Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part Three)

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

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

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

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

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part 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 1

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

My first year of college was about 11 years ago. I was bright-eyed and my heart was bursting with idealistic dreams for my future. It was hard to not romanticize this next step in my life, and I was convinced I was about to embark on the most fun, life-changing, and insightful season. I mean, these are the best years of our lives, right?

Indeed, my college experience was pretty amazing, but there are several things I wish someone told me before I started—preferably someone from my generation, who had recently completed their college work. Someone with fresh, practical advice to help prepare me for the next season. That’s what I’ll be doing for you and your students in these next few emails.

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

  • See college as an opportunity to expand your interests and activities.A lot of us were wrapped up in our identity as high schoolers. I was a cheerleader and an honor student. That was pretty much my entire sphere. I’m sure many people can identify with this same notion: you’re either a football player or a jazz band member or a debate champ or yearbook photographer. Your main activity feels like WHO YOU ARE. (Often, our parents can get wrapped up in this identity too, and they put pressure on us to continue our singular pursuits in college because it feels to them like our non-stop ticket to success.) But I want to encourage you to open yourself up to new interests and activities in college. Don’t feel guilty if you decide to ditch your high school sport or activity. You will be amazed at what you have inside that you never knew was there. Seriously! I fell in love with philosophy in college. I never knew I had it in me…and, now I can be philosophical when I blog!

College is also an opportunity for a do-over. Maybe you didn’t like your identity or reputation in high school. Maybe you didn’t study enough or you partied too hard. See college as an opportunity to take a start fresh, explore new opportunities, and find another niche. Even if nothing sticks long-term, your world will become bigger and you will become more well-rounded.

  • Your class attendance is directly correlated to your grades. I’ll never forget how excited I was at the prospect of showing up to class only when I felt like it. There was no mom in the dorms to wake me up for class and no pressure to attend when I could simply do the assigned reading that night. I was told that lectures weren’t really “that important” and that professors never took attendance. BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU TO GO TO CLASS! Get out of bed, show up on time (preferably in the front row), listen to the lecture, take notes, and participate in discussions. I don’t care what anyone says. Your presence in the classroom (or lecture hall or auditorium) will have a direct impact on your grades. Even if you’re able to look up lecture notes online, they will notserve you as well as your physical presence in the classroom. 

 

  • That party won’t be as fun as you think.  Many young people entering university have visions of weekends spent partying with peers. Weekends filled with booze and binges and loud music and bad decisions. It’s crucial for them to know that this avenue is notfulfilling, and it’s not as enjoyable as you imagine. I certainly never experienced a college party and thought to myself, “This is so uplifting. I am making so many life-long friends.” The magnetic allure of the partying lifestyle (including both alcohol and promiscuity) is superficial, dangerous, and a slippery slope that will add little value to your life. For many, it becomes their college de-railer.  

Take it from me, your best friends will likely be made in your dorm hall or a shared class or the intramural flag football team, rather than at a boozy party. Your serious college boyfriend or girlfriend will not be that random hook-up you hardly remember. Your best memories will be your sober ones. Hopefully you’ll learn this lesson early in the game.

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

Self-Awareness: The Ultimate Goal for Teens this Summer

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

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

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

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

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

Me:      So, what do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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!

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

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In the blink of an eye June has already arrived, which means we are in for four weeks of graduation ceremonies and parties, Father’s Day celebrations, last minute college paperwork, dorm room shopping, and much more. Not surprisingly, June can be a bittersweet month for both parents and teens. It’s exciting and rewarding to be closing the high school chapter, but also daunting to know this is your teen’s last summer before leaving home (and for teens, this is often when they face the brutal reality that their friends will soon be scattering).  It’s why June is a great month to discuss your teen’s upcoming social transition, as it can be the most challenging aspect of “the launch.”

One pitfall young people can encounter during this huge social transition—saying goodbye to old friends and making new ones—is compromising their values in an effort to quickly “fit in” and have a sense of belonging. It’s a very strong pull, as is the temptation to rush the process. To reduce these risks, here are some suggestions for parents to share with their grad about the upcoming social transition:

  • Have them identify the values, qualities, and common interests of their current best friends. In other words, why are they their BFF’s? This list can be an invisible filter to apply in their new environment with the new people they meet.
  • Encourage them to be patient. Friendship and love take time (and the right timing). Remember, it took a while to make and choose their current friends. Having impatience when it comes to social matters can be the biggest source of mistakes and regrets. It takes time to build trust, and it’s worth it.
  • Avoid destructive, toxic, and negative people like the plague.
  • Get involved with organizations and activities where they can be surrounded with like-minded people. Don’t be a hermit.
  • When it comes to dating, take a 3D approach. This means, be deliberate, discriminating, and discerning. If things start to get serious, consider how he or she stacks up on the compatibility meter. How do your values and long term goals align? Remember, forever is a very long time.
  • Stay invested in current friends, but recognize that with this huge life transition, some may fade away, and that’s completely normal.
  • Periodic feelings of loneliness are common, despite being surrounded by thousands of other students. Talk to your teen about taking advantage of their current support system, but also encourage them to take some initiative in forming new relationships.

Lastly, I want to discuss one of the best graduation gifts any parent could ever give. Here at LifeSmart (and in my family), we call it a Blessing Packet. Here’s how it works:

  • Consider the most prominent people in your child’s life. Who has encouraged them, taught them important lessons, or influenced them in a positive way? (Think long-term friends, relatives, coaches, mentors, teachers, etc.) Ask if they would write a personal letter to the proud graduate, including words of affirmation, encouragement, fond memories, perspectives of their uniqueness, inspirational quotes, and well wishes for the future.
  • Have them send you their letters in a private envelope. Once all letters are received, put them in a gift wrapped box and deliver it to your grad at the appropriate time (probably after graduation). Even in a world where material things seem to be of utmost importance, this is a gift that will mean the world to them.
  • Parents, make sure you also write one, too. This is the perfect opportunity to express your feelings (many of which you may have been stuffing or holding on to) and share with your son or daughter what a blessing they are in your life. Speaking from personal experience as one who has written two for his children, it may be one of the most emotional, yet rewarding things you’ve ever done.

Although this month can be full of unknowns, it also can be a really special month of bonding between parents and their teens. Make sure you never take your time with them for granted and try to make the most of their last summer at home (and really, their last summer as a kid).

Happy summer!

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

achievement-cap-celebration-262485.jpgTime is flying by! It’s now May, our college selection is complete, and it’s time to relax, at least a little bit. Now, our students need to focus on finishing strong while also enjoying the various senior activities and events (graduation parties, prom, senior outings, etc.) that will happen throughout the rest of spring. There may be a couple of forms to complete for their chosen university (IF that’s their next step), but for now, it’s time to let your graduating student soak up these final weeks of high school and friends. Are they lacking in motivation for their studies? For sure! It pays to remember we were too.

Of course, we all hope that our teens will be the responsible ones, the ones who choose not to participate in underage drinking, irresponsible partying, or any other activities that may harm their reputation. May is an incredibly timely month to bring up the topics of reputation, values, and their personal brand. Few things are as important (and fragile!) as our reputation. Why? Well, it’s very difficult—nearly impossible—to fully recover from a damaged one. In your teen’s first year away from home, his or her values will be tested like never before, and many of today’s (or tomorrow’s) decisions will have long-term consequences. And, graduation season offers many opportunities to get derailed.

When we stay true to our core values and strive to be a person of admirable character and integrity in all circumstances, we will have less stress, a clearer conscience, and fewer regrets moving forward. If you want to take “inventory” of you and your teen’s most important values, try going through this values checklist. (Or you can find it here: http://dennistrittin.com/resources/Positive%20Traits%20and%20Values.pdf .)

It will be a great conversation starter for the whole family!

The month of May should also be a time for you and your teen to really connect as you develop and strengthen the new dynamic of your relationship. As you begin to discuss the issues of reputation and values, here are some other “conversation starters” to get fruitful, meaningful talks started:

  • Review the types of upcoming situations where their values may be challenged, and how they plan to approach them (prom, parties, senior sleep-outs, senior skip days, etc.). When they’re in a high-risk situation, what will their plan of action be?
  • If you haven’t done so, create a “rescue plan.” Agree on a code word or phrase that your teen will text or call you with that indicates a problem situation that needs immediate attention and rescue. This may sound overly protective, but it can be a life saver!
  • Have them consider the various influences in their lives, such as family, music, movies/TV, friends, social media, organizations and clubs, etc. Help them be able to determine which influences may be positive, which may be negative, and which are neutral. Encourage them to avoid negative influences at all costs.
  • Share some realistic scenarios (maybe from your own personal experience) of the college lifestyle (including but not limited to parties, drugs, alcohol, hook-up culture, cheating, etc.) and discuss ways to handle them. Prevention is always the best medicine, but impromptu decision-making skills are essential, too!

Enjoy your time with your soon-to-be adult as the school year comes to a close. Remember to be open and honest with them, as they are much less “kids” these days as they are maturing young adults. Stay tuned for next month, when we will talk about focus points for June!

The Changing Relationship Dynamic Between Parents and Teens

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Over the coming weeks and months, many things will change for parents of graduating high school seniors. They’ll see their children less, miss out on beloved traditions or quality time, or feel like they have lost their sense of purpose. (Can any empty nesters relate?) However, for many parents of teens, their biggest struggle is loss of influence—imagined or real.

During the season of raising teens and young adults, our children are increasingly listening to voices other than their parents. They hear opinions, advice, constructive criticism, and more, from their friends, social media, teachers/professors, acquaintances, celebrities in the media, etc. Although they’re not necessarily cutting ties or rejecting what you say as their parent, it can feel that way. In fact, many times what may be perceived as a rejection is more a re-negotiation of the former parent-child relationship.

In my work at LifeSmart, I enjoy talking with parents of teens and young adults. More than anything, parents are lamenting that their kids are not listening to them as before or are rejecting their advice or opinions. Whether it happened gradually or suddenly, it can be a rude awakening for parents who were never prepared for this! To a person, they long for the days when their kids were more docile, their homes were more peaceful, and everyone seemed to be on the same page.

And, then we remember we were there, too. But, now in our role as parent, we wonder what to do.

Instead of perceiving this season as rejection, I encourage parents to see it as their teen saying, “Hey, I’m almost a grown-up, give me some more credit!” or “Let me figure this one out on my own.” Or, “I’m gaining some new perspectives that we can chat about sometime.” Whether we’re talking about curfews or communication, dating or homework, or politics or religion, we need to avoid burning our bridges. And, we need to accept that they’re growing into their own person. Just like you did.

If you are a parent of a teen, please, continue reading! This is your golden opportunity. If you recognize and react to this new reality with trust (and they handle it well), you can build an even greater, and more sustainable, platform for parental influence and relationship in your teen’s life. It’s your chance to create a new, mutually trusting and mature relationship that can be a source of great benefit and joy to you both in the future.

But, you need to take the lead.

Here are a few ways you can help develop this new relationship dynamic:

  • Adopt a communication strategy that is more “share with” than “talk to.” Be a safe place for them to share their views.
  • Include your teen in decisions you would otherwise make without their feedback.
  • Ask them to help you plan events, outings, family get-togethers, parties, etc. Take their opinions and suggestions into consideration.
  • If your teen is asking for more freedom (for example, a later curfew), consider giving it, but with added responsibility (e.g., an additional chore).
  • Ask your teen out to coffee or to the place they open up most.
  • Share with your teen about current topics or articles that are relevant today or will be after they leave home.

Be encouraged. Statistics support the idea that, despite appearances to the contrary, parents are still the number one influencers in a young person’s life. The majority of teenagers report that they have values and general beliefs similar to their parents and consider their parents as being highly significant in their lives (despite what their own parents may perceive at the time!).

When all is said and done, here is something we can guarantee: your children will make some not-so-great choices throughout their adolescent years, but they will also make some wonderful ones. They will stumble and make great strides. Sometimes, they’ll want you to pick them up, dust them off, and set them straight again. Other times, they’ll prefer you keep your distance and let them handle it on their own.

If you have the benefit of other positive, encouraging, and healthy voices in your child’s life (coaches, mentors, relatives, teachers), you’ll be able to approach the launch with a greater sense of peace. He or she will be more prepared for the real world, where we all have to sort the good voices from the bad. Hopefully, with the benefit of the right modeling, they’ll surround themselves with the good.

It’s all part of the journey to adulthood. Just remember, no matter how tough the going gets, your child does value what you think, even if they may not always show it. And, trust me, if your relationship is solid, one day you’ll realize that more of your words sunk in than you ever imagined. Just as it was meant to be.