Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part Two)

angry-annoyed-cafe-52608In last week’s newsletter (which you can access here) we shared four preventive parenting strategies to help prevent and reduce teen anxiety. Welcome back for part two, where we will share five more strategies to address this troubling problem. Parents, thank you for your care, diligence, and desire to do better.

  1. Lacking affirmation of worth and value. If there is one generality we observe in today’s teens and young adults, it’s that they feel undervalued for WHO they are. When parents don’t take the time to affirm their children’s uniqueness and value or share their belief in them and their future, kids become dispirited, disillusioned, insecure, and anxious. And, who can blame them? Parents, we need to step up our game in this department. Call out what you appreciate and admire about them on a regular basis… especially their character traits. Tell them how much they matter. It’ll add security and a spring to their step. #valuethewho
  2. Social drama and unhealthy relationships. Although the anxiety-laden social lives of teens probably date back to the days of Fred Flintstone, the advent of social media takes it to an entirely new level. Much has been written on the subject, so we simply want to emphasize a few things. One is for your teen to be self aware of the impact social media has on his/her life in terms of stressors, privacy, and relationships. Two is for them to be highly selective in making friends with people who share their interests and values. Three is for them to avoid social drama and gossip like the plague. Four is for them to only surround themselves with positive influences. Finally, if they’re experiencing pain or anxiety from a breakup or no invitation to/acceptance for prom, reassure them that only 2 percent of marriages originate from being high school sweethearts! Now, that’s perspective! #choosewisely
  3. Too much tech, too little relational engagement. With the addictive nature of our smartphones and screens, teens, parents, and entire families are losing something besides their attention spans: relational intimacy and engagement. Initially, it affected teens most, but increasingly it has become an issue for parents as well. Parents, this is where tough love and good modeling will pay dividends. Value face-to-face time over tech time and be sure your teens don’t take their phones to bed at night! #facetofaceisbest
  4. Family dysfunction and inadequate support systems. From a child’s standpoint, one of the greatest sources of emotional stability and security is being part of a loving, well-functioning family. However, one of the greatest societal changes over the last several decades has been the deterioration in this system. For example, today, just 69% of children are living in two-parent families, due in large part, to births from unmarried parents and to divorce. While every situation is unique, and many, many healthy children are growing up in loving single-parent families, we must be sensitive to the impact our family situations are having on our children, and take steps to ensure that they have other caring men and women actively involved in their lives. We owe it to them. #caringadults
  5. Insufficient preparation for independence. We have a systemic problem in that parents and educators often assume the other is building the leadership and life skills students need to succeed. So, predictably, many important skills are falling through the cracks. In addition to practical skills like cooking and budgeting, important “soft skills” like dependability, work ethic, resilience, decision-making, and integrity are often deemphasized in favor of traditional subjects. This, along with parenting styles like helicoptering, is creating a lack of preparedness in handling the responsibilities and stresses of adulthood. Parents, we must take the leadership role and not assume “they’re learning it in school.” Often, they’re not. #adulting

Parents, there are a couple of other tips we’d like to share that will reduce your child’s anxiety. First, always keep your cool no matter how volatile the topic and to remember that you were a teen once, too. It’s so easy to apply our current wisdom as adults to their age and stage! That’s neither fair nor realistic. Second, be careful not to “over share” the various challenges and situations you are facing. After all, you’re their parent, not their BFF. Finally, always remember the importance of having fun. Sometimes, in our quest to see our children succeed, we can lose sight of that. #enjoytheseyears

Next week, we’ll share some ideas for educators in our quest to reverse the direction in teen anxiety. Catch you then.

Student Anxiety: An Ounce of Prevention (Part One)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What I Wish I Knew Before College, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Build a Growth Mindset in Your Students and teens

dirt-gardening-grow-1214405Looking back, our high school days were great, okay, or disappointing (or worse!) depending on the year. So, we should expect that our kids will be starting this new school year with excitement, ambivalence, and maybe even dread, often depending on the previous year. Regardless of where your children/students are attitudinally, here’s one thing they can all benefit from as they make their grand entrance—taking the Growth Challenge.

What’s the Growth Challenge, you might ask? Here’s a quick synopsis: Have your students/children take note of where they are now in key aspects of their life. Then, have them identify some focus areas for growth/improvement. Next, encourage them to develop plans to meet their growth goals. Finally, have them assess their progress quarterly (and make adjustments to their plan as needed). In the business world, we call this the “plan, do, and review” cycle, and it works for people too!

As parents, teachers, and mentors, we play a big role in the success of the next generation. Of course, the responsibility for their choices does not fall on us, but it is our job to equip, encourage, and empower them. One powerful way is to help facilitate the Growth Challenge. Here are a few steps to get you going.

  1. Begin with a holistic self assessment. Have your child/students record how satisfied they are in terms of: 1) academics (grades, specific subjects, study habits, etc.), 2) relationships (friendships,, family, network), 3) physical health and well being (fitness, health, nutrition), 4) emotional and spiritual health (self worth, confidence, contentment, faith, gratitude, temperament), 5) leadership/soft skills (integrity, dependability, work ethic, team mindedness, time management, professionalism), and 6) interests/extracurricular activities. 

Then, based on their self evaluations, have them identify their greatest growth priorities for the coming year for each category. Which could have the biggest impact in the near future? In the long-term? Give them some time to think about this, and encourage them to record their thoughts in a journal or device.

  1. Have them develop their top overall priorities based on their conclusions from each category. Parents, teachers, and mentors, you can help them prioritize by sharing your own knowledge or experience, but don’t make up their minds for them. (For example, if a student is hoping to enter the military after high school, physical training might fall higher on the priority list than a student who plans to intern at an art gallery.)

Encourage them to record their three to five top priorities for growth. Don’t let them go overboard making a laundry list. Next, have them set specific, achievable goals for each of their top priorities. What would constitute success to them? What are some measurable ways that they can track their progress? Then, have them develop action steps to help their goals become a reality.

  1. Finally, suggest a quarterly review (with a mentor, counselor, parent, or teacher) to assess their progress, and make any midcourse suggestions or corrections necessary to achieve their goals.

Not only will this “growth challenge” help them progress this year, but it is a discipline that will serve them for a lifetime.

Let’s start building a growth mindset in our children, teens, and students. The future belongs to them, but it starts with us.

If you want to see a sample “Growth Challenge” mock-up for reference, you can find it here.

Parenting “To-Do List” For Parents of Incoming Freshmen: August

adult-bar-brainstorming-1015568.jpgHow can it be? We’ve arrived at the last month of summer, and for many, the first month of school. Now is the time of the “official” launch—the time we arrive on campus, unpack the car, move them into the dorm, and drive home with a much lighter load. Although it’s bittersweet, give yourself a pat on the back. You did it! You raised an adult!

Now that August is here, we are down to the wire when it comes to our preparation checklist. Free time is a scarcity. Your teen’s mind will be preoccupied by their upcoming transition, so parents, you’ll want to keep the conversations light and positive. And if you ever feel pressed to spend any quality time with them, here’s a tip: shopping to furnish their dorm and prepare for their new digs offers many opportunities for fun and sharing! Suggest putting a date on the calendar to shop for all the last-minute items they need to get settled in their new place (i.e. bedding, mini fridge, fan, closet organizers, toiletries, mattress topper, dishes, etc.)

More than anything, this last month should focus on two topics:

1)      A communication strategy after the launch. It’s important to discuss what your degree of engagement will be once your teen moves out. For some parent/child relationships, it works to establish a weekly communication schedule (not daily!), with a call at a time and day that works best for the student. Interim calls, texts, and e-mails should originate from the son/daughter, except in the case of a periodic, “thinking of you.” Parents, as hard as it may be, this is the most important time to not helicopter your student with frequent communication! It’s crucial that you do not hound your student, let them know you’re worried about them, or burden them with your sadness over missing them. A parent’s ability to let go is most prominently observed by how well he or she handles their communications with their young adult.

During the first week, parents may want to arrange a call after the first three days in order to have a quick check-in and make sure all needs are met. However, after that, a weekly call is recommended (not more than twice per week). Parents, use every opportunity to encourage your sons/daughters to make their own decisions. So, when your student calls with “how to” questions, ask them what they think, first. It reinforces their need to develop independence and to learn to problem solve independently.

2)      Anything else your teen wants to talk about. Your job as parent is making sure that they feel completely confident and equipped. Ask them if there’s anything they’d like to discuss or anything they’d like to do before they go. This is a great opportunity to share from your own experience and open up to them. If they want to discuss the latest sports news or their current romantic relationship, then that’s great, too. What’s important as that they know they always have a loving, trusting, and communicative encourager in their life—YOU.

Parents, this season can be a profoundly emotional experience, so be sure you pamper yourselves afterwards for a job well done. Your eagle is about to soar, and you helped make it happen. There isn’t a feeling like it in the world.

Other Pathways Note: this commentary and series has been focused more on the college-bound teen. We recognize there are other paths like the military, a gap year, the workforce, serving in non-profits, and entering a local community college or trade school. Most of the preceding perspective remains applicable, but there are unique challenges with each option. 


You can find the July “to-do list” here.
You can find the June “to-do list” here.
You can find the May “to-do list” here.
You can find the April “to-do list” here.

Parenting Teens: The Fun Factor

beach-blue-sky-cheerful-452738.jpgParenting is hard. Being a teenager is hard. Change is hard. For those of you with a teen, especially one who’s heading off to college in the near future, you’re probably going through a lot right now (as are they!). These days, everything seems so much more competitive (and expectations are higher all around), so it’s hard to not fall into the temptation to be a performance-based parent, always pushing our kids to excel in every area of their lives. Taking everything too seriously in the quest for success.

But this summer, I encourage you to slow down. Don’t fret about the change to come. Don’t fret about grades, club memberships, sports performance, potential elite college acceptance. Right now, I urge all parents to focus on connecting with their teen, building relationship capital (which includes mutual trust and support), and focusing on simply having fun.

I’m not suggesting you let important things slip through the cracks (college deadlines, course selection, activity sign-up dates), but I am suggesting that you spend more time on doing things that relax you and your kids and show them how much you truly care. Here are some suggestions of things to do with your teen this summer:

  1. Attend a major league baseball game. They’re long, fun, and allow for plenty of time to sit and catch up with your family. One of the most classic “bonding experiences” for all parents and kids!
  2. Go camping. Even if you’re not a “camper,” everyone should try camping at least once! It’s the ultimate opportunity for bonding, simply because you often don’t have wifi, nature is at your fingertips, you can play board games by lantern light, you can tell stories and share memories around the campfire, and enjoy slower-paced activities like fishing. It is a pause in our busyness that refreshes.
  3. If you plan on going on any sort of summer getaway, let your teen have a say in planning it. Ask them where they’d like to go, what they’d like to do while they’re there, where they’d like to eat, etc.
  4. Take a cooking class together. Food is the greatest love language, and cooking is a wonderful way to relax. Even teenagers enjoy learning how to prepare new dishes and try new foods. And if that dish doesn’t turn out so hot, who cares?
  5. Have a family movie night. Let them choose their favorite film (and add yours to make it a double feature!) and goodies. Yes, even if they’re unhealthy snacks!
  6. Arrange a family game night complete with sharing each of your favorite memories and things.

Above all, the most important thing is to make sure your teen feels seen, heard, understood, and valued. Spending time with them away from all exterior pressures is a surefire way to strengthen your relationship and your mutual trust. With how hectic life can get, it’s crucial to make sure you take some time this summer to do nothing other than HAVE FUN and enjoying each other’s company.

This is the first installment of our series on summer fun with our teenagers. Next week, we will talk about other fun activities we promise your teen won’t think are lame. Here’s to summer relaxing and bonding!

Parenting “To-Do List” For Parents of Incoming College Freshmen: July

accomplishment-adult-bisexual-1152500Parents, you’re in your last full month. They say you have eighteen summers with your child, and, well….you have entered the ninth inning. In about a month or two, your teen (or young adult) will be opening a new chapter, beginning college, and starting their adult life. It’s a season filled with emotion for all parties, because you’ll be starting a new chapter, too. After all, we say “good bye” to their childhood and “hello” to their adulthood. So, take it all in, but be hopeful. You have a new, adult-to-adult relationship to look forward to.

Right now, your son/daughter may be choosing his or her first semester course schedule, and anxiously and increasingly looking ahead. Reality is setting in (for both of you). This is a great time to go over two related topics, in order to build confidence and be fully prepared: academics and career.

It’s important for your student to fully understand the difference between high school and college academics. There is much more expected, classes are fewer and longer, competition is stiffer, and exams and essay requirements are far more complex. Here are a few things to go over when it comes to academics:

  • Have them set goals for the first year. What would they constitute as a “successful” experience (e.g., a certain GPA, etc.)?
  • At this time, they need to think of academics as their JOB and their PRIMARY focus. I hate to say it, but party animals don’t last long in the big leagues. Their college education is the biggest investment they (and/or their parents) will make in their future so it’s crucial they make a good return on their investment. Study first, everything else later.
  • Don’t go overboard in taking too many credits the first semester. My personal recommendation is to keep it at 16 or less. There are simply too many life adjustments that are made during that first semester at school, so I would advise not overloading the class schedule in order to avoid unnecessary pressure.
  • Their daily schedules will be far less structured than they were in high school (other than making sure they’re at lectures and labs on time, their day is entirely their own!), so developing a daily plan is crucial. Make sure they always schedule in study time, eating time, exercise time, and relaxing time. Have them find a good planner they’ll use on a regular basis!
  • Time management is essential. Does your teen struggle with managing his or her time or with procrastination? Let’s nip that in the bud now! Time is a precious asset, so developing a daily to-do list is paramount. I recommend organizing it by urgency, always understanding that work comes before play.
  • Take full advantage of professor’s office hours. (Trust me, they’re there to help, and showing up at their hours shows them you’re eager to learn.)
  • Develop an effective and repeatable study method. Complete required readings four days in advance before exams so there is ample time to review and build in “reps.” I devote an entire chapter in What I Wish I Knew at 18 to studying in post-secondary academics. Check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Secondly, now is the time to start (if you haven’t already) talking to your teen about their future career. Isn’t that the main reason they’re going to college, after all? Here are a few things regarding their future career that you can start talking about this summer:

  • The monetary investment in a college education is far too significant to see it as anything other than preparation for a successful career (no matter what some academics say!). Practically, career earnings need to produce a reasonable return on college investment, taking into account their time spent and any debt incurred.
  • Career and major selection should consider several factors, such as: interests, skills, current demand, ability to meet the qualifications, personal preferences (work environment, hours, stress level, team vs. solo, etc.), expected/desired income, etc. It should be one of their best-researched decisions, and, yet, colleges don’t always place career/major selection as a top priority for their students. Encourage them to do career exploration surveys and talk to actual practitioners in careers before making a final selection. And, make sure they contact the department heads to see what percent of graduates landed a job in their desired field. Many, many majors do NOT lead naturally to jobs in that area. A recent survey showed that 36 percent of college graduates regret the major they chose. 36 percent! That’s the downside of not putting in the necessary effort when selecting a major/career.
  • Remember, the vast majority of jobs are filled by people who have an “inside advantage.” Thus, students need to be building their professional network NOW. It is never too early to start networking (and it starts with you, mom and dad!).

As you enjoy this summer with your teen, make it one to remember. Cook their favorite meals, watch their favorite movies, experience your favorite sports or activities together, and take lots of pictures. It’s a great time to build memories for a new and exciting adult-adult relationship that’s just around the corner. Although their new adventure awaits, there’s no place like home.

P.S.—Happy Fourth of July to all of our friends, family, and followers! We hope you have a safe and celebratory holiday with your loved ones.

6 Ways to Create Healthy Technology-Use Boundaries For Your Teen

beautiful-cafe-close-up-248021.jpg

The school year keeps teens very busy. They wake up early, take classes for the majority of the day, then participate in afterschool activities, do their homework, and get as much as sleep as they can. So, fortunately for them, the summer can be an opportunity for them to have a little breathing room, relax, and simply be a teen. However… I think the parents who’ve been home with their kids over the last week or two can all agree on one thing…

TEENS ARE GLUED TO THEIR PHONES!

We’ve probably all said it: “Back in my day, we didn’t even have cell phones…” And yes, that’s the truth. And we did just fine! However, it’s important to acknowledge the element of connectedness that millennials and the following generations possess. Thanks to the advancement of technology—most notably the myriad of social media networks and smart phones—teens are able to be more in touch than ever and engage in the world around them in a way that was never possible for us. The sense of community and camaraderie that is fostered from this connectedness is pretty amazing!

That being said, it’s also not okay for teens (and anyone else, really) to sit around, scrolling all day! It’s not good for our health, physically OR mentally. In fact, for many, it can actually be an addiction. Have you ever noticed how your teen (or you?) reflexively reach for their phone, even if they don’t have something specific to check?

It’s vital the teens in your life know that there’s a time and a place (and an amount!) for technology, social media, and smart phone use. Although it has many benefits, technology has some downsides that we need to consider. We should be considering these “cons,” so to speak, for the social, psychological, and physical health of our younger generation.

Here are some factors to ponder:

  • We text or email rather than talk. This is having significant consequences on communication skills—ask any college professor or employer. We now have a bull market in remedial reading and writing programs, and many young people are having difficulty carrying on face-to-face conversations with adults. Good luck with those job interviews!
  • Our lives are more distracted because of our numerous interruptions (a text message, a new Facebook message, an Instagram comment, an event reminder, an e-mail, etc.) and our attention spans have shrunk.
  • Kids spend less time using their imaginations, reading, and being active.
  • We lose the ability to read body language and social cues in other people.
  • Our waistlines are growing as we’ve become more sedentary.
  • We sleep poorly, as online activities keep us up too late and the constant stream of information makes it difficult to turn off our brains. Also, staring at a screen before bedtime can mess up our internal clock and make sleep more difficult.
  • We are being consumed by “busyness” and it is affecting our responsiveness to true priorities, such as family togetherness, activity, spirituality, service, etc.

I know I’m probably sounding like Fred Flintstone (well, when I was a teen, an in-state long distance call was $3 a minute!), but I believe there’s some middle ground. When I hear about car accidents occurring because of drivers’ texting, or when I observe my daughter and her friends’ texting when they’re supposed to be enjoying each other’s company (I’ve also seen the same from grown adults when they’re supposed to be out on a date), I think the pendulum may have swung too far.

Here are some ways you can encourage the young people in your life to be smart about technology use. Let’s help them (and us!) find that middle ground:

  • Strongly consider setting technology-free hours within your home. For example, between the hours of 6pm and 7 pm for dinner, and from 10pm until morning.
  • Parents, place limits on the amount of time your children spend on technology each day. Be on guard for any collateral damage from technology use (e.g., relationships, communication, productivity, motivation, anxiety, attention spans, irritability).
  • Lead by example (THIS ONE IS HUGE) and show the teens you know how to enjoy life’s special moments without their phone. Go for a walk and enjoy good conversation (no need to post a filtered Instagram shot of the scenery!). Go outside and play volleyball or basketball or kick-the-can. Go for an all-day hike on the weekend, and challenge everyone to leave their phones alone the entire time.
  • Disengage from phone use when you’re together at coffee shops, restaurants, and the like. All-too-often I’ve seen parents as phone addicted in public as their kids. Isn’t this supposed to be “quality time?”
  • If you’re a teacher, make sure your classroom is a phone-free zone if at all possible. Encourage practices that help strengthen your students’ creativity, activity, and resourcefulness.
  • Remember that setting boundaries/limits on technology use can be the greatest source of “fireworks” between parents and their teens. However, it’s important parents stay strong on this one because the love you exert today will pay off in productivity and greater health for them in the years to come. Consider looking at askdoctor.org for some sample “contracts” regarding technology use that you can have your teens sign.

Time is a precious asset and that relationships are designed to be personal.  Your brain was designed to be active. Your body was designed to move. Don’t let your electronic devices interfere with any of that!

The Most Important Thing for Teens to Learn This Summer

adult-backlit-bottles-697244.jpgSummertime offers many wonderful opportunities to enjoy, explore, and create. For some of us, it means a family trip to Disneyland or camping in the closest state park. Maybe it means roasting marshmallows in the backyard or going to concerts in the park with your neighbors. We might read books, take a class just for the heck of it, or learn a new skill. We might even shoot our record round of golf (here’s hoping!)! The possibilities are endless.

But, here’s an idea that meets the “enjoy, explore, and create” test, but costs nothing, can be done anywhere, is not weather dependent, is sure to please all involved, and might just be the most valuable summer project EVER for your teenager (and maybe even for you)! Any guesses what it may be?

The answer is…

Develop your very own Personal Balance Sheet. (I’m not talking about the financial kind.) Sure, it might not sound as thrilling as white water rafting or a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, but hear me out. This is important.

The high school years should be a time of self-discovery and building confidence and self-awareness. You know, being able to answer the fundamental questions of: Who am I? What do I uniquely have to offer? And lastly, What are my opportunities for fulfillment? After all, if your teens haven’t already, they’ll soon be taking courses or attending programs on college and career planning to plot their course for the future. All of this planning implies that students are sufficiently self-aware to judge correctly.

But, is this true?

In my visits with high school students, I’m struck by their lack of self-awareness. All too often, I see students who are insecure about their future because they don’t perceive their value. They don’t understand how they can make a difference with their assets and passions (IF they even take the time to consider them).  Too many students are making fundamental life decisions about their future without first having clarity about their identity and dreams. It’s the proverbial cart before the horse.

To address this need, we’ve developed a self-discovery leadership assignment that we call the Personal Balance Sheet. Think of it as a personal adaptation of the balance sheet from the business world, but with different categories and without actual numbers. It inventories our assets and our constraints (which is “liability” in business terms) and creates an overall statement of our value proposition to this world.

The Personal Balance sheet, which you can access here, is a fantastic project for the entire family or for schools to assign over the summer. It begins with the students taking an open-ended self-assessment of what they consider to be their greatest assets and constraints. But, even more important, they conduct interviews with selected adults in their lives (e.g., parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, mentors) who know them well and have their best interests at heart. From them, they receive their perspectives of their greatest strengths and constraints. The initial list developed by the student is enriched by the invaluable viewpoints of others. It’s both inspirational and revealing.

The end result of completing this exercise is a much more complete and accurate understanding of ourselves—who we are, what we have to offer, and how we might direct our future to make a difference! Just in time for all of our next step preparations, but this time, from a position of strength and clarity!

May this be the summer of self discovery for the teen(s) in your life!

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

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In the blink of an eye June has already arrived, which means we are in for four weeks of graduation ceremonies and parties, Father’s Day celebrations, last minute college paperwork, dorm room shopping, and much more. Not surprisingly, June can be a bittersweet month for both parents and teens. It’s exciting and rewarding to be closing the high school chapter, but also daunting to know this is your teen’s last summer before leaving home (and for teens, this is often when they face the brutal reality that their friends will soon be scattering).  It’s why June is a great month to discuss your teen’s upcoming social transition, as it can be the most challenging aspect of “the launch.”

One pitfall young people can encounter during this huge social transition—saying goodbye to old friends and making new ones—is compromising their values in an effort to quickly “fit in” and have a sense of belonging. It’s a very strong pull, as is the temptation to rush the process. To reduce these risks, here are some suggestions for parents to share with their grad about the upcoming social transition:

  • Have them identify the values, qualities, and common interests of their current best friends. In other words, why are they their BFF’s? This list can be an invisible filter to apply in their new environment with the new people they meet.
  • Encourage them to be patient. Friendship and love take time (and the right timing). Remember, it took a while to make and choose their current friends. Having impatience when it comes to social matters can be the biggest source of mistakes and regrets. It takes time to build trust, and it’s worth it.
  • Avoid destructive, toxic, and negative people like the plague.
  • Get involved with organizations and activities where they can be surrounded with like-minded people. Don’t be a hermit.
  • When it comes to dating, take a 3D approach. This means, be deliberate, discriminating, and discerning. If things start to get serious, consider how he or she stacks up on the compatibility meter. How do your values and long term goals align? Remember, forever is a very long time.
  • Stay invested in current friends, but recognize that with this huge life transition, some may fade away, and that’s completely normal.
  • Periodic feelings of loneliness are common, despite being surrounded by thousands of other students. Talk to your teen about taking advantage of their current support system, but also encourage them to take some initiative in forming new relationships.

Lastly, I want to discuss one of the best graduation gifts any parent could ever give. Here at LifeSmart (and in my family), we call it a Blessing Packet. Here’s how it works:

  • Consider the most prominent people in your child’s life. Who has encouraged them, taught them important lessons, or influenced them in a positive way? (Think long-term friends, relatives, coaches, mentors, teachers, etc.) Ask if they would write a personal letter to the proud graduate, including words of affirmation, encouragement, fond memories, perspectives of their uniqueness, inspirational quotes, and well wishes for the future.
  • Have them send you their letters in a private envelope. Once all letters are received, put them in a gift wrapped box and deliver it to your grad at the appropriate time (probably after graduation). Even in a world where material things seem to be of utmost importance, this is a gift that will mean the world to them.
  • Parents, make sure you also write one, too. This is the perfect opportunity to express your feelings (many of which you may have been stuffing or holding on to) and share with your son or daughter what a blessing they are in your life. Speaking from personal experience as one who has written two for his children, it may be one of the most emotional, yet rewarding things you’ve ever done.

Although this month can be full of unknowns, it also can be a really special month of bonding between parents and their teens. Make sure you never take your time with them for granted and try to make the most of their last summer at home (and really, their last summer as a kid).

Happy summer!