The Changing Relationship Dynamic Between Parents and Teens

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, you need to take the lead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 3 P’s for Success

Doesn’t it feel like summer just started? Well, as much as we all hate to admit it, school will be starting before we know it. And for many young people, that means their first year of college is on the horizon. It’s why this week, we want to focus on studying—specifically, studying for optimum success in college/university!

It’s crucial to keep in mind that college academics are harder—much harder—than in high school. Papers are longer, expectations are higher, competition is greater, professors aren’t as accommodating, classes are bigger, and distractions are like never before. Without committed and disciplined study habits, success in college will be hard to come by. Even if straight A’s came easily to you in high school, it’s likely that university will be more challenging—even for the most accomplished honor student.

People who excel at what they do—whether it’s academics, sports, art, music, business, a trade—generally have these things in common: they’re intensely focused and overcome challenges with PLANNING, PRACTICE, and PERSERVERANCE.  For college students, this might look like reserving weekends for studying, rather than partying, or making sure certain priorities are taken care of before agreeing to social outings. First things first!

I can’t think of a better illustration of “the three P’s” than the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. The team of collegiate athletes was gathered randomly from around the nation under the leadership of Coach Herb Brooks, who developed a brutal training regimen and a strategy to win.

The prospects didn’t look good. They were dominated by the Soviet team in an exhibition game by a score of 10-3. But, that didn’t deter them. They tied Sweden, upset perennially strong Czechoslovakia, and proceeded to defeat Norway, Romania, and West Germany. There was just one problem. The next stop was another crack at the Soviet team, and the players were haunted by their previous humiliation. Nonetheless, Coach Brooks was relentless, challenging the team to do their best when it counted.

Amazingly, the U.S. scored what is considered the greatest sporting upset in history,, defeating the Soviets 4-3 in a win dramatically captured in the 2004 film Miracle. They went on to win the gold medal game over Finland, and rallied our country like no other sporting team in history.

When it comes to achieving your goals and succeeding in college/university and your career, remember that you, too, can overcome great odds by applying the same 3 P’s the 1980 U.S. hockey team did. What good would it have done for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team to skate out onto the ice without the practice and grit to compete?

So, how do we apply the 3 P’s to our studying? By:

  • Planning: organizing our schedules to allocate the needed time to complete our studies. And, making a habit of setting weekly and daily goals and schedules.
  • Practicing: implementing our daily schedules by focusing first on our academic priorities and then studying in environments conducive to concentration and distraction avoidance.
  • Persevering: facing our disappointments head on by analyzing why we underperformed and taking corrective steps to improve. Successful people fight through and grow from their challenges with determination.

Unfortunately, many people struggle with at least one of the “3 P’s”—and never reach their full potential. (Practically, this can look like receiving poor grades, dropping out of school, getting fired for mediocre performance, never moving up, etc.) Many people mistakenly believe they “deserve” success. They show up to university expecting to rest on their laurels from high school. Or, they arrive to their first day of a new job expecting the corner office. They face a brutal awakening.

Don’t let this attitude mark you. When you set your mind to something—whether it’s academic studies, a job (or something else), I encourage you to do it with intentionality and excellence. When school begins again in the coming months, remember this adage: “Plan, practice, and persevere to succeed.” Doing this will give you the best chance to succeed and will build great character along the way.

What are your tried and true recipes for success? If you were talking to your teen or students about success after high school, what tips would you give? Feel free to share what you would add to our list!

Four Steps to Choosing Your College Major and Career

Can you imagine working at a job you hate? Spending most of your waking hours bored, frustrated, or totally stressed out, working with people or for an employer you don’t care for?

On the other hand, imagine working for a company you admire, where your skills are fully utilized, where you can build life-long friendships, where you’re given opportunities to grow professionally, and where you’re rewarded and recognized for a job well done.

I think we’d all prefer the second scenario, wouldn’t we? Unfortunately, many don’t experience it because they don’t do the proper homework. Choosing your major and career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life. But, is it?

Unfortunately, far too many grads are disenchanted with their major and career. In fact, in a recent Gallup poll of some 90,000 college grads, 36% regret choosing the major they did! Yes, 36% have buyer’s remorse! This is a shocking statistic given the amount of money poured into our college educations and the importance of actually liking (and succeeding in) a career that fits. I believe this major/career regret stems from the following:

  1. Insufficient research by students on their career options. They are either struggling to find a job in their major or discovering it wasn’t a fit after all.
  2. Insufficient guidance and preparation by colleges provided to students. I speak with far too many college grads who are still uncertain about their careers or are clueless as to how to land a job. This is a travesty.
  3. Too many college majors with limited career connections. Shouldn’t colleges provide students with the percentage of their graduates landing a job in each available major? Many students simply major in what they like (with full support from their counselors) without realizing the challenges in actually finding work.

 

Now that summer is here and many students have college and career on their minds, it’s the perfect time to do some assessing, research, and hands-on learning to get a good grasp of what your future can look like.

The first step is to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. This involves taking an honest and objective inventory of your:

  • Interests and passions
  • Skills and aptitudes (Be honest with yourself here. Don’t say you’re good with numbers when you’ve nearly failed all your math classes!)
  • Lifestyle and workplace preferences (are you laid back? Orderly? Type A? Do you hope to work remotely, travel a lot, etc.? Like working solo or in teams? Thrive on pressure…or not? People or task oriented?)
  • Ability to obtain the necessary qualifications (Degrees, certifications, continued education)

The second step is to develop a list of potential careers that captures your interests, skills, and personal preferences. Learn about the qualifications for each career possibility and consider whether you have the skills and/or are willing to acquire them. Meet with admissions counselors and professors. Attend career fairs. Review the recommendations from any aptitude tests you’ve completed. Meet with actual practitioners in each career area to learn what the job is like. Speak with others who know you best to gain their perspectives.

The third step involves investigating the demand outlook for the careers you’re considering. Do your research to discover which careers are experiencing strong job growth and which majors will qualify you. This step is more crucial than you realize. For every major you’re considering, thoroughly evaluate its employment prospects. Your return on college investment may be at stake!

Finally, seek out work-study, internship, and job shadowing opportunities to get a taste of what the career is like. This will provide a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your preliminary conclusions.

Once you complete this process, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   

A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at www.bls.gov/oco. On this site you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to the education and training you’ll need to qualify for them. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website.  It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests. Another good option is www.careercruising.com.

 Parents, youth mentors, and educators: Please consider sharing this email with the career-bound students in your life. Use it as a bridge to opening conversations about life direction, career options, and preparation for life as an adult. Then feel free to share your comments and testimonials with our online community; we’d love to hear your thoughts!

A Mother’s Day Salute

Moms, this week is for you! This is for the sleepless nights, the time spent sitting in the rain watching  sports games, the time spent helping with college apps and figuring out the FAFSA, the time spent encouraging, hoping, praying, dreaming, and the countless other ways you’ve invested in your children. This week we honor the immeasurable effort you’ve put into raising your children.

How we raise our kids now—even if there are years until launch time—will impact them for the rest of their life. After all, we aren’t just raising kids; we’re raising future adults. Putting in our due diligence to instill important values like resilience, respect, responsibility, integrity, honesty, work ethic, and determination, will impact the way our teens thrive in adulthood.

At LifeSmart, we are committed to equipping and educators and mentors with the tools they need to help their students thrive. Our aim is to help prepare the next generation with CRUCIAL LIFE SKILLS so they can excel in independent life, college, career, and beyond.

However, educators are not our only focus. Parents play an indispensable role in preparing the next generation.  What they do is not easy; in fact, it’s probably one of the hardest jobs in the world. Moms, today we’re looking at you.

Navigating the world of parenting teens can be tricky. They can be moody, unpredictable, and aloof. They can rely on you for too much, or distance themselves when they’re ready for independence. Sometimes they betray our trust or test the limits on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how or when to communicate with them and whether any of your words are sticking. And one of the hardest parts of all, is knowing that it will soon be time to let go and adapt to a new role as chief encourager and on-call advisor. Dropping off your recent high school graduate at the freshman dormitory is the beginning of a new chapter for both of you. And for moms especially, it’s fraught with mixed feelings.

Today, we at LifeSmart want to acknowledge all the different ways that parenting can pull your heart in a million different directions. We affirm your hard work, and appreciate your effort in raising up the next generation of leaders, teachers, thinkers, and artists, even when it gets difficult.  So moms, here are three encouraging tidbits of wisdom for you as we embark on Mother’s Day weekend:

  • In this season of “launch time,” find a community of parents who are in the same stage of life. How are they coping? What are they doing to ensure a successful launch? You will find you have a lot in common and much to talk about (and eventually, more time to “hang out!”). Surrounding yourself with other people who are also parenting older teens will make you feel understood, encouraged, and give you a shoulder to lean on. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE.
  • Remember, moving from driver’s seat to passenger’s seat can be hard, but know you’re gaining a relationship with your new adult, not losing a child! Even though allowing your teen to begin making their own life choices can be a scary thought, they will always have you as an ally. You will forever be their biggest cheerleader and friend.
  • It’s okay to focus on you. Self-care is one of the most important steps in a being a good parent, spouse, and friend. As the dynamic of your life begins to change as your kids get older, you may realize you have more time to do things YOU want to do. Use this as an opportunity to rediscover old passions (or develop new ones), learn a new skill, and remember what makes you YOU, aside from your role as mom. You deserve it!

Happy Mother’s Day from all of us at LifeSmart. Where would we be without you?

Career Readiness Essentials: Knowing What Employers Value

career fairHere’s a true story from my hometown. She was scheduled to arrive for work as a server for a small family restaurant at 5:00. However, she apparently received a better offer. At 4:55 she called the owner, informing him that she was sick and unable to work. But, merely 15 minutes later, she would be posting pictures of herself with friends at a beach party some seven miles away. When she showed up refreshed for work the next day, she was fired on the spot.

This case example is worth sharing in your homes and classrooms because, in various forms, stories like this are becoming commonplace. Whether from inexperience, lack of training, or simply misguided attitudes, many teens and young adults are struggling on the job. They’re learning the hard way that trophies, so easy to come by when they were young, are much more difficult to obtain in the workplace. But, with proper training, stories like this are preventable.

In last week’s installment in our career readiness series, we discussed the importance of self awareness as the necessary first step to a successful career. Finding a good match begins with knowing me!  Now, in the second step, I need to get to know you: my current or potential employer. But, judging from the horror stories I hear, employer perspectives are a missing ingredient in many career readiness programs. Students need to understand that their career success involves much more than smarts and skills.

To this end, here is our top ten list of qualities desired by employers:

  1. Integrity: adherence to moral and ethical principles; trustworthiness
  2. High standards: a commitment to excellence in work, relationships, and attitudes; actively seeks out feedback and professional development
  3. Reliability: dependable in fulfilling responsibilities; adopts an “on time, every time, with excellence” mentality
  4. Motivation/work ethic: self starter who is willing to go “above and beyond;” industrious and efficient and follows instructions
  5. Team player/relational skill: demonstrates positive interpersonal skills with fellow employees, clients, prospects, suppliers, and the community; encourages others and focuses on the company and team over self
  6. Positive attitude/enthusiasm: displays a constructive and uplifting attitude and passion for both work and the company
  7. Innovative: demonstrates curiosity, creativity, and a commitment to improve processes, products, and services
  8. Resilience: faces challenges head on, rebounds from adversity, and resolves conflict along the way
  9. Professional manner: displays a professional attitude, appearance, and communication
  10. Commitment: is loyal to the company’s mission and core values and represents the company well in the community

Whether we’re parents, educators, or mentors, it’s vital that we train the next generation with these guiding principles. While doing so, here are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Help them understand that they are there to serve the company, not the other way around. Disabuse them of any sense of entitlement or notion that the world revolves around them.
  • The time to begin modeling these qualities is NOW. Have your students rank themselves on a 1-5 scale. For which qualities are they a 5-star role model? Where do they need to up their game?
  • Through role-playing exercises, have your students pretend they are the owner of a company recruiting for a new position. What qualities would they be emphasizing as they evaluate candidates? By switching them from their usual subservient role to that of the boss, they will quickly appreciate the employer’s perspective.

Once students appreciate the importance of these workplace qualities, they will be better equipped for their entire career management process. That means better cover letters, resumes, applications, interviews, and on-the-job performance. Understanding the qualities valued by employers should be an integral part of your career training efforts. It would have certainly helped avoid a fiasco in my hometown!

Growing Signs of College Unreadiness

university-graduatesHave you experienced something like the following? You’re invited to a high school graduation party brimming with pride and promise. In a few short months, he/she will be heading off to college to fulfill his/her dreams, so it’s a festive occasion. Then, after a semester, a year, or maybe two, we hear the disheartening news: in an unexpected turn of events, our friend/relative/son/daughter just dropped out. That upbeat graduation party seemed like only yesterday, didn’t it? Now what?

By all accounts, stories like this are becoming more common. Here are a few telltale signs:

  • The US college completion ranking among 28 nations has fallen from first in 1995 to 19th in 2012, according to OECD. That’s a substantial shift in a mere 17 years.
  • Many colleges are reporting significant increases in student demand for mental health counseling services. Nearly 10 percent of students are receiving such treatment. (Note: some of this increase may be due to efforts to destigmatize mental health issues and seeing a counselor. This is a positive)

Clearly, though, these are worrisome trends. Why are so many students struggling? Are they unready?

Peeling the Onion

According to the 2013 Association of College Counseling Center Directors Survey1 of 380 colleges, here are the top 10 reasons cited for student visits with counselors over the 2012-2013 period: Anxiety (46%), Depression (39%), Relationship Issues (35%), Psychotropic Medication (25%), Suicidal Thoughts/Behaviors (18%), Extensive Treatment History (14%), Alcohol Abuse (11%), Self Injury (10%), ADHD (8%), and Drug Abuse (8%). All of these are concerning, but number five is downright alarming.

That anxiety ranks number one shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the college years are inherently stressful, with students facing new environments, responsibilities, competition, and career decisions. That’s a lot to absorb, as many of us may remember all too well!  Among the most commonly cited student stressors are: relationships and loneliness, competitive academic and social pressure, time management/workload/balance, career/major choice, finances, poor eating/sleeping habits, roommate incompatibility, and handling newfound freedom responsibly. Whew!

Contributors

Obviously, each individual situation is unique, and preparing students for success in this major transition is no easy feat. That said, we believe the following are some of the main causes of college unreadiness and student struggles:

  1. Helicoptering and performance parenting: many of today’s parenting methods, often well intended, are producing students who are ill equipped for adulthood and the performance pressures imposed by their parents.
  2. “College for all” mentality: in recent decades, college has been loudly messaged as the ticket to success. Many students would have been better served choosing a different path.
  3. Inadequate commitment to independent living preparation and soft skill development in high schools: schools vary widely in course offerings involving independent living, college/career preparation, leadership, and soft skills (e.g., resilience). In most cases, these valuable courses, if offered at all, are considered electives. Further, there isn’t formal accountability for success after
  4. Insufficient college onboarding programs: arriving on a college campus can be a “deer in the headlights” experience! First year students could benefit from stronger student transition management programs, including how to handle the most common challenges and “derailers.”
  5. Extended period of adolescence: research is showing that the adolescent stage is lasting longer than before. This suggests that today’s college entrant, on average, may be less mature than in year’s past.
  6. Susceptible age: the years from 18-22 often reveal genetic predispositions to mental health issues. Further, at this time of major decisions and transitioning, the adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development. This is a massive amount of change to endure in a short period.

 

We all have a stake in improving this situation. Next week, I’ll share some parenting strategies to help prepare your teens for a successful college experience.

1”Top Reasons Students Seek College Counseling Centers,” Matters of the Mind, http://www.themillennialminds.com

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Two

It’s not uncommon to hear negative generalizations about today’s young adults (AKA millennials). There’s a lot of blaming going around, but have we ever stopped to ask ourselves what our role might be? Or, what improvements we can make to their training? Today’s post is part two in our four-part series about equipping and fostering success in young people, with a special message to secondary school educators. If you missed our post for parents earlier in the week, you can find it here. Or, you can access the entire article at the bottom of this post.

Today’s secondary schools face enormous challenges in covering all the bases and setting students up for life success. In addition to their core education efforts, our teachers also deal with tremendous regulatory demands and increasingly fragmented families. As a former school board chair and educator, I honor their tireless investment in our younger generation.

Importantly, our secondary educators play a vital role in preparing their graduates for college, career, and life. So, it’s appropriate to consider their influence on the general state of our young adults. In doing so, I’ll approach it as an advocate for two key constituencies: the students themselves and the institutions receiving their graduates (most notably, colleges and employers).

Importantly, secondary students are not in a position to advocate for themselves, and they assume they are receiving the education and training they need for life. And, why not? Meanwhile, our colleges and employers assume their students will arrive prepared for college, career, and life. Again, why not?

However, it is clear from our weak college graduation statistics and the feedback from universities and employers, that these assumptions are often erroneous. Far too many students are dropping out and/or lacking the basic skills that employers are seeking. So, while many students are book smart, signs are they’re not always life smart. This is a predictable outcome when leadership development and practical training occupy a secondary role in our schools.  In too many cases, student training is neither holistic nor sustainable.

With all that in mind, I respectfully offer the following recommendations to secondary school educators who are serving our today’s students today and tomorrow’s collegians and employees:

  1. Develop and implement a comprehensive vision for a well-prepared graduate for life. My favorite Stephen Covey habit is “Begin with the end in mind.” Importantly, it applies just as much to organizations (like schools) as it does to people. However, in my years of speaking at schools and conferences, I have never witnessed more than 10% of the audience state that their school has defined a well-prepared graduate. Never. This is an urgent priority because it frames everything. What skills, character attributes, and knowledge do our graduates need to succeed in life? That our employers and universities desire? We must know this.
  2. Create the necessary pathways and programs to implement this vision for all This will likely involve new courses, reprioritization, and integration of concepts (e.g., leadership).
  3. Require leadership and life skills courses for all students. These courses, often under the purview of FCS and CTE (Family/Consumer Science and Career and Technical Education) are simply too important to be considered electives. In addition to leadership and character skill building, all students should receive practical education in post-secondary preparation, career readiness, communication and relationship building, financial management, citizenship, manners, and self awareness. We can no longer assume that our students are learning these vital skills at home. (In too many cases they are not!) This will likely involve some reprioritization of other courses to make room for these essential topics. The keywords are “holistic,” “relevant,” and “sustainable.”
  4. Dispense with the “college or bust” mentality. The significant first-year college dropout rate reveals the unintended consequence of an overemphasis on college as the immediate next step. For many high school students, other options such as employment, vocational schools, community college, trade schools, a gap year, and military or service are better fitting options. These are not “second rate” choices.
  5. Prepare all students for a professional environment. Among the biggest complaints about today’s younger workers involve their casual written and oral communications and manners. Clearly, this is an adverse consequence of today’s tech-laden world. Communication is such a success driver in life, and, it deserves to be a greater priority in our schools. Also, courses in entrepreneurship, that would expose students to all aspects of managing an organization, would be beneficial. While the latest rage is STEM (or is it STEAM…?), it’s important to recognize that most jobs, even in those types of organizations, do NOT require advanced math and technical degrees. Let’s remember that as we develop our course menus and requirements.
  6. Promote leadership and character, and reward students accordingly. So often, academics and athletics command the greatest award attention in our schools. Ask most employers and they’ll gladly prefer a 3.5 GPA with great character to a 3.9 with little else. How many leadership and character awards are offered in your school?
  7. Cease with the grade inflation. This form of coddling proves to be a short-lived source of self esteem when students face the reality of competitive environments like college and the workplace. Let’s be honest, we’re doing them no favors.

 

Teachers, we are so grateful for you and your tireless efforts. Keep up the good work as we all work together and learn from each other, mastering our roles as “next generation equippers.”

 

Next week we will address this topic with college/university educators, as well as employers. If you’re interested in gaining access to all four parts of the article, you can find it here.

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part One

Like most of you, I hate stereotypes and generalizations. They’re unfair and usually do more harm than good. It’s why I’m not a fan of “bucketizing” people into this/that gender/age/ethnicity/economic/religious/political category. To me, the main “fruit” of these efforts is disunity.

But, at the risk of not taking my own advice, I’d like to weigh in on the conversation about a group that is perhaps more stereotyped than any these days. . . Millennials. Having raised two of our own and as an author/publisher/mentor/educator devoted to training up our next generation, I feel a special bond toward them. But, judging by what I read and hear, it’s as though their foreheads are etched with a “scarlet M.”

You’ve likely heard their negative labels: entitled, lazy, fragile, impatient, narcissistic, distractible, relationally challenged, needful, and the like. Hopefully, you’ve also heard the positive: passionate, creative, connected, entrepreneurial, idealistic, and globally minded. (As a product of the Sixties and Seventies, it makes me wonder what was said about us!)

But, here’s the deal: IF some of the negative stereotypes of Millennials have some merit, I don’t believe it’s only (or even primarily) because of them. Much of that responsibility lies with us—the generation that has parented and trained them. By all accounts, we are not equipping them as fully as we should—not parents, not schools, and in some cases, not employers. We’re also struggling to let go. Big time!

Too often, instead of releasing eagles to soar with confidence, we’re releasing young adults that we continue to control, coddle, or inadequately equip. Generally speaking, we’re not providing the practical, relevant, holistic training they need to succeed in adult life, and it’s showing. I believe this is attributable to several factors: 1) parents and educators assuming the other is covering the training (e.g., finance, soft skills) so it falls through the cracks, 2) consequences of the breakdown of the American family, and 3) educators focusing more on training the mind than the whole person for adulthood. It’s no wonder that the stage of adolescence continues to grow. And grow.

That’s on us. And, we need to do better. For them.

So, for the rest of this blog series, I’ll be offering my recommendations—to parents, secondary school educators, colleges, and employers—to help set our younger generation up for real world success. Due to space limitations, it’s an incomplete view, so I’ll focus on my best ideas.

In this first post, I’ll address my thoughts to parents. After that, I’ll concentrate on secondary school and college educators, and finally, employers. We all have a stake in this game. I’m sure you can add to my ideas, and you might even disagree with some of my views. I welcome your contributions. That’s what makes it a conversation!

 

To Parents:

We all want our children to be happy and successful, but sometimes we get in their own way. In fact, discussions with those receiving our high school graduates (e.g., universities and employers) reveal the downside of helicoptering, performance parenting, excessive coddling, and absentee parenting: students struggling with self confidence and coping with the demands of adulthood. Consequently, parents are calling professors to complain about grades. Parents are calling employers to complain about their “kids” being overworked and underpaid. Parents are even coming to job interviews! Many parents are so invested in their children’s success that they won’t let go. Is it any wonder so many young adults are having difficulty growing up?

With that, here are some suggestions for raising our parenting bar and releasing a new generation of well-prepared and confident leaders:

  1. Adopt an empowering parenting vision and mindset: what if we replaced “raising children” with “raising future adults?” This mindshift can make a world of difference. In our book on this topic, Parenting for the Launch, we call it, “giving them wings, not strings” and “moving from driver seat to passenger seat.”
  2. Emphasize character and “soft skills” over performance. Success in career and life requires a solid leadership foundation made up of qualities like integrity, reliability, high standards, kindness, respect, other-centeredness, work ethic, humility, positivity, and manners. It also requires attributes like self control, resilience, interpersonal skill, decision-making, time management, and communication. These are sustainable leadership qualities. Where are we placing our emphasis?
  3. Invest in your relationship. It takes both quality and quantity time to build a relationship that endures. “I didn’t spend enough time with my children” is an all-too-common regret you never want to experience! Stay fully engaged.
  4. Surround them with positive influences and adult role models and mentors. Use every opportunity to introduce them to great people! These invaluable third party voices offer friendship, wisdom, and connections to help grow their network. It also builds communication skills and respect for adults.
  5. Help them build self awareness. In the teen and young adult years, it’s critical to understand one’s assets, nature, and passions. Parents can contribute valuable insights that instill vision, belief, hope, and a sense of value.
  6. Encourage them to stretch themselves and take risks, even if they may not succeed. Help them embrace new experiences and challenges. Regardless of the outcome, winning is in the journey. Build a “Go for it!” attitude..
  7. Limit their use of technology and impose tech-free zones during family times. Be highly attentive to the addictive tendencies of technology, especially if it starts to affect their relationships, communication, and productivity.  And, don’t let devices and TV serve as a “babysitter.”
  8. Be strategic about preventing some of the common stereotypes. That means promoting a strong work ethic (chores help!), instilling other centeredness (volunteering for the less fortunate), learning to accept constructive feedback, being able to build authentic relationships, developing their ability to problem solve and handle disappointments and conflict, and teaching them how to communicate professionally with adults.
  9. Resist the temptation to solve their problems and manage their performance. These are self confidence destroyers that hamper decision-making and can create co-dependence.

 

If you are the parent of a millennial—what steps have you taken to help make them more “real world ready?” Are there any tips or pointers you would add to this list?

Later this week, I will be addressing my recommendations to secondary educators (with two more parts in the series coming next week!). I’m excited to share this blog series with you and hope you’ll continue to read on and engage as we discuss our roles in equipping the next generation for success!

If you’re interested in accessing the entire article (how we as parents, high school teachers, college professors, and employers can help equip millennials for success) in one place, you can find it in our resource center here.

Smart Financial Planning isn’t as Hard as You Think

There are all sorts of plans and programs and books out there to help people get out of their financial holes and step into a fresh, healthy budget plan. I’m not saying those programs don’t have value, but there is a very simple (and free) way to make sure you stay out of the red when it comes to your finances. Make sure more money is coming in than is going out, and make a conscious, organized, and concerted effort to track your spending.

When to it comes to budgeting, many find it right up there with dieting and root canals in terms of the pleasure factor (which is probably why so many people feel they always fail at it!). However, tracking your spending and disciplining yourself to live within your means and save for the future is definitely worth the effort. If budgeting is not a natural bent for you, don’t give up on the idea altogether. I promise, with just a willing attitude and some good resources to help you stay disciplined, you’ll be able to get on track with your finances.

So, what are my best tips for staying on top of your financial game?

The basic report you should complete (on at least on a quarterly basis) is a cash flow statement. This report tallies your income and expenses in several key categories. It’s the surest way to see whether you’re living within your means and where your spending may be excessive. After subtracting all of your expenses from your income, you’ll see whether your net cash flow for that period is positive or negative. Remember, the goal is positive, positive, positive!
There are many online tools to help analyze your cash flow  (e.g., www.quicken.com and www.mint.com). In the past, analyzing cash flow was a lot more work—you had to save your receipts and organize them manually. But nowadays, if you use a debit card and checks for your purchases and bills, and you link your bank account to your online budgeting program, it will automatically categorize your spending and indicate where your money is going. It will even send you an email in the middle of a month to let you know if you’re over budget in a particular category (it knows if you’ve been bad or good, which is great for accountability!).

Even if it’s just a 75-cent daily newspaper or a $10 Netflix subscription or a $4 (or more!) latte as you head to work each morning, make sure you account for every single dollar you spend. That’s how you can see exactly where your money is going. You may be surprised when you look at your spending after even just a couple of weeks. The nickels and dimes add up!

Analyzing spending and developing budgets are great skills to develop in the young people in your life. For young adults just starting out, tracking their spending will help determine how much they can afford for rent/housing and a car, significant expenses each month. It will also help them get an idea of how little things here and there can add up and destroy their budget! (I’ve heard many freshly-launched young adults say they’re shocked to see how quickly money gets spent!) How much should average living expenses cost? The following are typical expenditure categories and the rough percentages each should represent:

  • Housing/rent (includes utilities)    30-35%
  • Household/personal items                  20
  • Autos/transportation                          10
  • Charitable giving                             5-10
  • Savings and investments                     15+ (not an expenditure per se)
  • Entertainment and leisure                    7
  • Debt/loans                                           5
  • Insurance                                             5
  • Miscellaneous                                       3

While the above percentages are ballpark figures (and they do change through life), spending more than five percent above these levels is getting “up there,” with the exception of savings and investments and loans for new college grads. Compare actual spending to these ballpark figures, and you’ll have a good sense of whether you’re overspending in particular categories. And, take special precautions against buying too much house or car—these expenses get many people in trouble because the payments are fixed.

Wise financial planning requires knowing where your money goes—it’s as simple as that! You’ll make better financial choices, build a stronger credit rating, and develop good savings habits that help build wealth.
 
Do you track and analyze your spending?  How do you do it?  Have you trained and modeled this to the young adults in your life and, if so, how? We’d love to hear your insight and experiences!