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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight Ways to Avoid “Foot-in-Mouth” Disease

These days, it feels like the majority of our communication is online. Thanks to Facebook (and other social media platforms), e-mail, blogs, and the capability for many career positions to work remotely, most of us are more comfortable communicating online than we are in person. In fact, because we live in such a tech-inundated world, face-to-face communication skills (especially amongst young people) are at their all-time worst. Needless to say, we could all use some tips on how to avoid miscommunication—for those times when a text message or SnapChat just won’t do.

You see, it’s not uncommon for the messages we send to be received differently than we intend. And when it happens, it can be a disaster. It’s crucial that we are aware of the way we say things and how we come across to others. This applies to making first impressions at job interviews, dating, relating to your employers, making new friends, and more. It can’t all be done online! (Thank goodness!)

Miscommunication can happen to all of us.  Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to minimize it. Three things affect how others receive our messages… and any one of them can be the cause of major misunderstandings if we’re not careful. As you step out from behind your computer, look up from your smart phone, and engage with the people around you, keep these three tips in mind:

  1. Word choice – This factor is huge, especially when we discuss sensitive topics and issues we are passionate or emotional about (e.g., politics and religion). In these situations, our emotions can interfere with our thinking, and we often use more provocative language that we later regret. As a result, the other person can become hurt and offended. Take a deep breath or two before you speak so your internal filter can soften your rhetoric.

 

  1. Delivery – Sometimes it’s our manner of delivery that gets in the way, even if our word choice is fine. Delivery is especially important when meeting people for the first time. Examples include speaking with a harsh (or bored, unenthusiastic, or condescending) tone of voice or displaying certain expressions and body language that are not received well by others (crossing arms, standing over someone, frowning, smirking, rolling eyes). No matter what words we use, if the “packaging” is incongruent, our message will lack credibility and rub people the wrong way. Always pay attention to the non-verbal cues your audience is sending!

 

  1. Filter – (No, I’m not referring to Instagram.) Depending on whether your audience likes or distrusts you, whether they’re in a good or bad mood, focused or distracted, your message may not get through in the way you intended. Unfortunately, this happens all the time, and you can’t control it. Filter is the one aspect of miscommunication is that most out of our control.

 

In short, here are eight ways to help you avoid miscommunication with others (and needing to put your foot in your mouth or apologize later on):

  • Be sure your expression (body language, facial expressions) are in sync
  • Think before you speak
  • Strive to be empathetic by putting yourself in the receiver’s position
  • Closely monitor the receiver’s body language to see whether he or she may be interpreting your words differently than you intend.
  • Be a discerning listener when they respond
  • Be quick to apologize for any misunderstandings
  • Avoid coming on too strong, especially with people who don’t know you well. It takes time to build the relationship capital needed for people to give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Remember, it’s okay to be professional in casual settings, but not the reverse!

How do your own in-person communication skills rate? Do you have any other tips on avoiding miscommunication you’d like to share?

 Note: This is an excellent lesson for role-playing in the home or classroom. Encourage your teen or students to act out different scenarios in which the verbal communication could be misinterpreted. You will find a great lesson in our What I Wish I Knew at 18 study guide on this subject.

The 3 Best Time-Tested Dating Tips

The 3 Best Time-Tested Dating Tips

Whether you’re a parent of a teen, a teacher, a mentor, or a teen yourself, it’s never a bad time for a refresher course when it comes to dating advice. With today’s media inundating us with unrealistic (and often unhealthy!) expectations of young relationships, it’s important to get a reality check that will stand the test of time.

Here’s some three time-tested relationship tips:

1. While infatuation can occur in a moment (what we usually see in TV and movies), it takes a long time to really get to know someone and truly gauge if he or she is “the one.” That means lots of conversations, experiences, and observation to gauge your compatibility and build trust.  The Hollywood “three days and we’re engaged” routine doesn’t really work in the long term. It takes time for real love to grow! Don’t be afraid to give your relationship that time. If you or that special someone are sensing pressure to rush things, get to the heart of the matter through open conversation and reflection.

2. Real love also takes proper timing. During the adolescent years, people are going through a time of immense self-discovery. This is a crucial phase of life, where you are learning what you’re passionate about, what path you want to take in life, and what truly makes you happy. The “timing” of a committed love relationship isn’t always ideal during this tumultuous and very changeable season of life—for both parties. It may not mean that the relationship is a “not ever” one; it may just be a “not now” one.

3. This one may sound radical but it’s another time-tested piece of wisdom that can serve you well: There may be times in your life where it really doesn’t make sense for you to date at all—and that’s okay. Too often young adults get trapped into the notion that they always need to have a love interest.  No so!  Don’t let your self-worth and significance be tied to whether or not you have a date on Friday night. Don’t hesitate to step off the dating treadmill if you need to or want to … you don’t always have to be actively dating or have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend. You are enough, and you are awesome, just by yourself. Don’t forget that.

Finally, when you do date, always remember the 3Ds…be Deliberate, Discriminating, and Discerning. This will help keep your feet on the ground when your emotions can be up in the clouds.

 

What are your own personal rules or guidelines when it comes to dating (whether it’s for yourself or your kids)? Do you have any other words of wisdom you would like to share? What did you learn from dating in your teen/young adult years? How did it shape you?

3 Ground Rules for Playing the Dating Game

Why does “The Bachelor” have such a rabid following? It’s beyond me, but it sure appeals to lots of people! Maybe it’s because people know the drama of trying to find that “special someone,” and watching someone else go through it has a kind of vicarious romantic appeal (without the heartache, of course!). Whatever the reason, it’s a big hit.

 

           

Dating can be the best of worlds and the worst of worlds, particularly for young adults. There are so many new, fun, and interesting people to meet as one’s circles expand, but it’s also a mystery because you never know what will become of the people you meet. I recall feeling like I was on an emotional roller coaster at Six Flags at that stage of life wondering if she was Mrs. Right. Yes, I, Mr. Analytic, even lost his objectivity from time to time. It never worked.

 

           

Do you (or does the teen/young adult in your life) have a random or a strategic mindset when it comes to dating?

 

 

 

Although true love can happen opportunistically (e.g., when my college sweetheart and I were successfully matched at a computer dance!), it pays to lay down some personal ground rules in your dating life.  One way is to become a “3D dater!” Seriously! Here’s what I mean by “3D”:

 

 

Be Discriminating

 

Be highly selective with your choices of dates. Sadly, so many people define their self worth by whether they’re dating someone that they “date for dating sake” and often compromise their values along the way. It always pays to be choosy by focusing on people who share similar interests, values, and goals.

 

 

 

 Be Discerning

 

Be wise when you date. Many approach dating so impulsively and emotionally that they simply don’t think clearly. Understand what you want in a relationship, like your goals and expectations, and have the courage to move on if it’s not a great fit. Also, avoid placing yourself in “high risk” situations with people you don’t completely trust.

 

 

 

Be Deliberate

 

Be patient. This is often the hardest thing to do when the infatuation is intense (or when a computer matches you!). However, if the relationship is truly meant to be, it needn’t be rushed. If you’re feeling pressured, have the strength and self respect to put on the brakes. If they’re not willing to, they’re probably not the best choice for the long term and you’re only delaying the inevitable.

 

 

By being a 3D dater, you’ll set yourself up for long-term success rather than settling for short-term, superficial gratification that’s so common today. You’re much more likely to find Mr. or Mrs. Right with fewer peaks and valleys (and heartaches) along the way!

 

                                                                       

 

As you reflect on any dating you’ve done in the past, how would you rate yourself along the 3D dimensions? If you are a parent or youth mentor, how can you communicate what you’ve learned with the young people in your life?

 

8 Ways to Communicate You Care

Valentine’s season reminds us of the value of relationships—and not just romantic ones.  Not only do sweethearts profess their admiration and affection for each other, but so do parents to their children, children to their teachers, friends to friends, and so on. In a rare creative moment, I once wrote a love letter using strategically placed candy hearts to share my thoughts. Bingo!

At the same time, Valentine’s Day can expose our vulnerability to these conflicting priorities: relationships versus things. While our society has progressed in many respects over the past 50 years, it’s clear that we’ve regressed in terms of relational health and depth. Sadly, with the distractions of technology and busyness, it seems to be getting worse.

Have you thought about what you really value in life? What are you communicating about your priorities to the ones you love—whether intentionally or unintentionally?

Relationships are enduring—things are not. The way we communicate this to our loved ones lies in how we prioritize our time, attention, and money. You can use the following list as either a self-check or a to-do list. Either way, we hope it gives you some inspiration and ideas for communicating your love to others:

1. Be fully in the moment. When you’re with someone, be completely engaged (not on your phone, your Facebook, your Instagram, your Candy Crush game, etc.)

2.  Keep family and close friends at the top of your priority list in terms of time, energy, etc. Don’t just give them leftovers.  They’ll notice, even if they don’t mention it.

3. Focus on the important, not the urgent.  Sometimes maturity and experience are the best teachers on this lesson, but the sooner it’s learned, the better! Our tasks may seem urgent, but our relationships should take priority. This is especially important when our children want or need to talk.

4. Tune in to their uniqueness. Gifts, experiences, and expressions engender different responses from each of us. What uniquely means the most to them? Customize your giving wherever possible and you’ll surely hit the mark.

5. Express appreciation regularly. Be grateful for the people in your life and tell them how much you appreciate them. You don’t always have to communicate with outward displays of affection. Sometimes simple actions, like saying, “I appreciate you,” packing a family member’s favorite lunch (with a note in it), or doing an unasked favor can be just as meaningful.

6. Praise them in front of other people.  Say something nice about them when they are in earshot. You will help build their self worth and indirectly communicate how much you value them. (Great parenting pointer!)

7. Set aside time and money for special occasions and gifts. This may be harder for those whose “love” languages are not gift giving or quality time.  But for those who really need these things in order to feel loved and appreciated, they mean the world.

8.  Forgive offenses quickly and let them go. After all, you’d want your loved ones to do the same for you, right? Related, pick your battles carefully and when arguments do arise, keep your cool.

It pays to examine how we prioritize our time, energy, and finances to build strong relationships with family and friends. Do you the people you love know you care? How so?

Take a 3D Approach to Dating – PART 3

(This is part three in our 3D Dating series.)

Go – ready – set!
 
What’s wrong with this picture? Well, it certainly wouldn’t work at a track meet or on your tennis serve. And, it most definitely doesn’t work when we date—as we search for that Mr. or Mrs. Right. Nonetheless, it’s one of our most common relationship mistakes.
 
Unfortunately, when emotions and/or hormones are flying, READY-SET-GO can be difficult to execute when we think we’re “in love.” Patience is an incredible virtue when it comes to dating, but it’s often the hardest thing to exhibit when infatuation is intense. And, it’s an “equal opportunity” condition that happens to both teens and adults!
 
After making the commitment to be discriminating and discerning in one’s dating choices and practices, the third quality we want to encourage is being deliberate.
 

  • Intentional.
  • Patient.
  • Friends first!

 
Although they may not actively seek it, young adults sometimes need the measured time-tested wisdom of experienced people that enduring relationships needn’t be rushed. After all, our closest relationships should be marathons rather than sprints. Approaching it as a mad dash is generally an ominous sign of insecurity among either or both parties. The Hollywood, “three months and we’re good to go” approach rarely works.
 
There’s really no downside to taking it slow—not being desperate, hurried, or pressured. If they want things to move much faster than you, it’s time to have a serious heart to heart talk and get to the root cause. More often than not, it’s either a sign of a poor fit, insecurity, or simply the wrong time.       
 
Here are some qualities of a deliberate dater worth mentioning to the young people (and dating adults) in your life:

  • Go out because you are genuinely interested, not because they’re merely the best available
  • Avoid any pressure to go faster than is right; take steps to ensure the pace of a relationship works for both of you. Stay confident and in control. You’re worth it!
  • Focus on becoming best friends first (the new BFF!) and seeing where it goes rather than emphasizing the physical.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be so consumed with a new relationship that you curtail time with friends
  • Commit to really getting to know the other person and spend lots of time talking (A telltale warning sign of a rushed relationship is that more time is being spent “acting” than “talking.” Taking time to develop a friendship indicates they care more about you than they do about it!)

 
By being a 3D dater, who is Discriminating, Discerning, and Deliberate, you’re much more likely to find the right one with fewer peaks and valleys (and mistakes!) along the way.
 
Have you read our entire 3D dating series?  Which quality(ies) stood out to you as the most important and why? We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!
 

Take a 3D Approach to Dating – PART 2

This is part two of our “3D Dating” series, a timely topic as we head into Valentine season! We started last week with a look at being DISCRIMINATING. This week we talk about the second quality of a 3D dater -– being DISCERNING…
 
The teen years are an exciting time of self-discovery and getting to know other people. Teens are developing their own identities and learning about themselves—who they are outside of their parents and family—and are starting to recognize which kinds of friends are their best fit. But, whether they admit it or not, when it comes to relationships (and dating in particular), they still need the input of parents, mentors, and older friends to help them hone a very important quality: discernment.
 
Will your teen leave home with strong inner radar that will help guide his relationship choices? Have you equipped your young person with the gift of discernment to help her make prudent decisions in her dating life? 
 
It’s worth thinking about, because if parents don’t, others (including our media/entertainment culture) will fill in the gap! Knowing that, here are some helpful topics for you to discuss with your teen to ensure he/she is being a discerning dater:
 

  • Understanding what you each want in a relationship—your goals and expectations and ensuring they’re compatible.
  • Recognizing incompatibility of values, interests, and goals as soon as possible and  ending it if it’s not a fit. Don’t expect the other will change!
  • Ensuring that the timing is right for both of you. There’s no point investing in a new relationship if you don’t want the same thing at the same time.
  • Objectively assessing whether you’re feeling “love” or “lust.” Be brutally honest in evaluating your friend in this regard. If it’s lust, it won’t last!
  • Avoiding unsafe situations before they happen and never allowing yourself to be coerced into actions that compromise your values, risk getting out of control, or that you’ll later regret.
  • Warning them of danger signs—manipulation, put downs, physical or emotional abuse/isolation/control, pressure to drink or have sex, etc.  
  • Reminding them to stay objective and  be willing to opt out if a relationship isn’t working. Sometimes you want to make it work so badly, you overlook serious flaws. Don’t do that. 
  • Advising them not to trust too soon … don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position with someone you don’t know extremely well and with whom you’ve built a history of confidence.  Remember that true love takes time

 
Make sure your teens know they can talk to you at any time, without repercussion, especially if they get into a hot spot and need help. Establish a private code they can use to call or text you to let you know they need to be picked up NOW. 
 
Many troubling situations might have been avoided had the parties demonstrated discernment. Help your teen develop it.  It’s one of the most important qualities of being a healthy 3D dater! 
 
What ideas and tips do you have for teaching discernment to teens when it comes to dating? Share your suggestions with us; we and our other readers would love to hear from you!
 

Take a 3D Approach to Dating – PART 1

Sweaty palms.
 
Racing heart.
 
Butterflies.
 
I’m not sure who has more of the above—a teenager getting ready for a date or a parent talking to him (or her) about dating!
 
No matter from whose angle you look at it, it’s a hot topic.
 
Whether a young person is in high school, college or already launched into their career, an independent social life can be the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. On one hand, there are so many new people to meet and things to do. On the other hand, it’s a time when many lives get derailed because they can’t handle the responsibility that accompanies this newfound freedom. Unfortunately, the consequences of these mistakes can be far reaching and life altering.
 
The fact is, even responsible dating comes with its share of challenges. That’s because: 1) many people define their own self-worth based on whether they’re “together” with someone and struggle with loneliness and doubt when unattached, 2) dating is a “trial and error” process with many dead ends or worse, and 3) there are two parties involved, each with their unique needs, goals, feelings, and interests. Two don’t always tango and it takes time to discover that.
 
So, what’s the best way to navigate this process? Encourage your young adult to try a 3D approach to dating—being: 1) Discriminating, 2) Discerning, and 3) Deliberate.
 

  1. Discriminating: In order for your dating to have worth and potential, you’ve got to be discriminating (i.e. highly selective) with your choices. The problem is, many people define their self-worth by whether they’re “with” someone, so they date for dating’s sake, often compromising their values along the way. The results are never pretty. Being a discriminating dater means:
  • Knowing the qualities you admire and that attract you to another person; these are the characteristics that are right for you.
  • If you don’t see a fit, moving on. Never waste your time on those you know are dead ends. It’s not only good for you, but it’s also the right thing for them.
  • Above all, focusing on values and your ability to become best friends. Do everything in your power to emphasize the non-physical over the physical when you’re assessing your compatibility. Think BFF: Best friends first! Remember, love can be blind…at the worst of times! 

 
I hope you’ll share these principles with a young adult in your life. Be sure to check back for my next blog in this series, where you’ll learn the second step in the 3D dating process—being DISCERNING…
 
What are ways you’ve found to help young adults develop discernment in their dating choices? Please share your ideas and experiences with us; this is a hot topic and we’d love to hear your input!
 

Recognize What True Love Is

It’s unfortunate the English language has only one word for love. We can say we love our friends, family, and spouse—and we can also say we “love” chocolate, our dog, and our favorite TV show!
 
It’s also unfortunate that the media and other cultural drivers constantly send distorted messages to young people about what love is. Sadly, too many believe those messages and end up making terrible life decisions and bearing deep emotional scars as a result.
 
I believe it’s our responsibility as parents and educators to do what we can to instill a healthy understanding of what true “love” really looks like. My definition would include:

  • enduring emotional regard for another
  • steadfast loyalty
  • strong affection arising out of kinship or personal ties
  • admiration, benevolence, or common interests
  • unselfish loyalty and genuine concern for the good of another
  • putting another’s interests ahead of your own

 
Many times people will say they’re in love when, really, they are in “lust.” Some definitions to describe “lust” might include:

 

  • passionate or overwhelming physical desire
  • craving another
  • intense, impatient, or unbridled sexual desire or appetite
  • pursuit of fulfilling one’s own satisfaction/needs/wants

 
 
For young people, knowing what true love really is can be confusing—and intimidating. Sometimes they think when they feel attraction that it is love.  But at this point it might more accurately be called infatuation or, if it’s especially intense, lust. Love involves much more than a physical attraction—although that’s certainly part of it.
 
Especially for people who may be experiencing attraction, infatuation, and “love” for the first time, it can be hard to tell the difference.  Remind them, real love takes time and timing and a healthy relationship will go through a  natural progression of growth stages.
 
Encourage the young adults in your life—whether your own kids, students you teach, or teens you mentor—to stand firm and not be fooled. Regardless of what they see on TV or hear on the radio, love isn’t just a bundle of intense feelings, emotion, and attraction. It’s all of the deeper elements mentioned above. They need to learn to know the difference.  Their most important love relationship depends on it!
 
How have you encouraged the young people in your life to think about their most important love relationship, either now or in the future? Can they see the importance of making sure it’s built on the right foundation?  Share your comments on our website; we’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!