6 Conversations to Have Before Your Teen Leaves Home

As summer draws to a close and the school year starts up again, change is in the air. Many of us have children who are about to leave our homes and head off to college or the workforce for the first time. Many people are uncomfortable with change, especially big ones like this! They don’t know how things will turn out and sometimes fear the worst. That’s too bad—because change can be incredibly positive (for parents AND children).

This year’s recent high school graduates are about to experience the greatest decade of change in their lives. Some of it will be voluntary and some of it not. Some of it will be clear and some of it will have highly uncertain outcomes. Some of it will be easy to handle and some will be highly stressful. It’s all part of their journey, and their journey is what will make them, THEM! It’s important we let them live it, find themselves, and be an encourager to them along the way.

Are you a parent of a teen who is heading off into the “real world?” How are they feeling about it? Do they know how much you believe in them?

These six topics, all addressed in What I Wish I Knew at 18, will help you open up conversations about what may be in store. Share your stories about how you faced these similar changes—warts and all. Change doesn’t seem as intimidating when someone else you know has navigated it successfully and learned important life lessons along the way. Plus, it will help open up safe lines of communication when they face challenges—as they will.

  1. College majors and career paths. They will probably change their choice in career or major several times over, and this is NORMAL. The anxiety associated with this big decision is considerable, and far too many high schoolers are placing undue pressure on themselves to know their future major/career. (They’re still discovering themselves and haven’t even taken advanced courses, so how can they be so sure?) Let them know that it’s okay to change their mind and that you will be supportive no matter what.
  2. Future jobs. They will probably have five to seven jobs in their life. They will have to deal with new employers, new managers, new coworkers, new technology, and new locations multiple times. At these times, it helps to be especially proactive in meeting and engaging with new people. And, on their first day on the job, be sure they ask their supervisor how he/she defines “excellence” in this position and the one or two most significant accomplishments they could deliver in the next six months. It helps set the stage for a strong start.
  3. Moving. They’ll likely move several times, whether for long periods or for short-term assignments. The assimilation involved in each situation is significant.
  4. Dating. They’ll most likely date several different people before potentially settling down into marriage. Since there is much more at stake than during high school dating, the pressure is that much greater. Have conversations about their “need to have” and “nice to have” qualities in a long-term relationship. It becomes an invisible filter as new people enter their lives.
  5. Social adjustments. It is important to make new friends once they go off to college, but it’s also important to maintain their long-term friendships. They’ll face lots of peer pressure (and you won’t be there to coach them through it), so it’s crucial for yours to never compromise their values to fit in with a certain social group or person. IF they have to change who they are to be accepted, it’s time to move on. Self confidence when meeting new people is HUGE. Patience and selectivity are the keywords.
  6. The academic transition. There’s no way around it—college is much harder than high school, and the competition is stiffer. Like with me, their first year might come as a shock as they’ll have to develop better study habits and time management skills to succeed.

Change can seem overwhelming, and it’s wise to view it as a constant and become as adaptable as possible. That goes for all of us, no matter what season of life we’re in!

If we can embrace it as an opportunity for growth and adventure, rather than something to be feared, it will prepare us for bigger things down the road. Encourage the young people in your life to be confident and courageous—and take it to heart yourself.

Do you have a young person who is leaving your home soon? Have you talked about any of the above topics? We’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to share your thoughts or comments!

 

 

 

3 Tips for Conquering Conflict

Question: What do the Montagues and Capulets have in common with convincing a five-year old to eat her brussels sprouts? Answer: Conflict! We can all relate to this on some level, right? Whether it’s conflict with a boss, coworker, spouse, child, friend, parent, teacher, or even a next door neighbor, the fact is conflict is a part of life! We aren’t going to always see eye-to-eye with everyone. What matters is what we do (and how we react) when conflict arises.

We invite you to use this article as an opportunity to perform a self-check. How do you rate on your levels of self control, understanding, and respectfulness when conflict arises in your life? What can you do to better handle conflict with others?

Here are three tips to help you manage conflict:

  1. Respect yourself and your right to be heard. Whether it’s peer pressure, a challenge to your rights, personal safety, or position, it’s important to stand up for yourself. Sometimes, we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or insecurity. Also, certain personality types (especially the “S’s” in the DISC model) are so focused on “keeping the peace” that they risk being taken advantage of, especially by people with dominant personalities. Although conflict is uncomfortable, we must respect ourselves in the process while being respectful to the other party. Don’t ever sacrifice your well-being or comfort for the sake of someone else. You deserve to be heard just as much as the other party.
  2. Strive to be an agreeable disagreer. So often, conflicts arise from misunderstandings that could have been prevented or at least controlled. Sometimes they’re based on different philosophical views or perspectives where there isn’t a right or wrong answer. (This is especially true when it comes to talking politics. The current political climate is pretty tense, and conflict is high—both on social media and in real life.) We may want the same outcome as others with whom we disagree, but simply have different strategies to get there. Always strive for mutual understanding, while being attentive to your tone and body language, but agree to disagree if that’s the case. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Consider having a heartfelt retroactive talk about it once things have calmed, and vow to do better next time if it didn’t go as smoothly as you’d have liked. And, remember that barking, yelling, and name calling won’t change anyone’s mind, anyway. Instead, it usually emboldens.
    Finally, if you’re in a heated conversation and your emotions are bubbling, try using this phrase: “I have a different perspective.” If the other party is disrespectful after that, simply suggest a follow up conversation at another time and move on.
  3. Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. We’ve all been victims of a wrong or a mistake. It causes anger, shame, resentment, depression, and worse. However, when we harbor grudges and refuse to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer. Strive for reconciliation whenever possible and don’t hesitate to seek support. Holding a grudge and/or refusing to ever speak to someone again will not make you feel better—it will feel like a burden that just won’t go away.

The ability to manage conflict is a hallmark of a true leader and a symbol of integrity and maturity. What is your favorite tip for handling conflict? Do you have any life lessons from past experiences you’d like to share?

Commit to Being a Lifelong Learner

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

-William Butler Yeats

 School’s out! I am not sure who loves to hear those words more—kids or teachers! Can I get an “amen?” Old and young alike are looking forward to sunset barbecues, beach days with family, copious amounts of sunshine, and a little more sleep. In my school days as a youngster in Wisconsin, it was all about, “Heading Up North’.” It’s a well-deserved break for everyone, and I hope yours is unforgettable!

However, it’s important to remember that just because school’s out doesn’t mean learning has to go out the window, as well. Education isn’t just for classrooms! Lifelong learning is a pursuit that will serve kids (and adults) well for the rest of their lives.

In this global, knowledge-based economy with an endless database of instantaneous information at our fingertips, students need an insatiable appetite for learning. This means not only expanding their subject knowledge, but also having diverse interests. What ways are you as a parent, mentor, or teacher helping them explore other subject areas that challenge their minds or satisfy their curiosity?

I grew up living the simple life in small-town Wisconsin. It was a childhood I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I spent most of my free time either playing sports or hanging out in the woods with my friends. But, while that got me through high school and college just fine, I began to notice something early in my career… most of my peers were more intellectually well-rounded than me. I especially noticed it at gatherings when politics and world affairs were discussed.

I knew I had some serious catching up to do, especially considering the growing number of client meetings I attended. Thankfully, once I committed to stepping up my intellectual game, my confidence grew. It made a huge difference in my investment management career. Looking back, I regret delaying that process.

Here are some ways you can help your teen (or yourself) engage in continued learning this summer and always. Encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone—I promise the benefits will be bountiful.

  • Learn a new sport or revisit one you haven’t played in awhile
  • Make an “I’m interested in____ list” and brainstorm ways to tackle it
  • Catch up on current events by reading REPUTABLE newspapers or magazines (sensationalist social media headlines don’t count)
  • Volunteer for a charity
  • Visit the library and check out a book on a topic of interest unrelated to your career. A country you’ve always wanted to visit. A hobby you’d like to pursue. A historical figure you’ve always admired. An era that intrigues you.
  • Read a book that wasn’t assigned to you or is outside the genre of something you’d normally read
  • Write a book, essay, or poem; cook a meal you’ve never made before; draw or paint something that interests you
  • Check out all the museums near you
  • Job shadow (or have coffee with) someone who is employed in a career field you’re considering

Encourage the young people you know to stretch their wings a little and be lifelong learners. It’ll help them advance in life and make them more well-rounded, dynamic, and confident people.

 

How do YOU keep sharp and keep building your repertoire of skills and knowledge?

 

 

Never Underestimate the Power of Your Words

Think of a time when someone spoke loving or encouraging words to you. Those words will probably stay with you forever. However, you can probably think of even more instances when others have been critical or mean spirited or gossiped about you. Those words won’t be easy to forget, either, but for a different reason.

Words have incredible power—they can be uplifting and change someone’s life for the better, or they can be destructive and leave people with wounds that will last a lifetime. The thing is, the only words we have power over are our own. Once spoken, there is no way to get them back. Plus, we can’t control what other people do with the words we’ve spoken. Even if you don’t want them to, your words could end up traveling in a million different directions and—depending on what you said—get you in trouble one day. (This is especially true for anything we put on social media.)

It’s crucial to understand that our words reveal much about our character. Our words are reflections of our trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, and respect for others. Also, they’re telltale signs of our temperament and self control. What do your words say about you? How are we doing as a nation?

In recent history, some horrific tragedies have occurred among young people when they were publicly ridiculed through gossip, texts, or social media posts. Some of these even resulted in suicide. So much heartache—all caused by words used heartlessly and irresponsibly. Yes, our words can literally be a matter of life or death, especially to people who are vulnerable.

Here are four ways to guard our words and ensure we’re received as a person of integrity:

  1. Only say things about other people you wouldn’t mind them hearing. Try it for a week and you will truly be amazed by how it affects your choice of words. (I wish every school would take this challenge. Imagine what it would do to bullying!)
  2. When offering constructive criticism, recite it back to yourself in your head before giving it to the person. How would you feel receiving this exact criticism? Be empathetic and CONSTRUCTIVE (not hurtful!).
  3. Do not put anything on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, or Instagram (even in private messages) that you would not want getting out. The internet is not private, ever.
  4. If you’re in a disagreement with someone, watch out for accusations, assumptions, and the tendency to name call. If you sense that you’re reaching the “boiling point,” pause for at least ten seconds to collect yourself and your thoughts. Above all, strive for mutual understanding and avoid words that incite emotion. A calm tone, especially in disagreements, makes a big difference.

When you apply these concepts in life, you’ll be admired for your tact, restraint, and uplifting spirit. You’ll see that your words can change your heart, body, and mind from the inside out, and your relationships with your friends, significant other, coworkers, and even your children will improve. And, if you can get others to join you, it might be the beginning of a wonderful movement in our culture! Are you up for it?

What are some ways you’ve helped build a positive culture of words

in your classroom, school, family, workplace, or community?

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.

Career Readiness: Excelling on the Job

“Some people dream of success… while others wake up and work for it.”

~Author Unknown

It’s day one on the job, and we can’t wait for our corner office, leather chair, and stunning view. Not so fast! Success on the job (including the perks!) takes hard work, and no one is entitled to it. In today’s competitive workplace, employers are managing their staffs with greater scrutiny than ever. Consequently, we must continually justify ourselves by adding value to our employer.

There’s a BIG difference between the MVPs in an organization and those whose careers stagnate. So for our students’ benefit, it’s critical that our career readiness training includes the secrets of workplace superstars. With so many teens and young adults lacking job experience, this segment offers a vital glimpse into the demands of the workplace. The better our students understand this now, the better equipped they will be to knock it out of the park from the first day.

Here are our recommendations for setting students up to excel in the workplace:

  1. Pursue a well-matched career. All-Star employees play to their strengths, and that begins with selecting a career that matches their skills, interests, and personal preferences. This is one reason why students should conduct a comprehensive assessment of themselves and career options (described in an earlier blog) before making a decision. It is also why parents and educators should play a role of guiding the process rather than directing it toward a particular outcome. There is no substitute for loving our work, and that can only be possible if it fits us like a glove.
  2. Model the qualities of workplace MVPs. Career success goes far beyond skills and smarts. Ask employers to identify what stands out among their most admired employees and you’ll hear qualities such as high standards of excellence, integrity, dependability, relational/communication skill, positivity/enthusiasm, motivation/strong work ethic, resilience, humility, loyalty, professionalism, focus, creativity, and a willingness to go above and beyond. Encourage your students to take these to heart.
  3. Deliver excellent job performance. It’s critical that students understand how they will likely be evaluated on the job. Their performance will link directly to their pay, promotion potential, and overall satisfaction. Generally speaking, their job reviews will include rankings on subjective criteria such as communication, attitude, teamwork, and dependability, as well as on specific goals for the performance period. We recommend sharing the following strategies with students starting on their first day:
  • Ask their supervisor to define excellence on the job and in each of the evaluation criteria. This offers invaluable insights how he/she will be rated in these subjective areas. Then, of course, deliver it!
  • Ask their supervisor to identify the one to three most significant accomplishments the employee could achieve in the next six months. Then, deliver them!
  • Ask their supervisor to share how he/she and the department are being evaluated and how they can contribute to their success. Then, deliver!
  1. Contribute to their employer’s success. MVPs go above and beyond. They proactively seek ways to build value in the eyes of their employer. And, the best way to do this is to positively impact the organization’s success. There are many ways to do this, but here are some of the most powerful:

Improve sales. This can be achieved through adding new customers, building customer loyalty, developing new products/services, and supporting the sales effort.

Reduce expenses. Lowering costs and improving efficiency directly benefit the bottom line.

Innovating. Whether it’s new products or services or better ways to position the company in sales settings, these efforts contribute to the employer’s brand and revenue growth.

Leading. Whether it’s leading projects, teams, or people, the potential for significant impact and reputational value are huge. Seize the moment and use every opportunity to demonstrate leadership skills.

By knowing how to deliver excellent job performance, your students will be poised to reach their full career potential!

Self Awareness: Where Career Readiness Begins

“Today you are You, that is truer than true.

There is no one alive that is Youer than You.”

~Dr. Suess

 

I love visiting with high schoolers and college students about their career plans. It takes me back to when I walked in their shoes. I remember feeling excited and confused at the same time. Eventually I found my way, but it was a circuitous path!

Some of my mentees are quite certain of their career interests and have laid out detailed plans to get there. However, most of my conversations go something like this:

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

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

Me:      So, what do you think?

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

Several things always strike me about these exchanges. One is how often they focus on what others think, rather than themselves. Two is the depth of anxiety, doubt, and pressure they are feeling about their future career. And, three, they are making this critical decision without the benefit of self awareness. They’re shooting in the dark, and it’s a shame. Fortunately, there is a better way!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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!

 

 

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

Is It Time to Revisit High School Course Requirements?

When we speak to educators and administrators at various conferences around the country, one of the questions we invariably ask is:

“How many of your schools have defined a well prepared graduate for life?”

Sadly, we’ve yet to see more than 10% of audience members respond affirmatively. Of those, comparatively few admit that their school has a specific pathway to build these required skills.

At the same time, out in the “real world,” we find that:

  1. Employers are lamenting the lack of soft skills among younger workers (and applicants), thereby necessitating additional training.
  2. The US ranked 19th out of 28 countries in college completion in 2012, according to an OECD study1. (It ranked first as recently as 1995.)
  3. Colleges are reporting significant increases in student visits to their counseling centers, citing factors such as depression and anxiety.

It is apparent from multiple perspectives that we are falling short in preparing our children for independent life. While this is a complex challenge with many contributors, I’d like to share what I consider to be a primary source of the problems: the course requirements for high school graduation.

The US economy has changed dramatically in the past few decades, requiring different skills than before. Also, post-secondary education has become much more popular, which argues for greater advance preparation.  And, jobs for students during high school are more difficult to come by, limiting opportunities for valuable workplace skill development. In light of these factors, the question is whether our education requirements have appropriately adapted. Many believe they have not—and we agree.

At LifeSmart, we believe students need greater applied learning and skill development and practical preparation for independent living. This would significantly enhance both career- and life-readiness for our nation’s high school graduates.

While people may disagree on which courses deserve the status of a requirement (versus an elective), we believe the following would help address the skill gap:

  • College and Career Readiness: this would prepare students for their next education steps, as well as the four career mastery stages: exploring, qualifying, marketing, and excelling. Valuable perspectives from employers would be included.
  • Independent Living: this would offer students a clear glimpse into “life on their own,” including leadership, soft skills, relationship building, budgeting, and everyday living skills.
  • 21st Century Skills: this would help students build the analytical, problem solving, collaborative, and communication skills needed to succeed.
  • Personal Finance: this would include the basics of budgeting, banking, investing, credit, identity protection, insurance, car buying, and loan applications. (It would also improve our nation’s financial literacy!)
  • Entrepreneurship: this course would expose students to all aspects of creating and managing a business (and learning about capitalism in the process!). Knowing that most students will work in a business or organization, this would offer valuable insights into how the “real world” operates.
  • Communications: this course would include both verbal and written personal and professional communications. In today’s highly collaborative workforce, communication skills are a must. The casualness of contemporary communication has become a major impediment to many young people adapting to college and professional environments.

For some schools, this would involve converting existing electives into requirements, and others would involve new course offerings. Of course, it would be helpful to incorporate these practical skills in other classes where possible.

These are our ideas. We’d love to hear yours!