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.

 

9 Decision-Making Mistakes Your Teen Can Avoid

christian-erfurt-sxQz2VfoFBE-unsplashTruth be told, I hate making mistakes. Yes, I know they can be beneficial IF we learn from them, but I prefer my learning to come in other ways!

Given our human condition and imperfections, mistakes come in many forms, especially during the adolescent years when our brains, bodies, emotions, and lives are changing at breakneck pace. And, at a time when kids are making more of their own decisions, it follows that their mistakes will increasingly stem from flaws in their decision-making methods.

No one will ever bat 1.000, but one way we can all improve our batting average is to understand the origins of common decision-related mistakes. Through both personal experience and our professional work with parents, educators, mentors, and students, we’ve identified nine typical inhibitors to sound decision-making. Our hope is that with training, reflection, and self-awareness, the adolescents under your guidance can reduce their decision-related mistakes. Who says learning has to be done the hard way!

So, are you ready to help yours become great decision makers? Here are some common pitfalls they’ll want to avoid. . .

  1. Not considering all realistic options: Sometimes there is only one right answer, but often there are many good alternatives. Case in point: college and career selection. Rather than exploring several options with the benefit of assessments/surveys, etc., many focus like a laser beam on one choice and later regret it. By assuming there is only one best fit from the start, we often commit errors of omission, missing out on great options. Alternatively, by starting broadly and then narrowing our choices through research and analysis, we’ll usually make a better decision.

  2. Not doing the research: Good decision-making means doing our homework and thoroughly vetting the options. Unfortunately, some make decisions impulsively, usually out of haste, by overvaluing their intuition, or from rejecting alternative viewpoints. By doing the proper research and conducting comprehensive pro/con analyses of potential options, their decisions will be on firmer ground.

  3. Favoring peer input over wise counsel: When making decisions, it pays to seek out wisdom and perspective from legitimate sources. However, during the adolescent years, people often feel pressure to do/choose what their friends tell them to. These sources can prove detrimental if they lack wisdom, are biased, or have ulterior motives. When receiving input from others, be choosy and value experience.

  4. Letting emotions interfere with objectivity: In the heat of the moment, especially when we’re upset, our objectivity is compromised. Decisions made under those circumstances are generally regrettable because we’re not thinking clearly. It’s amazing how a good night’s sleep does wonders and often leads to a different and better conclusion. To make good decisions, especially when relationships are involved, our mind must be right and our feet on the ground.

  5. Focusing only on the now: While some decisions have a short-term life, many have long-term, life-altering consequences. Common examples include marriage, college selection, major/career/job selection, living location, and key financial decisions. In these circumstances, it’s important to consider both the near- and longer-term impacts of our choices. Clearly, the longer lasting the impact, the more thorough our research needs to be.

  6. Disregarding core values and personal fit: One critical ingredient to sound decision-making is self-awareness—being able to answer, “Who am I?” It encapsulates such fundamental areas such as our core values, personality, spirituality, skills, experiences, credentials, interests, and passions. So, when we’re faced with decisions about relationships, career pursuits, employment, community service, and our social lives, they’ll need to be aligned accordingly. Some of our biggest regrets are when we disregard or compromise our values with the decisions we make. “Does this fit with who I am?” is an invaluable question to consider before making a final choice.  

  7. Seeking perfection or settling: Let’s face it, some decisions are hard, especially when there is a high level of uncertainty involved! Some people struggle to decide because they are looking for the perfect answer (or person!) that may not exist. Indecision, fear of failure, and risk aversion rule the day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, others are willing to settle or compromise out of fear, despair, hopelessness, and lacking self-confidence. Here, they’re willing to make the call, but take a leap of faith they later regret. There isa happy medium.   

  8. Neglecting intuition: Sometimes we make a preliminary or final decision even though we’re unsettled about it. Here, our intuition or “gut feeling” sends a caution signal that we ignore or minimize at our peril. This is especially true when a decision doesn’t fit who we are. No one knows you like you, so please be cautious about making a decision you’re not at peace with. Rather, do more analysis, pray if inclined, and consult with trusted loved ones to help you reach a conclusion that feels right. 

  9. Disregarding the “how:” There are dreamers and there are achievers. Often, the reason dreamers stay in dreamland is they make a decision that sounds good, but has little or no chance of being realized. In order for a decision to have value, it has to be realistic and achievable by the person making the decision. That means understanding the “what” and the “how” before making the call. Otherwise, it’ll likely end up on a pile of unfulfilled dreams.

 So, here’s an assignment for your families and classrooms. Have the children contemplate their decision-related mistakes or regrets and see how many fall into the categories above. There may be other reasons than the nine above and that’s fine too. Challenge them to see if there are patterns to their mistakes. If so, it might suggest a decision-making flaw and a meaningful growth opportunity! Sure, it takes courage, honesty, and humility, but this can be a valuable exercise to sharpen their skills and live a happier life! And, what’s not to like about that?

 

 

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 1

auditorium-benches-chairs-207691
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

adult-beads-bracelets-371285

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!

 

 

Take Time to Reflect on the Things that Really Matter…

Even though it’s summertime, our lives are still inundated with the call to be busy ALL. THE. TIME. Summer camps. Special trainings. Sports events. Tutoring sessions. Swimming Lessons. Vacations. Barbecues. Road trips.

Of course, all of these things individually add value to your life in various ways. However, when they are compounded on top of each other, and life feels hectic, they can have a counterproductive, draining effect. The oft-quoted saying, “I need a vacation from my vacation” comes to mind. With all of this busy-ness and filling our schedules to the brim, we are losing the time we need to reflect. And, when forget to reflect, we miss out on the things that really matter. That’s what happens when we sacrifice depth for breadth.

The thing is, although the fun things mentioned above really matter, our relationships matter even more. When we’re consumed with busyness, there are two formidable competitors pulling us in opposite directions. On one end, are the key people in our lives with whom we have relationships (parents, spouses, children, etc.). They want and deserve our time and attention and to enjoy great times together. On the other end is a formidable opponent—our status—which includes our career, our sense of success, and our packed and loaded schedule. These things can easily consume our time and divert us from our top priorities if we don’t take time to reflect.

During the past few decades, we’ve witnessed a cultural shift emphasizingperformance, rather than pursuing in-depth relationships. As adults, it’s apparent in the way we manage our own lives and schedules, as well as the way we parent our children. We’ve also noticed a trend that seems to say, “The more packed your schedule, the more you’ve accomplished” All of these phenomena are pulling us away from the things that matter most. Is it any wonder why anxiety levels are soaring?

But, something even more fundamental happens when we don’t allow margin and reflection in our lives. We sacrifice opportunities to appreciate, ponder, relax, and revitalize. To give thanks and be grateful for our blessings. To fully absorb life’s richness and experiences and commit them to our long-term memories. To humbly consider our shortfalls and how we can do better the next time around. To take to heart the joys of the day. To renew our spirit and face tomorrow with promise, energy, focus, patience, and a positive attitude. To be our best.

This summer, let’s try to remember how truly important we are to others, and how important they are to us. And, let’s make room for the pause that refreshes. In order to do this, it’s crucial to take a step back, clear some time in your schedule, and reflect. Here’s how you can make reflection a part of your daily (or weekly) routine:

  • Start a gratitude journal. Research shows that thankful people are not only happier, but also healthier.
  • Prioritize reflection and “me time” in your schedule. Consider the time of day and the location(s) that will help you make the most of this time.
  • Start each day with a “Top Three Priorities List.” Ensure that if nothing else happens that day, those three things do. As an added bonus, maybe take a moment to ask yourself whythose things are so important.
  • Put your phone away when you walk in the door from school/work/etc.
  • If you are working, consider taking a day off or weekend day and plan to spend it only with your loved ones, investing in your relationship with them. Remind yourself that those relationships are more important than tasks. You can neverget back the time you didn’t spend with them.
  • Remember it’s okay (in fact, it’s healthy!) to say ‘no.’ A packed schedule is not necessarily a good schedule.

May this summer be a time of renewed commitment to the things that really matter.
 
How are you spending the bulk of your time and energy? Are you focusing enough on building stronger relationships with family and friends? Or, are you allowing other things to dominate your priorities and fill your schedule to the brim? Are you formally scheduling down time in your life? Have you noticed the value when you do?

Reversing the Pattern of Entitlement in Young People

adults-black-and-white-casual-1374542

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!

 

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?

 

Cultivate a Winning Attitude

winning attitudeIf you ask teenagers what is the most important ingredient for success, you’ll likely hear answers like intelligence, money, the number of friends, or even appearance. But, ask most employers and leadership experts with the benefit of wisdom and experience, and you’ll hear a glaringly different perspective. To most, they’ll give the nod to attitude.

In our work on employability, we regularly cite qualities such as integrity, commitment to excellence, dependability, work ethic, positivity, enthusiasm, and resilience as keys to success. Note that each is a choicegrounded in our attitudes. In my travels, some of the most endearing, positive, and productive people are among the most economically and academically deprived folks I’ve known. It’s such an important lesson to share with young people.

Dictionary.com defines “attitude” as follows: “manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation, especially of the mind.” We like to think of it as the perspective we take into our daily lives: our thoughts, words, actions, decisions, and interactions. For example, here are some areas significantly affected by our attitude:

  • Outlook on life
  • Mood, demeanor, and nature
  • Personal health and appearance
  • Relationships and communication
  • Handling challenges, disappointments, and unexpected change
  • Productivity, effort, and initiative
  • Personal responsibility
  • Vision, purpose, and goal orientation
  • Integrity
  • Approach to decision-making
  • Personal brand, values, and professionalism

No wonder our attitude is so important! And, why all of us need to be self aware of the attitude we bring into each life arena, each day.  Yes, students, this especially applies to you when you’re harboring a strong case of Spring Fever! And, teachers, this assessment might make for a great school-wide project to improve performance and culture.

To help you and the young people under your guidance, we developed an attitude self-assessment tool that you can access here. We encourage you to share it with the students and family members in your life and to be as honest in your self-evaluation as possible. We all can benefit from an attitude adjustment from time to time and in certain areas of our lives (e.g., work, school, family). Improving our attitude can be one of the most beneficial things we can do for our personal growth, and we hope this assessment identifies a few opportunities for you.

To inspire and encourage you in cultivating a winning attitude, we thought we’d conclude with some of our favorite quotes on the topic. Enjoy!

Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

~John C. Maxwell

Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.

~Zig Ziglar

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

~John Wooden

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

~Maya Angelou

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

~Stephen Covey

Whatever happens, take responsibility.

~Tony Robbins

… Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.

~John F. Kennedy

Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

~Colin Powell

Six Tips to Help Teens Build Self-Awareness

adult-beautiful-face-774866“It takes courage…to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” –Marianne Williamson

Regardless of your family or career role, you probably know some teenagers you’d like to see thrive. And what is one key character trait that generally leads to a happy, healthy, and successful adult life? Unfortunately, one that often takes a back seat as we navigate the busyness of life. . .

Self-awareness.

As consumed as teens are with schoolwork and activities, home responsibilities, jobs, college prep, family, social life, their online presence, and more, self-reflection is probably the last thing on their minds. However, being self-aware and cultivating healthy self-esteem will help them in life more than they can fully realize. So, whether we’re a parent, guardian, or mentor, we’ll have to help them make this a priority. Here a few suggestions to consider:

  1. Journaling. Does your teen journal? If not, encourage them to take a couple moments a day to quietly reflect. Have them write down what they’re passionate about, what they value, who they aspire to be. Suggest they write about their emotions, too. They’ll be surprised at how beneficial it can be!
  2. Set them up with a mentor. We all need mentors! Mentor relationships provide great learning opportunities for people both young and old. They allow us to model our life after someone we admire and aspire to be like, and learn practical life wisdom from the pros. Your teen’s mentor could be a relative, friend, youth leader, or someone in a desired career field.
  3. Be open about your own life experiences. A huge part of being self-aware is the ability to identify key people and events that played a role in creating our worldview and life perspective. Talk to your teen about the people who played essential roles in your own life (i.e. your parents, grandparents, a favorite college professor, an author, etc.). One of the greatest gifts we can give the young people in our lives is encouragement and wisdom from our own life experience (the good and the bad!).
  4. Don’t always gloss over mistakes and disappointments. When your teen messes up in a relationship or in school, it’s easy for us to overlook the shortfall and boost their self-esteem because we want to see them happy again. However, it is important for our teens to know their strengths AS WELL as their weaknesses, and to consider them as growth opportunities. Knowing areas of needed improvement will help your teen improve his or her character and mature. Reflective conversations after the fact cement those valuable life lessons.
  5. Have them develop a “Personal Balance Sheet” of their assets (special qualities they have to offer) and their constraints (things holding them back). This exercise is both revealing and inspirational as teens reflect on themselves and receive invaluable input from others. The assignment is found here.
  6. Create capacity in their schedules for down time and reflection. To help foster self-awareness in our kids, we need to consider it a priority in their schedules. It’s easy for other activities to “crowd out” this valuable time if we’re not careful. Quality self-awareness demands quality time.

Self-awareness is a product of careful introspection. It helps us develop more accurate answers to the fundamental questions of who am I, what do I uniquely have to offer this world, and what are my opportunities. When teens focus on their own personal character, including their values, beliefs, heroes, goals, struggles, shortfalls, etc., they soon reap the benefits of being self-aware. People who are self-aware learn to act intentionally and deliberately with hope and vision instead of being reactionary, random, or impulsive. They are able to redirect negative thoughts, be true to who they are, and be a positive light to the people around them.

How would you rate your own level of self-awareness? What have you done to encourage the young people in your life to become self-aware?  Six