

I call it a “blessing packet.”

Imagine your teen receiving an unexpected, gift-wrapped package. It’s light in weight and makes a shuffling sound when shaken. When unwrapped, the first thing they’ll see is a small envelope containing instructions. They’re told to open the larger envelope when they have uninterrupted quality time to digest its contents.  At that seminal moment, they’ll discover a priceless collection of smaller envelopes inside.

Within each envelope is a personal letter honoring him or her with words of affirmation, encouragement, and confidence in their future. Loving perspectives of their uniqueness and value and what they’ve meant to each author. Special verses or inspirational messages. Pictures and mementos of precious times together. Expressions of how much they are loved and believed in.

It’s simple, yet profound! (Some schools even arrange retreats where each student receives this gift, generally coordinated with the parents.) Here’s all you need to do…

First, consider the people who have occupied a special place in the life of your teen… usually family members, friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors. Then, ask them to craft a personal, inspirational letter in a privately sealed envelope you’ll collect and deliver to the unsuspecting receiver. That’s it!

Not only is this a wonderful gift to receive, but it’s also a special occasion for the givers. It offers them a unique opportunity to say what’s on their heart to a special person in their life. Having written a few of them for my teens and their friends, I can attest that this can be quite an experience!

A keepsake gift like this will strengthen your teen’s self worth, identity, and sense of significance and calling. It’ll remind them of their passions, talents, and special qualities as seen by their many fans around them. It’ll offer encouragement to persevere through life’s challenges.

As the school year comes to a close (and perhaps graduation and moving off to college are mere weeks away) a blessing packet might be the perfect gift to give to your teen!

Have you ever given a non-material or sentimental gift to your son, daughter, or another teen in your life? How did they respond? Do you have other suggestions of ways to bless teens before they transition to life after high school?

This Summer, Help Your Teen Manage the Art of Professional Networking

cameras-composition-data-1483937Summer is almost here! Kids are out of school for a couple months and many of us are looking forward to a little bit of relaxation, sunshine, vacations, and weekend barbecues. However, summer certainly isn’t all play and no work. In fact, for many newly launched young adults (or soon-to-be-launched teenagers), summer is the time they think of landing their first job. To help set your teen up for success in this arena, you will want to instill the importance of a vital life skill: networking.

You’ve likely heard said many times: “It’s not what you know, but whom you know.” Of course, this is an overstatement, but in this high tech, interconnected age, it’s truer than ever. The fact is, a significant percentage of jobs won are by someone who had an insider advocating for them to the recruiting manager. The sooner your teen understands this reality, the better.

No matter how talented we are, we all need people who will go to bat for us, both personally and professionally. Their assistance can take the form of introductions and connections, references and advocacy, decision-making in our favor, an information source, or general support. They help us gain access to strategically important people. They are our ambassadors—our very own sales force!

The employment recruitment process has radically changed since I was younger. Nowadays, it’s all about online applications that seem to disappear into the proverbial black hole—it’s SO impersonal and frustrating. Somehow, some way, our application needs to stand out. No doubt about it, the best way is to have an inside ambassador (in addition to also having a noteworthy cover letter and personable and professional follow-up calls). It adds a measure of dependability and reassurance to the hiring manager, and that’s huge. It may not land us the job, but it helps get us into the game.

Our son Michael is a natural networker. Ever since he was young, Michael always enjoyed being with adults. He became a basketball ref at an early age and loved pick-up games with guys decades his senior on the golf course. Interestingly, connections from these circles were instrumental to his acceptance into the college of his dreams. And, today, they’ve proven just as helpful as he’s entered the workforce and navigated his way into a thriving career. Thankfully, when it comes to networking, he values it and is good at it. And of course, dad loves to see him in action!

But, for many, networking doesn’t come so naturally. Some are more reserved, some haven’t developed the skills, and some don’t appreciate just how important it is. Some kids are too insecure to put themselves out there, and others rely on less important aspects of their job search in order to land them the job. So, parents and teachers, this is a great opportunity for you to influence and empower! Networking (no matter how young!) is crucial. Here are some key ways you can help:

  • Share the value of networking on both a personal and professional level.
  • Stress the importance of making a great first impression with everyone they meet.
  • Point out that future advocates are enlisted by demonstrating excellent character, cultivating the relationship, and showing appreciation. Help your teen understand that ambassadors put their reputations on the line when they advocate on his or her behalf! Motivate your teen to develop a reputation as a person of excellence.
  • Encourage them to get involved in various opportunities and spheres (i.e., “put yourself out there!”) where they’ll be able to interact with adults in different circles. Networkers take the initiative!
  • Remind them to always be proactive in expressing their appreciation to ambassadors. Handwritten thank-you notes or a phone call will show gratitude and cement the relationship.
  • Don’t forget about your own connections and networks! Use your own professional and social spheres to make strategic introductions on your teen’s behalf. You can tee up some wonderful connections, but it’s up to them to make it last.

How do your teen’s networking skills stack up? Who are their advocates? How can they employ networking in their lives this summer? What are your opportunities to help them become a master networker?