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.

Parents: How back to school can change your life

Back to school parentsBack to school isn’t just for kids and school supply stores. As parents, you’re well aware that this
time of year affects you almost as much as it affects your kids. They may be returning to classrooms, homework, and friends, but you’re also returning to the parents-of-schoolkids life. Who says kids are the only ones who deserve coping skills for this transition? You do too!

So here are 4 tips – just for parents – for starting the school year off right:

  1. Set the right tone from the beginning, and be consistent! School should not equal drudgery, fear, or anxiety. How you view school, and how you convey that view to your kids, profoundly affects their feelings about learning, their teachers, and their purpose. Always speak of school as an exciting world of opportunities. Help kids see their teachers as allies who are there to help them prepare for their futures. Don’t make statements that imply that the fun is about to end as school starts. Think about it, school is where kids spend the vast majority of their time. Why would you want to paint a negative picture of their day?
  2. Carve out a special time and place each day for study, review of the day’s learning, and     reflection. Never let your children tell you they have no homework or nothing to do. Teach your kids that daily review of notes and quiet time to absorb them is crucial to learning. Cramming may get them a decent score on a test, but it won’t lead to true understanding. Always emphasize that learning is way more important than test scores. The irony is that if you emphasize learning, the test scores will follow. Even without review, quiet reflection is good for everyone and gives your kids a chance to decompress.
  3. Insist that there’s more to life than academics. If you want your kids to enjoy their school years, those years have to be comprised of more than just classes and homework. Make sure your kids have time for recreation, physical activity, and ways to use their brains outside of traditional learning. Whether it’s through chess, art, theater, music, sports, or clubs, kids need to learn the importance of a balanced life. Some of us live our entire lives without grasping that elusive concept, and we pay the price with health problems and depression. If they learn it when they’re young, they’re much more likely to incorporate it into their lives.
  4.  This is the tough one: Model these lessons in your own life. Yes, you have homework the minute school starts, beyond carpooling, and well, helping with homework. Your job is to show your kids that the same expectations you have for them also apply to you. That means you should approach your job with positivity and a dedication to lifelong learning. It means that you should have your own time each day for quiet reflection, review, and preparation. It means that you should model balance in your own life by seeking out physical activities, friends, and interests and hobbies. We’ve all figured out by now that kids are much more likely to mimic what we do rather than what we say. So your job, parents, is to walk the walk.

Just as you try to show your kids what good morals and ethics look like, you need to teach them what being a good student looks like. They need to see your actions back up your words, so consider this new school year a new beginning for you as well. Find the joy in your job, make time in your day for quiet reflection, and pursue at least one new interest that takes you out of your work routine. If you make only those three changes, your life will change for the better, and not only you, but your kids, will have a fantastic new school year!

For everything you need to know about having a great school year, check out Teenagers 101.

10 tips for keeping your kids focused

May is just a month away, which means that kids are gearing up for final exams, final projects, and final efforts to pull out the desired grade. Some have additional stressors: AP exams, SAT or ACT tests, sports tournaments, the need to find a summer job, or just overall concern about that final GPA. At this point in the school year, everything about students’ body language and attitudes screams, “We’re over it!” So how can you help your kids walk that tightrope by finding a balance between taking school seriously and learning how to decompress?

Here are 10 tips for end-of-year school success:

1. Ask your kids how their note-taking is going. Many kids slack off as the end of the year approaches and need a reminder to take the same quality notes they took at the start of the school year. If their notes at the start of the year were thorough and extensive, and their notes now mostly consist of doodles and single words with little meaning, they will need a nudge back down the scholastic path. Point out the difference and remind them that how they end is even more important than how they started. *Note: If your kids are fond of taking pictures of teacher’s notes on the whiteboard, I urge you to discourage them from this practice. It is a proven fact that writing something down contributes to memory retention; taking a picture of it does not.

  1. Make sure they get their sleep. After daylight savings time, and as the days get longer, kids are tempted to stay up later and skimp on their zzzz’s. Encourage them to hit the sack at a decent time, at least until their last final has been put to bed. *Note: Cell phones are the primary culprit when it comes to late and restless nights. Insist your kids charge up in a different room with everything set to silent. Otherwise, the buzzes and beeps – not to mention their obsessive need to respond to them – will keep them up all night.
  1. Don’t be afraid to contact teachers. Kids tend to think that you are over school as much as they are (and you may be, but they don’t need to know that). Show them that you’re still paying attention by staying involved in their progress. Teachers are your allies and when you work with them, you’ll see positive results in your kids’ success.
  1. Encourage organization, especially when it comes to major projects and tests. What can they do today that will make tomorrow a little easier? *Note: The ubiquitous cell phone is the perfect place for kids to store due dates and scheduled activities. They can customize their calendars to send reminders, so there’s no excuse for forgetting.
  1. Keep your kids in school. Teachers see a significant increase in absences during this time of year, and many are unwarranted. Stress to your kids the importance of being in class every day and staying focused on their number one job.
  1. Offer to help your kids by quizzing them and guiding them through test preparation. Whether or not they accept your help is really secondary to the fact that you offered. When parents show an interest in their kids’ studies, it positively impacts kids.
  1. Make sure your children are well fed on testing days. Protein, grapes, blueberries, and other “brain foods” really do impact students’ abilities to focus and maintain energy. Breakfast IS important!
  1. Reward your kids when they do well or after they have completed a tough study or testing session. It doesn’t have to be monetary; it can just be time to sit and watch their favorite TV program or eat their favorite dinner.
  1. Stress mind over matter. Remind your kids that when they have prepared as best as they can, they should take a deep breath and go into their tests with confidence. Mind over matter is significant in determining testing outcomes, so it’s important that they maintain a can-do attitude.
  1. Always encourage balance. Studies show that taking work breaks rejuvenates the mind and helps us to work better and more efficiently. Make sure your kids are getting exercise and fresh air and socializing with friends and family. These pursuits are arguably crucial to overall well-being.

For more ideas about helping your kids find school success, check out Teenagers 101.