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!

 

Talking politics with your kids

It’s inescapable. Every TV channel, Facebook post, and Tweet seems to have a political bent these days and it’s obvious – and widely reported, only to fuel the fire – that we as a nation are more divisive and angry than we have been in ages. There was a time when we would have killed to have our kids more invested in current events – heck, to even know what was going on in our own country. That time has past. Now, they have no choice but to know the news. It follows them everywhere, and like us, they’re sucked in to the 24/7 coverage that sensationalizes, criticizes, and mobilizes.

The Trump campaign and presidency is seen as a massive relief by some, an abomination by others. For once, no one is ambivalent about our new president, including the notoriously ambivalent teens. Social media and constant coverage has impacted them just as it has us, and parents have a responsibility to parent in this situation just as they do in every other. It’s a sticky wicket, but so is discussing sex, body image, drug use, and so many other issues that affect young people today. So let’s focus on the positives and how you can transform this contentious time in American history into a life-changing learning experience.

  1. Use this time to teach your kids about media bias. I recently spoke to a reporter from Fox News who revealed without any hesitation that bias rules in every single media outlet, including her own. She said it as though it were the most obvious thing in the world, yet people still refuse to believe it. Every media outlet has an agenda and no one is immune. Their bottom line is viewership and every news organization knows their audience and regularly slants the truth to appeal to them. Teach your kids to recognize the bias.
  2. But take it one step further: Just because a news outlet is biased, doesn’t mean it doesn’t contribute valuable information. Don’t totally discount the news, but take everything with a grain of salt. Understand who news organizations are working to appeal to and recognize that they “adjust” their news accordingly. They may only report one side, choose only the facts that support one viewpoint, or flat out report a story before it’s been verified. If you can teach your kids that every conversation, whether it’s personal or through a TV channel broadcasting to millions, has an agenda of some sort, you will help create critical thinkers who don’t readily believe everything they hear.
  3. Caution your kids against believing what they see on social media. I can’t tell you how many memes and “news” stories I’ve seen shared that were complete fabrications. People see them, agree with them, and share them all in a matter of seconds. That’s not responsible or beneficial to everyone and only muddies very dark waters. The Internet is filled with inaccuracies and downright lies, and the sooner your kids learn that, the sooner they’ll grow into thinking adults. Teach them to consult multiple sources and to fact check news before believing it.
  4. This is a unique time to teach your kids about respect. You may despise our current president, but he is in fact, OUR president. We teach kids to respect police officers, teachers, and other authority figures because they hold an office or position that is worthy of respect. It’s trite but true that you don’t have to respect the man in power, but you do have to respect the office. Of course, you can engage in discourse wherein you respectfully disagree, but name-calling and bashing is not something you want to teach your children, even if you feel 100% justified. The same goes for the other half of the population or political spectrum with which you disagree. Engage in respectful conversations and try to understand each other. Appreciate that not everyone believes in the same things you do. Model this behavior to your children.
  5. Teach your kids there comes a time to move on. Wallowing feels good for a while, but then it just becomes ugly. What’s done is done. As Americans we have a right to peacefully protest, to write or call our government officials, and to have our own opinion about how our president is doing. But to be close-minded as to his potential, see everything he does as negative, and give him no chance to prove himself is downright wrong. Would you want someone doing that to your child? Do you want your child to grow up believing that people can’t change, have no redeeming qualities, or should not be given a chance?  Show your children what it looks like to extend grace and to have faith, even in the most difficult times.

Take every opportunity to teach your kids about life and to help them become the kind of people who will make the world a better place. Help them to be thinkers, to be aware of media motives, to have a healthy level of respect for others, and to persevere in the face of adversity. You may think nothing good will come of our current political situation, but if every parent used it to teach those things, the world really would be a better place.

Need help with your parenting? Check out Teenagers 101. Need help getting your kids on the right path? Check out Teenager Success 101.

The best gifts you can give your kids

How do you determine how you and your family will “do Christmas” every year? Do you repeat your parents’ traditions? Do you deliberately avoid them? Do you insist on creating your own traditions and steadfastly stick to them each year? Do your kids – consciously or not – dictate what Christmas will be like for the family? Or do you let fate take you wherever it wants, one year at the folks, the next in a cabin in the woods?

It’s interesting how traditions are formed. Sometimes they’re based in strong feelings of what a holiday should look like, how it should feel. Other times, they’re set up to avoid painful memories, certain family members, or unhappy situations. Sometimes they begin as happy accidents that are so much fun, we deliberately repeat them, paying homage to that first wonderful memory by recreating it each year.

My family has always spent every Christmas with extended family. At the beginning, when my husband and I were very young and just having babies, we’d haul car seats, strollers, pacifiers and diapers across the miles to visit our families in Pittsburgh. I remember my husband pulling the car over in a Waffle House parking lot so I could nurse, burp, and snuggle a little with our 3-month-old daughter on our way to spend the holidays with family. As our kids grew, I remember our son buckled into his car seat on the left, our daughter strapped into her big-girl seatbelt on the right, a fistful of french fries in her hand. We had trained our dog, bigger than both of them combined, not to beg, so in an effort to be a “good dog,” he had buried his head in the car seat, his own personal form of Time Out.

I remember Christmas Eves that preserved the traditions my husband and I had agreed upon: The kids would open family presents that night and Santa presents in the morning. When they were young, my husband always bought gifts I knew nothing about. Bouncy balls, Slurpee mix, the kids’ favorite snacks. As recently as last year, those gifts kept on coming, So did the stuffed stockings (personalized, cross stitched with love when the kids were little and I was a stay-at-home mom), the dog bone wrapped loosely enough for our mutt to find an opening and dig in, and that one special gift for each of them, the one we were excited to give, the one that would bring joy to their little faces.

When we took a cruise last year that took us many miles away from extended family and eschewed every tradition we had cherished over the years, we discovered that sometimes spontaneity is just as genuine a path to discovering the spirit of Christmas. For the first time, there was no burden of cooking, cleaning, finding activities everyone would love, or hosting out-of-towners. There was nothing but the luxury of spending time together. Nothing to distract us or add stress. We rented dune buggies and drove from one end of Cozumel to the other. We spent a day at the very resort in Jamaica where my husband and I had honeymooned 28 years before. Talk about a cool way to share our past with our children! We woke up to towel designs of snowmen and a giant Santa floating in the pool. The Grinch lurked around corners and the crew actually made it snow in the ornate ship’s lobby. None of it followed a single family tradition and all of it was fabulous.

Our gift to each other was the gift of time, and that Christmas will go down in history as being one of the most special we ever experienced. We felt no pressure to meet the expectations of Christmas – from baking cookies to sending cards to finding the perfect gifts. Instead, we simply enjoyed each other. My wish for you is that this Christmas you will give yourself permission to do the same. Rather than being pulled in a hundred different directions to meet obligations and impossibly high expectations, give the simple gift of time. You’ll never regret it.

What are your treasured holiday memories or traditions? Please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear them!

 

 

Finding balance in an unbalanced world

Our country has been in flux for a while now, and regardless of what political candidate got your vote, you’re probably still worried. Add to that financial strain, increasing pressure to compete in the workplace, and, at this time of year, holiday stress to meet expectations and get along with extended family members, and it’s easy to understand why we all may feel more than a little unbalanced.

You may think only adults feel this pressure, but in reality, teenagers are also carrying a burden. They are being hit with deadlines at school, where classes are well underway and the expectations are increasing. Some are applying to colleges and feel as if their futures are on the line. If you think your job is competitive, just look at what teens are up against as they try to get into their first choice school with a minimum GPA, SAT score, leadership requirements, and the insistence that they be well-rounded to the point of exhaustion. You might be surprised to learn that during the holidays, your kids’ pressures are exacerbated by the same expectations you have of what this time should be: love, compassion, a spirit of giving, family gathered around the perfectly festive table giving thanks, thoughtful presents, and a beautifully decorated home aglow with twinkling lights. We want to live the Hallmark movie, but let’s face it, none of us ever do.

It’s upsetting for both parents and kids to discover that reality oftentimes doesn’t come close to matching our holiday dreams. If you’ve ever sat by the tree remembering when your son gleefully made that light bulb Grinch ornament you still hang every year, while he sulks in his room playing loud music, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever poured yourself an extra Hot Toddy or two to get through an evening with annoying relatives, you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever opened a present that in no way resembled who you are or what you like, you know what I’m talking about.

So how do we find balance during this stressful time, both for ourselves and our children?

  1. Keep your expectations realistic. Lose the should and replace it with is. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah don’t have to meet anyone else’s standards. Regardless of what all those warm and fuzzy TV shows and movies tell us they should be, the holidays should be about what works for your family, even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else. I once heard someone say that Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday because there are no expectations other than to eat yourself silly and lie around all day. Give yourself permission to create your own vision for how these days will unfold.
  2. Understand that your kids need a break from school and life stress just as much as you do. I’ve never agreed with teachers giving projects and massive reading assignments over breaks. If that’s the case at your kids’ school, you might want to speak to the teacher about it. Research shows that most people do better when they’re given brain breaks and time to rejuvenate. Allow your kids to just relax and enjoy a couple weeks without homework and sports practices.
  3. Give everyone permission to sleep in and take comfort in the holidays. Teenagers need more sleep than you do, so give it to them. There’s nothing wrong with rest in an otherwise busy teenager’s life. Relish the rarity of not having to be anywhere or do anything.
  4. Keep the focus on the meaning of the season, not on outdoing yourself every year with grandiose gestures and expensive gifts. Gifts should be about quality, not quantity. They should show thoughtfulness and love, and they shouldn’t put you in debt. If you’ve gone overboard in the past, there’s no shame in telling your kids that you’re reining it in from now on. You’ll teach them a valuable lesson that the holidays aren’t about breaking the bank. Take this one step further by considering giving to others through donations of gifts or time, and trust me, you’ll feel a whole lot better.
  5. Don’t force relationships. The kids may only see Aunt Kathy and Uncle Mike once a year, so of course they should be kind and welcoming. Politeness is never wrong or out of date, so insist on it when it comes to your kids’ treatment of others. But don’t insist that they spend every minute with relatives they barely know and hardly see. You can’t force feelings on anyone, and the more you try, the more likely you are to produce the opposite result – resentment and an eventual unwillingness to even try.
  6. Maintain meaningful traditions. Regardless of whatever is going on in everyone’s life, be sure to hold on to the traditions that you love. It may be saying what you’re grateful for around the Thanksgiving table, lighting the Hanukkah candles together, or opening pajamas on Christmas Eve. These traditions will sustain your family unit and create memories that will live on with your kids and maybe even future generations. Don’t let them get lost in the excess and in the minutiae of the holidays. It’s easy to lose focus of what’s truly important when you’re bombarded by all the little things that really don’t matter.

My favorite Shakespearean quote says it all: “All of life’s greatest sadnesses stem from unmet expectations.” Don’t set yourself and your family up for failure. Remember what matters and leave the rest behind. Happy holidays, everyone!

Need help working with your kids to find balance AND success? Find personalized plans with proven success at www.teenagersuccess101.com. And for more tips on parenting teens, check out Teenagers 101

Letting go

How many of you out there have packed up your children and sent them off to college, or the military, or another state or country where they are starting a new life? My guess  is a lot, given the Facebook posts and Tweets I’ve been following for the past few months. Some have truly let go, dropping their kids off and waiting longingly for Thanksgiving. You’re currently in the middle of the longest stretch you’ve ever faced without seeing your kid, and it’s killing you. Some have let go, but only until next weekend. Your children are texting you, you’re still solving problems, and you’ve managed to feel homesick, even though you’re the one still at home.We all process our children’s growth and independence differently, and that’s as it should be. There’s no  one right way to help your kids leave the nest.

There’s a duck family in the lake behind my house. When the ducklings first hatched, the mama was relentless in her defense and protection of the little ones. She visibly stiffened as we neared, her eyes large and forbidding. Soon, her brood was swimming, and as we approached, she placed her body squarely between us and her ducklings but encouraged them to keep swimming. Now, she swims ahead of them, and at our appearance, she pauses, but only slightly. She can sense that her ducklings are bigger now, more equipped, more ready to defend themselves.

In the last few months, I’ve had to step away from my Mother Duck role completely, although I’ve been swimming ahead for a while now. My daughter, after traveling through Europe for a few months last year, decided to take an even deeper plunge into the unknown. In June, she left with a backpack and malaria pills to travel around the world. As I hugged her goodbye at the airport, I knew I wouldn’t see her for a year. Not a week, not until the next holiday, but a full year. That does something to a mother’s heart.

I don’t think I knew what conflicting emotions truly were until I saw my daughter beaming on the coast of Crete while I worried myself sick about the bombings and shootings in Europe. On the one hand, I was trepidatious, watching the news, following the violence, checking in with her via text every day. On the other hand, I felt indescribable joy for her as she discovered the beauty of Budapest and the hidden streets of Croatia.

Her experiences only became even more awe-inspiring when she arrived in Japan, which she described as a completely different world, in every way possible. She fell in love with the people, the culture, the rice balls, the Critter Cafes. She spent a month in Japan alone, savoring the atmosphere but realizing if she didn’t leave now, she never would. On she went to the Philippines where she became a certified diver and spent her days swimming with whale sharks and diving WW2 shipwrecks. Yesterday, she arrived in Cambodia for a month-long yoga retreat. She sent a video of a tribal priest blessing her and chanting a welcome while she smiled peacefully among this strange language and culture.

How can I deny her this? Why would I want to?

Parents, I know it’s hard to let your child go, but if you’re finding yourself questioning your decision to do so, ask yourself those same questions. Your children may not be traveling around the world, literally, but they’re exposing themselves to the world and enjoying their own form of self-discovery. How can you deny them that? And why would you want to?