Stop Comparing; Change the World

I often hear from young people that they feel dissatisfied with their lives. They report feeling lost, unnoticed, and hard-done-by, and that everyone else seems to have it better than them. And exactly where are they perceiving these messages from, you might ask? Social media.

With social media (sadly) being the chief influencer of millennials, many teens and young adults find themselves comparing themselves to “Instagram celebrities,” and therefore feeling inadequate for not measuring up. Of course, we all know that “social media isn’t real,” but it can in fact be very hard for some people to separate what they see on Facebook or Instagram from reality. They are constantly bombarded with images of success, wealth, unattainable body ideals, and other unrealistic expectations. They’re left feeling lost, unworthy, and searching for a meaning that nothing on social media will ever give them.

If you have a teen or college student in your life (or if you are one yourself), I encourage you to share this message with them.

The times in my life when I have experienced pure joy and fulfillment have been when I did things that had a lasting impact on other people. Not when I lost a certain amount of weight, not when I bought a new car, not when I bought a whole new wardrobe, not when one of my posts was liked by hundreds of people, and not when I had a certain number of friends (online or in real life).

It’s crucial for young people to understand that true joy comes from doing good for others and using their gifts and talents to impact the world for the better. It most certainly won’t come by comparing yourself to social media stars or to the most popular students in your class. .

To the young people, I urge you: your time is now. Now is the time to serve others and impact the world. If you want to experience meaning and ultimate joy, turn off your smart phone and aim to make your life a living legacy by using the best that you, uniquely, have to offer. In this way, you’ll see your impact firsthand while inspiring others in the process. And, you’ll be changed for the better, too!

If you are finding comparison hanging over your life like a dark cloud, find a cause you’re passionate about or an issue you believe needs addressing, and chase after it. In this blog post, you will find some tips for discovering what inspires you and how to make your impact..

What opportunities will you pursue today to invest in others and help make life a little (or a lot) better for someone else? Strike while the iron is hot, and start building your legacy.

Remember, what you see on social media will ebb and flow. Trends and celebrities will change, but your legacy is what will last forever. Don’t wait to change the world!

Five Tips for a Purposeful and Engaging Summer with Your Teen

I think we can all agree it feels like Christmas was just a month ago. But in a flash, we’ve blazed through winter (which for us Pacific Northwesterners means suffering through copious amounts of rain) and the end of the school year is already upon us. In fact, some college students only have a couple weeks left!

So, now what? Your teen will be home with you for the summer until you move them into the dorms or they take off to start a new career. What can you do as their parent to make their summer at home memorable, engaging, and most importantly, purposeful?

I believe summer is the best time for us as parent to take advantage of our teens’ presence and slip into some special moments that would otherwise difficult to accomplish. Without further ado, here are five tips for a purposeful and engaging summer with your teen:

  1. Dream about the future together. Over a cup of coffee or at their favorite place, talk with your teen about his or her dreams. What do they want to major in and why? What places do they hope to travel to over the next couple of years? Share your own life experience and how you’ve made your personal dreams a reality. Consider completing this values checklist together, (and this personal balance sheet, if they’re up for it) and let them know you’re always available to talk.
  2. Go on a hike. What better way to build relationship capital with your teen than getting some fresh air? Sometimes new experiences and adventures facilitate conversations you wouldn’t have had elsewhere.
  3. Encourage your teen to invite their friends over to your home. Play host or hostess for a night and get to know the people your teen hangs out with most. Be familiar with their third party voices and know that your teen’s three closest relationships are the ones that impact his or her life the most. It’s a great opportunity to see your teen in her or her element!
  4. Attend a sporting event together. Baseball season is in full swing, and enjoying the fresh spring/summer air while watching a game of ball with your teen is a great way to bond! A round of golf is another great choice—potentially a sport you can enjoy for a lifetime.
  5. Participate in a service project together. Ask your teen what causes she or he is passionate about. Seek out your local churches, shelters, or nonprofit organizations to find what ways you can get involved with your community through volunteering. Impacting the world around you will be an incredibly inspiring, uplifting, and relationship building experience that you’ll never forget.

 

Remember, your teen experiences a ton of pressure during the school year with academics, extracurricular activities, plans for future, and more.. So, be sure to use the summer months to help them decompress and do things they wouldn’t otherwise have time for. These young years will be gone in the blink of an eye (for both of you)!

What timeless memories can you build with your teen this summer?

 

Career Readiness: Excelling on the Job

“Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work for it.”

~Author Unknown

It’s day one on the job, and we can’t wait for our corner office, leather chair, and stunning view. Not so fast! Success on the job (including the perks!) takes hard work, and no one is entitled to it. In today’s competitive workplace, employers are managing their staffs with greater scrutiny than ever. Consequently, we must continually justify ourselves by adding value to our employer.

There’s a BIG difference between the MVPs in an organization and those whose careers stagnate. So for our students’ benefit, it’s critical that our career readiness training includes the secrets of workplace superstars. With so many teens and young adults lacking job experience, this segment offers a vital glimpse into the demands of the workplace. The better our students understand this now, the better equipped they will be to knock it out of the park from the first day.

Here are our recommendations for setting students up to excel in the workplace:

  1. Pursue a well-matched career. All-Star employees play to their strengths, and that begins with selecting a career that matches their skills, interests, and personal preferences. This is one reason why students should conduct a comprehensive assessment of themselves and career options (described in an earlier blog) before making a decision. It is also why parents and educators should play a role of guiding the process rather than directing it toward a particular outcome. There is no substitute for loving our work, and that can only be possible if it fits us like a glove.
  2. Model the qualities of workplace MVPs. Career success goes far beyond skills and smarts. Ask employers to identify what stands out among their most admired employees and you’ll hear qualities such as high standards of excellence, integrity, dependability, relational/communication skill, positivity/enthusiasm, motivation/strong work ethic, resilience, humility, loyalty, professionalism, focus, creativity, and a willingness to go above and beyond. Encourage your students to take these to heart.
  3. Deliver excellent job performance. It’s critical that students understand how they will likely be evaluated on the job. Their performance will link directly to their pay, promotion potential, and overall satisfaction. Generally speaking, their job reviews will include rankings on subjective criteria such as communication, attitude, teamwork, and dependability, as well as on specific goals for the performance period. We recommend sharing the following strategies with students starting on their first day:
  • Ask their supervisor to define excellence on the job and in each of the evaluation criteria. This offers invaluable insights how he/she will be rated in these subjective areas. Then, of course, deliver it!
  • Ask their supervisor to identify the one to three most significant accomplishments the employee could achieve in the next six months. Then, deliver them!
  • Ask their supervisor to share how he/she and the department are being evaluated and how they can contribute to their success. Then, deliver!
  1. Contribute to their employer’s success. MVPs go above and beyond. They proactively seek ways to build value in the eyes of their employer. And, the best way to do this is to positively impact the organization’s success. There are many ways to do this, but here are some of the most powerful:

Improve sales. This can be achieved through adding new customers, building customer loyalty, developing new products/services, and supporting the sales effort.

Reduce expenses. Lowering costs and improving efficiency directly benefit the bottom line.

Innovating. Whether it’s new products or services or better ways to position the company in sales settings, these efforts contribute to the employer’s brand and revenue growth.

Leading. Whether it’s leading projects, teams, or people, the potential for significant impact and reputational value are huge. Seize the moment and use every opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills.

By knowing how to deliver excellent job performance, your students will be poised to reach their full career potential!

Self Awareness: Where Career Readiness Begins

“Today you are You, that is truer than true.

There is no one alive that is Youer than You.”

~Dr. Suess

 

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 and confused at the same time. Eventually I found my way, but it was a circuitous path!

Some of my mentees are quite certain of their career interests and have laid out detailed plans to get there. 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.

Me:      So, what do you think?

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

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. Fortunately, there is a better way!

Just as when we build our dream house, 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 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.

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.

 

 

Career Readiness Essentials for School and Home

 

“You’re off to great places! Today is your day.

Your mountain is waiting. So… get on your way!”

~Dr. Suess

 

“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question each of us has received (and often loathed!) countless times in our formative years. For some, like my daughter, the answer was clear from an early age. For most, it’s a trial and error process with midcourse changes—and loads of stress. And, that’s only the beginning.

In my conversations with teens and young adults, I see a generation that is starving for practical career wisdom. Some are struggling with their career (or major) choice. Some have all the credentials, but don’t have a clue how to market themselves and win. In today’s world, where personal initiative and networking are key, those who haven’t adapted are floundering. Finally, those who are underperforming on the job are getting a rude awakening about the ways of the real world.

To some extent, we attribute this to assumptions being made by parents and educators about who is responsible for training what. Parental guidance is all over the map. And, career readiness programs vary widely within high schools, colleges, and universities. Guess who loses?

At LifeSmart, we believe the solution is for all students to receive comprehensive and practical career readiness training to help position them for success. To that end, we are developing this extended blog series to share our vision for effective career preparation. Whether you’re a parent, educator, or student, we hope this advances your career readiness training and identifies any gaps to address.

Essential Elements

In order to holistically prepare our students for career success, we believe that training needs to be much broader than is commonly the case. In our view, the following are necessary ingredients to comprehensive career training:

  1. Self awareness building: understanding one’s self, in terms of assets/skills/strengths, personality profile, interests, and passions. This involves answering the fundamental questions of who am I?, what do I have to offer?, and what are my dreams? Self awareness is a necessary precursor to effective career selection.
  2. Leadership development: understanding the attitudes, behaviors, and practices of honorable and successful people. These qualities not only serve us in our careers, but in all of life. Leadership training is necessary for sustained career excellence.
  3. Career exploration: identifying and evaluating well-suited and accessible careers that play to our strengths, satisfy our preferences, and offer fulfillment and a livelihood. This needs to be one of the most well-researched decisions in our life.
  4. Career qualification: knowing the credentialing and planning required to access one’s chosen career. Through education, training, and experience, we must build a competitive edge that is attractive to future employers.
  5. Career acquisition: understanding the job search process and how to successfully market ourselves in this highly competitive, ever-changing world.
  6. Career mastery: developing a reputation as an “MVP employee” by virtue of one’s character, performance, and contribution to employer success. Together, these improve the odds of achieving our career potential and financial goals.

 Does your career training include all of these elements?

We will be addressing each of these topics over the next two months, deriving from our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources as well as perspectives from employers. Stay tuned for next week’s discussion on self awareness, and please share this series with those in your sphere of influence. We’d love to hear your thoughts and would enjoy supporting your career readiness efforts.

 

 

 

 

How to Start Treating Your Teen Like a (Real) Grown-Up

Parents: how many times have you heard your teen say, You treat me like a kid!” How many times have you responded, “Well, it’s because you act like one!”?

Teens are constantly and increasingly tugging at the reins, wanting more and more slack. When teens ask to be treated like adults, what they’re really wanting are the privileges of adulthood. A car. Money in their pockets. Decision-making authority. Autonomy. Unfortunately, because of the nature of childhood (immaturity) and the tendency of some parents to rescue, pamper, and enable— that day never comes (or doesn’t come soon enough).

Have you ever wondered, when I am SUPPOSED to start giving them more leash?

The reality is most teens are ready for more responsibility than we give them and need opportunities to exercise it. Adults have extra rights and privileges that kids look forward to enjoying and usually want now. But remember that for adults, those privileges are usually attached to responsibility. For example:

  1. I have a car (privilege). I must earn money to fill the tank and pay the insurance and maintenance (responsibility).
  2. I can stay up (or out) as late as I want to, every night (privilege). However, I have children who need to be off to school early in the mornings, and a busy daily schedule that requires me to have enough sleep to be in top form (responsibility).
  3. I can make any decision I want to (privilege). However, I have a spouse and children (and neighbors, employers, coworkers, friends) whose lives and happiness are influenced by my decisions. Sometimes, what I want to do is outweighed by what honors and benefits others (responsibility).

What children need to understand is that privileges, in the real world, are attached to responsibilities. If we give them the privileges, but don’t require responsibility, we set them up for an entitlement mentality—and for struggles in the real world. Folks, this is a pervasive issue.

So, the next time your teen tells you he or she wants to be treated like an adult, do it! Treat him or her like a real adult—not just with privileges, though. Make sure there are responsibilities to go with them and explain the connection. You don’t need to give up full control all at once. But, you can start by requiring them to do things like:

  • Contribute to their own income by getting a job (or babysitting, etc.)
  • Buy their own car (or make a significant contribution to it) and pay for all or most of their gas
  • Make their own appointments (dentist, doctor, hair, etc.). Encourage them, as much as is appropriate and realistic, to go to the appointment themselves, fill out the paperwork, etc.
  • Do their own laundry and make their lunch
  • Clean up the house before and after they entertain friends.

If you are a parent who draws a great deal of identity and personal fulfillment from doing things for your children, it can be difficult to change your habits. You may feel like you’re being mean. But, if you want to set them up well for the launch and equip them to be happy, healthy, functioning, and successful adults, it must happen. It will pay huge dividends in the long run to start moving now to the passenger seat and becoming more of a cheerleader/coach as your teen learns to operate in the driver’s seat of his or her life.

 

4 Tips to Help Your High School Student Succeed

We just finished up an amazing week at the National Dropout Prevention Network conference in Detroit, MI. The LifeSmart team was able to share our perspective on what we can do as educators, mentors, and parents to help set teens up for success and graduate high school with their peers. Consequentially, we’ve got high school graduation on our minds—even if Halloween hasn’t yet arrived!

Are you a parent or a teacher of high schoolers? Have you ever wondered what YOU can do to prevent the potential of your students’ dropping out, or how you can equip your student for optimum success? Unfortunately, one million kids leave school every year without a diploma. We’d like to share with you our top four ways to equip high school students for success and help them cross the graduation finish line.

  1. Instill resilience. Let’s face it. Life gets difficult. And it can be especially difficult for students who are dealing with struggles at home (broken families, drugs and alcohol, emotional/verbal/physical abuse), or who come from a low-income background. One of the most important qualities for young people to embody is resilience; learning to handle adversity with courage, integrity, and determination. Take time to talk with your teen about obstacles (because that’s exactly what they are, obstacles—not derailers!) and the importance of overcoming them, growing from them, and, ultimately, becoming an “inspirational encourager” to others who are facing similar challenges. Always be mindful of what other side to today’s valley might look like..
  2. Cultivate your relationship. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, it’s important to cultivate a relationship with your student, especially if you notice the dropout “warning signs.” Take time to talk and learn what makes him/her tick. Are they feeling alone? Is there a certain subject they just don’t get? Are they overwhelmed with too many commitments? Position yourself as an ally—someone who can be trusted—and cultivate a relationship of trust, acceptance, and encouragement with your teen. And, while you’re at it, always seek opportunities to affirm their uniqueness and value. It’s a powerful way to build hope and belief in themselves and their future. They’ll never forget you for it.
  3. Rely on community resources. I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old saying, “It takes a village.” It’s true! Without the wider community supporting the schools, and without parents and schools relying on resources within the community, success would be hard to come by. There are great organizations out there (like the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and more) that can help your student make friends, bond to other positive influences, and stay on track. Also, encourage them to identify their interests and passions, to offer a glimpse of what their future can look like. It builds motivation, too.
  4. Make sure your child is surrounded with positive influences. Remember, your student needs to have other wise and encouraging voices in their life other than their parents and teachers. In fact, research shows that each student needs at least five adults in their life who are there to offer support, wisdom, advice, trust, and encouragement. Sometimes kids listen to non-parent voices the best! The same goes for their friends. If you notice your student is hanging around with the wrong crowd, or tapping into destructive media influences, address it immediately.

 

Our students are our future—and their success is of utmost importance. Let’s position ourselves as their safety net and rally around them with the support the need to ensure their graduation and life success.

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part One

Like most of you, I hate stereotypes and generalizations. They’re unfair and usually do more harm than good. It’s why I’m not a fan of “bucketizing” people into this/that gender/age/ethnicity/economic/religious/political category. To me, the main “fruit” of these efforts is disunity.

But, at the risk of not taking my own advice, I’d like to weigh in on the conversation about a group that is perhaps more stereotyped than any these days. . . Millennials. Having raised two of our own and as an author/publisher/mentor/educator devoted to training up our next generation, I feel a special bond toward them. But, judging by what I read and hear, it’s as though their foreheads are etched with a “scarlet M.”

You’ve likely heard their negative labels: entitled, lazy, fragile, impatient, narcissistic, distractible, relationally challenged, needful, and the like. Hopefully, you’ve also heard the positive: passionate, creative, connected, entrepreneurial, idealistic, and globally minded. (As a product of the Sixties and Seventies, it makes me wonder what was said about us!)

But, here’s the deal: IF some of the negative stereotypes of Millennials have some merit, I don’t believe it’s only (or even primarily) because of them. Much of that responsibility lies with us—the generation that has parented and trained them. By all accounts, we are not equipping them as fully as we should—not parents, not schools, and in some cases, not employers. We’re also struggling to let go. Big time!

Too often, instead of releasing eagles to soar with confidence, we’re releasing young adults that we continue to control, coddle, or inadequately equip. Generally speaking, we’re not providing the practical, relevant, holistic training they need to succeed in adult life, and it’s showing. I believe this is attributable to several factors: 1) parents and educators assuming the other is covering the training (e.g., finance, soft skills) so it falls through the cracks, 2) consequences of the breakdown of the American family, and 3) educators focusing more on training the mind than the whole person for adulthood. It’s no wonder that the stage of adolescence continues to grow. And grow.

That’s on us. And, we need to do better. For them.

So, for the rest of this blog series, I’ll be offering my recommendations—to parents, secondary school educators, colleges, and employers—to help set our younger generation up for real world success. Due to space limitations, it’s an incomplete view, so I’ll focus on my best ideas.

In this first post, I’ll address my thoughts to parents. After that, I’ll concentrate on secondary school and college educators, and finally, employers. We all have a stake in this game. I’m sure you can add to my ideas, and you might even disagree with some of my views. I welcome your contributions. That’s what makes it a conversation!

 

To Parents:

We all want our children to be happy and successful, but sometimes we get in their own way. In fact, discussions with those receiving our high school graduates (e.g., universities and employers) reveal the downside of helicoptering, performance parenting, excessive coddling, and absentee parenting: students struggling with self confidence and coping with the demands of adulthood. Consequently, parents are calling professors to complain about grades. Parents are calling employers to complain about their “kids” being overworked and underpaid. Parents are even coming to job interviews! Many parents are so invested in their children’s success that they won’t let go. Is it any wonder so many young adults are having difficulty growing up?

With that, here are some suggestions for raising our parenting bar and releasing a new generation of well-prepared and confident leaders:

  1. Adopt an empowering parenting vision and mindset: what if we replaced “raising children” with “raising future adults?” This mindshift can make a world of difference. In our book on this topic, Parenting for the Launch, we call it, “giving them wings, not strings” and “moving from driver seat to passenger seat.”
  2. Emphasize character and “soft skills” over performance. Success in career and life requires a solid leadership foundation made up of qualities like integrity, reliability, high standards, kindness, respect, other-centeredness, work ethic, humility, positivity, and manners. It also requires attributes like self control, resilience, interpersonal skill, decision-making, time management, and communication. These are sustainable leadership qualities. Where are we placing our emphasis?
  3. Invest in your relationship. It takes both quality and quantity time to build a relationship that endures. “I didn’t spend enough time with my children” is an all-too-common regret you never want to experience! Stay fully engaged.
  4. Surround them with positive influences and adult role models and mentors. Use every opportunity to introduce them to great people! These invaluable third party voices offer friendship, wisdom, and connections to help grow their network. It also builds communication skills and respect for adults.
  5. Help them build self awareness. In the teen and young adult years, it’s critical to understand one’s assets, nature, and passions. Parents can contribute valuable insights that instill vision, belief, hope, and a sense of value.
  6. Encourage them to stretch themselves and take risks, even if they may not succeed. Help them embrace new experiences and challenges. Regardless of the outcome, winning is in the journey. Build a “Go for it!” attitude..
  7. Limit their use of technology and impose tech-free zones during family times. Be highly attentive to the addictive tendencies of technology, especially if it starts to affect their relationships, communication, and productivity.  And, don’t let devices and TV serve as a “babysitter.”
  8. Be strategic about preventing some of the common stereotypes. That means promoting a strong work ethic (chores help!), instilling other centeredness (volunteering for the less fortunate), learning to accept constructive feedback, being able to build authentic relationships, developing their ability to problem solve and handle disappointments and conflict, and teaching them how to communicate professionally with adults.
  9. Resist the temptation to solve their problems and manage their performance. These are self confidence destroyers that hamper decision-making and can create co-dependence.

 

If you are the parent of a millennial—what steps have you taken to help make them more “real world ready?” Are there any tips or pointers you would add to this list?

Later this week, I will be addressing my recommendations to secondary educators (with two more parts in the series coming next week!). I’m excited to share this blog series with you and hope you’ll continue to read on and engage as we discuss our roles in equipping the next generation for success!

If you’re interested in accessing the entire article (how we as parents, high school teachers, college professors, and employers can help equip millennials for success) in one place, you can find it in our resource center here.

Teach Your Teen to be Smart about Technology Use

As parents, educators, mentors ,and coaches, most of us have noticed something about the teens and young adults we work with daily: THEY’RE 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 social media 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 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 conversations with adults.
  • 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.

Funny, I don’t recall seeing warning labels about these side effects when I purchased my smart phone!

I know I’m probably sounding like Fred Flintstone, 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 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 9pm or 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, attention spans, irritability).
  • Lead by example, 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. Encourage practices that help strengthen your students’ creativity, activity, and resourcefulness.

Remember that 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!

7 Relationship-Building Activities to Do with Your Teen This Summer

Now that school is out and summer is in full swing (already?), you maybe be wondering, “Now what are we going to do for the next two-and-a-half months?” Summer is the best time to take advantage of your teen(s) presence and availability—use it to slip in some special moments that will build your relationship and just have fun.

  1. Go on a hike. What better way is there to have an impactful conversation and build relationship capital with your teen than enjoying the great outdoors and some fresh air? Take this time to ask them questions, like their favorite thing about the past school year, what they value, goals for the coming year, and where they see themselves in five years.
  2. Play an outdoor game. Some of my favorite memories with my family happened outside on the lawn, usually right after dinner (magic hour!). Play a game of kick-the-can, “lawn golf” (example here) or corn hole. These games make for great laughter, friendly competition, and help us unwind after a hectic week.
  3. Go to a sporting event. There’s nothing like a Major (or minor) League Baseball game to help you bond with your teen. Don’t forget the garlic fries and a good selfie!
  4. Innertube a river or stream. This one might sound a little lame, and I thought so too until I did it for the first time! I hooked up with a pal and we slowly floated down the gentle rapids while sipping cream soda. It made for some seriously awesome conversation and relaxation.
  5. Consider planning a progressive dinner with your teen’s friends/friends’ parents. If your teen is part of a large group of friends who all live in the same general area, think about a progressive dinner. Appetizers at your house, dinner at a friend’s house, and dessert at yet another! It’s a great way to spend quality time with your teen, see them in their element, and get to know their friends’ parents a little better.
  6. Go on night walks and build campfires. It’s amazing how conversations open up under the stars with a s’more in hand!
  7. Create a dream board. Ask your teen if they’d be willing to make a dream board or notebook that contains all the things they’d like to see happen in the next couple years. Get creative and cut out pictures (examples: a cap and gown to represent high school graduation, the logo of the company they hope to work for, a picture of the mascot of their dream college, a picture of the car they’d like to buy…the options are endless!). This is a great way to keep the end prize(s) in mind as they enjoy the summer.

Remember, your teen experiences a ton of pressure during the school year with academics, extracurricular activities, plans for future college/career, and more (I still remember it vividly!). Use the summer months as a time to help them relax and de-stress (note: this is good for adults, too!). Remind them that it’s okay to slow down and take a breather. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and these younger years will be gone in the blink of an eye!

What timeless memories can you build with your teen this summer?