Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part Three)

During the past two weeks, we’ve shared the various ways that parents can help reverse the worrisome trends in adolescent anxiety. If you didn’t catch them, you can find them here and here.

This week, we’d like to close our series by addressing the pivotal role our educators can play in reducing student anxiety. Of course, we know that schools and universities are, by definition, bastions of anxiety! After all, students are measured every which way from Sunday and are surrounded by a contagion of similarly anxious peers! That said, there are any number of strategies school leaders can employ that would return student anxiety to more normal, healthy levels. Here are our top five recommendations:

  1. Promote a positive and empowering school culture. The school environment plays a major role in the health and well being of students. How would you describe your school’s brand and core values? What three words best describe the character and learning environment for your students? If your school hasn’t adopted a set of values that administrators, teachers, and students abide by, consider this an urgent priority. Qualities like kindness, compassion, and integrity are foremost on our minds at LifeSmart, and we always encourage schools to take what we call, “the Integrity Challenge.” (This is where students are empowered to only say neutral to positive things about others who are not present.) Another suggestion is to have each class create a brand and core values statement and commit to holding each other accountable. Let’s do this! #positiveculture
  2. Expand leadership/life skills offerings. Evidence is pervasive that high school graduates are not adequately prepared for their next steps. Arguably, one reason is that schools are so focused on their immediate step that insufficient time is devoted to the transition to the next (e.g., high school to college/workforce). We urge administrators to expand leadership and life skills-oriented courses that holistically prepare students for independent living and their next stage. These would include leadership, soft skills, college/career readiness, personal finance, and home management. Such courses build essential skills, instill self-confidence, and help students cope with the pressures of their present and future situations. The better prepared they are, the less anxious they will be. #lifesmart
  3. End the “college for all” messaging. Based on deteriorating college graduation trends and high student demand for mental health services in college, it is clear that many are not college ready and would be better off pursuing other paths. Whether overt or subliminal, messages promoting the college path are commonplace. How does this affect anxiety? Droves of unprepared and dispirited students drop out of college and into uncertainty. Others struggle mightily in college when another path (e.g., trade school, workforce) was a more compatible choice. Still other high schoolers feel inadequate if they don’t pursue the broadly recommended college path. How is your messaging? #whateverisbest
  4. Review homework levels. Given how early students rise before school and require above-average levels of sleep, homework should be reasonable. Yet, we’ve often heard of schools assigning up to four hours of homework on weeknights, creating a workday that is more demanding than their parents! This, together with a lack of coordination among teachers in terms of exams and major projects, is an obvious source of student anxiety. How reasonable is their workload? #theyneedalife
  5. Career selection pressure.  Many high schools are ramping up their career readiness programs, and we applaud that. However, some are taking this to a degree that students are feeling pressure to know what career (and potentially, college major) they should be pursuing. We think that’s taking things too far. In the high school years, students are still discovering themselves and aren’t in a position to weigh all the career alternatives, fully assess their skills and interests, possess all the necessary knowledge to make an informed judgment, and speak with/job shadow practitioners in those fields. We strongly support efforts to build career awareness, but when students feel pressure (as many do!) to know exactly which field they should enter, that’s an overreach. And, remember, many college students change their majors multiple times, and a large measure of college graduates regret the major they chose! Focus on the process, but not the selection in the high school years. Finally, let’s not push STEM as their only ticket to success. It’s not.

Whether you’re a parent, educator, or other interested party, we hope you found value in our series on preventing and reducing student anxiety. We all have a stake in improving these trends, and we wish you the best in your efforts with the adolescents under your guidance.

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part One)

adult-alone-anxious-568027Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting with a Principal from a small town in Wisconsin, not far from where I grew up. During our wide-ranging conversation, he shared about the high levels of anxiety his high school students are exhibiting. You’d have to see their tranquil location to fully appreciate just how out of character this is. But, then again, research is abounding that today’s students, whether in college or high school, are showing unprecedented levels of anxiety. Something, lots of things, must be done and done quickly.

Let’s be honest. This is a direct consequence of how our children are being trained, and it’s up to us as parents, educators, youth leaders, and other caring adults to accept responsibility and reverse this course. Their very futures and socio-emotional health are at stake.

For the next few weeks, we will be weighing in with our thoughts and recommendations, focusing initially on parents and then following with educators. Our hope is that this will not only “add to the conversation,” but more importantly, encourage us to self reflect and take the necessary corrective measures. We owe it to them.

Parents, here are four of nine key trouble spots that are aggravating teen anxiety where we should take ownership:

  1. Parenting style. In our desire to see our children succeed and be happy, we often adopt parenting methods that run counter to our objectives. Among the most common are performance parenting and helicoptering. Performance-driven parents are so focused on their children’s achievements that their kids feel undervalued for WHO they are. These children are under intense pressure to perform, in part because of demanding parents who place their own identity in the hands of their children and who often succumb to their own peer pressure—from other parents! In contrast, helicoptering creates insecurity when parents interfere, control, overprotect, and coddle, stunting their children’s ability to make decisions, cope, and mature. Both styles add to the already-high stress levels during the teen years. Is your parenting style unintentionally creating anxiety? It’s worth a look. #equipnotcontrol
  2. Frenetic pace. Sometimes our lives are so busy that it seems we’re on a treadmill set at warp speed. Parents, we are putting our children on that treadmill, and it’s depriving them of balance and the time they need to enjoy nature, reflect, chill, pray, play, nap, read a book, or just hang out without the overhang of homework and endless activities. For introverts, and kids who operate at a slower pace, this is draining or worse. How is your pace? Are you consciously building margin into their schedules to maintain balance and keep their tanks full? You’d better be. #breathe
  3. Resume building obsession/perfectionist tendencies. Lexus’s tagline is the “relentless pursuit of perfection” and how well this describes many teens today! Whether the pressure is coming from parents or schools or is self-inflicted, teens are stressing out over their assumed need for the perfect resume to succeed and access their dream college. An urgent priority is to disabuse them of this notion. Nowadays, pressure previously felt in the adult years are robbing many teens of a childhood. Whether it’s all AP courses, GPA fixation, or participation (better yet, leadership) in clubs or organizations, resume building now dominates the high school years. Encouraging them to do their best and valuing their person will pay longer-lasting dividends. What “success messages” are you sending? #noperfectionrequired
  4. Deficient self-awareness and self-care. Compared with yesteryear, today’s teens face greater pressures and a more competitive world. For example, with “college for all” messaging and growing pressures to know what careers they should pursue or which college to attend, high schoolers are naturally anxious. At a time when students are still discovering WHO they are, this is placing the cart before the horse. Parents can do their teens a great service by promoting self-awareness of their children’s skills, talents, interests, nature, and passions. This also includes helping their teen understand, prevent, and manage their stressors. Related, parents can support the self care of their children by fostering healthy living (e.g., diet, physical activity, and adequate rest) and demonstrating unconditional love. How well do your children know themselves and their stressors? These are vitally important conversations. #knowthyself

So, parents, how are you doing in the above areas? How would your children respond? Are there areas for you to grow in as a parent? Stay tuned next week for part two., where we will share more of these nine trouble areas and how you can help make a difference. #youcandothis!

 

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

adult-architecture-backpack-1251861High schoolers and new college students: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 adulthood is REALLY 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 Director for LifeSmart Publishing. I am a millennial myself, and eager to help you and your student(s) navigate this season of change. You can view the previous weeks’ posts here and here.

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 (or even during the first couple months of college!). 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 my freshman year. My mom flew down to help me get 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, had unexpectedly 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. (Note: we’re all good!)

This is what I’d like to impart to you, nearly 12 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 a couple thousand 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 (granted, some parents do go overboard, often out of fear). 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, but also tell them you’re always there to help, guide, or offer support. Remember to be their chief encourager  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 we are all getting settled into our new routines and roles. 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!

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 2

backpacks-college-college-students-1454360.jpg

Welcome back to part two of this series, “What I Wish I Knew Before College.” I hope you’re enjoying this opportunity to focus on your goals during this time in your life, and to consider how to make the most out of your college experience. Hopefully this is a great resource for teens, college freshmen or seniors, and also for those who are the parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches 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 aspects of 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 necessarily a sufficient 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 worldview (as well as sharing with fellow students of different views), 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, and no one is immune! When you don’t have class or studying to do, 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!). When you’re 30, you’ll thank your younger self for staying active.

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. If you’re in college already as a freshman, hopefully you are taking a wide variety of classes to really nail down what piques your interest (and your talent). Also, don’t be surprised if your anticipated major loses its appeal when you begin taking upper level courses and, especially, speak with people who are in the field you’re considering. It happens all the time.
I hope these insights help 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 have done differently?

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 1

bar-blur-blurred-801863Now that college students are well into the school year and adjusting to their new schedule, managing their course load, and making new friends, we thought it would be a good time to bring back this series that our Communications Director, Heather Sipes, wrote for us several years ago. She shares her first-hand experience of life in college (including assimilating, adjusting, homesickness, tough choices, and other things) in hopes that other new college students and parents of freshmen will be able to apply it to their own journeys. Take it away, Heather!

My first year of college was about 11 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.

As you continue your time in college, whether it’s your first year or last, keep these things in mind:

  • 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. I’m sure many people can identify with this same notion: you’re either a football player or a jazz band member or a debate champ or yearbook photographer. 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…and, now I can be philosophical when I blog!

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 too hard. See college as an opportunity to take a start fresh, explore new opportunities, and find another niche. Even if nothing sticks long-term, your world will become bigger and you will become more well-rounded.

  • 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 (preferably in the front row), 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 notserve you as well as your physical presence in the classroom. 

 

  • 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 notfulfilling, and it’s not as 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 or the intramural flag football team, 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.

I am so happy to be a part of this series and share what insight I have to offer. I hope any college students reading this have entered this year with an open mind and are ready to embrace whatever life throws their way. Please stay tuned for next week, when I will share part two of this series!

Making the Most of Your Internship

american-asian-blond-hair-1323588.jpgYou’ve all heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Well, with all due respect to the originator of this exaggeration, it’s actually both! These days, it matters greatly whether you have an inside contact and advocate when you apply for a job. (A person dear to us just landed a phenomenal position that began with an internship!) But, if you don’t bring a good skill set, especially those valuable soft skills, you likely won’t land it… or keep it for very long if you manage to fool the recruiter.

So, what’s the best way to cover both bases and set yourself up for career success while you’re still in high school or college? The answer is to pursue an internship. Yes, even those requesting your services for free! Hear me out…

The Value of Internships

There is tremendous value in obtaining, and excelling in, an internship. When you do, you’ll:

  1. Gain valuable experience. Even if the job isn’t in your dream career zone, you’ll develop skills and perspective on how the “real world” operates. Often, our academics focus more on theory than practice, so this helps fill the gap.
  2. Sharpen your soft skills. In addition to learning the tasks of the position, you’ll build key soft skills like organization, work ethic, dependability, positivity, integrity, and team mindedness.
  3. Build your network. If you take advantage of the opportunity to meet as many people as possible, you’ll expand your personal and professional “sales force!” They may prove invaluable as future references, too.
  4. Pilot test career possibilities. Whether or not the position is exactly what you would be looking for in a future career, it will give you a helpful firsthand assessment of the fit for you. Many discover that an internship will either confirm or reject their initial career leanings. The earlier you learn this the better.
  5. Get a feel for the organization, its culture, and the industry. Hands on experience with the employer will provide you an excellent sense of the culture and industry. This will help you assess whether you’d want to work for them full time.
  6. Gain an inside advantage. IF you do well AND it’s a company you’re interested in, you’ve just gained the inside track for a full-time position. That’s gold!
  7. Enhance your resume and credentials. Employers love to see work experience rather than just academic accomplishments. With your internship, you’ve just improved your competitive edge to land a great position.

Maximizing the Opportunity
 
So, now that you’ve landed an internship, how do you make the most out of it? Here are some strategies to maximize your experience:

  1. Remember, attitude is (almost) everything. It’s important to arrive with the right frame of mind. Take advantage of all the opportunities you can to meet people, contribute to the effort, and acquire as many skills as possible. A positive attitude and strong work ethic are vital. Internships generally involve more basic tasks and responsibilities rather than key decision-making and a corner office. So, keep your expectations under control and deliver excellent work no matter what they have you do.
  2. Exceed their expectations. Be sure you clearly understand the specs of the position and do high quality work that’s on time, every time. Then, seek opportunities to showcase your creativity and initiative by going above and beyond the job description. Think, “How can I add value?”
  3. Remember, you’re each testing the waters. They are observing whether you are full-time material, so rise to the occasion. But, also evaluate whether this is a fit for you. Be sure to consider whether: 1) the organization and culture appeals to you and 2) the position confirms or rejects your career interests. Internships offer a powerful way to sample what it would be like to work in that field and with that employer. They also provide excellent opportunities to meet people in the full-time position(s) you’d likely be seeking. Their insights and perspectives are invaluable. If you find it’s not a fit after all, you’ll still have time to change your plans. 
  4. Meet as many people as possible. Don’t stay planted in your cubicle. Use your internship as an opportunity to meet leaders and people in positions of interest. Have coffee with some of their most respected people and pick their brains. What success secrets and advice can they offer? It’s a great way to build your network and fast track your career by learning from the pros.

If your schedule allows, we strongly encourage you to seek out an internship. And, if it doesn’t, make the necessary adjustments because this a top priority. It’s a foolproof way of learning the ropes and landing your dream career.
 

How to Build a Growth Mindset in Your Students and teens

dirt-gardening-grow-1214405Looking back, our high school days were great, okay, or disappointing (or worse!) depending on the year. So, we should expect that our kids will be starting this new school year with excitement, ambivalence, and maybe even dread, often depending on the previous year. Regardless of where your children/students are attitudinally, here’s one thing they can all benefit from as they make their grand entrance—taking the Growth Challenge.

What’s the Growth Challenge, you might ask? Here’s a quick synopsis: Have your students/children take note of where they are now in key aspects of their life. Then, have them identify some focus areas for growth/improvement. Next, encourage them to develop plans to meet their growth goals. Finally, have them assess their progress quarterly (and make adjustments to their plan as needed). In the business world, we call this the “plan, do, and review” cycle, and it works for people too!

As parents, teachers, and mentors, we play a big role in the success of the next generation. Of course, the responsibility for their choices does not fall on us, but it is our job to equip, encourage, and empower them. One powerful way is to help facilitate the Growth Challenge. Here are a few steps to get you going.

  1. Begin with a holistic self assessment. Have your child/students record how satisfied they are in terms of: 1) academics (grades, specific subjects, study habits, etc.), 2) relationships (friendships,, family, network), 3) physical health and well being (fitness, health, nutrition), 4) emotional and spiritual health (self worth, confidence, contentment, faith, gratitude, temperament), 5) leadership/soft skills (integrity, dependability, work ethic, team mindedness, time management, professionalism), and 6) interests/extracurricular activities. 

Then, based on their self evaluations, have them identify their greatest growth priorities for the coming year for each category. Which could have the biggest impact in the near future? In the long-term? Give them some time to think about this, and encourage them to record their thoughts in a journal or device.

  1. Have them develop their top overall priorities based on their conclusions from each category. Parents, teachers, and mentors, you can help them prioritize by sharing your own knowledge or experience, but don’t make up their minds for them. (For example, if a student is hoping to enter the military after high school, physical training might fall higher on the priority list than a student who plans to intern at an art gallery.)

Encourage them to record their three to five top priorities for growth. Don’t let them go overboard making a laundry list. Next, have them set specific, achievable goals for each of their top priorities. What would constitute success to them? What are some measurable ways that they can track their progress? Then, have them develop action steps to help their goals become a reality.

  1. Finally, suggest a quarterly review (with a mentor, counselor, parent, or teacher) to assess their progress, and make any midcourse suggestions or corrections necessary to achieve their goals.

Not only will this “growth challenge” help them progress this year, but it is a discipline that will serve them for a lifetime.

Let’s start building a growth mindset in our children, teens, and students. The future belongs to them, but it starts with us.

If you want to see a sample “Growth Challenge” mock-up for reference, you can find it here.

The 3 Secrets for Back to School Success

back-to-school-conceptual-creativity-207658School season has arrived and most of us have settled (or are settling) comfortably 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. Some may be experiencing their first year at community college. For others, they’re still in high school, but itching to get the best grades so they can in order to one day land their dream school. It can be an overwhelming feeling, but I have wonderful news for you.

(Spoiler Alert:) 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. Some of us have shorter attention spans, while others can sit and pay attention (well) for extended periods of time. Some of us can function on limited sleep, while others need their solid eight hours, every single night. Some of us can even handle overcommitment through effective multitasking. Knowing yourself and how you’re wired is the very first step in performing at your best.

Take some time to think about yourself, your preferences, learning style, habits, and needs. With these things that make you uniquely “you” in mind, it’s important to practice some universal secrets to academic achievement. These secrets lie within the 3 P’s.

  1. PLAN.  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. PREPARE.  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. PERFORM. 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 (yes, I mean all year long, and not just a fluke A+ on your Intro to Philosophy exam!). I am talking about predictable success. How’s that for a GPA boost? In this increasingly competitive world, academic performance is critical! Use these study tips to make sure you give yourself a leg-up (and you’ll be able to apply them in the career world, too!).

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! And, of course, welcome back to school! Make it a great year.

Parenting “To-Do List” For Parents of Incoming Freshmen: August

adult-bar-brainstorming-1015568.jpgHow can it be? We’ve arrived at the last month of summer, and for many, the first month of school. Now is the time of the “official” launch—the time we arrive on campus, unpack the car, move them into the dorm, and drive home with a much lighter load. Although it’s bittersweet, give yourself a pat on the back. You did it! You raised an adult!

Now that August is here, we are down to the wire when it comes to our preparation checklist. Free time is a scarcity. Your teen’s mind will be preoccupied by their upcoming transition, so parents, you’ll want to keep the conversations light and positive. And if you ever feel pressed to spend any quality time with them, here’s a tip: shopping to furnish their dorm and prepare for their new digs offers many opportunities for fun and sharing! Suggest putting a date on the calendar to shop for all the last-minute items they need to get settled in their new place (i.e. bedding, mini fridge, fan, closet organizers, toiletries, mattress topper, dishes, etc.)

More than anything, this last month should focus on two topics:

1)      A communication strategy after the launch. It’s important to discuss what your degree of engagement will be once your teen moves out. For some parent/child relationships, it works to establish a weekly communication schedule (not daily!), with a call at a time and day that works best for the student. Interim calls, texts, and e-mails should originate from the son/daughter, except in the case of a periodic, “thinking of you.” Parents, as hard as it may be, this is the most important time to not helicopter your student with frequent communication! It’s crucial that you do not hound your student, let them know you’re worried about them, or burden them with your sadness over missing them. A parent’s ability to let go is most prominently observed by how well he or she handles their communications with their young adult.

During the first week, parents may want to arrange a call after the first three days in order to have a quick check-in and make sure all needs are met. However, after that, a weekly call is recommended (not more than twice per week). Parents, use every opportunity to encourage your sons/daughters to make their own decisions. So, when your student calls with “how to” questions, ask them what they think, first. It reinforces their need to develop independence and to learn to problem solve independently.

2)      Anything else your teen wants to talk about. Your job as parent is making sure that they feel completely confident and equipped. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like to discuss or anything they’d like to do before they go. This is a great opportunity to share from your own experience and open up to them. If they want to discuss the latest sports news or their current romantic relationship, then that’s great, too. What’s important as that they know they always have a loving, trusting, and communicative encourager in their life—YOU.

Parents, this season can be a profoundly emotional experience, so be sure you pamper yourselves afterwards for a job well done. Your eagle is about to soar, and you helped make it happen. There isn’t a feeling like it in the world.

Other Pathways Note: this commentary and series has been focused more on the college-bound teen. We recognize there are other paths like the military, a gap year, the workforce, serving in non-profits, and entering a local community college or trade school. Most of the preceding perspective remains applicable, but there are unique challenges with each option. 


You can find the July “to-do list” here.
You can find the June “to-do list” here.
You can find the May “to-do list” here.
You can find the April “to-do list” here.

Self-Awareness: The Ultimate Goal for Teens this Summer

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“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Ralph Ellison,  Invisible Man

I love visiting with high schoolers and college students about their career plans. It takes me back to when I walked in their shoes. I remember feeling excited, confused, and a little bit anxious, but stayed positive for the most part. Eventually I found my way, but it was a circuitous path that taught me a lot about life and myself.

Some of my mentees are quite certain of their career interests and have laid out detailed plans to get there. (I’m the first to affirm them, but also let them know it’s okay if they change their mind as many often do.) However, most of my conversations go something like this:

Me:      So, what career or major are you considering?

Them: My parents want me to take up ____. My dad (or mom) has had a great career in it. But my friends think I should go into ____.  My school counselor has even different ideas. It’s confusing.

Me:      So, what do you think?

Them:  (Anxious pause) I don’t know yet.

Several things always strike me about these exchanges. One is how often they focus on what others think, rather than themselves. Two is the depth of anxiety, doubt, and pressure they are feeling about their future career. And, three, they are making this critical decision without the benefit of self awareness. They’re shooting in the dark, and it’s a shame. In fact, earlier this year, Gallup released the results of its survey of college graduates and found that an alarming 40% of Bachelor’s Degree recipients now regret their choice of major! 40%!!! Fortunately, there is a better way!

Just as when we build our dream house, good career planning begins with a solid foundation. In this case, it is a foundation built on the understanding of self—knowing who we are, how we are gifted with unique talents, experiences, and attributes, and what we’re interested in and passionate about. The who, what, and why… of us! If we don’t fully understand ourselves first, finding a career that fits is a random exercise, at best.

Career assessment surveys are indeed helpful, but tend to focus on skills and interests rather than the complete picture of self. As such, we encourage educators, mentors, and parents to take a broader view.

At LifeSmart, we take a holistic approach to self assessment that helps students discover the unique value (assets) they have to offer to this world. It considers a wide range of asset categories that builds self confidence, a sense of identity, and inspires a healthy life vision. Here is an abbreviated summary of some of the asset groups we believe are essential for career and life readiness training:

  • Foundational Assets:
    • Physical: strength, speed, agility, endurance, dexterity, vocal, visual, auditory, sport-specific, appearance
    • Mental: intelligence, aptitudes, analytical ability, reasoning, creativity, conceptual thinking, intuition, memory, concentration, subject specific
    • Behavioral: personality (pace and people/task focus), attitude, social attributes, outlook, emotional intelligence, communication, productivity, soft skills
    • Spiritual: faith, values, inspirational experiences, encouragement
  • Aspirational Assets:
    • Experiential: credentials (academic, career, skills, service), life experiences, leadership, perspective
    • Interests: knowledge pursuits, recreation, leisure, industry, activities, entertainment, travel, nature, spiritual life, creative arts, social
    • Passions and Dreams: desires, causes, purpose, personal and professional goals, bucket list items

Knowing that self awareness comes through self discovery and affirmation from others (note parents!), we’ve developed a personal leadership assignment you can access here. It not only helps identify your unique assets/strengths, but it also captures the invaluable perspectives of others who know you well and have your best interests at heart. This is a great personal leadership assignment that can be led by educators or parents. Be sure to explore other self awareness resources, too.

It’s important to remember that some of these assets will be used directly in our careers while others help in different arenas. Regardless, by taking an inventory of our unique assets, personal nature, and desires, we’re much better equipped to select a great career match that fits us like a glove.

Successful people lead from their strengths, but first they have to know what they are. Help the students and children in your life understand their uniqueness and value. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give—for their eventual career and for all of life.