Five Tips for a Purposeful and Engaging Summer with Your Teen

I think we can all agree it feels like Christmas was just a month ago. But in a flash, we’ve blazed through winter (which for us Pacific Northwesterners means suffering through copious amounts of rain) and the end of the school year is already upon us. In fact, some college students only have a couple weeks left!

So, now what? Your teen will be home with you for the summer until you move them into the dorms or they take off to start a new career. What can you do as their parent to make their summer at home memorable, engaging, and most importantly, purposeful?

I believe summer is the best time for us as parent to take advantage of our teens’ presence and slip into some special moments that would otherwise difficult to accomplish. Without further ado, here are five tips for a purposeful and engaging summer with your teen:

  1. Dream about the future together. Over a cup of coffee or at their favorite place, talk with your teen about his or her dreams. What do they want to major in and why? What places do they hope to travel to over the next couple of years? Share your own life experience and how you’ve made your personal dreams a reality. Consider completing this values checklist together, (and this personal balance sheet, if they’re up for it) and let them know you’re always available to talk.
  2. Go on a hike. What better way to build relationship capital with your teen than getting some fresh air? Sometimes new experiences and adventures facilitate conversations you wouldn’t have had elsewhere.
  3. Encourage your teen to invite their friends over to your home. Play host or hostess for a night and get to know the people your teen hangs out with most. Be familiar with their third party voices and know that your teen’s three closest relationships are the ones that impact his or her life the most. It’s a great opportunity to see your teen in her or her element!
  4. Attend a sporting event together. Baseball season is in full swing, and enjoying the fresh spring/summer air while watching a game of ball with your teen is a great way to bond! A round of golf is another great choice—potentially a sport you can enjoy for a lifetime.
  5. Participate in a service project together. Ask your teen what causes she or he is passionate about. Seek out your local churches, shelters, or nonprofit organizations to find what ways you can get involved with your community through volunteering. Impacting the world around you will be an incredibly inspiring, uplifting, and relationship building experience that you’ll never forget.

 

Remember, your teen experiences a ton of pressure during the school year with academics, extracurricular activities, plans for future, and more.. So, be sure to use the summer months to help them decompress and do things they wouldn’t otherwise have time for. These young years will be gone in the blink of an eye (for both of you)!

What timeless memories can you build with your teen this summer?

 

Finding a Career That Fits YOU

Life is filled with important decisions, but few are as critical as selecting a well-matched career. Not only is it our primary income source, but it also is the most direct way we apply our skills and talents in life. With all of the time we spend in our careers, it pays to make this one of the most well researched decisions in life. That means inventorying our skills, interests, and personal preferences, and researching different career options that play to our strengths, are realistically accessible, and will offer fulfillment and sufficient income.

Many high schoolers feel inordinate pressure to know NOW what career they should pursue, but we believe this is premature and speculative. Students are still discovering themselves, they haven’t been exposed to a variety of career options, and they haven’t even taken advanced courses. Accordingly, we believe it’s more appropriate to train our teens on the process of career exploration rather than placing undue pressure on them to decide on specifics at this time. For most, it’s far too soon.

Educators and parents, you play an important role in facilitating a career exploration process that promotes research and discovery, rather than forcing a definitive conclusion. In this spirit, we offer these suggestions to you:

  1. Build career awareness and curiosity. Encourage students to become career conscious and to connect with people who have potentially interesting careers. Parents, you can take a leadership role in making the introductions.
  2. Take career assessment surveys. Many sites (e.g., careercruising.com and careerbridge.wa.gov) offer excellent information and assessments to assist with career exploration. Often, they include both potential careers and industries to help students channel their interests and skills. They also provide valuable information regarding demand, qualifications, and marketing tips (resume writing, interviewing, etc.). Importantly, students should consider why particular career areas rose to the top of their list and why others were at the bottom. It’s a great self discovery exercise.
  3. Consider all key career selection factors. Selecting a career match is a multi-faceted decision. Key considerations include: 1) skills and aptitudes, 2) interests, 3) ability to obtain the necessary qualifications, 4) personal preferences (e.g., personality compatibility, workplace environment, stress level, relational vs. task orientation, work hours, flexibility), 5) demand, 6) income requirements/potential, and 7) location.
  4. Determine whether it’s a career, hobby, or volunteer opportunity. Many students are majoring in areas where actual job opportunities are scarce. In such cases, it may be wise to pursue these interests in their free time rather than enduring a fruitless and frustrating job search.
  5. Parents, remember it’s about them, not you. We often observe high school students planning to pursue the same career as their parent(s). Some of this comes through osmosis (fine), but other times, it is coming from parents who are actively steering (or even directing) this decision (not fine).
  6. Educators, be sure to invite recruiters into your classroom. Classroom visits from recruiters, as well as career fairs, are great opportunities for students to broaden their career horizons and gain real world perspectives from practitioners.
  7. Encourage multiple options. It’s common for students to change their minds regarding their career or college major. It’s also common for students to be so narrowly focused on a specific career that they become discouraged and stagnant when that exact job isn’t available. It always helps to have a Plan B and C to get in the game. Perfection isn’t always possible when you begin your career.

Your students will be well served by taking a rigorous and thoughtful approach to career selection. We invite you to explore our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources to support their efforts.

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

4 Tips to Help Your High School Student Succeed

We just finished up an amazing week at the National Dropout Prevention Network conference in Detroit, MI. The LifeSmart team was able to share our perspective on what we can do as educators, mentors, and parents to help set teens up for success and graduate high school with their peers. Consequentially, we’ve got high school graduation on our minds—even if Halloween hasn’t yet arrived!

Are you a parent or a teacher of high schoolers? Have you ever wondered what YOU can do to prevent the potential of your students’ dropping out, or how you can equip your student for optimum success? Unfortunately, one million kids leave school every year without a diploma. We’d like to share with you our top four ways to equip high school students for success and help them cross the graduation finish line.

  1. Instill resilience. Let’s face it. Life gets difficult. And it can be especially difficult for students who are dealing with struggles at home (broken families, drugs and alcohol, emotional/verbal/physical abuse), or who come from a low-income background. One of the most important qualities for young people to embody is resilience; learning to handle adversity with courage, integrity, and determination. Take time to talk with your teen about obstacles (because that’s exactly what they are, obstacles—not derailers!) and the importance of overcoming them, growing from them, and, ultimately, becoming an “inspirational encourager” to others who are facing similar challenges. Always be mindful of what other side to today’s valley might look like..
  2. Cultivate your relationship. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, it’s important to cultivate a relationship with your student, especially if you notice the dropout “warning signs.” Take time to talk and learn what makes him/her tick. Are they feeling alone? Is there a certain subject they just don’t get? Are they overwhelmed with too many commitments? Position yourself as an ally—someone who can be trusted—and cultivate a relationship of trust, acceptance, and encouragement with your teen. And, while you’re at it, always seek opportunities to affirm their uniqueness and value. It’s a powerful way to build hope and belief in themselves and their future. They’ll never forget you for it.
  3. Rely on community resources. I’m sure you’ve heard the age-old saying, “It takes a village.” It’s true! Without the wider community supporting the schools, and without parents and schools relying on resources within the community, success would be hard to come by. There are great organizations out there (like the Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, and more) that can help your student make friends, bond to other positive influences, and stay on track. Also, encourage them to identify their interests and passions, to offer a glimpse of what their future can look like. It builds motivation, too.
  4. Make sure your child is surrounded with positive influences. Remember, your student needs to have other wise and encouraging voices in their life other than their parents and teachers. In fact, research shows that each student needs at least five adults in their life who are there to offer support, wisdom, advice, trust, and encouragement. Sometimes kids listen to non-parent voices the best! The same goes for their friends. If you notice your student is hanging around with the wrong crowd, or tapping into destructive media influences, address it immediately.

 

Our students are our future—and their success is of utmost importance. Let’s position ourselves as their safety net and rally around them with the support the need to ensure their graduation and life success.

Will We Ever Let Them Go: Part Three

Our nation’s colleges and universities have a powerful, two-fold influence on preparing young adults for life success. On one hand, they play a role as receiver of our high school graduates. On the other hand, after four plus years of educational effort, they serve as senders of their graduates to employers, communities, and independent life. They’re rather like the third leg of the relay race from parents to schools to colleges to employers.

The implications of this positioning are profound. College educators, via their admissions criteria, have an enormous influence on the high school agenda, especially in the area of course requirements. They are the proverbial tail wagging the dog when it comes to high school academic programs. Frankly, I believe this is an undue, and not always beneficial, influence.  Academicians, who often lack work experience outside of the classroom, are setting the agenda. Based on their actions, they seem to undervalue practical leadership/life skills training (e.g., personal finance) that is so relevant to students. Otherwise you’d see these courses reflected in their admission requirements! Not surprisingly, high schools design their course menus to satisfy the demands of colleges. That’s an issue. I would argue, a big issue.

Secondly, college course offerings and their own graduation requirements are often lacking in practical life training. Rather, their first few years emphasize traditional academic subjects that are often redundant from high school, and irrelevant to life after college for many students. In other words, college course requirements appear disconnected from their role in preparing students for independent living. This is also a big issue.

Thirdly, colleges are often shortchanging students in the area of employability and job acquisition. Despite their massive investment, students are not always required to take career readiness and job search courses to help them achieve a positive return on their college experience. Today’s graduates are increasingly ill prepared to navigate today’s recruitment process. If colleges aren’t accountable for this training, who is?

Several of my recommendations to colleges echo what I shared in my thoughts for high schools. However, because of the unique positioning of our colleges in preparing young adults for real life, others are specifically directed toward them.

 

  1. Apply my points 1-3 and 5-7 from the secondary school educators’ recommendation list to your college/university institution. Unlike the high school setting, the next step for most college graduates is a well-suited career. Accordingly, this should have significant ramifications on college programs, rather than predominantly focusing on academics for academics’ sake. However, based on employer feedback, this is not generally the case. I encourage colleges to allow employers to command a voice on this topic to do a better job of representing the end users receiving your graduates. Invite them to share in your classrooms—to offer valuable perspectives outside of the academic bubble. Most importantly, solicit their views on what constitutes a well prepared graduate for life and reflect their perspectives in your program. Just as your views are influencing the secondary school agenda, so should employers be influencing yours.
  1. Focus more on leadership and life-relevant training and (comparatively) less on redundant core requirements that are often found in high school. While a broad-based educational foundation is important, far too much of the college experience (and dollar!) is devoted to courses that are simply not as relevant or practically beneficial to students. The opportunity cost is too great.
  2. Completely revisit the academic admissions requirements imposed on our high schools. Aside from a base of core academics, it would better serve all students to incorporate leadership and practical life training to a greater degree. (Does anyone really believe that a two-to-three-year foreign language requirement for high school students is more important to life than financial literacy?!? Yet, the former is usually required, and we’re silent on the latter.)
  3. Assume greater accountability for student career success. All colleges and universities should be required provide success measures of their graduates in landing a job (both within and outside of their major). This would not only be beneficial to families in the college search process, but it would also help students in selecting their major. (Wouldn’t it be helpful to know the percent of students who landed a job in each major?) Also, students should be required to take a comprehensive career-readiness course involving career exploration, qualification, marketing, and excelling. With the lack of jobs for youth and young adults, many are entering the workforce extremely green. All colleges should seek partnerships with area businesses to offer students real-world perspectives, internships, and recruitment for future jobs. The bottom line: colleges need to take more ownership in providing graduates with a significant return on their sizable investment.
  4. Dispense with the political correctness, safe spaces, trigger warnings, segregated dorms, and disrespectful guest speaker treatment/disinvitations. These efforts merely delay students’ ability to relate/communicate with others, resolve conflict, problem solve, handle adversity, and respectfully consider differing views and perspectives. Unfortunately, this heightened form of coddling has become routine on campuses, and it will only inhibit your students’ ability to navigate life. (Thank you Dr. John Edison, Dean of Students at the University of Chicago, for your example.)

I truly believe that if we all made a conscious and concerted effort to make some changes, we would see the next generation thrive. Isn’t that something we all want to see?

You can access parts one and two of this series here and here, or, you can read the full article in our resource center.

 

 

7 Relationship-Building Activities to Do with Your Teen This Summer

Now that school is out and summer is in full swing (already?), you maybe be wondering, “Now what are we going to do for the next two-and-a-half months?” Summer is the best time to take advantage of your teen(s) presence and availability—use it to slip in some special moments that will build your relationship and just have fun.

  1. Go on a hike. What better way is there to have an impactful conversation and build relationship capital with your teen than enjoying the great outdoors and some fresh air? Take this time to ask them questions, like their favorite thing about the past school year, what they value, goals for the coming year, and where they see themselves in five years.
  2. Play an outdoor game. Some of my favorite memories with my family happened outside on the lawn, usually right after dinner (magic hour!). Play a game of kick-the-can, “lawn golf” (example here) or corn hole. These games make for great laughter, friendly competition, and help us unwind after a hectic week.
  3. Go to a sporting event. There’s nothing like a Major (or minor) League Baseball game to help you bond with your teen. Don’t forget the garlic fries and a good selfie!
  4. Innertube a river or stream. This one might sound a little lame, and I thought so too until I did it for the first time! I hooked up with a pal and we slowly floated down the gentle rapids while sipping cream soda. It made for some seriously awesome conversation and relaxation.
  5. Consider planning a progressive dinner with your teen’s friends/friends’ parents. If your teen is part of a large group of friends who all live in the same general area, think about a progressive dinner. Appetizers at your house, dinner at a friend’s house, and dessert at yet another! It’s a great way to spend quality time with your teen, see them in their element, and get to know their friends’ parents a little better.
  6. Go on night walks and build campfires. It’s amazing how conversations open up under the stars with a s’more in hand!
  7. Create a dream board. Ask your teen if they’d be willing to make a dream board or notebook that contains all the things they’d like to see happen in the next couple years. Get creative and cut out pictures (examples: a cap and gown to represent high school graduation, the logo of the company they hope to work for, a picture of the mascot of their dream college, a picture of the car they’d like to buy…the options are endless!). This is a great way to keep the end prize(s) in mind as they enjoy the summer.

Remember, your teen experiences a ton of pressure during the school year with academics, extracurricular activities, plans for future college/career, and more (I still remember it vividly!). Use the summer months as a time to help them relax and de-stress (note: this is good for adults, too!). Remind them that it’s okay to slow down and take a breather. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and these younger years will be gone in the blink of an eye!

What timeless memories can you build with your teen this summer?

Connect! (The Best Way To Help Students Succeed)

One of my (Arlyn’s) five children had a rather low GPA when he was in high school, relative to his capacity (and much to his parents’ constant dismay). It was a good thing he was an excellent test taker, because that, more than anything else, was what saved his bacon! He frequently told us, “Don’t worry, Mom and Dad; I’ll apply myself in college, where it really counts.”

Now, I’m not for a minute excusing that cop out, although I will concede he is making good on his promise. He has excelled in his classes, is almost ready to graduate with an ample GPA, and is planning to attend law school next year. What made the difference in his performance? In college, he connected with the subject matter—and to the professors who were instructing him.

What do you think is the strongest contributing factor to learning? There are several good answers to this question, but one that stands out particularly is CONNECTION. We learn best when we are engaged in some way with the subject about which we’re learning, and the environment in which we’re learning it. This important aspect of learning is based on the principle that humans are heavily influenced by how we feel and the emotional state we’re in.

Neuroscientists tell us that humans are fundamentally “hard-wired” to connect. This applies to everyone, but has particular ramifications for students who have been impacted by adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect, and poverty, etc., whose “connection” mechanisms in their brain have been impaired by these experiences. They can appear disinterested or anti-social, tending to push away the adults in their life with defiance, withdrawal, and sometimes violence, out of fear and self-protection. However, on the inside, what they really want to do is connect.  They just don’t know how. Or, they can’t trust.

Here’s how this impacts their learning: when humans are in this affected state, the heightened level of cortisol in the body essentially puts a “padlock” on the learning centers in the brain. On the other hand, when social/emotional connections are made, powerful hormones are released (like dopamine and oxytocin) that diminish the cortisol levels and UNLOCK those learning centers.  Emotions are the fast lane to the brain!

Most of us think of ourselves as thinking beings that feel but we are actually feeling creatures that think.” -Dr. Jill Bolte-Taylor,  Neuroscientist

If we want to close the achievement gap, if we want to help our kids learn the vital skills and lessons that will enable them to thrive in life, we’ve got to harness this powerful component of learning!

Educators, you may be thinking, I don’t have time to develop relationships with all my students.  Or, I don’t want to risk rejection or disrespect by making myself vulnerable. Or even, I’m not particularly good at being relational. Thankfully, it’s not as complicated as it might seem. Things like smiles, small gestures of kindness and respect, and simple appreciation can all go a long way in contributing to a climate conducive to healthy social and emotional learning. Parents, this goes for you, too!

In our next blog, we’ll talk about four motivations that influence human behavior, decisions, and actions, and how they impact the process of Social Emotional Learning. You might be surprised by how they can help you relate to the children and teens in your life. We hope you’ll join us and keep the conversation going!

Check out LifeSmart’s What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources for developing life skills, college and workplace readiness, and a strong personal leadership foundation in teens. Conversationally written, and designed to impart life wisdom and practical skills in a relational context, our resources will help you make Social Emotional Learning a vital part of your classroom or home environment.

The Media and Your Teen: What is the Entertainment Culture Telling Them?

ID-10081618Has this happened to you? You tell your teenager something a hundred times over and get nowhere. Then someone slightly cooler comes along, says the same thing, and gets an instant response.  Don’t worry. You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s a normal phenomenon!

As the teen years progress, most moms and dads notice their teens pulling away and gravitating more to peers and other “voices” in their life. As their parent, it pays to get to know who those other voices are—both the good and potentially not-so-good. It will prepare you to understand, support, and let go at the right times with confidence (and to reel them in a bit when necessary). Some “voices” you’ll want to be paying attention to are:

  •             Other adults
  •             Friends
  •             Your home
  •             Their inner voice (conscience)
  •             The media/internet/entertainment industries

There is a host of voices competing for our teens’ attention and not all of them are human. The media, entertainment industry, and the internet are great examples. What are these all saying to your teen? And just how powerful a voice are they in shaping their values and behaviors? The answer is extremely.

The average American teen:

  • watches approximately three hours of television a day
  • views TV an average of 17 hours per week and listens to several hours of music per day
  • spends more than 38 hours per week using media in general (TV, videos, computers, tablets, smartphones, and video games)
  • uses the internet an average of two hours for four days per week
  • has watched 15,000 hours of TV by the time he/she graduates from high school, compared to 12,000 hours spent in the classroom.

Our kids belong to the most technologically connected generation ever. Today’s teenagers are watching more video on mobile devices (computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc.) and less on the traditional TV. Online, they shop, post and view photos, read messages and articles, chat, play games, and glean all kinds of information about the world and life in general. This dramatically affects our kids. Every day they are receiving hundreds of messages about what is true (or not), what is important (or not) and what is cool (or not). The values they absorb from these voices can have a huge impact on their later success in life. Take sexuality, just for example.

Typical teen media consists of heavy doses of sexual content. Sex is often presented as a casual, recreational activity without risk or consequences. Don’t think this doesn’t affect our kids’ values and choices! It has tremendous potential to distort their sense of reality. If kids see a behavior on TV and in movies often enough (or hear about it in song lyrics), they can start to think it’s not a “big deal,” even if personal or family values urge otherwise. Peers can reinforce this.

So, guess what listening to these particular “voices” produces: earlier and earlier sexual activity.[i]Teens who said they listened to music containing overt sexual messages were found twice as likely to become sexually active within the following two years. Not cool.

Regardless of what parents tell them is right, safe, or wise, media content is often a loud voice encouraging teens to act contrary to their (and their family’s) established values. Does this mean we shut it all off and take away the tablets, computers, TV, and iPods? No. It does mean we should make an effort to know these voices in our child’s life, just like we want to know what the other voices in their lives are saying to them—their teachers, coaches, and peers. A parent’s role is not simply that of a police officer (especially the further you get into the teen years); it’s moderator, counselor, and guide.

Your child’s use of media, internet, and entertainment can provide you with a great opportunity to initiate conversations about values, discernment, and choices. Be aware of what your child listens to and watches.  Create safe venues to discuss your respective thoughts, feelings, and values related to the content. Make sure they have positive growing relationships with other adults that will tell them the same things you would. Don’t let the negative voices of culture do all of the talking, particularly on potentially life-altering subjects.

Are you aware of the messages your teen is receiving from the media? What have you done to combat the negative voices your teen is receiving that may contradict your family’s values? Do you have TV and/or internet use rules in your home?

Photo: Freedigitalphotos.com, by stockimages

4 Components of Intentional Parenting

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From as far back as I can remember I looked forward to becoming a dad. When I was young, I could regularly be found on the basketball court or ball field, coaching the neighborhood children like a modern-day Pied Piper. I figured that a love for children was the main ingredient to being a great dad and didn’t really think much beyond that. And, then along came our first child—a bundle of joy and energy. And energy. Oh, did I say, “energy?”

But, within three hours of arriving home from the hospital with our newborn son Michael, the thermometer indicated a temperature of 105! Our bliss quickly turned to panic and a little voice was telling me that maybe this dad thing wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Truth be told, it wasn’t.

What have I learned in 25 years of fathering? “A lot,” as our kids will attest! For now, I’d like to focus this post on the importance of having an intentional mindset. In today’s frenetic pace, it’s more important than ever. This is what it looks like…

  1. Understanding and accepting the responsibility that comes with parenting.  

Great parenting isn’t just about having fun or keeping our children happy. We are primarily responsible for loving, nurturing, training, affirming, supporting, and empowering our children to be independent and responsible adults. It’s about helping them develop their leadership qualities and preparing them for life and the key decisions awaiting them, as well as having the courage to show tough love when behavioral modification is needed.

  1. Having agreement on the parenting team

It’s crucial that parents and guardians be on the same page when it comes to goals, attitudes, and methods. Think of it as one team, one dream! Understanding and agreeing on our parenting responsibilities is a team effort where each partner needs to support, encourage, and reinforce the other. To do otherwise will lead to fireworks and to children who will manipulate the “weaker party” on an issue. If you and your child’s other parent are not together, you can still have a unified front on parenting methods. Try to put aside any other differences and find places of agreement on your parenting goals.

  1. Remembering you’re not just raising children—you’re raising future adults

In these days of helicopter parenting, this one is crucial. What incremental responsibilities are you giving them as they mature? What habits, behaviors, and attitudes are they exhibiting today that will need correcting down the road if you don’t intervene now? What praises and recognition can be given for demonstrating responsibility beyond their years? It pays to start early in the process, so fewer corrections will be required in the later teen years, closer to the launch, when they’re exerting their independence.

  1. Recognizing it’s not about you

My wife and I are detail-oriented people who are stable in temperament and lack a creative bone in our bodies. So, wouldn’t it stand to reason that Michael would be a blend of these attributes? Ha! We soon learned that his gifts, interests, and temperament were not from our gene pool. We gave birth to a delightfully creative kid who was nothing like his parents. Not better. Not worse. Just different. And, while it took some time to figure it out, we learned to work with that.

Unfortunately, we see a growing trend of parents putting pressure on their children to be just like them (or someone else—like a successful friend or a “better performing” sibling). As parents, we should be striving to bring out the best in our uniquely designed children—whatever that may be—rather than parenting for performance or replication. That means letting them live their dreams, not ours.

By keeping these four points and our parenting goals in mind, we can enjoy a smoother ride and more reliable outcomes. When we are strategic, and most importantly—intentional—with our parenting, we will give our children, and our relationship with them, the best chances for success.

How do you ensure you are strategically and intentionally parenting your child or teen? What parenting goals have you developed?

This post was adapted from Parenting for the Lauch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, by Dennis Trittin and Arlyn Lawrence, LifeSmart Publishing. To learn more about “parenting for the launch,” or to order a copy of the book, visit the website at www.parentingforthelaunch.com.

 

 

From Director to Encourager: Learning to Cheer from the Sidelines

ID-1003929It’s likely some of you have students who will be on their way to college in a matter of weeks or days. Finally, their first taste of independence (and arguably the greatest milestone for their parents as well)!  So, how are you feeling about it? If you (or someone you know) has a college freshman about to start school, this post is for you!

 

I remember the first time I (Arlyn) heard the term “helicopter parent.” It was at my daughter’s college freshman orientation, where they separated parents and students into different rooms and gave us each a good talking-to. There they told us, in no uncertain terms, that helicopter parenting would be detrimental to our students’ success in college.

It’s pretty easy to imagine. A young adult is off to the real world—college or the work force—ready to make his or her mark in life. As he does, there is a helicopter hovering over him, the pilot barking advice through a megaphone. The copter sweeps in for closer views at times. Other times, it pulls away slightly but it is always a very real presence, with the whirl of its blades never too far away.

Our children’s generation has seen the rise of helicopter parents more than any other.. As they hover, they’re always advising and intervening, enabling and rescuing, offering opinions and sometimes outright manipulating. Why? Generally speaking, the reasons include “to be involved in my child’s life,” to “help,” and to “be an advocate.” Good intentions—but when they start to work against our ultimate parenting objectives, these efforts can actually become counterproductive and downright detrimental. Employers and school and college counselors are witnessing it in droves.

“Millennials have had helicopter parents who have protected them,” says Dan Jones, president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. “They haven’t had the opportunity to struggle. When they come to college and bad things happen, they haven’t developed resiliency and self-soothing skills.”[i]

Let’s back up and identify why this is such a problem today, since our parents’ generation didn’t suffer from it as much. Theirs was (again, generally speaking) more a generation of self-sufficiency—of parents and their adult children living their own lives. This, however, is the generation of highly involved parenting. This is the generation whose fathers are in the Lamaze classes and the delivery rooms, whose parents are at every ball practice, and some of whose moms (or dads) give up lucrative careers to take on the full-time career of parenting. And, they give it every bit as much effort and excellence as their corporate careers! Thus, was born the performance parent.

These involved parents serve on the committees at the preschool and bring cupcakes to every party, they make their kids’ beds and pick up after them, they sometimes DO their kids’ homework, and they make every personal effort they can to help their kids make the team, earn a 4.0, get the job …

So, guess who’s having a little trouble letting go when Junior goes off into the real world? (Hint: It’s not Junior!) Just check the Facebook posts of parents who are readying to launch their teen and you’ll see what I mean!

Young children need their parents A LOT. They need us to interpret the world for them, help them make decisions, recognize and avoid danger, choose the right kinds of friends, and know when to work and when to play. That being said, our role is an evolving one. In fact, our goal should be to eventually work ourselves out of a job! Well, sort of.

When our kids were little, we put training wheels on their bikes, and then took them off as they demonstrated increased strength, balance, and confidence. That’s how we should be approaching the teen years. We go from holding them on the bike with both hands, to keeping one hand on the seat, to letting them ride alone with training wheels, to taking off the training wheels and cheering like crazy from the sidelines. That’s what being a “chief encourager” is all about.

Going from director to chief encourager is one of the biggest challenges for parents during the years leading up to and including the launch. And truthfully, it can be a big challenge for teens as well (although they probably won’t admit it). Change isn’t easy for any of us. But if teens are going to be successful, confident adults, they need to be able to operate independently. If you haven’t started operating as your teen’s chief encourager (rather than pilot or director), it’s time to start practicing now! You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how your teen rises to the occasion as you gradually let go.

This blog post was adapted from Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World by Dennis Trittin and Arlyn Lawrence. To purchase, visit www.parentingforthelaunch.com.

Photo: freedigitalphotos.net, by Tim Seed