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.

 

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.

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

Top 3 Tips for coping with stress

teen stressIt’s that time of year when the cries of teenagers everywhere can be heard ‘round the world. It’s college application time, well-into-school-and-absolutely-no-breaks-until-Christmas time, and “I’m up to my eyeballs in due dates” time. When kids are stressed, parents are stressed, and no one is happy. So what can you do to alleviate your kids’ anxiety? You can help, guide, suggest and even model good organization for your kids.

Teach your kids these skills today, and they will thank you for the rest of their lives:

1. There’s no way around it, something’s got to give. I can almost guarantee that your teens can drop at least one activity from their list that is a.} not that beneficial or important anyway, but that b.} takes up valuable time and adds unnecessary stress. Your kids need to decide for themselves what that is. When you pose this question to them, don’t be surprised if it takes them 30 seconds or less to answer. Teens know how they feel about their activities whether they verbalize them or not. They know what’s wasting their time, and they know what depletes their passion resources. They hate busy work. They hate pointless meetings. They’re just like us in that regard. So pose the question and step back and let them freely share the answer. Chances are, they’ll quickly identify their energy drainer. Be ready – you must be willing to hear it and let your child drop it, even if it’s a favorite activity of yours. If it’s not crucial to their future, an activity about which they are normally passionate, or something that is truly necessary for their growth and well-being, they should be allowed to drop it in the interest of life balance and stress reduction.  If you’re still hesitant about your child stopping piano lessons or SAT Prep, check out this article about the myriad ways stress hurts our bodies, minds, behaviors, and attitudes and ask yourself if that one hobby or class is worth it. http://www.stress.org/stress-effects/

 2. Kids know and understand everything they have going on in their lives, but they’re not great at figuring out what should take precedence. In fact, most would choose social media and friends over responsibilities any day of the week. They need parents to guide them and remind them, without nagging or taking over their calendar. The skill of prioritizing is so important to their lives that you would be negligent if you didn’t teach it to them. Think about the many times in your life when you’ve had to determine what is most crucial and then work to that end in order to keep your job, pay your bills, or maintain your sanity. You must teach this to your kids. Never expect that they will be able to figure this out on their own.

3. Help your kids by setting them up with a personal calendar where they can enter due dates, homework, activities and events. Teach them to review the calendar daily to determine what they can do today that will make tomorrow a little easier. Walk them through the importance of tackling big projects, college applications, and tests step-by-step, and by starting when the assignment is given, not the day before it’s due. Teach them that procrastination is dangerous, especially when entering adulthood, in that it adds additional and avoidable pressure and stress. Show them that a little forethought today can make an enormous difference to their futures.

Look for more tips like these in my book, Teenagers 101, found everywhere. And if your kids need personalized guidance, they can get it at Teenager Success 101.

Three tips for reducing teen stress  

teen stressIt’s that time of year when the cries of teenagers everywhere can be heard ‘round the world. It’s college application time, well-into-school-and-absolutely-no-breaks-until-Christmas time, and “I’m up to my eyeballs in due dates” time. When kids are stressed, parents are stressed, and no one is happy. So what can you do to alleviate your kids’ anxiety? You can help, guide, suggest and even model good organization for your kids.

Teach your kids these skills today, and they will thank you for the rest of their lives:

1. There’s no way around it, something’s got to give. I can almost guarantee that your teens can drop at least one activity from their list that is a.} not that beneficial or important anyway, but that b.} takes up valuable time and adds unnecessary stress. Your kids need to decide for themselves what that is. When you pose this question to them, don’t be surprised if it takes them 30 seconds or less to answer. Teens know how they feel about their activities whether they verbalize them or not. They know what’s wasting their time, and they know what depletes their passion resources. They hate busy work. They hate pointless meetings. They’re just like us in that regard. So pose the question and step back and let them freely share the answer. Chances are, they’ll quickly identify their energy drainer. Be ready – you must be willing to hear it and let your child drop it, even if it’s a favorite activity of yours. If it’s not crucial to their future, an activity about which they are normally passionate, or something that is truly necessary for their growth and well-being, they should be allowed to drop it in the interest of life balance and stress reduction.  If you’re still hesitant about your child stopping piano lessons or SAT Prep, check out this article about the myriad ways stress hurts our bodies, minds, behaviors, and attitudes and ask yourself if that one hobby or class is worth it. http://www.stress.org/stress-effects/

 2. Kids know and understand everything they have going on in their lives, but they’re not great at figuring out what should take precedence. In fact, most would choose social media and friends over responsibilities any day of the week. They need parents to guide them and remind them, without nagging or taking over their calendar. The skill of prioritizing is so important to their lives that you would be negligent if you didn’t teach it to them. Think about the many times in your life when you’ve had to determine what is most crucial and then work to that end in order to keep your job, pay your bills, or maintain your sanity. You must teach this to your kids. Never expect that they will be able to figure this out on their own.

3. Help your kids by setting them up with a personal calendar where they can enter due dates, homework, activities and events. Teach them to review the calendar daily to determine what they can do today that will make tomorrow a little easier. Walk them through the importance of tackling big projects, college applications, and tests step-by-step, and by starting when the assignment is given, not the day before it’s due. Teach them that procrastination is dangerous, especially when entering adulthood, in that it adds additional and avoidable pressure and stress. Show them that a little forethought today can make an enormous difference to their futures.

Look for more tips like these in my book, Teenagers 101, found everywhere. And if your kids need personalized guidance, they can get it at Teenager Success 101.

When schools fail your kids

You probably read this title and said aloud, “Oh, let me count the ways.” If you have kids in school, you know that schools sometimes fail. It’s inevitable. You can’t please everyone all the time, and in the case of schools, you can’t please everyone, ever.

As a longtime educator, now moved on to a new venture, you might expect me to lament the inadequacies of the school systems across the nation, but you won’t hear me bash them, ever.

The best, most caring, hardest working people I’ve ever encountered are teachers. If you’re not one, I can’t explain them to you and do them justice. All I can tell you is that teachers think differently, act differently, and live differently, all to serve strangers’ kids and play an integral part in giving them a future. Teachers are heroes, not the kind who run into burning buildings, but the kind who get burned every day just trying to save other people’s kids.

Yet, our schools are failing our kids, and they can’t help themselves. There are no perfect schools; there are only schools that serve a population, that present a cornucopia of lessons – academic, life, and otherwise – and hope for the best. Schools can’t control for all the variables, for the hungry kids, for the kids who are exhausted from working 25 hours a week, for the disinterested parents, for the over-interested parents, for the death, the divorce, or the drugs.

Schools only have so many resources, and if you want to maximize them, you’ve got your work cut out for you. First, see each teacher individually, learn that teacher’s style and expectations, and give that teacher what he or she wants, the way they want it. Second, appeal to the counselor (the one who has 400 students on her roster) and get her attention long enough to secure some career advice. Third, compete with everyone else in the nation taking standardized tests while wading through the various SAT-Prep programs out there trying to decide if any of them are worth it. Next, network with everyone you know and appeal to them to talk to your kids, share their careers, try to light a fire. The sheer exhaustion just thinking about the steps you must take to help your kids be successful within the school system is staggering. Add sports, clubs, care of siblings, church, and some sort of social life, and it’s no wonder parents walk around in a daze through most of their kids’ school years.

Having just left a full-time teaching career and having witnessed more stress being visited on middle and high school kids than I’ve seen in my entire career, I’ve decided to do something about it. I’ve created a one-stop shop for parents and their kids, grades 6-12, so they no longer have to go to 10 different people to get the help they need to be successful. My new venture, Teenager Success 101, brings the experts to you, wherever you live, via personal, one-on-one instruction. My goal is to reduce the stress in both parents’ and kids’ lives by lending a guiding hand on their journey through middle school, high school, and beyond. Whatever they need – tutors, test prep, college admittance support, stress management, business contacts – they can find it here, just an email or phone call away.

I’d love to help make up for what is lacking in today’s overcrowded, overstimulated, overly distracting  schools. If you want your kids to be the first to receive a personalized plan for success and all the tools and support they need to get there, just go to www.teenagersuccess101.com and then sit back and take a breath. Life is about to get a whole lot easier.