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?

 

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 

This V-day, Believe in Your Teens Unconditionally

affection-dad-daytime-960829Have you ever had someone believe in you more than you believed in yourself?  How did that make you feel? It probably made you feel like you could take on the world (or whatever situation you faced at the time). That is how powerful unbridled belief from others can be.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, the world is ablaze with talk about romance, kind gestures, and LOVE. At LifeSmart, we believe that believing unconditionally in someone is one of the most powerful ways to demonstrate love.

Many successful people also point to their parents’ or guardian’s belief in them as the driving force behind their success. They believe that if their parents hadn’t been confident in them from the get-go, they wouldn’t be in the same place today. I am precisely one of those people, and I will be forever grateful for my parents’ unconditional love and belief in me (even if I may not have always felt deserving). It helped more times than I can count—including when I dropped a full grade point on my GPA during my first year of college versus high school. I remember how this caused me to question whether I was college material. However, I was sustained by their belief in me and turned things around the remainder of my academic career.

Teachers are also in a special position to demonstrate belief and affirmation in their students. I remember being one of the shortest boys in 8th grade, and this sometimes affected my self-confidence. I’ll never forget when my favorite teacher, Mr. Wulgeart, wrote the following in my yearbook, “Denny, there’s a saying that good things come in small packages. I think you prove that saying.” That meant the world to me.

Do your children (or other young people in your life) know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love them unconditionally and believe in them unequivocally? Do they know that you see them as talented, worthy, and brimming with potential? Make certain they do rather than assume they do. It is a tremendous asset for teens to be surrounded by adults who believe in them—who can affirm their uniqueness and value. This Valentine’s Day, make sure your belief in them is an inner voice, encouraging them to dream big and persevere through life’s challenges.

Your child, mentee, or student will make his or her share of mistakes along the way (I know I sure did!).  But having the benefit of unconditional acceptance and belief from you will soften those blows and provide a safety net they can always count on.

Not so sure how to let them know you’re their biggest fan? Here are some ideas:

  • Be upfront. Whether it’s at a meal, during a tutoring session, or after a class, be willing to open up. Tell them that you believe in them (and why). Call out some of their greatest assets and character traits. Don’t just compliment them for their achievements; look for opportunities to appreciate their most admirable qualities and when they do something kind.
  • Write them an affirming letter or note. Stick a note in their lunchbox, or if you’re a teacher, consider putting a sticky note on one of their assignments. Knowing you went to the effort to do that will speak volumes to them!
  • Be generous with your time. What says, “I believe in you” more than carving out time in your busy schedule to do things they will enjoy?
  • Let them overhear a compliment you make to another.
  • Speak from experience. Share your own downfalls, mistakes, and past life experiences. A little perspective from a “pro” can boost their confidence and build trust!

We can be the cheering squad that calls out the strengths and affirms the dreams and potential of the young people in our lives. It’ll let them know that if they were a stock, you’d be a buyer! And, the best part of all? Your belief will breed their belief in themselves.

Who could benefit from your gift of affirmation and belief today? What ways do you show you care about the children, students, and mentees in your life?

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part Two)

angry-annoyed-cafe-52608In last week’s newsletter (which you can access here) we shared four preventive parenting strategies to help prevent and reduce teen anxiety. Welcome back for part two, where we will share five more strategies to address this troubling problem. Parents, thank you for your care, diligence, and desire to do better.

  1. Lacking affirmation of worth and value. If there is one generality we observe in today’s teens and young adults, it’s that they feel undervalued for WHO they are. When parents don’t take the time to affirm their children’s uniqueness and value or share their belief in them and their future, kids become dispirited, disillusioned, insecure, and anxious. And, who can blame them? Parents, we need to step up our game in this department. Call out what you appreciate and admire about them on a regular basis… especially their character traits. Tell them how much they matter. It’ll add security and a spring to their step. #valuethewho
  2. Social drama and unhealthy relationships. Although the anxiety-laden social lives of teens probably date back to the days of Fred Flintstone, the advent of social media takes it to an entirely new level. Much has been written on the subject, so we simply want to emphasize a few things. One is for your teen to be self aware of the impact social media has on his/her life in terms of stressors, privacy, and relationships. Two is for them to be highly selective in making friends with people who share their interests and values. Three is for them to avoid social drama and gossip like the plague. Four is for them to only surround themselves with positive influences. Finally, if they’re experiencing pain or anxiety from a breakup or no invitation to/acceptance for prom, reassure them that only 2 percent of marriages originate from being high school sweethearts! Now, that’s perspective! #choosewisely
  3. Too much tech, too little relational engagement. With the addictive nature of our smartphones and screens, teens, parents, and entire families are losing something besides their attention spans: relational intimacy and engagement. Initially, it affected teens most, but increasingly it has become an issue for parents as well. Parents, this is where tough love and good modeling will pay dividends. Value face-to-face time over tech time and be sure your teens don’t take their phones to bed at night! #facetofaceisbest
  4. Family dysfunction and inadequate support systems. From a child’s standpoint, one of the greatest sources of emotional stability and security is being part of a loving, well-functioning family. However, one of the greatest societal changes over the last several decades has been the deterioration in this system. For example, today, just 69% of children are living in two-parent families, due in large part, to births from unmarried parents and to divorce. While every situation is unique, and many, many healthy children are growing up in loving single-parent families, we must be sensitive to the impact our family situations are having on our children, and take steps to ensure that they have other caring men and women actively involved in their lives. We owe it to them. #caringadults
  5. Insufficient preparation for independence. We have a systemic problem in that parents and educators often assume the other is building the leadership and life skills students need to succeed. So, predictably, many important skills are falling through the cracks. In addition to practical skills like cooking and budgeting, important “soft skills” like dependability, work ethic, resilience, decision-making, and integrity are often deemphasized in favor of traditional subjects. This, along with parenting styles like helicoptering, is creating a lack of preparedness in handling the responsibilities and stresses of adulthood. Parents, we must take the leadership role and not assume “they’re learning it in school.” Often, they’re not. #adulting

Parents, there are a couple of other tips we’d like to share that will reduce your child’s anxiety. First, always keep your cool no matter how volatile the topic and to remember that you were a teen once, too. It’s so easy to apply our current wisdom as adults to their age and stage! That’s neither fair nor realistic. Second, be careful not to “over share” the various challenges and situations you are facing. After all, you’re their parent, not their BFF. Finally, always remember the importance of having fun. Sometimes, in our quest to see our children succeed, we can lose sight of that. #enjoytheseyears

Next week, we’ll share some ideas for educators in our quest to reverse the direction in teen anxiety. Catch you then.

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!

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.

Parenting Teens: The Fun Factor

beach-blue-sky-cheerful-452738.jpgParenting is hard. Being a teenager is hard. Change is hard. For those of you with a teen, especially one who’s heading off to college in the near future, you’re probably going through a lot right now (as are they!). These days, everything seems so much more competitive (and expectations are higher all around), so it’s hard to not fall into the temptation to be a performance-based parent, always pushing our kids to excel in every area of their lives. Taking everything too seriously in the quest for success.

But this summer, I encourage you to slow down. Don’t fret about the change to come. Don’t fret about grades, club memberships, sports performance, potential elite college acceptance. Right now, I urge all parents to focus on connecting with their teen, building relationship capital (which includes mutual trust and support), and focusing on simply having fun.

I’m not suggesting you let important things slip through the cracks (college deadlines, course selection, activity sign-up dates), but I am suggesting that you spend more time on doing things that relax you and your kids and show them how much you truly care. Here are some suggestions of things to do with your teen this summer:

  1. Attend a major league baseball game. They’re long, fun, and allow for plenty of time to sit and catch up with your family. One of the most classic “bonding experiences” for all parents and kids!
  2. Go camping. Even if you’re not a “camper,” everyone should try camping at least once! It’s the ultimate opportunity for bonding, simply because you often don’t have wifi, nature is at your fingertips, you can play board games by lantern light, you can tell stories and share memories around the campfire, and enjoy slower-paced activities like fishing. It is a pause in our busyness that refreshes.
  3. If you plan on going on any sort of summer getaway, let your teen have a say in planning it. Ask them where they’d like to go, what they’d like to do while they’re there, where they’d like to eat, etc.
  4. Take a cooking class together. Food is the greatest love language, and cooking is a wonderful way to relax. Even teenagers enjoy learning how to prepare new dishes and try new foods. And if that dish doesn’t turn out so hot, who cares?
  5. Have a family movie night. Let them choose their favorite film (and add yours to make it a double feature!) and goodies. Yes, even if they’re unhealthy snacks!
  6. Arrange a family game night complete with sharing each of your favorite memories and things.

Above all, the most important thing is to make sure your teen feels seen, heard, understood, and valued. Spending time with them away from all exterior pressures is a surefire way to strengthen your relationship and your mutual trust. With how hectic life can get, it’s crucial to make sure you take some time this summer to do nothing other than HAVE FUN and enjoying each other’s company.

This is the first installment of our series on summer fun with our teenagers. Next week, we will talk about other fun activities we promise your teen won’t think are lame. Here’s to summer relaxing and bonding!

6 Ways to Create Healthy Technology-Use Boundaries For Your Teen

beautiful-cafe-close-up-248021.jpg

The school year keeps teens very busy. They wake up early, take classes for the majority of the day, then participate in afterschool activities, do their homework, and get as much as sleep as they can. So, fortunately for them, the summer can be an opportunity for them to have a little breathing room, relax, and simply be a teen. However… I think the parents who’ve been home with their kids over the last week or two can all agree on one thing…

TEENS ARE GLUED TO THEIR PHONES!

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

That being said, it’s also not okay for teens (and anyone else, really) to sit around, scrolling all day! It’s not good for our health, physically OR mentally. In fact, for many, it can actually be an addiction. Have you ever noticed how your teen (or you?) reflexively reach for their phone, even if they don’t have something specific to check?

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

Here are some factors to ponder:

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

I know I’m probably sounding like Fred Flintstone (well, when I was a teen, an in-state long distance call was $3 a minute!), but I believe there’s some middle ground. When I hear about car accidents occurring because of drivers’ texting, or when I observe my daughter and her friends’ texting when they’re supposed to be enjoying each other’s company (I’ve also seen the same from grown adults when they’re supposed to be out on a date), I think the pendulum may have swung too far.

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

  • Strongly consider setting technology-free hours within your home. For example, between the hours of 6pm and 7 pm for dinner, and from 10pm until morning.
  • Parents, place limits on the amount of time your children spend on technology each day. Be on guard for any collateral damage from technology use (e.g., relationships, communication, productivity, motivation, anxiety, attention spans, irritability).
  • Lead by example (THIS ONE IS HUGE) and show the teens you know how to enjoy life’s special moments without their phone. Go for a walk and enjoy good conversation (no need to post a filtered Instagram shot of the scenery!). Go outside and play volleyball or basketball or kick-the-can. Go for an all-day hike on the weekend, and challenge everyone to leave their phones alone the entire time.
  • Disengage from phone use when you’re together at coffee shops, restaurants, and the like. All-too-often I’ve seen parents as phone addicted in public as their kids. Isn’t this supposed to be “quality time?”
  • If you’re a teacher, make sure your classroom is a phone-free zone if at all possible. Encourage practices that help strengthen your students’ creativity, activity, and resourcefulness.
  • Remember that setting boundaries/limits on technology use can be the greatest source of “fireworks” between parents and their teens. However, it’s important parents stay strong on this one because the love you exert today will pay off in productivity and greater health for them in the years to come. Consider looking at askdoctor.org for some sample “contracts” regarding technology use that you can have your teens sign.

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

The Most Important Thing for Teens to Learn This Summer

adult-backlit-bottles-697244.jpgSummertime offers many wonderful opportunities to enjoy, explore, and create. For some of us, it means a family trip to Disneyland or camping in the closest state park. Maybe it means roasting marshmallows in the backyard or going to concerts in the park with your neighbors. We might read books, take a class just for the heck of it, or learn a new skill. We might even shoot our record round of golf (here’s hoping!)! The possibilities are endless.

But, here’s an idea that meets the “enjoy, explore, and create” test, but costs nothing, can be done anywhere, is not weather dependent, is sure to please all involved, and might just be the most valuable summer project EVER for your teenager (and maybe even for you)! Any guesses what it may be?

The answer is…

Develop your very own Personal Balance Sheet. (I’m not talking about the financial kind.) Sure, it might not sound as thrilling as white water rafting or a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, but hear me out. This is important.

The high school years should be a time of self-discovery and building confidence and self-awareness. You know, being able to answer the fundamental questions of: Who am I? What do I uniquely have to offer? And lastly, What are my opportunities for fulfillment? After all, if your teens haven’t already, they’ll soon be taking courses or attending programs on college and career planning to plot their course for the future. All of this planning implies that students are sufficiently self-aware to judge correctly.

But, is this true?

In my visits with high school students, I’m struck by their lack of self-awareness. All too often, I see students who are insecure about their future because they don’t perceive their value. They don’t understand how they can make a difference with their assets and passions (IF they even take the time to consider them).  Too many students are making fundamental life decisions about their future without first having clarity about their identity and dreams. It’s the proverbial cart before the horse.

To address this need, we’ve developed a self-discovery leadership assignment that we call the Personal Balance Sheet. Think of it as a personal adaptation of the balance sheet from the business world, but with different categories and without actual numbers. It inventories our assets and our constraints (which is “liability” in business terms) and creates an overall statement of our value proposition to this world.

The Personal Balance sheet, which you can access here, is a fantastic project for the entire family or for schools to assign over the summer. It begins with the students taking an open-ended self-assessment of what they consider to be their greatest assets and constraints. But, even more important, they conduct interviews with selected adults in their lives (e.g., parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, mentors) who know them well and have their best interests at heart. From them, they receive their perspectives of their greatest strengths and constraints. The initial list developed by the student is enriched by the invaluable viewpoints of others. It’s both inspirational and revealing.

The end result of completing this exercise is a much more complete and accurate understanding of ourselves—who we are, what we have to offer, and how we might direct our future to make a difference! Just in time for all of our next step preparations, but this time, from a position of strength and clarity!

May this be the summer of self discovery for the teen(s) in your life!