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!

 

Top Ten Parenting Tips to Promote College Readiness (Part Two)

Last week, we shared the first five of our ten best parenting tips to build college readiness and circumvent the “derailers” plaguing college students today. The sooner we can build these skills in our future collegians, the better prepared they will be to succeed! Without further adieu, here are the final five tips:

 

  1. Respect their need for balance and margin. In an effort to build a foolproof resume for their college applications, many students overcommit and are completely stressed out. Most of this is originating from performance-driven parents who mean well, but who are undervaluing their children’s need for balance, margin, downtime, and sleep. Not surprisingly, rebellion and/or high anxiety are common in college as a result of this pressure.

    This is a reminder to parents to help teens maintain a healthy work/life balance. Be realistic about the time requirements of their activities and avoid overscheduling. Also, encourage them to be highly selective in committing to college activities, especially in the first year when there are so many exciting opportunities. Variety is great, but balance is key.

  2. Develop career savvy. Many high schoolers are needlessly anxious because of pressure to know exactly which career to pursue. However, the reality is they’re still discovering themselves! Also, they’ve yet to take advanced courses in their major, and many haven’t even spoken with actual practitioners to gauge whether a certain career path is a good fit.

    You can play a constructive role with your high schoolers by building career awareness. This means: 1) having them complete career assessments (e.g., careerbridge.wa.gov and www.careercruising.com), 2) introducing them to people with interesting careers, and 3) training them on the process of selecting a career. Also, be sure to develop their marketing skills for interviewing, resume/cover letter writing, and networking. Offer real world career insights, including the qualities that employers value most (e.g., integrity, high standards, dependability, relational skills, positivity, work ethic, and resilience). What I Wish I Knew at 18 has several excellent success pointers to build your teen’s career savvy.

  3. Instill healthy living habits. The Freshman 15 (pounds, that is). The party scene. All nighters. Yes, they’re real. And, too much of a good thing is spoiling many college careers. With newfound freedom and a world of choices—some healthy, some not, and some even illegal—many students are underachieving, anxious, in poor health, and eventually, dropping out. Freedom can be a two-edged sword.

    It’s beyond the scope of this blog to do delve deeply into healthy living habits, but these are a must to nurture before the fact: 1) nutritious and balanced eating (a huge challenge when they enter Carb Heaven!), 2) physical activity and exercise (working out at the gym/joining intramural teams), 3) adequate sleep, and 4) positive stress relievers.

  4. Build their financial literacy. Far too many college careers are abbreviated for financial reasons. Whether it’s due to lack of affordability, poor spending habits, or credit card debt, student financial stress is impacting performance and college completion. Of all the topics where parents mistakenly assume their children are trained in school, this is number one. For too many schools, personal finance is not a requirement or even offered. Parents should assume the leadership role here.

    Some financial musts for your future collegian: 1) understanding needs versus wants, 2) knowing how to develop and adhere to a budget and spending plan, 3) understanding the basics of credit and debit cards (latter preferred for collegians), and 4) choosing a major that will yield a positive return on college investment.

  5. Impose guidelines for technology/social media use. While technology serves many useful purposes, the side effects rarely receive the airtime they deserve. Issues with shorter attention spans, addiction to devices, distraction, lack of motivation, irritability, communication deterioration, wasted time, constant stimulation, and, yes, destructive content, are interfering with student health and success.

    To counteract these influences, institute and enforce healthy boundaries in your household (e.g., time limits) when it comes to technology and social media use. You may lose some “popularity points” with your children, but the stakes are simply too high for a laissez faire

 

We hope these tips are helpful to you, and we encourage you to share them with others in your sphere. Here is a link to the complete article. Let’s set all of our future collegians up for success!

 

 

Making the Best Decision in the Heat of the Moment

Can you remember a time that you were scared, sad, angry, or hurt and made a rash decision based on emotion or said something you later regretted? We’ve all done it. And most likely, these situations never worked out very well.

As we grow older and wiser, we eventually learn that it’s never smart to make important decisions abruptly or in a highly emotional state. Simply put, there’s too much distraction and it’s nearly impossible to think objectively or clearly. Today, if I’m upset and need to make a decision, I make a tentative one, but wait until the following morning to confirm it. Generally, it proves to be a better decision because I’ve had more to consider the pros and cons and potential consequences by then. It’s amazing how often I change my mind!

Why do we tend to make poor choices when we’re under stress or filled with emotion? It’s because of our physiology—that’s right, it’s how we’re wired. But we can learn to compensate.

Stress messes with your brain—and can impair our decision-making capabilities. A new study shows that in a crisis (or even what feels like a crisis), the brain tends to focus on reward, and ignore the possible negative consequences of a decision. That’s why “feel good” decisions like eating what we shouldn’t, blowing off steam by losing our temper, giving in to peer pressure, or making a rash purchase we can’t afford are more likely to happen when we are stressed out.

Even worse, not only does stress make us focus on the ‘feel good” aspect of a risky decision or behavior, it impairs our ability to think about the negative consequences. (Frankly, I’d say that’s a pretty good recipe for potential stupidity and regret, don’t you?) As I consider my own decisions (and those of our elected officials!), I would argue that failure to consider adverse, unintended consequences, is one of our biggest mistakes. It’s all too common, especially with relationships.

When you’re in this situation, hold off until the following morning if you can. Think about the things that make for good decisions and force yourself to follow them. If you don’t have the time to physically go to sleep and make your decision the next day, here are some tips to help you clear your mind and avoid making a rash decision based on emotion:

  • Learn to recognize and release your stress
  • Consult with a trusted friend and ask for honest advice
  • Science proves that exercise actually can calm our nerves.
  • If you are religious, seek spiritual counsel
  • Go to a place you consider beautiful (a park, a beach, a walking trail) and spend some enjoying nature and breathing in the fresh air. It will be good for your body and soul, and will most likely calm you down.
  • Develop a pro/con list to ensure you’re looking at all sides of a decision
  • Be sure to consider your conscience and intuition. I’ve learned to never disregard my gut feeling about something. Pay attention to yours, too.

As we enter our teen and young adult years, our decisions often have life-altering consequences. So, it pays to evaluate each one as comprehensively and objectively as possible while we’re calm and our thinking is clear. Not only will these tips help you make better ones (especially under stress), but they’ll also help limit your life regrets. That’s huge.

Have you noticed that your decision-making improves when you’re not in an emotional state? How can this lesson be good for young people who may find themselves in stressful situations—do you see how they can be influenced to make potentially life-altering decisions when they’re in the wrong frame of mind? Share your thoughts by commenting below; we’d love to hear your perspective and experiences.

Better Yourself (and Others) by Expressing Your Emotions

With Easter very quickly approaching (hey, wasn’t it just Christmas?), most of us will be spending time with family in the coming weekend. Although family time is incredibly precious and shouldn’t be taken for granted, it can still be very difficult for some. How does time with people we love end up being so tough sometimes?

Well, for one, it’s because we often put on our “everything is A-okay” masks and don’t express ourselves honestly or openly. Deep down, we fear vulnerability, so we put up a wall that blocks anyone from seeing how we really feel. We stuff our emotions, pretend everything is okay, and sweep any conflict or complaints under the carpet (‘til next year). Or, we find the path of least resistance is to keep a grudge and revert to passive aggressive behavior rather than reconcile. (Hmm…how’s that working for you?)

Many (especially us guys) have been led to believe that expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness. 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 “weakness,” we pay a price if we don’t express our feelings. Being honest and authentic with others is a healthy practice. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

“What’s so wrong with not sharing how I feel?” many may be asking. Plenty!  First off, it deprives others of knowing how you really feel (How can they contribute their support 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 they can cause explosive reactions when they’re eventually released. The balloon pops rather than gently losing its air. Not good—for anyone!

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.” Consider the following phrases and ask yourself how often you share them with others:

I love you                   I’m proud of you                   I respect you

I appreciate you        I made a mistake                   I admire you

I was wrong               I care about you                    Please forgive me

I’m sorry                    I’m grateful for you              I’m worried about…

 

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 it 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 into this spring holiday, 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.

 

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

Express Yourself!

“Family togetherness” can be as challenging as it is rewarding. I’ve heard some people say after a holiday season (where they spent LOTS of time in close quarters with family) that they’d had enough family time to last until NEXT holiday season!

Why is it that extended time with the people we (should) love can be so difficult?
 
Well, for one, it’s because we often put on our “everything is A-okay” masks and don’t express ourselves as honestly and deeply as we could. We’re afraid to share how we really feel about things to avoid vulnerability.  So we stuff our emotions, pretend everything is okay, and sweep any conflict or complaints under the carpet (‘til next year). Or, we find the path of least resistance is to keep a grudge rather than reconcile. Hmm…how’s that working for you?
 
For some reason, many believe that sharing feelings is a sign of weakness…especially us guys! But whether from our upbringing or a distorted perception of “weakness,” we pay a price if we don’t express our feelings.
 
First, it deprives the other party of knowing how you really feel. Second, suppressed feelings can cause stress and, if severe, illness and depression.  Third, they can cause explosive reactions when they’re eventually released (usually at the worst possible moment). The balloon pops rather than gently losing its air. Not good!
 
Wouldn’t the world be a better place (and all of us healthier) if we learned to freely and appropriately express our feelings to each other? Here’s a short test to help you judge how easy (or not) it is for you to be “real.” Consider the following phrases and ask yourself how often you share them with others:
 
I love you                   I’m proud of you                   I respect you             
I appreciate you        I made a mistake                   I admire you
I was wrong               I care about you                    Please forgive me
I’m sorry                    I’m grateful for you              I’m worried about…
 
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.
 
I hope you prioritize and enjoy your times of family 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. It’s a gift that keeps giving.
 
How would you rate on the “express yourself meter?” Are there phrases on the above list that you have difficulty saying? Why? Please share your ideas and experiences with us by commenting below.