Parenting “To-Do’s” for Parents of High School Seniors: April

daytime-girls-graduation-901964 (1).jpgParents of high school seniors: Now that we are already in the middle of April, it’s a good time to start talking about their looming transition from high school to college or career). Few transitions bring as much joy, tears, and anxiety to parents as when their children leave home and begin life on their own. In many ways, this milestone is a parent’s defining moment. How will they do? Have we prepared them well? How will we adjust? In what ways will our relationships change?  It’s a big deal—almost as big for parents as it is for students!

At this time, it’s important to keep in mind the big picture. Our fundamental goal when raising children is training self-confident future adults with strong character, ready to fulfill their dreams and purpose. Practically and emotionally, we must move from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat… and eventually, to the back seat. Easier said than done for some of us, right?

Since April is the beginning of the crucial months leading up to “launch time,” a strategic parent will make the most of these final months, creating lasting memories and position ALL parties for a successful launch. Here are some practical, ground-level pieces of advice for parents in this season:

  • Remember to keep in mind what your teen needs from you at this very moment: Unconditional love, belief and encouragement, practical wisdom, affirmation of their value, and a healthy relationship built on understanding and trust. Be an open door to them and communicate realistic expectations.
  • Meet your teen where they are. It’s most likely that your teen is pretty reluctant to sit down in the living room with you, sip on a cup of tea, and open up for a deep conversation. For them, a meaningful conversation is more likely to happen at their favorite coffee shop, in the car, in the kitchen cooking, on their favorite hike etc. But remember—don’t force it. Let them be in the mood to talk.
  • Treat them as the adult they soon will be. No Facebook posts that “my baby is leaving!”  Remember your goal of building self-sufficiency and independence. Also, be sure to incorporate any chores they’ll need to be doing on their own, if you haven’t already.
  • Pick up a copy of Parenting for the Launch. It will provide you with an in-depth discussion of what to expect as you transition into the next season of parenting, and also pro tips on how you can equip your teen with the skills he or she needs for success in adulthood.
  • Finally, be on guard for putting all of your identity in your role as mother or father. Too many parents do and have extreme difficulty in letting go… especially, when they face an empty nest. Parents, you’re more than a mom or dad, you’ve done your best, and now it’s up to your child to fulfill his/her dreams as an adult—with you on the sidelines as their chief encourager.

For many universities, April is decision time. This is a HUGE deal, and you and your teen will probably be (or already are) monitoring the mailbox like a hawk. This month may involve follow-up visits or further phone calls to help finalize the decision. Depending on how close of a call it is, you and your student may be over-the-moon excited, or horribly stressed!  For this, we recommend family discussions of the pros and cons of the realistic finalists, but that the teen makes the final selection.

Given the stress involved in this decision, it may be timely for stress management to be the topic of the month. It’s a heavy topic, but a crucial one. Statistics are showing high dropout rates after the first year of college, worsening college completion rates, and skyrocketing incidences of anxiety, depression, and visits to mental health clinics on campus. This is the big picture, and it will help your teen to understand the context behind this important topic.

Throughout the rest of this month, consider initiating conversations and experiences with your teen that will help them learn to better manage stress, avoid being overly anxious, and stay confident in themselves and their decisions. Although it may seem “idealistic,” these skills will help equip your teens to thrive in his/her next step.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Team Mindedness

teamwork

If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.

~Henry Ford

Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.

~Michael Jordan

None of us is as smart as all of us.

~Ken Blanchard

What do choirs, symphonies, NASA space launches, the Golden State Warriors, military operations, Olympic pair skating, successful marriages, hospital emergency rooms, business projects, and your favorite restaurant have in common? The answer: their success depends on teamwork. Great teamwork. Not surprisingly, as our economy shifts and workplaces become more collaborative, employers are placing a premium on teamwork and interpersonal skills in their staffing decisions.

The fact is, teamwork takes work! There are many moving parts in any team and success is highly fragile. Here are the reasons why: 1) egos and self interest get in the way, 2) weak leadership, 3) personality clashes, 4) underperformers, 5) insufficient skill diversity, 6) blaming and internal strife, and 7) poor communication. Is it any wonder why so few sports franchises are truly dynasties?

So, what makes teams work together skillfully and harmoniously toward a common vision? Here are four essential ingredients: 1) each member delivering great performance, 2) effective leadership in assigning responsibilities to team members, 3) an ability to work well with each other, and 4) putting the team ahead of the individual. Simply stated, successful team members abide by the formula:
We > Me.

Here’s a sampler of the qualities of team minded people:

respectfulness * subordination of self interest to team interest * solutions minded * encouragement and appreciation of others * resilience * loyalty * excellent listening * goal orientation * dependability * diplomacy * conflict resolver * helpfulness * positivity * courtesy * affability * tact. No wonder why team mindedness is such a prized quality in the workplace! How would you rate yourself on these qualities?

Also, it takes great interpersonal skills to be an excellent team player. Relational skills are vitally important in the workplace and often are underestimated by people who unfortunately think success is all about smarts. In the business arena, our relationship spheres include colleagues, customers, sales prospects, owners, the community, suppliers, and, yes, your supervisor. Each of these relationships offers the potential for professional and personal friendships, too.

Here are some interpersonal success pointers we share in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 book and curriculum:

  • Be an encourager rather than a critic
  • Give others credit before yourself
  • Strive to be an agreeable disagreer
  • Work synergistically toward common goals
  • Regularly show appreciation and gratitude
  • Solicit and embrace constructive feedback
  • Remember that how you say it can be more important than what you say
  • Focus on solutions more than the problem
  • Don’t whine; just do it
  • Talk it out, don’t write it out; avoid using written communications on sensitive or emotionally charged topics
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt and avoid assuming bad intentions
  • Take responsibility for your mistakes and shortfalls and avoid blaming
  • Laugh often

Parents, team mindedness and strong interpersonal skills in your children are critical to their success in life. Unfortunately, signs are everywhere that technology overuse is having harmful effects on our children’s relational skill development. Isolation, social awkwardness, and a preference for tech-based communication over face-to-face communication are growing tendencies in a world that values collaboration more than ever. It’s a disconnect that deserves all of our attention.

Stay tuned for next week’s topic: Friendliness.

Qualities of Workplace Superstars: Work Ethic/Motivation

Some people dream of success while others wake up and work hard at it.

~Winston Churchill

The harder I work, the luckier I get.

~Samuel Goldwyn

It’s supposed to go like this: We convince the employer we’re the best person for the job. The employer agrees and offers it to us, complete with a compensation package. We accept the offer and celebrate, recognizing they could have easily offered the position to someone else. In return for the paycheck, we work our tails off, do our best, and… WAIT, STOP THE TAPE! Not so fast!

In my conversations with employers of young people, I hear more complaints about work ethic and dependability than any other traits. Among the issues they cite: absenteeism, late arrivals, distractions, failure to meet deadlines, deficient work, whining (especially toward more “menial” tasks), and entitlement attitudes. Some employers have given up and are now recruiting retirees to avoid the “baggage.” (Their word.)

And, they’ll tell you it wasn’t always this way.

To be honest, I think the responsibility for this generational shift lies primarily with parents. We do our children’s chores, either to keep them happy or because we can do them better or quicker. We overcommit them with one activity after another and feel guilty if we also ask them to sweep the garage. We allow play to come before work. We permit hours and hours of time with their endless technology, media, and entertainment options. It all adds up and manifests itself in a big way during the teen and young adult years.

Oh, and, educators will tell you the lack of motivation is apparent in their classrooms, too.

There are many, many reasons why a strong work ethic and motivation (both inextricably linked) are so important in the workplace and in life:

  • It is an admired character trait and a MUST for a productive life
  • We owe it to our employers who are paying us for excellent work
  • It directly affects our job performance, pay potential, reputation, job security, and promotability; also, several careers pay directly by output and sales, which are heavily influenced by our work ethic and productivity
  • Our team members are depending on us
  • It is a necessity for building grit and resilience
  • We make ourselves easier to manage in the eyes of our supervisor
  • Businesses are much more “bottom line” focused than in the past and less tolerant of mediocre performers; we have to compete to keep our jobs!
  • A strong work ethic can overcome an average skillset
  • We receive the “psychic benefits” from a job well done
  • And, we accomplish so much more

Individuals with a strong work ethic and motivation:

  • are self starters and needn’t require reminders
  • don’t require rewards each time for hard work; it’s intrinsic
  • are proactive and take initiative
  • are productive and efficient with their time; they focus just as much on working smart as working hard and accomplish more than others during their work time
  • are conscientious, take directions, and follow policies and guidelines
  • are lifelong learners
  • avoid complaining about the less interesting aspects of their job
  • meet or exceed the requirements of the job
  • give their employer a high return on investment

Parents, here are some tips to help build these essential qualities:

  • Instill the values of a strong work ethic and motivation by modeling it yourselves and teaching your children why it’s so important
  • Have your children do age-appropriate chores and message that doing them is not optional (this is where your tough love really pays off!). Introduce them to a wide range of chores, but be somewhat flexible when choosing which ones they are routinely responsible for. Use chores as a learning experience. They’ll be on their own soon!
  • Limit the amount of time they spend on technology and media and adopt a “work before play” strategy
  • When it comes to career selection, encourage them to choose options they will enjoy and be interested in. We are naturally more motivated when we do the things we like.
  • Encourage them to choose friends who take these qualities seriously. Peer influences are huge. If our kids surround themselves with positive and productive people, it will rub off. And if they don’t, that will rub off, too!

Let’s do everything we can to build an intrinsic work ethic in our younger generation and reverse these trends. Today’s tough love will pay dividends in the long run, and, one day, they might just thank you for it.

Next up: Resourcefulness. Have a great week!

Unintended Consequences of Parenting Styles

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility

and the wings of independence.

~Denis Waitley

Parents: I think all of us can agree that we want to see our children happy, admirable, and successful.  But, how we help them achieve this is all over the map, isn’t it? When I grew up, authoritarian parenting was the norm. Those were the days of “Because I said so,” and non-negotiable chores. Teens were expected to leave home after graduation, whether that meant to college, a job, or the military. The ball was in their court to sink or swim. Tough love ruled the day.

Times have changed, in part because of the pitfalls associated with this approach to parenting. However, as it usually happens, the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme. We overcorrect and new issues surface. Like now.

Despite our best intentions, sometimes our parenting methods can get in the way of achieving our objectives. Although our children bear the primary responsibility for how their lives turn out, parenting influences are significant. With this in mind, and understanding that there are no perfect parents, we’d like to share some inadvertent consequences we see in three of today’s most common parenting styles.

 

Helicopter Parenting

In our efforts to be an involved parent and protect our kids from failure, we can micromanage and control them if we’re not careful.  Figuratively speaking, we can’t let go of the handlebar. We hover, orchestrate, remind, nag, interfere, and even do their homework and chores. Although we don’t like to be treated that way by our own supervisors, we often display these tendencies with our children. The bottom line is this: we stunt their social-emotional growth and skill development and rob them of the joy of doing things themselves.

Here are telltale signs of children and young adults who have been helicoptered: low self confidence, co-dependence, poor life skills, difficulty with problem solving, lacking resilience/coping, weak conflict resolution, and a poor work ethic and motivation. College administrators and employers are regularly observing these.

 

Performance Parenting

Although we all want our children to succeed, some parents take this to such an extreme that they appear to value performance more than the person. They view their children’s outcomes as a direct reflection of their parenting and can apply intense and unfair pressure to perform to unreasonable standards. Common parent behaviors are harsh responses to report cards, competitive comparisons to siblings or friends, forcing their careers onto their children, complaining to teachers and coaches when grades/play time are disappointing, and defending poor child behavior in teacher/administrator meetings.

It is especially painful to visit with students on the receiving end of this parenting style. Telltale signs in children are lacking self worth/value, anxiety, depression, intense fear of failure, untruthfulness, resentment, isolation, cheating, coping challenges, blaming tendencies, and sibling rivalry. Additionally, significant relationship strains are common when the child doesn’t perceive the parent as a safe person with whom to share fears, dreams, and life. Not surprisingly, resentment and distance are frequent outcomes, especially in the adult years.

 

“Buddy” (or Permissive) Parenting

Parents also have an intense desire to raise happy children and provide a harmonious home environment. Often, the teen years are challenging on both fronts as pressure builds and children express their independence. These years are exhausting! In response, many parents are pursuing a child-centric approach to life and inadvertently raising children who think the world revolves around them. At the extreme, these parents treat their children as friends, abdicating any sense of authority. Common examples of this are enabling, failing to enforce discipline/consequences, doing their children’s basic chores, allowing excessive time allowances for technology, etc., living vicariously through their children, passivity in the face of disrespect, and endlessly giving in to their children’s desires.

Telltale signs in children affected by this parenting style are entitlement, disrespect for authority figures and rules, arrogance, lacking motivation and work ethic, manipulation tendencies, and addiction to pleasure sources. They believe the world owes them a happy life and often struggle in the competitive adult world.

Do any of these sound familiar in your parenting or your children? Most of us can “plead guilty” to at least a few. So, with the dawn of a new year, why not take a pulse check to your parenting? Are any midcourse corrections in order?

Here’s to making 2018 your best parenting year ever!

 

 

Holiday Traditions to Start with Your Kids and Teens

We’ve arrived the holiday season and the hustle and bustle abounds. There’s a holiday activity to attend at every turn—tree lightings, festivals, family parties, cookie exchanges, Christmas pageants, church services, and much, much more. For a family with kids—especially ones in early teen to older teen age range—it can be hard to find activities that “fit” their current interests.

It’s not too uncommon for teenagers sense the independence in their future and pull away slightly from parents and family (we wrote a bit more about this phenomenon here). In fact, I recently had a conversation with a friend who was trying to enjoy holiday traditions with her teen son, but she described him as disinterested and sullen. This mom was frustrated and nearly at her wit’s end—she said these things were so much easier when he was younger.

As a parent with two adult children, I’ve been through this stage myself. I can understand the pull between wanting to enjoy the holiday season with your kids, and also wanting to respect their changing interests. In order to help, all of us at LifeSmart have put together a list of ideas for things to do with the teens or young adults in your life during the month of December. Without further ado’, here it is:

  • Go to an outdoor ice skating rink. These are becoming increasingly popular and are popping up in shopping centers or city centers all over.
  • Watch a Christmas movie, their choice. Don’t try and push “White Christmas” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Let your teen pick the flick . . . and the snacks.
  • If you celebrate Hanukkah, let your teen pick the theme of each night. As they get older, they may not be as interested in the little gifts. Choosing a theme allows your family to branch out and participate in activities that engage even the older kids.
  • Donate to a charity or complete a service project of their choice. Is there a kid at their school who may need help with Christmas gifts or food this year? A cause your teen is passionate about? Make your holiday giving about something that’s important to them.
  • Have them invite their friends over to do some holiday baking. Teens are often more likely to enjoy a family activity if one or two of their friends get to join as well.
  • Let your teen lead the Hanukkah rituals and activities—and allow them to invite their friends to participate as well.
  • If you’re up for helping to host, let your teen host a Christmas party. Planning it can be their job. It can be a great chance for them to learn administrative and organizational skills! And, if the Christmas party idea isn’t a hit, perhaps a get together to watch the NCAA football conference championship games.
  • Paint Christmas ornaments at a local pottery painting studio.
  • Go skiing, snowboarding, or sledding as a family.
  • Check out an area play or concert, including local high school performances
  • Ring the Salvation Army bells as a family or as a group with their friends.

Creating new winter holiday traditions as your children grow and change their interests can be hard to navigate as a parent. The important part is communicating that you care, and are willing to adjust your own expectations in order to spend time with them. It’s a great opportunity to let them take the lead on ideas and event planning. And, most of all, to share in their world a little bit more.

May this season bring you love, joy, friendship, and endless fun with family.

Happy holidays from LifeSmart!

Four Ways to Form Authentic Friendships at College

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce. If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.”

– Zig Ziglar

For many first-year college students, one of the most exhilarating aspects is living in the dorms.  It’s an amazing opportunity to test their new wings of independence (albeit with some supervision from the resident advisors and directors), make new friends, and be surrounded by a community of people in the same boat. However, living on a college campus comes with its own set of challenges, and we’d like to address those today.

When students leave high school and enter college or their career, peer pressure does not just simply go away. In fact, the pressure to fit in can feel even feel more intense for some college students. Living with hundreds of other young people can, unfortunately, lead to negative peer pressure, striving to fit in, poor decisions, and even loss of self.  So, here are four ways that you (or the college student in your life) can form authentic and edifying relationships while living on your college campus:

  1. Deliberately seek out friendships in areas in which you’re likely to find people with similar interests. For example, if you’ve never partied in your life, hitting up a frat house party on a Saturday night is not exactly a sure-fire way to land your next BFFL. Do you enjoy staying active and spending time outdoors? Join an intra-mural and seek friends out here. Are you spiritual? Join an on-campus religiously affiliated club or group. Are you a brainiac with a love for academic challenges? Apply for your school’s honor’s program.
  2. Step outside your comfort zone and BE INTENTIONAL. This is a tough one for all of us because no one likes to feel uncomfortable. But, this is how friendships start and you take an acquaintanceship to a deeper level. As cheesy as it may sound, don’t be afraid to ask someone if you can sit by them in the “caf.” Ask one of your hall mates in the dorms to come over and play board games. Or invite an acquaintance from your Art 101 class out to coffee. More than likely, they’ll be glad for the offer! Be proactive. You’re worth it and what’s the downside?
  3. Be aware of your (potential) friends’ core values. This is crucial, because if you fundamentally oppose someone’s values, your friendship won’t be fit for the long term. If you want to do a self-check on the values that are most important to you, you can use this free checklist Make a list of your top ten, and never waiver from them, no matter what! Remember, not everyone in the world is meant to be your friend. So, if someone’s behavior does not align with your values, or you feel you have to change in order to fit in, it’s time to kiss that friendship goodbye.
  4. Be yourself and be vulnerable. Authenticity is the key to lasting, mutual friendship. You must allow yourself to be seen and appreciated for who you really are, and give up trying to be someone you’re not.

 

When life gets busy and your days are filled with lectures, studying, and practice, it can be incredibly difficult to maintain friendships. However, remember that friendships require deliberate actions from both parties in order to stay afloat (maybe ask one of your friends to study alongside you in the library!). More than anything, be true to yourself, never be afraid to say NO if something doesn’t feel right, and don’t hesitate to rely on help from a trusted adult (mentor, teacher, parent) if you’re struggling with your friendships.

Last week, we shared the first five of our top ten parenting goals for the year. Here’s a recap:

  1. Equip and empower for independence
  2. Develop soft skills and professionalism
  3. Invest in your relationship
  4. Build a strong work ethic
  5. Quash any sense of entitlement

We hope you took some quality time to consider how you’re doing and ways to improve. As imperfect parents, we can all do better. So in that spirit, let’s review the remaining five:

  1. Help them build their network: Parenting is a team sport. And, during the teen years, we need all the help we can get! Research shows that every child needs at least five caring adult role models who offer wisdom, love, encouragement, friendship, and connections. In addition, workforce recruiting is changing so much that having an inside advantage is almost a must. The time for your teen to build his/her network is NOW, and parents, you can give them a big head start by introducing them to great people you know. It’s one of the most valuable gifts you can give to your children.

 

  1. Promote effective time management: Today’s teens and young adults are bombarded by attention grabbers and distractions. Whether it’s technology, social media, or video games, their ability to focus, problem solve, and spend time on what really matters is being compromised. It’s vital to teach our children that time is a precious asset that needs to be managed wisely. Among other things, that means: 1) developing daily “to do” lists organized by priority and urgency, 2) understanding that work comes before play, and 3) limiting the time they spend on low value activities like social media. It’s all part of the “adulting” process, and one day they’ll thank you for it.

 

  1. Cultivate self awareness: In our conversations with high school (and even college!) students, we’re struck by how little they really know themselves. And yet, many schools and parents are pressuring them to know exactly what career or major to pursue. That’s one reason why we encourage students to build their self awareness. Among other things, this involves: 1) inventorying their strengths (assets) and challenges (constraints), 2) identifying their interests and passions, and 3) understanding their personality style and personal preferences. Tools such as the DISC personality test and LifeSmart’s Personal Balance Sheet help students to understand who they are, what they have to offer, and what opportunities will help them thrive. Let’s help them make these long-term decisions with some clarity!

 

  1. Avoid overcommitting/respect balance: You’ve all heard about the rise in mental health issues among teens and young adults, including anxiety and depression. We’re stressing out our kids in a major way, and some of this is the result of overscheduling and committing our kids to build their resumes. Their lack of down time to decompress is clearly taking a toll. Parents, we need to be mindful of how much free time our kids have to reflect, chill, enjoy nature, and pray if they’re so inclined. Let’s be more vigilant about the time requirements for activities before they sign up. Proper balance is a key ingredient to good mental health, and you can help make that happen.

 

  1. Have fun: College prep exams. Resume building. College applications. Career planning. Financial aid forms. Yes, the upper high school years are fraught with pressure—all the while our students have to be… students! And, as parents, it’s easy to be so consumed by our children’s success that we get stressed out too. When that happens, we can forget about one of the most important things for a family’s well being—having fun! What do your kids enjoy doing together the most? Camping? Hiking? Playing sports? Watching movies? Playing games? Building things? Cooking a meal? Attending concerts? Enjoying a campfire? Whatever it is, be sure to make room for it. The years really do fly by, and these moments will build relationship capital for a lifetime. #enjoyyourkids

 So, these are our top ten. How about yours? We hope you enjoyed them and that they serve you in the years ahead. We’d love to hear your thoughts and encourage you to share with your friends, too.

With best wishes for stronger families and brighter futures,

The LifeSmart Team

 

3 Tips to Preserve Your (Precious) Reputation

 What is a prized possession you can never get back once you lose it?

The answer is your reputation.

At some point in your life, your values will be challenged and possibly even ridiculed by others. It’s crucial to talk about this now, with the beginning of the college school year upon us. Why? It’s especially common in the years after high to face situations that test your values, integrity, and ability to stand up to peer pressure. It can be a difficult time for many young people with all of this newfound independence (and adversity!).

Will you have the moral courage to withstand the pressure and take the high ground, even if it means you may lose an opportunity or a friendship in the process?

 I was fortunate to have worked with George Russell, the Chairman Emeritus of Russell Investments. He always took pride in saying, “Our company operates with non-negotiable integrity.” He meant it. George always said, “If you’re wondering whether or not to do something, ask how you would feel if it became tomorrow’s headline in the New York Times. Enough said.

Sadly, you can see how poor choices have destroyed the reputations and lives of countless people in the sports, entertainment, political, and business world. Since many of them were heroes to impressionable kids, their missteps have even greater consequence. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen how the loss of trust and respect can ruin lives and relationships.  That’s why I came up with this list that we can apply to our own lives and reputations. Here are three tips to help you hold on to your values and keep your reputation upstanding:

  1. Avoid the “gray area.” It can be tempting to take shortcuts. We’ve all been there. But if you are not 100 percent positive that something is right, ethical, or in line with your values…then just don’t do it.
  2. Surround yourself with people that uplift you, understand you, and make you want to be your best self. If you find yourself comparing, striving, and doing things out of the ordinary in order to fit in, then they probably aren’t “your people.”
  3. Always tell the truth—even white lies can be detrimental to your reputation. It may sound cliché, but honesty is ALWAYS the best policy.

No matter what you do, preserve your integrity, values, and reputation with every ounce of strength you can muster. You will absolutely, positively, and totally regret it if you don’t!

How have you handled situations where you were asked or tempted to compromise your integrity?  Have you shared the story with the young people in your life? Your positive example will encourage them in their own struggles, especially as they embark into adulthood and life after high school.

Our Best Success Pointer, Ever? You Be the Judge.

When I wrote What I Wish I Knew at 18, I had no idea which specific pointer might resonate most with readers. After all, each of my 109 life success pointers had its own reason, place, and value. I’m often asked which is the most important one of all. I have tremendous difficulty answering this question, and I wrote the book!

To my surprise, though, one pointer seems to be resonating most of all, especially with those who are using our student guides with kids. Any guesses? It’s the one called, “Love and friendship take time… and timing.” Surprisingly, it’s having a powerful impact on adults, too!

What’s all the excitement about? In this particular lesson, we encourage young people to be patient in cultivating new friendships. We describe a relationship pyramid with four progressive stages of depth and help kids understand the parameters and privileges that go with each level. The stages, in order, are:

  1. Acquaintance
  2. Prospect (a potential friend, progressing from an acquaintance)
  3. Friend (a “graduate” from the Prospect pool)
  4. VIP (very important person in our life—a select list!)

Those who take a healthy approach to relationship building are selective in determining who stays or moves among these stages. We help readers understand that time, trust, and shared beliefs/values/interests are the defining qualities that determine whether a relationship will graduate, regress, or stay at the same level. For example, you shouldn’t expect—or permit—the same level of intimacy and trust with an “acquaintance” as you would with a “VIP” (e.g., very close friends/family members).  Looking back, my biggest relationship messes were when I made some incorrect “stage assignments.”

Clearly, this isn’t rocket science. However, there seems to be something extra special about this pointer because we receive far more comments on it than any other. Why? In this age of Facebook “friendships” and other social media relationships (Instagram, Snapchat, etc.), intimacy (or false intimacy) can form too quickly and sometimes almost dangerously. The goal with this advice is to frame relationships in a more natural, realistic way, and offer a more mature perspective.

Many young people today are rushing into relationships and behaviors before they’ve been properly qualified (thanks, in no part, to our cultural messages). In their quest to make new friends or fit in, some compromise their values by engaging in behaviors with the two lowest levels that should be reserved for friends or VIPs. It’s happening more frequently among middle schoolers and is especially common on college campuses when students get lonesome and strive to make new friends quickly. In the end, many relationships fall precipitously down the pyramid, often with severe consequences, when regrettable decisions ensue…

It’s not only kids who need this advice, it seems. At a recent educator conference, a parent who had been going through What I Wish I Knew at 18 with her teenage daughter thanked us for this particular lesson.  “That pointer,” she proclaimed, “changed MY life!”

Have YOU been reading What I Wish I Knew at 18 with a young person or going through the Student Guide with teens in your life?  Which pointer has impacted your teen(s) the most?  Which one has impacted YOU the most? We’d love to add to list of “People’s Picks” for Best Success Pointers!

5 Ways to Help Teens Build Self-Awareness

“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, 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. Here a few suggestions to help encourage the teenagers in your life to become more self-aware:

  1. 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! Mentorship 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 their 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. 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. 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

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?