Being thankful for your teens

I’ve heard a lot of words associated with parenting teenagers. Exasperating. Frustrating. Confusing. Very rarely do I hear someone exclaim, “I’m SO happy to be raising a teenager right now!” If I do hear it, it’s generally dripping with sarcasm.

But the reality is that teenagers really are quite a bit of fun, and they embody some lessons we would all do well to learn. So this Thanksgiving month, spend some time reflecting on what makes your teenagers wonderful and why they are actually a huge blessing in your life.

Need help focusing on the positives? Think about this:

  • Teenagers keep your argumentative skills honed. You have to be sharp in your thinking and your decisions, or they will call you on it. They will ask why until you want to strangle them. But be grateful, because they’re forcing you to ask yourself why, and I don’t think we do that enough. A little introspection never hurt anyone.
  • Teenagers are still children in a lot of ways. They will make side-splitting comments. They still take joy in the seemingly small moments. Their silliness and appreciation for all things farcical make them perfect companions for watching comedies, cracking jokes, and having fun with the eccentricities of extended family members. One year over the holidays, my teens started a quote list for a particularly “interesting” family member visiting from out of town. They kept the list in a kitchen drawer. When the annoyances threatened to bring out the worst in us and the week was beginning to stretch everyone’s nerves a little too thin, one of us would depart to the kitchen, open the quote list drawer, and laugh. I never would have thought to do that on my own. Leave it to the teenage brain to create a unique escape from visitor stress.
  • Teenagers are adults in a lot of ways. They are sensitive, can be thoughtful when they want to be, and understand way more than you realize. You can talk to them, even about the big stuff, as they are quite deep and are able to understand adult issues much more deeply than you suspect. They can be wise and offer new perspectives.
  • Teenagers love you and need you. They don’t show it all the time (that’s what dogs are for), and they may not say it, either. Heck, they may not even realize it. But every time they sit next to you at dinner, ask you for advice, tell you a story about their friends, or even shuffle into the kitchen in their PJ’s, they’re telling you that they trust you, that you offer them a safe haven, and that they even enjoy your company.
  • Teenagers keep us young. They blast all the latest, greatest hits, use ever changing acronyms (GOAT, anyone?), know the perfect emoji to use in any and all situations, and remind us what it was like to fall in love, become yearbook editor, and earn an “A.” We watch them play sports and it takes us back to our glory days. They introduce us to new technology, download apps on our phones, and make sure we don’t wear anything embarrassing. Without them – let’s face it – we’d be stuck in the past.

So you see, you have a lot to be grateful for when it comes to raising teens. They may wear you out, but they also build you up and bring joy to your life. Enjoy them now, because in a few years, you’ll be hoping and praying that they’ll be home for Thanksgiving.

For more tips on living with teens, check out Teenagers 101.

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Teaching kids to be proactive

We’re all familiar with the concept of proactive versus reactive responses.  A proactive approach anticipates and seeks to avoid potential problems or obstacles. A reactive approach waits for problems to arise and then deals with them as they occur. As it turns out, both can be beneficial, but while knowledge should be gained from mistakes and difficult processes, stress can be reduced by avoiding them in the first place.

This is where teens and children really need the help of adults. Children are already at a disadvantage with an undeveloped frontal lobe that hinders their ability to see long-term, to think about the consequences of their actions, or to plan ahead. That’s why we often shake our heads and ask, “What were they thinking?” when it comes to this age group. They weren’t. They haven’t learned to be proactive, to consider that what they are doing now matters to their future.

Enter mom and dad. You have a lifetime of experience and you’ve oftentimes wished you would have thought things through before making a big decision or taking an action you later regretted. You want your kids to benefit from your experience, especially since being proactive crosses many domains, including school work, goal setting, and preparedness for activities, sports, and other extra-curriculars. It’s important that they get it now, or they may face much unnecessary hardship down the road.

So how can you prepare your kids to be prepared? Think about this:

  • Kids need to have goals. What’s the point? What are they working toward? Why are they participating? Do grades matter? Unbelievably, we fail to talk to kids about these big questions. We put them in activities, send them off to school, and encourage them to join clubs, but never tell them how they’re going to benefit themselves or others through their participation. Kids needs to know how today’s behaviors affect their future. If they don’t, they will go into everything with a short-sighted attitude and therefore, a lack of internal motivation. They will question working hard on something, and making sacrifices for it, if they don’t see the value.
  • Kids need to know that every action has a consequence. Science teaches us that for every action, there is a reaction. Every decision or indecision, both good and bad, leads to an outcome. Kids struggle with understanding this concept, even as they age and go on to college. Witness some of the behavior of young twenty-somethings and there’s no doubt that they still haven’t grasped the concept of consequences. But the sooner you talk to your kids about this, the better chance you have of getting through. Discuss how a decision about homework, or quitting a team, or running for office will have long-term implications. Have your kids walk through various scenarios and really think through each decision they make.
  • Kids need to realize that staying ahead of the game is easier than playing catch up. Every person alive has let a job or responsibility slip and then scrambled at the last minute to try to minimize the damage. And every person alive has dealt with the repercussions of procrastination. Teaching your kids to work ahead and to plan their schedules will positively impact every area of their lives. As I tell my students, “If you control your schedule, it won’t control you.”
  • Kids need to experience how good it feels to be proactive. Once kids begin to plan, work toward goals, and think through decisions, they will see a noticeable change in their lives. They will experience less stress and their confidence will grow as they gain control of their responsibilities. Research shows that kids crave structure, rules, and boundaries. Recording homework in a school agenda, breaking large assignments down and working on them each night, and keeping a personal calendar of upcoming events are all ways kids create structure in their lives. Positive results breed internal motivation, so the more proactive kids are, the more motivated they become to take control of and responsibility for their decisions.

Of course, the best way to teach kids to become proactive is to demonstrate it in your own life. Teach by example and show your kids that foreseeing obstacles and planning ahead is always better than dealing with the aftermath of a failure that could have been avoided.

For one-on-one help with your teens, check out Teenager Success 101. For more tips like these, read Teenagers 101

Organization makes all the difference

Do you ever feel that your children are messy, can’t seem to find what they’re looking for, or are in a perpetual state of confusion? Is their study time inefficient and frustrating? Do they stay up late to finish their homework only to have trouble locating it the next day in class? And do you find yourself constantly reminding them it’s homework time and wondering how they’ll ever make it on their own?

Disorganization is the root of all these problems, and the good news is that it can be reversed. With the right tools and resources, kids can learn to organize their supplies, prioritize, study smart, and turn chaos into control. As I tell my teenage clients, your calendar can control you or you can control your calendar.

As adults, we’ve likely suffered at the hands of disorganization, and we know that kids need to overcome this problem in order to be successful. The bonus of improving organization is that it has a wonderful ripple effect. Grades will improve, stress will be lifted, and everyone will breathe a sigh of relief as kids gain more responsibility and better control of their schedules.

Here are five tips to help kids start the school year in an organized fashion:

TIP #1: Color code your life. Color is an easy-to-see indicator of what to do next. Just as we have traffic lights that tell us green means go and red means stop, color coding each subject in school is a simple way to alert kids as to what folder or notebook to grab. For example, your child might assign the color red to English. The book cover, notebook, folder – whatever is used for English – is red. Now when your child is selecting what he needs to complete his homework, he can easily recognize the correct folder or book. He can spot it in his backpack, locker, and even his messy bedroom, saving time and frustration.

TIP #2:  Always keep important papers in the same place. That red folder for English? The pocket on the left should be for important teacher handouts, instructions for assignments, and any other information provided by the teacher. The right side should be for homework or anything that is the student’s responsibility. Now when the English teacher says it’s time to turn in homework, Johnny knows to go into the right side of his red folder to do just that.

TIP #3:  Maintain an organized backpack. Students tend to use their backpacks like we use that one junk drawer in the kitchen – as a catch all for everything and anything. That’s why it’s crucial that they perform regular clean-outs. If they are following Tips 2 and 3, this should be quick and painless. It’s a chance to make sure they’re putting everything where it belongs and not acquiring junk that takes up space and keeps them from finding what they need.

TIP #4:  Have a designated homework space and time. Children should choose a space with few distractions, somewhere they can concentrate for short blocks of time and won’t be tempted to fall asleep or play video games. In addition, they should choose a time that coincides with their biological needs and busy schedules. Some love to get started immediately after school; others need some downtime to decompress. Regardless of their designated homework time, they all need brain breaks. After studying for no longer than an hour, they should perform a physical activity or switch gears to one requiring a different side of the brain, from the logical to the creative, for example. After 15 minutes or so, they will return to their homework with greater focus and a stronger ability to get the most out of their study time. It’s studying smarter, not longer.

TIP #5:  Write everything down. Pen on paper, it turns out, significantly increases kids’ understanding and memory. Conversely, using a cell phone to take a picture of notes on a board does kids no benefit at all. Research shows that even typing notes is not as beneficial as writing them, since students tend to simply type away as the teacher talks, without converting the message into shorthand and really thinking about what is being said. For these reasons, insist that your kids take notes the old-fashioned way and study them the old fashioned way as well – by making flash cards (yes, writing the information again!) and quizzing themselves on their notes.

Following just one of these tips will make a difference. Following all five can change kids’ lives. The earlier they get organized, the faster they can start enjoying school and making the most of their time at home.

For more tips like these, check out Teenagers 101, the back-to-school book for parents. To work with Dr. D or her team one-on-one via Skype, contact her through Teenager Success 101

The back to school social network

In the next month, you will be bombarded with all things “back to school.” Aside from the sales flyers and ads, you will be counseled on how to prepare your kids for the first day and how to help them get back to an academic mindset. But what is often ignored – and, ironically, WAY more important to your children – is the social aspect of returning to school.

Your kids will tell you that the beginning of a new school year is a social crapshoot. Or, as Forrest Gump’s mom would say, “You never know what you’re gonna get.” Some friends haven’t seen one another in two months and are worried about reconnecting. Some fade away over the summer, while new, unexpected friendships have blossomed. Some former enemies have become friends, and vice versa. And some are in limbo, neither party knowing where they stand with the other.

It’s amazing that all this change can happen over a short summer break, but it does. When it comes to kids, especially teenagers, relationships evolve and devolve at warp speed. I can guarantee you that your kids are more worried about where they stand with their peers than just about anything else. I promise you they’ve spent more time thinking about whether their friend group is still intact than they have about their summer reading assignment. So let’s tackle what you can do, as parents, to help your kids transition smoothly into the back-to-school social network.

FIRST, do not be shy about jumping into this conversation with your children. They’re already thinking about it, so you’re not introducing a problem that hadn’t occurred to them. Start by asking, “So what do you think your friend group will look like this year?” Then sit back and listen. Try not to interrupt. Let them talk through where everyone stands with one another and pay attention to their reaction to the changes.

SECOND, if they are having problems with a friend, share your own experiences and insights to help them work through an appropriate response. For instance, regardless of what other people might have said and done, always encourage your children to take the social and ethical high road. Everyone should have a bottom line, and they should refuse to lower themselves to actions they’ll regret later. For some, it is refusing to say a bad word about another person. For others, it’s avoiding confrontation and choosing to let friendships die slowly. Some prefer to get everything out in the open, but their bottom line is that they will avoid hurtful statements and focus on how they feel. The thing is, your kids are still figuring out who they are and what their bottom line is. As parents, you know them better than anyone, so you can advise them on ways to handle various scenarios. One caveat: Be sure to help them with responses that suit THEIR personalities and comfort levels, not your own.

THIRD, do not, under any circumstances, involve yourself in your kids’ squabbles or friendships. Your job is to guide your child behind the scenes, not intervene on their behalf. Your kids will gain and lose friends on a consistent basis (just as we do as adults), and they must learn how to do both gracefully. Responding appropriately to relationship changes is a life skill, and the sooner they learn it, the better off they’ll be. They won’t learn these lessons if you “save” them from heartache or frustration. They must experience these emotions to grow and mature as adults who know how to be good friends.

FOURTH, on the other hand, do not tolerate any behavior that makes your child the victim of bullying, verbal, or physical abuse. It is far too common nowadays to see children resort to self-hurting and even suicide when they can no longer bear the barrage of attacks from bullies. If you sense your child is facing this trauma, you must involve the other parents, school officials, and even the police to intervene and provide support and safety for your child. If you notice your child withdrawing, becoming anxious, or exhibiting a major change of personality, you need to get to the bottom of it. Even if you feel your child is overreacting or being too sensitive, that doesn’t change the way he or she feels. Be sensitive and seek counseling if you are in any doubt about your child’s emotional well-being.

Remember that if your kids are happy in their social life, it frees them up to concentrate on academics and goal-setting. Social acceptance is a basic need you can help them meet by providing support and guidance from your own experiences.

Check out Teenagers 101 for more tips for a successful year.

 

Teens: Windows into our past

When we hear about teens, it’s usually accompanied by sighs and frustrations, not joys and revelations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Teens get a bad rap on a fairly consistent basis, one most of them don’t earn or deserve.

In recent weeks, with graduation in the air and kids returning from college to spend the summer at home, I’ve been fortunate to have sit-downs with some of my former students, to get a glimpse into how they have grown and changed since I last saw them, when they were taking finals and dreaming about their futures.

It’s been a blessing, to say the least. It’s reminded me how much I love teenagers, how satisfying and yes, intriguing, it is to see them transform before my eyes into young men and women who finally realize that their parents aren’t entirely stupid and that there’s more to life than what you want right at this moment. They are planning, thinking, goal-setting, and being practical. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.

Yesterday, I had coffee with a previous student who is now a grown young woman just finishing her freshmen year of college. From the moment she walked in, statuesque and beautiful, a smile as wide as the Mississippi River, I was in awe of her growth and maturity over a one-year time span. She had made the same mistakes I remember making freshmen year as she tried to find her place in her new college world. Hearing her stories, her frustrations, and her doubts, I was transported to my 19-year-old self when I was already on my second change in major, questioning whether becoming a sorority girl had been the right choice, and wondering if the guy I was dating could be The One (he was!) I was mesmerized by her stories of successes and failures, but more importantly, by the lessons she was learning, the experiences forming the foundation of who she will become.

Listening to her talk through her lingering doubts about her major, about what makes her truly happy, and about how she wants to spend her time, I longed to get those days back again. Remember when the world lay before you? When you could change your major four times and still be just fine? When you moved from group to group, discovering who you were and what you really believed? Those young adult years were profound. They were filled with promise, despite all of the unknowns, perhaps because of the unknowns. Our lives weren’t really on any particular course yet. We weren’t bound by obligations and monthly mortgages and jobs we don’t like that nevertheless pay the bills. I’d almost forgotten that feeling, it’s been so long. It was joyous to sit in its presence again.

I’ve always believed in the importance of multi-generational friendships. I have friends like this young lady who is 19, and I have friends who are 90. Each age and stage has something unique to offer, something to remind you of your past or to help you foresee your future. Being in a teenager’s presence is like staring into a mirror that reflects who you once wanted to be. When you dreamed, what did you see? When you hoped, what was it for?

My goal for myself has always been to have a “life well-lived,” in any way I choose to define that. When was the last time you asked yourself what a life well-lived looks like? Are you living it now?

Few of us wish to return to our teenage selves. But what we can do is remember what it felt like to have a life of promise. From wherever we are right now, no matter our age, we can adopt that attitude.  We can see our lives as wide open, ready to accept challenges and change our minds and take risks. There’s something to be learned from the young adult mindset. It’s never too late to learn it.

 

How to live peacefully with teens

You probably read the title of this article and thought, Live peacefully with teens?? Are you kidding? And I get that. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to communicate with them, get them to comply to your wishes – heck, to even understand them. But as it turns out – and I know you’ll find this hard to believe – they’re people, just like us, and they can be understood if we just try to see the world from their eyes.

So here are some insights that may help you navigate the parenting waters a little more easily.

  1. Ever been the victim of hormones or a really bad mood? Imagine being in a body ruled by ever changing hormones that really can’t be controlled. So much is changing in teen bodies on any given day that they really are victims, so to speak, of their biology and chemistry. They are literally watching their bodies changing. They are feeling emotions they’ve rarely felt before. Their brains are not yet fully developed, so they can’t make sense of it all. They are whirlwinds of emotion. It’s no wonder, then, that you never know what you’re going to get when you ask them a question or tell them they need to do something,
  2. They crave peer acceptance at all costs. Because they have such little control over their bodies and the changes they are experiencing, they are more self-conscious than at any other time in their lives. Combine this discomfort with an intense desire to be accepted, to be like everyone else, and you will begin to understand the level of frustration they feel pretty much every day of their lives. Who do you think gets the brunt of these emotions? That would be you, mom and dad.
  3. They are stressed more than any other previous generation. Psychologists and therapists report that the number one teen issue they address is stress. Increasingly competitive sports teams, academic programs, and college acceptance criteria keep teens nervous and agitated. Many feel that no matter how hard they work or how busy they stay, it’s never enough. Many worry about letting you down. And many keep these fears to themselves, exacerbating the problem even further.
  4. They are expected to make life-changing decisions. Think about who you were at age 15. What did you know about the world? How well did you know yourself? Could you project who you would be 20 years later? How accurately did your 15-year-old goals align with your current life? Despite our 20/20 hindsight, for some reason we still expect teens to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives and to have the discipline and focus to reach all their goals. Of course, we can help them do this, but it’s an awful lot of pressure to put on someone who is in many ways still a child.
  5. They are distracted by any number of moral choices and get most of their advice and life lessons from the media. They have grown up in a world where sex is a given in every relationship, drinking is lauded, lying is expected, and loyalty to friends is more important than saying or doing the right thing. Moral ambiguity is the standard. And sadly, they spend more time learning from celebrities than they do from the people who matter.

Knowing all this about your teens should give you an understanding of what they face and struggle with on a regular basis. It won’t make them any less moody or any easier to live with, but it should help you to see that what they dish out is a culmination of all of their struggles. It’s not personal, mom and dad. Your job is to give them tools to help them through these struggles, to recognize when they need guidance, to offer them support, to let them know that you’re always there for them. If you can do those things, you’ll carve a path that will eventually lead you out of the woods and into clarity.

 

Overcoming the Summer Slide

There is a slide that is associated with summer, and it has nothing do with fun. The summer slide refers to the dip kids tend to make during the summer months when they are away from school and the daily habits of studying and learning. I wouldn’t call it an epidemic, but it is by all means real, and for many kids, the summer slide can be devastating to their academic success.

Who’s hit hardest? Interestingly, the summer slide can affect a wide range of students in various ways.

  1. Kids who already struggle in school. These students depend on daily practice and a designed curriculum to continually progress and avoid backward steps. When the routine and learning expectations are removed, their mind relaxes and material they previously knew slips away, sometimes as if they had never learned it. If you’ve ever tried to learn another language, you know that regular daily practice enforces your knowledge. But a couple months without that reinforcement can wipe away everything you have learned. The same happens with most students, but kids who rely on external forces to stay focused are hit especially hard.
  2. Kids who are making steady progress toward a goal. If your kids know where they’re headed and what they want to see for themselves in the future, they’ve likely counted on teachers, coaches, school counselors, and other mentors in their school life to help them march steadily toward their goals. Remove those support systems, and kids oftentimes lose their focus and sometimes even their drive. Teens balk at receiving counsel from their parents but the same advice coming from a third party – especially one they respect – sounds different to them. They tend to be more accepting of mentorships originating outside the home, and losing those mentors can stall their efforts toward their goals.
  3. Kids who are doing great in school. Imagine you have committed to healthy eating and for 9 months you’ve adopted and maintained a more positive lifestyle. You’ve lost weight and are feeling great, and you think you’ve got this beat. Then you depart on a two-month cruise, replete with 24-hour buffets and a relaxed attitude. What are the chances you’ll stay true to your committed health path? And how much work will you have to do to get back on that path when you return?
  4. Kids who seem aimless or without a view of the big picture. These kids complete assignments or study for the short term – the grade or the GPA – versus studying for lifelong learning. They count on external motivators such as due dates, reminders from others, and direction given by adults to outline their days and keep them moving forward. During the summer when these expectations disappear, so does their progress.

If any of these sound like your children, I encourage you to seek out opportunities to engage and educate your children year-round. Heads up, though, kids have a hard time accepting their parents as teachers and will automatically resist doing work during the summer months. That’s why I recommend a great tutor or summer program catered to your children’s needs and interests. Both serve unique purposes. Tutors can work with your children according to their specific areas of weakness and learning styles. They can be a refreshing change from the traditional classroom and build relationships with your children that are supportive and encouraging. Summer programs offer another way to learn: collectively, as part of a social group, and usually in a hands-on, fun way that makes learning seem less like academics and more like exploration and discovery. Both of these methods of staying fresh work wonders and turn the summer slide into a huge summer step in the right direction.

 Looking for personal tutors and help with keeping your kids on track? Check out Teenager Success 101 for a special summer session that meets your kids wherever they are. Go to www.TeenagerSuccess101.com for more information!