During the past two weeks, we’ve shared the various ways that parents can help reverse the worrisome trends in adolescent anxiety. If you didn’t catch them, you can find them here and here.
This week, we’d like to close our series by addressing the pivotal role our educators can play in reducing student anxiety. Of course, we know that schools and universities are, by definition, bastions of anxiety! After all, students are measured every which way from Sunday and are surrounded by a contagion of similarly anxious peers! That said, there are any number of strategies school leaders can employ that would return student anxiety to more normal, healthy levels. Here are our top five recommendations:
Promote a positive and empowering school culture. The school environment plays a major role in the health and well being of students. How would you describe your school’s brand and core values? What three words best describe the character and learning environment for your students? If your school hasn’t adopted a set of values that administrators, teachers, and students abide by, consider this an urgent priority. Qualities like kindness, compassion, and integrity are foremost on our minds at LifeSmart, and we always encourage schools to take what we call, “the Integrity Challenge.” (This is where students are empowered to only say neutral to positive things about others who are not present.) Another suggestion is to have each class create a brand and core values statement and commit to holding each other accountable. Let’s do this! #positiveculture
Expand leadership/life skills offerings. Evidence is pervasive that high school graduates are not adequately prepared for their next steps. Arguably, one reason is that schools are so focused on their immediate step that insufficient time is devoted to the transition to the next (e.g., high school to college/workforce). We urge administrators to expand leadership and life skills-oriented courses that holistically prepare students for independent living and their next stage. These would include leadership, soft skills, college/career readiness, personal finance, and home management. Such courses build essential skills, instill self-confidence, and help students cope with the pressures of their present and future situations. The better prepared they are, the less anxious they will be. #lifesmart
End the “college for all” messaging. Based on deteriorating college graduation trends and high student demand for mental health services in college, it is clear that many are not college ready and would be better off pursuing other paths. Whether overt or subliminal, messages promoting the college path are commonplace. How does this affect anxiety? Droves of unprepared and dispirited students drop out of college and into uncertainty. Others struggle mightily in college when another path (e.g., trade school, workforce) was a more compatible choice. Still other high schoolers feel inadequate if they don’t pursue the broadly recommended college path. How is your messaging? #whateverisbest
Review homework levels. Given how early students rise before school and require above-average levels of sleep, homework should be reasonable. Yet, we’ve often heard of schools assigning up to four hours of homework on weeknights, creating a workday that is more demanding than their parents! This, together with a lack of coordination among teachers in terms of exams and major projects, is an obvious source of student anxiety. How reasonable is their workload? #theyneedalife
Career selection pressure. Many high schools are ramping up their career readiness programs, and we applaud that. However, some are taking this to a degree that students are feeling pressure to know what career (and potentially, college major) they should be pursuing. We think that’s taking things too far. In the high school years, students are still discovering themselves and aren’t in a position to weigh all the career alternatives, fully assess their skills and interests, possess all the necessary knowledge to make an informed judgment, and speak with/job shadow practitioners in those fields. We strongly support efforts to build career awareness, but when students feel pressure (as many do!) to know exactly which field they should enter, that’s an overreach. And, remember, many college students change their majors multiple times, and a large measure of college graduates regret the major they chose! Focus on the process, but not the selection in the high school years. Finally, let’s not push STEM as their only ticket to success. It’s not.
Whether you’re a parent, educator, or other interested party, we hope you found value in our series on preventing and reducing student anxiety. We all have a stake in improving these trends, and we wish you the best in your efforts with the adolescents under your guidance.
“So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question each of us has received (and often loathed!) countless times in our formative years. For some, like my daughter, the answer was clear from an early age. For most, it’s a trial and error process with midcourse changes—and loads of stress. And, that’s only the beginning.
In my conversations with teens and young adults, I see a generation that is starving for practical career wisdom. Some are struggling with their career (or major) choice. Some have all the credentials, but don’t have a clue how to market themselves and win. In today’s world, where personal initiative and networking are key, those who haven’t adapted are floundering. Finally, those who are underperforming on the job are getting a rude awakening about the ways of the real world.
To some extent, we attribute this to assumptions being made by parents and educators about who is responsible for training what. Parental guidance is all over the map. And, career readiness programs vary widely within high schools, colleges, and universities. Guess who loses?
At LifeSmart, we believe the solution is for all students to receive comprehensive and practical career readiness training to help position them for success. To that end, we are developing this extended blog series to share our vision for effective career preparation. Whether you’re a parent, educator, or student, we hope this advances your career readiness training and identifies any gaps to address.
In order to holistically prepare our students for career success, we believe that training needs to be much broader than is commonly the case. In our view, the following are necessary ingredients to comprehensive career training:
Self awareness building: understanding one’s self, in terms of assets/skills/strengths, personality profile, interests, and passions. This involves answering the fundamental questions of who am I?, what do I have to offer?, and what are my dreams? Self awareness is a necessary precursor to effective career selection.
Leadership development: understanding the attitudes, behaviors, and practices of honorable and successful people. These qualities not only serve us in our careers, but in all of life. Leadership training is necessary for sustained career excellence.
Career exploration: identifying and evaluating well-suited and accessible careers that play to our strengths, satisfy our preferences, and offer fulfillment and a livelihood. This needs to be one of the most well-researched decisions in our life.
Career qualification: knowing the credentialing and planning required to access one’s chosen career. Through education, training, and experience, we must build a competitive edge that is attractive to future employers.
Career acquisition: understanding the job search process and how to successfully market ourselves in this highly competitive, ever-changing world.
Career mastery: developing a reputation as an “MVP employee” by virtue of one’s character, performance, and contribution to employer success. Together, these improve the odds of achieving our career potential and financial goals.
Does your career training include all of these elements?
We will be addressing each of these topics over the next two months, deriving from our What I Wish I Knew at 18 resources as well as perspectives from employers. Stay tuned for next week’s discussion on self awareness, and please share this series with those in your sphere of influence. We’d love to hear your thoughts and would enjoy supporting your career readiness efforts.
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:
Employers are lamenting the lack of soft skills among younger workers (and applicants), thereby necessitating additional training.
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.)
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.
What do you value most in life? Is it your collector’s hot rod? Your job? Your beach house? Your iPhone? Or, is it something less tangible, like integrity, family togetherness, spirituality, respect, or serving others? Hopefully, it’s one of the latter.
In case you’ve missed it, we’ve been talking a lot about values around here lately, and stressing the importance of instilling strong values in the young people we parent, coach, mentor, and teach. As ethics, morals, manners, and values have become de-emphasized in the public square, political arena, entertainment industry, and corporate boardrooms, we’re witnessing a downward slide in our nation’s character. When character is disregarded or devalued, relativism, “meism,” and chaos fills the vacuum. There’s just no getting around it.
In this last part in our series, I’d like to discuss three more elemental values that are instrumental in creating virtuous and admirable character. Upholding (and believing in) these values not only benefits the upholder, but also his or her family, friends, employer, classmates, coworkers, and beyond. By restoring our societal commitment to character and values, it would truly be a world changer.
Patience. Have you ever lost your patience while waiting in an endless line, or dealing with a finicky customer? Have you ever thrown out some not-so-nice hand gestures in a fit of road rage? Or, how about when you throw a tantrum with your family or friends when things don’t go your way or people disappoint you? The fact is, losing your patience usually does more harm than good in almost every situation. Learning to be patient in all circumstances makes us more pleasant people to be around and allows us to handle stressful situations and conflict in a more level-headed manner. Taking a deep breath and counting to 20 before responding is wise medicine. After all, today’s impatience is often tomorrow’s apology.
Courage. Do you handle tough situations with bravery, or are you more inclined to backing down or withdrawing? Of course, there’s a time and a place for walking away, but sometimes, courage is key. Courage means never letting your fears drive your life, and instead, stepping out of your comfort zone and always doing the right thing and standing up for yourself (respectfully), no matter how un-cool it may seem.
Self-control. This is likely a tough one for many of us. Self-control can be related to our outward behavior (for example, how we impulsively react when we are annoyed or angry), as well as our internal motivations (for example, our relationship with food). When you practice self control, it means that you are able to manage your impulses and respond to temptation in a way that benefits yourself and others. Instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, you’re able to reel yourself in and think about your choices before you actually make them. This is a big one, friends. Consider taking a moment to self-check and see if there are any areas where you could use greater self control.
In case you missed the last two parts in this series, you can catch up on them here and here. For our comprehensive positive traits and values list, click here. We encourage you to discuss them with your families and students as a great self-awareness project. Which ones are we modeling well? Where could we up our game? Are any of them outdated? What others might you add to the list?
Thank you for being a part of this series! Have a great school year!
“Without ethical culture, there is no salvation for humanity.”
I think that we can all agree there are a lot of things we (society as a whole). . . well. . . disagree on. These days, so many topics feel “unsafe” to talk about because they can be polarizing and controversial (politics and religion, especially). Everyone seems to have a different idea about the right way to vote, the right way to worship, what things should and should not be illegal…the list goes on. Although it can be difficult to work through differences with others, I think diversity is one of the things that makes our country so wonderful.
However, I’d like to talk about something that we can all agree on. Even when politics and religion and other controversial topics are set aside, I believe there are some common values that are (at least should be) at the foundation of our society. These are values that we as parents, educators, mentors, and coaches should be instilling within the hearts and minds of the young people we work with. These are values that make us productive employees, loving spouses, attentive parents, successful students, loyal friends, and contributing members of society.
Although this list is not exhaustive, I’d like to share a bit about some non-negotiable values that we should esteem highly, not only in our own character, but also in the young people we influence.
Integrity— When you are a person of integrity, you adhere to ethical character, follow through with your word and always tell the truth, no matter what.. You may not always be liked or loved, but you must always be trusted. To that end, we like to challenge people to only say neutral or positive things about someone who is not present. If everyone adhered to this, it’d literally change the world! Of all the values, I think this one is the most important.
Kindness—This is exemplified by the Golden Rule: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Who can argue with that? When we operate with kindness, we use words that encourage and uplift and actively seek out ways to help others.
Authenticity—Be the real you! With all the peer pressure to fit in, this one can be tough for young people. There is nothing more liberating than living freely as your true, authentic self, without the hindrance of masks or facades. A good rule of thumb is that if you have to change who you are or compromise your values to be accepted by someone or some group, they’re not worth your time. You’ll never become sustainable friends anyway.
Respect: This involves showing honor, regard, and consideration toward others. We’ve all been taught (or should have been!) to respect our elders and people in authority, but this applies equally to everyone we’re around. Of all of the values, I think this one is being diminished to the greatest extent, both with adults and with the younger generation. While many pay lip service to tolerance, their behavior is decidedly in
Personal motivation/self-discipline—Without personal motivation and self-discipline, we would never be successful at our careers (or school)! By staying committed to performing well, being reliable, and having high standards, your productivity will skyrocket and your reputation will soar. Strive to live up to the motto: on time, every time, with excellence.
How would you rate yourself on these values? Consider using this as a self-check, and take a moment to see how you’re doing in these areas. Are there areas for improvement? Remember, humility and a willingness to change and grow is an important value in and of itself. Share this post with the young people in your life and encourage them to do the same.
If you’d like to read more about the values we consider to be of utmost importance, check out this values checklist we’ve compiled. Or, stay tuned for next week when we will share more values from our list and talk about how valuable values really are.
Are you considering new ways to set up YOUR students for success—in school and beyond?
Increasingly, employers and universities are encouraging greater development of the “soft skills” necessary for success in college, career, and life, such as:
Sense of purpose/strategic perspective
Character, integrity, and work ethic
Successful relationship-building, communication, and teamwork
An attitude of empowerment, not entitlement
This is why schools across the nation are choosing our innovative and comprehensive What I Wish I Knew at 18 Leadership and Life Skills curriculum to help their students build a personal leadership foundation. Here’s what they’re saying:
“The (WIWIK@18) book and student guide have had a great impact on my students. … (helping) them to look ahead and have a vision of success. …They truly are becoming more successful socially and academically. I would highly recommend this curriculum to other teachers.”
Patty Rogers—Family and Consumer Science/Personal Finance Teacher:
“While teaching Personal Finance this year, I was able to use this great resource to enrich the content of this course. Every Family and Consumer Sciences teacher should have a classroom set. Students enjoy this book and their comments are always positive!”
Pam Wickman—Family & Consumer Science Teacher:
“I have made great use of What I Wish I Knew at 18 in my classroom, including it in a variety of classes, such as Parents and Children, Individual and Family Relationships, and Life on your Own. My students respond well to the teen-friendly language of the text, and the accompanying workbook includes questions and writing topics that inspire useful discussion and written reflection. Trittin’s book has become a valued resource, and one I turn to often.”
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