Better Yourself (and Your Holiday Season) by Expressing Yourself to Others

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“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

-Brene Brown

With Christmas just around the corner, most of us will be spending time with family in the coming days and weeks. Although family time is incredibly precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted, it can still be very difficult (strained, tense, emotional, etc.) for some. How does time with people we love end up being so tough sometimes? It’s hard to fully understand, but it’s a reality for a lot of us.

Perhaps it’s because it feels easier to put on our “everything is A-okay” face, and we don’t express ourselves honestly and openly. Deep down, we feel vulnerability, so we put up a wall that blocks anyone—even people close to us—from seeing how we really feel. We stuff our emotions, pretend everything is fine, and sweep conflicts and complaints under the carpet (until next year). Or, we find the path of least resistance is to keep a grudge and revert to passive aggressive behavior rather than reconcile with our family members (hmm, how well does that work?).

Many of us (especially us guys), have been led to believe that expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness. We think it makes us look like “less of a man,” overly-emotional, or out of control. However, that’s not the case at all—it’s actually a sign of emotional maturity! But whether it’s from our upbringing or a distorted perception of what “weakness” is, we pay a price if we don’t express our feelings. Being honest and authentic with others is a healthy practice, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

Brene Brown, a world-renowned psychological researcher says: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”

“What’s so wrong with not talking about how I feel?” many may be asking. Well, for starters, plenty! First off, it deprives others of knowing how you really feel (How can they contribute their support or apologize if they don’t know what’s wrong in the first place?). Second, suppressed feelings can cause stress and, if severe, illness and depression. Third, deep-rooted offenses and resentment can cause explosive reactions when they’re eventually released. The balloon pops rather than gently losing its air. It’s not good for anyone.

This Christmas season, I encourage you to learn how to freely and appropriately express your feelings to the people in your life. Here’s a short test to help you judge how easy (or not) it is for you to be “real” and authentic with your emotions. Consider the following phrases and ask yourself how often you share them with others:

I love you

I am proud of you

I respect you

I made a mistake

I am scared right now

I am grateful for you

I am sorry

I am worried about…

Please forgive me

I’ve really had you on my mind.

I am grateful for you

This is how you made me feel…

Some of these are naturally easier to express than others, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Expressing your feelings and communicating openly and honestly are life skills that can be learned and refined. With that, here are three simple tips to help you open up:

  1. Be sincere. Speak the truth, and speak from your heart.
  2. Be mindful of your body language and tone of voice. Certain body language (arms crossed, hands on hips, standing above the other person, etc.) or voice tones may counteract your words. Sincerity is key to any apology.
  3. Avoid finger pointing and accusations. Instead, talk about how certain situations made you feel and strive for understanding.

As we enter the Christmas season, I hope you enjoy your times of togetherness. Use them to practice expressing the “real you” and maybe to repair a strained relationship. Remember, successful people express themselves not only for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of others.

Happy holidays from all of us at LifeSmart, and may your holiday season be filled with open, communicative, and fun-filled time with your family and friends.

How would you rate when it comes to expressing yourself? Are there phrases on the above list that you have difficulty saying? Why?

 

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Words (Part Two)

adult-beverage-breakfast-302810Well, we hope you didn’t experience any dog bites or bee stings last week, but if you did, we trust that our latest blog on some of our favorite words helped pull you through. Recall, we’re adapting the “My Favorite Things,” song to words that have special meaning to us this time of year. Our first six favorite words were: Peace, Reflection, Family, Joy, Beauty, and Self-Care. Did you accept our challenge and make your favorite word list? We hope so.

Here are this week’s low-cal word alternatives to crisp apple strudel:

Hope: Without a doubt, one of the most powerful ingredients to a happy and fulfilling life is hope. No matter what our current circumstances, hope helps us endure and gives us a head start in tackling each new day. Simply stated, without hope, we are consumed by the present as “our normal” and struggle to cast a positive vision for our future.

Dictionary.com defines hope as, “the feeling that what is wanted can be or that events will turn out for the best.” This perfectly captures why we honor the educators and mentors who pour themselves into the lives of children at risk. How often it is that their hope comes through relationships with caring adults and/or through faith in God. So, whether you’re a parent, educator, mentor, colleague, or friend, be on the lookout for opportunities to instill hope in others. This is the season of hope, right?

Compassion: Arguably, there is no time of year when the differences between the haves and have-nots are more apparent. Gifts may be plentiful and extravagant or nonexistent. Cupboards may be full in a well-heated home or nonexistent when one lives under a bridge. Some are soaring in their careers while others struggle to find work. Some live in families that exude love and affirmation, while others experience dysfunction, abuse, or neglect. Some are so healthy they take it for granted while others are challenged with chronic illnesses or just heard bad news from the lab.

And yet, each of these is the domain of a different kind of First Responder: the Compassionate. No matter how difficult the circumstances, they are called to bless the hurting. Yet, ask anyone who is so inclined and they’ll tell you they receive more in return. Whether it’s their job, a volunteer opportunity, or simply being available, they deserve our utmost admiration. We can also be that compassionate soul, too and financially support those organizations offering comfort to the world. We’re all in this together. #beablessing

Generosity: One of history’s most beloved stories (and films) is A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is a study of contrasts, abruptly transforming from a miserly crank to a giddy, child-like philanthropist making up for lost time. Honestly, I watch the movie every year, reflecting on opportunities where I could have been more generous.

Each of us has time, talent, treasure, and relationships to offer the world. How we go about this is a function of what we have to offer, where we can offer it, and deciding to offer it. Instead of requiring a catalytic, Scrooge-like experience, let’s all commit to generosity as a way of life. The opportunities are endless.

Creativity: Unlike any other month, December offers more ways to use our creative juices and marvel at the talents of others on display. Whether it’s music, theater, decorations, or homemade gifts, we’re surrounded by human originality and performance this time of year. And, it’s truly awesome.

In a world that seems preoccupied with programs for the analytically inclined, we believe the “creatives” are undervalued and underappreciated. So, this season, and throughout the year, seek out opportunities to invest in the arts and to increase your creativity quotient. It enriches our lives and our world in immeasurable ways.

Simplify: Okay, you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, right… he picks the craziest time of year to tell us to simplify when I can barely keep my tank full!” To that, we say, “Well, yeah!” My world and your world are getting more complex and distracted by the day, so this is a great reminder to push back from time to time. Our mental health and productivity are at stake if we don’t.

Here are some ways to simplify: 1) each year, check your wardrobe for items you haven’t worn in a year and donate them to the local clothing bank, 2) consciously schedule yourself downtime in your calendar, 3) reduce by half the amount of free time you spend on your technology (at a minimum, don’t check it so often!); this will free up time for family and “me time,” and 4) do a detailed “time budget” for a week to analyze how you’re spending your time; reduce/eliminate low value activities.

Cheer:  I once attended an Andy Williams Christmas show and correctly predicted his opening song: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” In it, he encourages us to be of “good cheer.” Well, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us. When we’re cheerful, we’re glad, and that’s a good thing any time of the year.

Let’s face it, we are drawn to people who are positive and cheerful rather than negative and dour. Cheerfulness rubs off on others (unless overdone to the point of being unnatural) and is key to making a good first impression, winning new friends, and influencing people. And, the more cheerful we are, the more cheerful we are. (No, that’s not a typo.)

So, there you have it… twelve of our favorite words for this holiday season and throughout the year. We hope it spurred you to consider your favorite words, and it’s a great assignment for your children and students, too.

 

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Words (Part One)…

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Happy holidays! ‘Tis the season where hustle and bustle meets merriment and jolly (and, yes, sometimes melancholy, but we won’t go there now). We are all faced with the desire to do everything and see everyone at this magical time of year, but if we’re honest, we usually look back and wish we took a little more time to just relax and enjoy the beauty and meaning of the season.

So, for the next two weeks, we’re going to slow down and simplify things. We decided to do “The 12 Days of Christmas,” but LifeSmart style, and focus on 12 impactful words that have an important meaning for each one of us during this season. Instead of worrying about the ways you can be more, do more, and buy more this holiday season, let’s all take a deep breath and reflect on the things that really matter.

Without further ado, here are a few of our favorite words:

Peace. This is a word that is we see everywhere during the holiday season, and it has become almost a cliché that we don’t even think about. What does peace really mean for you and me? “Peace on Earth” can feel downright impossible when you’re burdened by financial unknowns or difficult family members. But the truth is, true inner peace is not affected by our circumstances.

We are able to experience peace when we can persevere through circumstances we cannot change and make the most of what we can control. Simply put, there are a lot of things out of our control, and the only thing we truly can control is our attitude, behavior, contentment, and way we treat others. This year, consider saying “no” to one more holiday expectation, focusing on how you can live generously, enjoy time with others, and do the things you are most passionate about. Surround yourself with positive people and opportunities. Peace will come!

Reflection: Reflective practices make us healthier mentally, emotionally, and even physically. However, when our holiday pace is frenetic, taking time to sit and be quiet is usually the first thing to go! This season, make it a priority to truly relax and reflect. What are you grateful for and to whom? Where have you seen personal growth in your life over the last year?  What goals do you have for the upcoming year? How can you be more present in the lives of the people you love?

Studies have shown that people who sit down in the evening to reflect on their blessings and set goals for the future are more resilient, report a higher happiness quotient, and have deeper, more meaningful relationships. Could you ask for a better Christmas gift?

Family: It’s easy to fall into the trap of needing to buy the latest gadget or fashion item. Heck, we all experience it to some degree! However, it’s important to never forget how priceless the gift of family is. Even if you live far away from family or have no living family, those who aren’t related by blood can be a part of your family. These are the people who stick by your side, support you through ups and downs, make you laugh, and remind you that you’re never alone in the world.

So, next time you feel the pressure to buy, buy, buy, remember that people—not things—are what matter most. Pick up the phone and tell someone you care about them. And, seek out opportunities to be family to someone who needs it. Who could use a little more of you?.

Joy: Did you know joy and happiness are actually quite different? Happiness is circumstantial. We are happy at parties or on vacation or when our boss tells us we can leave a couple hours early. However, true joy sustains through all life situations, even when the going gets rough. Joy means choosing to look on the bright side, even when you’ve ruined the Christmas ham. Joy means generously giving to those around you, knowing that this is the true spirit of the holidays. Joy means forgiving those who have wounded you, and choosing not to complain about the ways you may feel overworked and underappreciated. (We aren’t saying to be a martyr, but to remember that inner joy is cultivated on the inside and not found in positive circumstances.) Could your life use a little more joy? Our best advice is to use your unique gifts and talents to bless people you are passionate about. Joy will come.

Beauty: This season is a feast for the senses. If we take the time to look for it, it’s everywhere. Nature contributes its blanket of snow. People adorn their homes, offices, and streets with festive trimmings. The creatives are given opportunities like no other time of year to showcase their musical, theatrical, and artistic talents. And, generous people share their inner beauty by brightening up the lives of others, instilling hope, and providing sustenance. Beauty is everywhere for us to create and enjoy. What beauty do you most appreciate this season?

Self-care: Guess what? It’s okay to say, “No.” Let’s say it again. IT’S OKAY TO SAY “NO.” It is okay to say no to more expectations, parties you simply don’t have the margin, interest, or resources to attend, or to spending time with negative or toxic people who suck the life out of you.

If you are not well-cared for, and if you let your tank run all the way to empty, you simply cannot give your best to your spouse, children, students, friends, and self. Self-care means doing whatever it takes to fill up your tank with health and balance, allowing you to savor every beautiful thing the season has to offer.

If you’d like, consider writing these six words down and meditating on them throughout the week. How can you integrate them more deeply into the fibers of your life? How can you put these words into practice? What words would you, your students, and family choose, if you had to list your favorite words?

Stay tuned for next week when we will share six more of our favorite words!

Change the World by Giving of Yourself

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That’s what I consider true generosity: You give your all and yet you always feel as if it costs you nothing. ~Simone de Beauvoir

The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.  ~Albert Einstein
 

The holiday shopping frenzy has begun! I am willing to bet that almost all of us have walked out to our mailbox only to find multiple Christmas catalogs and “coupon books,” alerting us of all the newest gadgets and clothes we need to buy this season. Everywhere we go, we are inundated with messages that tell us we need to buy more, more, more. If you ask me, this materialistic mindset takes the joy out of the holidays!

To me, the greatest joy comes from the giving of ourselves—not in the STUFF.

People who live generously—not just with their money, but with their whole person (time, talents, friendship)—deserve special admiration. They’re not motivated by fame, fortune, or scoring the newest iPhone on launch day, but rather by joyful service. Their qualities of generosity, empathy, compassion, and kindness make them inspiring treasures to us all. And although those values tend to get more press during Thanksgiving and Christmas, they are values we should all aspire to live by all year long.

Generosity is a paradox. The culture around us screams materialism and commercialism. Buy. Accumulate. Indulge. However, there is a whole world out there that desperately needs what we (yes, you) have to offer.  It invites us to give, serve, help, and empower. The paradox of generosity is this: the more we give, the more we get! It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s true. We find our life by losing it. We win by putting others first. We gain by giving away. And, our greatest memories are of the gifts we gave rather than the ones we received.

This kind of generosity requires sacrifice—not just financial, but personal. Yes, it can be stretching and uncomfortable. But slowly, we begin to realize there’s more to life than what we own and can hold onto. We don’t take those things with us when our time is up.

Have you ever wanted to change the world?  This is where it starts. In fact, how you eventually impact the world will be driven not merely by what you have to offer but what you choose to offer. It’s the ultimate generosity test, isn’t it?

What do you uniquely have to offer the world? There are many different avenues that can allow you to allocate your personal resources to serve others. As you reflect on how you can live generously this Thanksgiving week, consider these three questions:

  • What talents, skills, and resources do I have to offer?
  • What groups or community segments (e.g., youth, elderly, homeless) do I feel most called to help?
  • What organizations will allow me to use my time, talents, and treasure to help those I feel most passionately about?

Could your answers to these questions be a New Year’s resolution in the making?

What would happen in our communities if we all cultivated and demonstrated this heart of generosity and “other-centeredness” as a way of life, embodying the qualities of generosity and compassion in our everyday dealings with people? I think the world would be a more welcoming and empathetic place!

With that in mind, here are some ideas for living generously this holiday season—and throughout the year:

  • Make a donation to an organization serving people and causes you are passionate about
  • Look for ways to be creatively generous if you are on a limited budget.  How can you give time? Attention? Acts of service? Material possessions?
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter in your city.
  • Visit a nursing home or hospital. Listen to their stories, or tell some of your own. Just sit with them if that’s what brings comfort.
  • Allow yourself to be interrupted without being irritated—this is a mark of a generous spirit. (Or, put down your mobile device and give the people around you your undivided attention.)
  • Make yourself available to people or organizations, free of charge, for consulting on a topic on which you have expertise.

This short list of ideas just scratches the surface—you may even come up with better ones! The bottom line is this: Living generously will bring help and hope to others and immense joy to you in return. You’ll receive far more than what you give. Nothing compares with using all of you to serve and improve the world around you. This is the true spirit of the holiday season!

 

How Gratitude Can Change Your Life

adult-backlit-beach-320007Have you ever noticed how people experiencing the same thing can react so differently? Why is it that some who face a loss or disappointment maintain a surprisingly upbeat spirit, while others wallow in self-pity or anger? Some seemingly shrug it off while others are consumed by it. Some battle through it, sustained by their resilience, hope, and faith, while others suffer from feelings of entitlement or victimhood. Same situations; polar opposite reactions.

For most of us, it’s more natural to struggle when adversity strikes—at least initially. After all, we may feel hurt, disappointed, lonely, scared, or angry. That’s why people who are able to stay positive, even under life’s most difficult trials, really stand out.

Do these people have a special ingredient? I believe they do, and that ingredient is gratefulness. Regardless of their circumstances, grateful people find a way to call on their blessings and appreciate what they have. They choose to see the glass as half full. They are sustained by hope. They view adversity as a challenge and an opportunity for growth. And, despite living in a materialistic world, they don’t allow economic circumstances to dictate their happiness. (In my experience, this is the most common takeaway from students who go on mission trips.)

Those of us who are surrounded by parents, family members, teachers, mentors, and coaches who model this character trait are much more likely to be grateful than those who are not. Gratitude has a way of “rubbing off” on others because it is such an inspirational and admirable virtue. As you self reflect on your “gratitude quotient,” consider the following proven benefits:

  1. Gratitude improves your physical health. Studies have shown that grateful people have fewer aches and pains (yes, you read that right), and are more likely to take care of their physical health. They tend to practice healthy habits such as exercising and getting regular check-ups, which can contribute to increased longevity and life quality.
  2. Grateful people have better sleep. Here’s a tip: spend a few minutes jotting down what you’re thankful before bed every night, and you will likely have a longer and more restful sleep.
  3. Gratitude helps create better relationships. Of course, saying “thank you” is a practice of good manners, but a 2014 study in Emotion shows that it can also win you new friends! Saying “thank you” to an acquaintance makes them more likely to seek out further engagement. So, whether you’re thanking the local barista for your latte or a distant relative for graduation gift, acknowledging their efforts can open the door to new and better relationships.
  4. Gratitude can help improve your self-esteem. For years, research has shown that gratitude can help reduce stress. However, a 2014 study published in Journal of Applied Sport Psychology has shown that practicing thankfulness can actually play a major role in overcoming trauma and cultivating resilience. Recognizing all you’re grateful for—even in the hardest of times—can be life changing.
  5. Gratitude can reduce aggression (and increase empathy). Did you know that grateful people are more likely to act in a pro-social manner, even when the people around them are acting negatively? Grateful people are less resentful and retaliatory and demonstrate greater empathy and understanding (than those who do not engage in gratitude practices).

Of course, this looks different for everyone (some people write in a gratitude journal, some people silently acknowledge all that they are grateful for, others decide to pay it forward), but the point is that being thankful can completely transform your life. Here are some additional ideas to build your “gratitude quotient:”

  1. Actively seek out and surround yourself with grateful people. Ask them to share how they maintain a positive attitude while facing adversity and disappointment. Some of their strategies may work for you.
  2. Volunteer to help those less fortunate. This is especially beneficial to counter an entitlement mentality.
  3. Maintain your sense of hope in all circumstances. Consider when you overcame challenges and draw on them when new situations arise.

Developing gratitude is an especially beneficial life practice for teens and young adults, as they are constantly inundated with messages telling them they need to be better, look different, buy certain things, and generally just “keep up” with the people around them (not to mention the peer pressure they feel on a daily basis!). Gratitude is a powerful antidote to entitlement.

So, whether you’re a teen, college student, parent, or educator, know that we can all use some of these positive side effects in our lives! This holiday season, we encourage you to begin the daily habit of practicing gratitude. Meditate silently on your blessings, jot down a bullet-pointed list every night, or talk about what you’re thankful for around the dinner table. However you do it, pay close attention to how it transforms your inner world and the world around you for the better.

Let’s make Thanksgiving Day every day.

(For more way gratitude can change your life, check out this article published in Psychology Today.)

 

 

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.

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part One)

adult-alone-anxious-568027Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting with a Principal from a small town in Wisconsin, not far from where I grew up. During our wide-ranging conversation, he shared about the high levels of anxiety his high school students are exhibiting. You’d have to see their tranquil location to fully appreciate just how out of character this is. But, then again, research is abounding that today’s students, whether in college or high school, are showing unprecedented levels of anxiety. Something, lots of things, must be done and done quickly.

Let’s be honest. This is a direct consequence of how our children are being trained, and it’s up to us as parents, educators, youth leaders, and other caring adults to accept responsibility and reverse this course. Their very futures and socio-emotional health are at stake.

For the next few weeks, we will be weighing in with our thoughts and recommendations, focusing initially on parents and then following with educators. Our hope is that this will not only “add to the conversation,” but more importantly, encourage us to self reflect and take the necessary corrective measures. We owe it to them.

Parents, here are four of nine key trouble spots that are aggravating teen anxiety where we should take ownership:

  1. Parenting style. In our desire to see our children succeed and be happy, we often adopt parenting methods that run counter to our objectives. Among the most common are performance parenting and helicoptering. Performance-driven parents are so focused on their children’s achievements that their kids feel undervalued for WHO they are. These children are under intense pressure to perform, in part because of demanding parents who place their own identity in the hands of their children and who often succumb to their own peer pressure—from other parents! In contrast, helicoptering creates insecurity when parents interfere, control, overprotect, and coddle, stunting their children’s ability to make decisions, cope, and mature. Both styles add to the already-high stress levels during the teen years. Is your parenting style unintentionally creating anxiety? It’s worth a look. #equipnotcontrol
  2. Frenetic pace. Sometimes our lives are so busy that it seems we’re on a treadmill set at warp speed. Parents, we are putting our children on that treadmill, and it’s depriving them of balance and the time they need to enjoy nature, reflect, chill, pray, play, nap, read a book, or just hang out without the overhang of homework and endless activities. For introverts, and kids who operate at a slower pace, this is draining or worse. How is your pace? Are you consciously building margin into their schedules to maintain balance and keep their tanks full? You’d better be. #breathe
  3. Resume building obsession/perfectionist tendencies. Lexus’s tagline is the “relentless pursuit of perfection” and how well this describes many teens today! Whether the pressure is coming from parents or schools or is self-inflicted, teens are stressing out over their assumed need for the perfect resume to succeed and access their dream college. An urgent priority is to disabuse them of this notion. Nowadays, pressure previously felt in the adult years are robbing many teens of a childhood. Whether it’s all AP courses, GPA fixation, or participation (better yet, leadership) in clubs or organizations, resume building now dominates the high school years. Encouraging them to do their best and valuing their person will pay longer-lasting dividends. What “success messages” are you sending? #noperfectionrequired
  4. Deficient self-awareness and self-care. Compared with yesteryear, today’s teens face greater pressures and a more competitive world. For example, with “college for all” messaging and growing pressures to know what careers they should pursue or which college to attend, high schoolers are naturally anxious. At a time when students are still discovering WHO they are, this is placing the cart before the horse. Parents can do their teens a great service by promoting self-awareness of their children’s skills, talents, interests, nature, and passions. This also includes helping their teen understand, prevent, and manage their stressors. Related, parents can support the self care of their children by fostering healthy living (e.g., diet, physical activity, and adequate rest) and demonstrating unconditional love. How well do your children know themselves and their stressors? These are vitally important conversations. #knowthyself

So, parents, how are you doing in the above areas? How would your children respond? Are there areas for you to grow in as a parent? Stay tuned next week for part two., where we will share more of these nine trouble areas and how you can help make a difference. #youcandothis!

 

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

adult-architecture-backpack-1251861High schoolers and new college students:Do you ever feel unsure of what’s to come? Are you anxious about your future, whether it’s over your relationships, choice of major, or career goals? Do you wonder if adulthood is REALLY all that it’s cracked-up to be? 
Parents: Do you worry about the day when your teen will move out and enter the real world? Are you worried they aren’t fully equipped? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, here is some encouragement and insight in this third installment of my “What I Wish I Knew Before College” series.

In case you missed the first two posts on this topic, I’m Heather Sipes, the Communications Director for LifeSmart Publishing. I am a millennial myself, and eager to help you and your student(s) navigate this season of change. You can view the previous weeks’ posts here and here.

Let’s get started. I’d like to close this series with the one final thing I wish I knew the summer after I graduated high school (or even during the first couple months of college!). If I knew then what I know now, I feel that I could have better positioned myself for this big change.

You might have mixed feelings about your parents. I’ll never forget the week I moved into the dorm my freshman year. My mom flew down to help me get moved in, and she was more than helpful. She stayed in the dorms with me the first couple nights, and I could tell she was excited for this new season in my life. She wanted to be engaged and involved with all that she could—probably because deep down, she was experiencing the mixed emotions of “letting go” and wouldn’t see me for a couple months. I, however, had unexpectedly different feelings.

I wanted to meet new friends and flap my newly independent wings. I wanted to hang out late in the dorm rooms with my new hall mates—not my mom! I’d been waiting for my whole life for this stage, yet my mom was lingering around, taking in these final moments before heading home. Looking back, I feel deep remorse about the way I treated her that week, and wish I could have a do-over. (Note: we’re all good!)

This is what I’d like to impart to you, nearly 12 years later. Now that I’m a parent myself, I can imagine how my mom must have felt that week: scared to let go, sad to say goodbye, and nostalgic about memories with her once little (now big!) oldest daughter. It’s totally relatable. I can’t even bear to think about one of my little girls growing up and moving a couple thousand miles away!

Teens, remember this: Please, please, please try not to take your parents for granted. Know that all of their “hovering” and all of their “hanging around,” is because they love you (granted, some parents do go overboard, often out of fear). They’re proud of you and actually enjoy spending time with you. They love being with the adult you’ve become. They don’t want to put a damper on your next chapter, they simply want to soak up every minute with you they can. Cherish and embrace this and don’t hold back from exploring what a new adult-to-adult relationship can look like with them (rather than parent-child). You may not even realize there is a special, unique friendship with your parents just waiting to be kindled.

Parents: Know that things might get a bit awkward during this time when you want to be present, but they’re feeling pulled to practice independence. Let your teen know that you’ll give them space, but also tell them you’re always there to help, guide, or offer support. Remember to be their chief encourager  as you move from the driver’s seat to the passenger’s seat. Being on the sidelines isn’t a bad thing—you’ll get to root for and encourage one of your favorite people in the whole world. Be their biggest fan—they’ll need it in the years to come!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series as we are all getting settled into our new routines and roles. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments—I’m happy to provide any help that I can. Thanks for stopping by!

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 2

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Welcome back to part two of this series, “What I Wish I Knew Before College.” I hope you’re enjoying this opportunity to focus on your goals during this time in your life, and to consider how to make the most out of your college experience. Hopefully this is a great resource for teens, college freshmen or seniors, and also for those who are the parents, teachers, mentors, and coaches guiding them. In case you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

This week, I’d like to focus on some other aspects of post-high school education that aren’t usually talked about beforehand, but will give you a broader understanding of what’s to come.

If you’re religious, you might come to question aspects of your faith.
 My spiritual beliefs were a big part of my life when I started university. I went to a Christian liberal arts college, and I half-expected some of my classes to feel a bit like Sunday school. Boy, was I wrong! College completely rocked my entire faith system and forced me to question WHY I believe what I believe. One of the greatest takeaways from my college experience was that I built a strong foundation for my personal spiritual values, and learned to not just believe in them because my parents told me they were true. (You’ll soon learn—“because my parents said”—is not necessarily a sufficient reason to believe anything! Sorry, parents! We still love you!)

Even if you aren’t religious, you’ll learn that asking WHY in regards to your long-held suppositions will benefit you greatly in life. By digging deeper into your beliefs and worldview (as well as sharing with fellow students of different views), you will build a stronger  foundation of knowledge, confidence, and truth to sustain you in life.

This is the only time in your life that you’ll live footsteps away from a gym and your membership will be free. The “freshman 15” is not a myth, and no one is immune! When you don’t have class or studying to do, make physical health a priority and utilize the resource of your school’s free student athletic center. Or, look into joining an intramural sports team (what a great way to make new friends!). When you’re 30, you’ll thank your younger self for staying active.

Don’t carve your major and minor choices in stone before you start school. If you told me in high school that I wouldn’t end up majoring in what I was convinced I was going to major in, I never would have believed you. Guess what? I changed my major twice, and that’s the norm!  It may sound cliché, but keep an open mind. If you’re in college already as a freshman, hopefully you are taking a wide variety of classes to really nail down what piques your interest (and your talent). Also, don’t be surprised if your anticipated major loses its appeal when you begin taking upper level courses and, especially, speak with people who are in the field you’re considering. It happens all the time.
I hope these insights help you, or the teens under your influence, navigate this special time in life. Stay tuned for next week when I will share the final installment in this three-part series.


What do you wish you knew before you started college or career? If you knew then what you know now, what would you have done differently?