Are Your Kids Ready for High School? Are YOU?

Parents…being the smart, mature and capable adults we are… likely think we’re aces when it comes to preparing our teenagers to begin or return to high school this month. And we’d be right.

What we might fail to do, however, is prepare ourselves for the ongoing rigor of helping teens navigate the newfound independence of high school without losing sight of our parenting values – or our commitment to intentional parenting. So here’s a primer for just for you!

Stay out of the way but not out of the picture.  High school is the time when teens need to build self-efficacy and resilience – in matters both academic and social. When parents rush in with a fully realized solution at the first blush of conflict or struggle, it undermines a teen’s ability to figure solutions out for themselves. So give them appropriate tools and language and let them have the first pass at fixing a problem they’ve encountered. After they’ve tried, failed and reached out for more support, then you can intervene with alternative solutions.

Of course there’s a middle ground, here. You want to give them the autonomy to flex their problem-solving muscles, but stay present enough so that you know what’s going on. Regarding school, for example, many parent portals let you set a threshold for when you’re to be notified of dipping grades or problematic behaviors. So stay present…just don’t hover.

Another way to help your kids develop adult chops is to exercise your listening skills more than your talking skills. Sometimes, kids just want and need to vent. When you reflect back to them what they’ve said, they might just find the answer themselves.

Get OK with not being the “cool” parents.  Recently a client expressed concern that he’d lost control of family time this summer once his son graduated from middle school. His son was “informing” his parents about his weekend plans – as if he was the boss of himself.  Adolescents navigating greater social freedom and increasingly central peer relationships still need to ask, not tell, parents about plans.

When kids are 14 – parents are still the boss. And while it may not be “cool” to insist on knowing where your kids are, one of the unspoken pacts you made with them when they were born is that you would keep them safe.

Whatever your family rules are for being kept informed about where and when, it’s important that there are consequences for kids who veer. It’s enough to say, “If I can’t count on you to be where you say you will be, then you’ve forfeited your privilege to spend time with your friends next weekend.”  Many kids will learn that lesson with just one correction, but be prepared to have to dish it out more than once if necessary.

The start of high school is also a prime opportunity to restate your values regarding the importance of family time, too. Most every parent wants their kids to have good times with their friends, but it doesn’t need to be at the expense of family cohesion. Now is the time to restate that – aloud. (This, too, will likely bear repeating)

Bottom line, transition back to school is hard – for teens and parents. Staying flexible, being observant, pivoting when necessary and listening to your teens will go a long way to making the school year manageable and enjoyable for all.

Tips for a Super-Fun Family Summer

I’m a huge proponent of family fun – as my last post on special ways to celebrate your family makes clear.

While there are a number of ways to cement family bonds, one of my favorites is to simply have fun together. After all, when you live in a city like Chicago famous for its long cold winters, the sudden and momentous return of summertime signals “family fun” like no other season of the year. So let’s get to it.

The beauty of summer – and what makes it particularly advantageous for families – is that it represents a departure from the structured world of the school year. Whether you are working inside or outside the home, the array of academic and extra-curricular activities your kids have leaves precious little time for carefree family activities during the school year.

Let’s take dinner. When children have ball or band practice after school – and  homework that evening – dinner is simply about providing nutrition.

But summertime? Even something as banal as supper can become a fun family activity. How?

·      Get everyone involved in packing a picnic to take to your favorite neighborhood park

·      Throw some pre-made pizza crusts on the grill, and have a contest to see who can create the most outlandish (yet edible) pie

·      Go to a family-friendly restaurant with outdoor seating – and bring along a deck of cards for a quick game after ordering or eating

·      Let the kids do the menu-planning, shopping and cooking! (a personal favorite)

See what I mean?

Making summertime a prime time for family fun is largely a mindset, and now is the time to shift yours so this summer can become one of your family’s best ever. Hyperbole aside, there are a few caveats.

CAVEAT #1    What your kids don’t need to know is that family summertime fun is not just about fun. Summer can be a growth opportunity. With intentional parents at the helm, kids can get lots of opportunities to exercise their executive functioning muscles (organizing, planning and executing a plan; understanding different points of view; regulating emotions (like when a rainstorm makes plans go awry). Their regular muscles can get some additional action, too, when you try new sports or activities together.

CAVEAT #2   Summer can be a stressor. Working parents face the anxiety of getting their kids into enough camps and classes and park activities so they can show up for their jobs. Stay-at-home parents may fear having their kids around 24/7 with less of the quiet or private time they’ve come to rely on during the school year.

CAVEAT #3    Transitions are difficult for kids (for parents, too), particularly the ones out of and eventually back into the school year. So give your family a break if things aren’t picture-perfect.

CAVEAT #4   Speaking of pictures…your family’s “fun” doesn’t have to look like any other family’s, nor does it have to pass the Instagram test. It simply needs to meet the needs of your particular unit.

Now let’s get back to making this summer great! Here are two basic strategies to help kick-start the season.

Have a family meeting. This is the time for everyone to come up with a few must-dos / wanna-dos for summer 2018. Out of that brainstorming session, create a bucket list that includes something for everyone. Here are just a few ideas you might want to consider:

·       Virtually every city offers family-centric activities, many of which are free or very low-cost; assign one of your kids the task of doing a bit of online research to see what’s available in your city

·      Make reading a fun family activity by selecting a book to read aloud one night each week (i.e., no book report required!)

·      Plant a garden in your backyard or join a community garden

·      Be a tourist in your own city and explore some of the neighborhoods you’ve never been to before

·       Let each of your kids include their friends in one family activity each month (dinner is a great option here, especially when you put them in charge!)

·       Speaking of dinner, try a cuisine your family has never eaten. Vietnamese, anyone?

 Approach the summer season intentionally and mindfully. You know your kids and what they need, and have no doubt already put into place the right amount and variety of structured activities and camps. But if summertime is all structure, your kids miss out the bounty of ideas and self-awareness that comes from some freedom and un-structured activities. That’s where parents need to exercise intentionality. Here are some ideas in this regard:

·      Don’t be freaked out if your kids just want to laze around the house or backyard some days. Resist the urge to keep them busy. With freedom and downtime, kids become more adept at finding out what interests them. It’s actually an important lesson to know how to entertain oneself!

·      Make and take some downtime for yourself – no matter what

·      Consider if this summer is a good time for a philanthropic activity everyone participates in

·      Limit screens – for everyone in the family

How can a working parent practice intentional parenting during the summer?

·      Consider using your PTO to spend at least one day a month with each one of your kids alone for a special activity. Taking time off “just because” sends a powerful message to kids.

·      Check with your manager regarding flex time. Many companies have official or unofficial summer policies or, if not, may be amenable to an idea you propose

·      Stay connected with your kids as much as you can with a phone call during lunchtime

Being an intentional parent also means setting realistic expectations – for everyone in the family. No parent can make summertime fun-central from dawn to dusk. You still need to go to work, do the laundry and pay the bills. If you haven’t already, make this the summer you lift the veil on all the things you do as parents to make your kids lives comfortable.

It’s a great way to teach your kids to be empathic to someone else’s experience. I’m certainly not advocating you play the martyr, but it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “Listen guys – Tasks A, B, C and D need to get done this week – in addition to all the fun stuff we’d like to do. Let’s figure out who will do what and when.” You just may be surprised how eager they are to help (especially the younger ones!)

A clean house and a day at the fair? Sounds like fun to me!

The Importance of ‘Family Time’ When College Kids Come Home For Break

Last year your junior successfully completed the college selection process I blogged about, survived the college campus visits during senior year and has been happily ensconced in his or her ideal-fit university since September.

Then came Thanksgiving break. Prior to their arrival, you’d imagined leafy walks arm-in-arm with your offspring or, at the very least, looked forward to seeing their shining face across the Thanksgiving table laden with their favorite foods.

What happened? They graced you with their presence for 45 fleeting minutes during the entire four-day weekend! And you had to share that time with the family pet who was greeted with more enthusiasm.

No more, you promised yourself. Come Winter break, that wayward child is going to spend time with the family – and love it!

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it?

What could be satisfying, though, is a negotiated two-party solution. Your newly independence-loving college freshman agrees to a set amount of family time in exchange for the freedom to catch up with their besties and do everything else that college kids long to do during their month off.

Getting there will take more than a wish and a prayer – but not much more. Here is what I recommend:

Communicate your needs and expectations.

Begin a conversation before Winter Break so everyone fares better between semesters. Naturally, every family is going to have different needs and desires about how much family time is enough. No matter the amount, the tactic is the same: Clearly communicate exactly what it is you and your co-parent want and need from your kids. That’s critical, because they won’t have any idea what we’re expecting if we don’t tell them. For example, I typically ask my home-for-the-holidays kids for one or two family dinners per week, as well as their presence with our extended brood on the actual holidays. Any other family time (and it turns out, there’s plenty) is a bonus.

Articulate the “Why.”

Saying what we want isn’t enough. Parents need to communicate why family time matters. This is a values conversation, and I never miss an opportunity to tie my values into my conversations with my kids. I happen to believe spending time together is one of the best ways to strengthen our family community. So I make sure I remind them of that.

Manage unreasonable expectations.

Rein in on asking for the moon. Once our kids are in college, it’s not appropriate for us to hold them hostage 24/7 when they’re home. When you carefully examine your own expectations of them and make reasonable requests, you model for them how to navigate differences and be respectful others. For example, while my college kids don’t have a nightly curfew, per se, I tell them that when they come home at 3 am it’s disruptive to me. Let them know you understand their needs (to see their friends; lounge in their rooms; paint the town), too.

Acknowledge when they do as you’ve asked.

The power of “Thank you” cannot be overestimated. Don’t take it for granted that you asked your kids for something important to you and they did it! Not only does it make our kids feel appreciated for making the effort, subsequent visits home are much more likely to go better too. 

So, if Thanksgiving wasn’t everything you hoped it would be, make sure you wrap up this all-important conversation sooner rather than later. Once they leave, email me and let me know how it went!

3 Rules for Acing the College Selection Process

If you’re the parents of a high-school junior, right about now your family is gearing up for the trip to crazy town that is the modern college-selection process. Determining the right set of colleges to apply to when senior year rolls around can be harrowing if you follow the crowd and fixate on securing a spot at one of the elite schools that only a teeny-tiny fraction of applicants achieve.

As an alternative, I offer the Dana Hirt Promise: You can help your child navigate (and master) the process with relative ease – and distance yourself from its nuttier aspects – by following three key rules:

Rule #1.  Understand that crafting the perfect resume guarantees nothing…except potentially an overwhelmed, burned out kid.

Rule #2.  Empower your teen to take the reins.

Rule #3.  Make “fit” – not college ranking -- the focus of the selection process.

Bonus Advice: Consider this recommendation you may find surprising.

Rule #1 is self-explanatory – and I implore you to take it to heart. Why? Because much of the time, the college admissions process is an exceedingly subjective and arbitrary one. Idiosyncratic and institution-specific, there’s just no way to game the system. This is not to say that achievement of all kinds in high school is not important. Naturally good grades, club involvement, leadership activities and all the rest are great! They just don’t guarantee acceptance letters. 

Rule #2 is a win-win-win. First, empowering teens to take the reins of the college investigation and selection process gives them the opportunity to work to the limit of their developmental ability on a long-term, multi-faceted endeavor.

The second win is this: The more students have a voice and vote in determining the schools they apply to (and ultimately attend), the better their chance of success. In my personal and professional experience, students who had a true say in their college selection had a higher tolerance for the tough times that inevitably surface during a college career.

Lastly, parents win by keeping your family off the roller-coaster. Your role, strategically, is to help your teen develop a structure for the project and offer guardrails when he veers off course.

Here’s the most important rule of all: Leverage your experience and expertise by helping everyone keep their eyes on the prospective student’s temperament, interest and abilities – the essentials for Rule #3’s all-important idea – “FIT.”

Considering there are approximately 3,000+ 4-year colleges and universities in the United States alone, finding the right schools to apply to is a daunting task.

But not if you and your teen put ‘fit’ at the top of your agenda.

Parents and teens alike need to ignore the plethora of lists that rank a university’s cache and desirability and focus on FIT. Here are the most fundamental and personal criteria:

Personality and interests. Challenge your high schooler to write down the key aspects of their personality and interests. After outlining their temperament, interests, and wants and needs, the things that matter in this category are setting (suburban, rural or city-based); geography (distance / ease of travel home); social scene (love Greek life or hate it?); and culture (religious school, traditional institution, liberal/conservative). Campus visits are hugely instructive when it comes to finding a school that “fits.” I remember my eldest son was on one campus for just 10 minutes before he knew it wasn’t for him. The school he eventually went to? He felt “at home” immediately. Empower kids to trust their instincts and ‘listen’ to how they feel on campus.

Make campus visits more economical by viewing “like” campuses closer to home. For example, a large state university campus looks and feels a lot like all the others (flora and weather aside) – certainly enough alike to give your teen a sense of what to expect. Likewise with a technical college. Better to save your traveling dollars for specialized schools, as well as those your child has a strong interest in.

Academic interests. When kids know what degree they’re after, then the smartest option is to pick the schools with the best academic department in that field that he or she can get into – even if the school’s overall ranking is lower. If your teen is unsure of a major, consider Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of “relative deprivation,” which he describes in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. From a college admissions standpoint, the theory purports that students who end up in the top 10% of a lesser-tier school fare much better than those who end up at the bottom 30% of a top-tier school they just squeaked into.

Money. Finances are always a part of the equation. That’s why I advocate looking far beyond the top 100 schools to the expansive range of options that will better fit your teen – and likely, be more affordable. Ultimately, your teen’s choices of where to apply will come down to the best combination of fit and finances.

A Few Additional Tips

I googled “college selection process” and immediately received about 10 million hits. Who’s got that kind of time? In addition to you and your teen asking a trusted few who’ve been through the process for their preferred resources and favorite websites, here are a few of mine:

·      Given the ratio of students to guidance counselor at public high schools, many parents pop for an independent consultant to aid the search

·      Many parents, myself included, consider College Confidential an invaluable resource. Check out their parents’ forum.

·      Education First’s Explore America website provides a thorough overview of the college visit

·      The Fiske Guide to Colleges is also a must-read resource

And finally, the promised…

Bonus Advice

Consider the value of a gap year. I outline the many benefits of a gap year and how it can be important for a teen’s development in my blog post on HuffPost, but if you’re time-stretched, here are the highlights:

·      It will help your child become more independent, resilient and capable of weathering and thriving during high times and low

·      Most colleges will accept deferrals for a gap year – and will even defer scholarships

·      The benefits of expanding one’s world view are immeasurable

It may be a tad bumpy, but enjoy this ride. Trust me – your nest will be empty before long.

Parenting as Easy as 1,4,4: 1 Week. 4 Questions. 4 Answers.

 

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  So said 19th century French critic and writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr.

While Karr likely wasn’t referring to parenting when he coined the phrase, it rings true nonetheless.

While modern parents are beset by “more is more” consumerism, whether it’s kid gear, how-to books or digital experts trafficking in truth, the basics of good parenting really hasn’t changed over millennia – at least not from my perspective.

You know what else hasn’t changed? The questions parents ask about raising their children.

Last week I heard from 4 different clients, each asking one of the most-frequently-asked parenting questions I’ve heard over the years. In this post, I’m sharing them – and my answers – with the blogosphere! 

 

QUESTION #1 – How do I create even a little ‘ME’ time?

This question is so universal and ubiquitous that I actually launched my blog with a post on the importance of self-care.  There was so much to say, I continued the conversation in my second blog post!

Here’s the crux: You cannot take care of your children at the expense of yourself.

Let’s say you’re having a beyond-crazy week. What “good” parents (usually moms) think they “should” do is free up a little time by cancelling the one thing that’s on the calendar for themselves. In the end, everyone suffers, especially the children we mistakenly believe our selflessness will benefit.

Why does eliminating self-care backfire? Because if we are exhausted, or worse, falling apart at the seams, we don’t have the bandwidth or resilience to be the intentional, positive parents we want to be.

 

Trust me on this: I learned the hard way.

I was the Mom who was always available and present for my kids. I managed to put them first all of the time -- at the expense of myself and, at times, my marriage.  After my divorce, I was drowning and could barely keep my own head above water, much less my kids’. But wouldn’t you know it, in a moment of sanity, I realized they were more than capable of treading water – even swimming!

I eventually saw I was doing my children a grave disservice by always sacrificing my needs to attend to theirs - even their perceived needs. So I pulled back on being there 24/7/365 – and amped up teaching them how to navigate and negotiate life’s challenges. As a result, we were all able to recover, and even thrive, through and after the divorce.

Don’t believe it’s possible to carve out “me time”?  Here are a few suggestions for parents of kids of all ages.

Toddlers. Create an activity bag with enough toys and puzzles to keep little ones occupied for 10 minutes. It gives them the opportunity to have some righteous “alone time” right outside the open bathroom or bedroom door while you have a shower or do 10 minutes of mindful meditation.

School-aged. Go to your room after dinner for 20 minutes and relax while the kids clear the table and load the dishwasher. (Promise me you won’t redo it, even if they waste precious space!)

Teens.  Older kids need autonomy. Go out for a run, take a yoga class or grab coffee with a friend. By this age, your teens know your boundaries – and the consequences if they cross them.

 

QUESTION #2 – Why do my kids fight all the time?

What parent likes being a referee when their kids fight over seemingly inane matters? None I know. But far too often, parents become arbitrators because they think it’s what good parents do.

Bow out now. It’s not your job to be judge and jury over every sibling squabble. (Caveat: if an older child is striking a younger one or safety is at risk in any way, get involved.)

A sibling spat may not be Instagram or Facebook worthy, but it’s a fact of life for every family. Skirmishes among siblings – over having the best toys, a parent’s favor or yadda-yadda – is a natural sibling dynamic that’s actually developmentally appropriate.

If you’re one of those parents who can tune it out while your kids work it out, consider yourself lucky. But for some of us, that level of disruption and disquiet is uncomfortable at best and unnerving at worst.

What to do? My MO was to give my kids one “Knock it off!” in hopes they’d do just that. When they didn’t, the rule in our house was that they each went into separate rooms until they were able to co-exist.

Kids naturally want to draw us into understanding why they did what they did to their brother or blame their sister. But resolving the issue is not your job; it’s theirs. Kids want you to label one the victim and the other the villain. As long as you continue to do that, the frequency of squabbling only escalates.

How long must they be apart before the time out is over, you ask?  As long as it takes. I always tell my clients that a “time out” isn’t about time, per se. It’s about “out.” How long “out” lasts depends on our kids’ willingness to peacefully co-exist.

 

QUESTION #3 – Why won’t my husband get with the program?

Let’s start with the positive.

According to a Pew Research Center report on American fathers, generally speaking they are more ”with the program” than not.

In another Pew report on the division of labor in households with two working parents, things appear generally, if not exactly, equitable. 

Then there are the outliers.

I often hear from women – like the one who asked this question – who say they do everything related to child care and domestic duties; their partners are simply not engaged. When talking about a male and female partnership, it’s safe to say the sexes function differently. In my experience, unengaged Dads fall into several categories:

1.    They want to be the “fun” dad, leaving everything else to Mom.

2.    They want to engage, but struggle to participate.

3.    They engage, but feel as if their efforts aren’t appreciated or aren’t good enough.

4.    They don’t want to do the work of family life, but are willing to pay for outside help (housecleaners, nannies, etc.).

5.    They don’t want to engage and they don’t care how it makes their partner feel.

With the first three categories, the opportunity for success is great. If your partner is a #4 and you’re okay with such an arrangement, then a happy home life can be yours as well. A #5 partner is a situation beyond the limits of my coaching expertise – so definitely engage a therapist (or divorce lawyer).

Certainly, as women, we need to hold our partners accountable – not by keeping a tally of infractions and blowing up when we can’t take it anymore – but by speaking up in the moment and objectively communicating how we feel without judging or blaming. If you’re unable to communicate effectively – or if you can yet your partner still doesn’t understand -- then by all means bring in a third party like a therapist or parenting coach to help.

Here’s the hugely important thing, women with partners like #3 must do: Let their efforts be good enough.

Perhaps the dishwasher doesn’t get loaded exactly as you would like or no one in the family has matching socks when he does laundry or your daughter’s luscious locks look gnarly no matter how many styling lessons you’ve proffered.

Let it go, let it go, let it go.

Conversely, if there’s something you absolutely positively need to be done a certain way, then take it off your partner’s list and swap it for something you don’t care about. What’s important is that the two of you are more or less equally engaged in making sure the kids are safe, healthy and (relatively) happy. The rest pales in comparison.

 

QUESTION #4 – Why is my kid lying on the floor instead of doing his homework?

Great question. Why is your kid lying on the floor instead of doing his homework?

In this particular situation, school had just started. Her otherwise compliant 9-year-old son refused to answer the list of questions his teacher had posed to all her students in an attempt to get to know them. Instead, he flopped down on the floor, flapping about, refusing to do the work.

And Mom? She mimicked his flapping to prove to him how ridiculous he looked.

It hardly made the boy want to jump up and get to work.

My response to any child who is avoiding responsibility is to engage with her or him to get to the crux of the resistance. After all, a child who feels confident and competent about her abilities isn’t going to avoid an opportunity to let her teacher know just how smart she is.

So what exactly was going on? I coached my client through the following scenarios:

•      Was her son having a difficult transition from summertime to school?

•      Is he over scheduled?

•      Does he need a snack and some downtime after school before hitting the books?

•      Was he overwhelmed by the sheer number of questions in the assignment?

•      Did he know the answers, but was embarrassed by his handwriting?

•      Was his behavior part of a pattern of avoidance?

•      Could there be a learning disability?

•      What about an emotional block?

After careful analysis, my client realized her son was dealing with an execution issue. After a summer off, he was simply overwhelmed by the task of sitting down to write out all of the responses. Mom agreed to be his scribe so he could answer fulsomely without having to face the onerous task of writing. In this case, it was a great solution. The teacher was trying to get a sense of her new students, it wasn’t a handwriting exercise. And as it turned out, the boy was happy to to share his thoughts when he wasn’t constrained by the writing. 

As parents, our most important job is to pay the right kind of attention to our kids so we can understand what makes them tick – and to see where they need extra sensitivity and empathy.

My take away from my clients this week is that all parents would be well served if we regularly shared our parenting trials and tribulations with each other.  So much of what parents go through – especially the tough times – aren’t unique.  Finding out you are not alone eases the burden considerably, alleviates anxiety and offers you multiple ways to deal with challenging moments.  So let’s keep sharing.

There you have it. 1 week. 4 questions. 4 answers. Now I’d love to hear about your concerns!

Ask a parenting question

 

5 Pieces of Advice for Parents of High School Freshman

Sweaty palms and jangled nerves.

Anxiety about navigating a new world.

Intense desires to fit in.

Frenzied fears they won’t.

That’s the emotional terrain most teens traverse as they make their way across the wide expanse from elementary to high school.

It’s a sizable transition by all accounts – social, psychological, academic and physical. The rub is that the transition needs to be experienced… your teen can’t really prepare for it. But as parents, you can help along the way.

That’s why this posts offers guidance on the 5 most relevant and fraught topics your freshman (or freshwoman) will continually face as he or she evolves from an incoming 9th grader to bona fide high schooler. They are, in no particular order:

1.    Drinking and drugs

2.    Making friends

3.    Academic expectations

4.    Romantic relationships

5.    The digital domain

 One caveat: There are no magic solutions or established protocols that will work for every teen in every family. What’s essential is that as parents, you understand your own feelings about these high-stakes high school hurdles. That enables you to make intentional decisions based on your values – and the outcome you want for your child. Then you articulate them again… and again.

Let’s talk teens.

1.    Drinking and drugs.

Personally, my values are that teenagers should not drink or take drugs. My (now grown) kids knew this because I told them – early and often. And the more they heard me say it, the more it was in their head when they were faced with that choice.

Unlike my teenagers, I had the parental gift of perspective and insight, so I shared my knowledge about drugs and alcohol with them, especially regarding the:

·      Difference of the alcohol levels in beer vs. spirits

·      Implications of mixing uppers (like red bull) with downers (alcohol)

·      Difference of the effects of drinking on a 200-pound boy vs. a 100-pound girl

·      Legal consequences of drinking or taking drugs on school property

·      Legal consequences of driving while under the influence

·      Legal implications for me if minors drank in my home

Granted, my telling them all these things didn’t prohibit my children from making their own choices (good and bad), but they absolutely knew what the pitfalls and consequences could be.

Most important, we always had a plan in the event their decisions turned out badly. My kids knew they could call me at any time if they needed a ride. And if they texted me the phrase “911,” that was code for me to rescue them while they could still save face with their friends.

 2.    Making friends.

The headline?  Play dates are over.

 In elementary school you had some say – or at least sway – over your kids’ friends. But in high school, who your teen befriends is no longer up to you.

Big changes are afoot socially. Eighth-graders who were on top of the food chain just 12 weeks prior now find themselves at the bottom. Fueled by a desire to fit in and be accepted, most teens find themselves in wholly new territory.

High school is a great time to explore new friendships. It’s a time to try on different personalities, and maybe even re-invent oneself entirely. While I can relate to the desire for your special frosh to meet and hang out with other “good” kids, their reinvention might just look cockeyed from your point of view. My advice? Let them be.

It’s actually okay to be a little permissive if your teen explores in arenas that aren’t mortally threatening (Goth dress or unconventional hair color, for example). If their choices are discordant with your family’s values, then of course it’s time to step in and make your values known – again. Outside of that, try not to be authoritative in this arena.

The bottom line?  Kids need to work out their friendship and relationship issues on their own unless you’re specifically asked. Then you may share these five ideas with your frosh. Otherwise, provide support, empathy and insight, but don’t interfere.

3.    Academic expectations

The academic divide between grade school and high school can be daunting. More is expected of high school students. And there is less hand-holding by teachers (and there should be less hand-holding by parents!)

It is difficult to stay out of the way and not help or rescue your child as they struggle with this transition. Do your best to let your son or daughter navigate the new academic demands and manage relationships with their teachers. Be empathic to their struggles, while you help them advocate for themselves.

I appreciate the difficulty of watching a child struggle and resisting the urge to fix the problem. By all means, listen to their concerns and help them uncover ways to approach the problem. And provide a reality check for an anxious teen who can’t fathom recovering from a poor grade.

But when we get overly engaged, it disempowers our children and sends the message that we don’t think they can handle the challenges they face. If we want to build resilient, confident kids, we have to let them deal with these situations, and learn that they can, indeed, figure out their academic problems and do well. Here are some tips worth passing on:

·      Encourage them to build relationships with their teachers and regularly check in with them on their progress

·      Take advantage of in-school resources like writing labs, National Honor Society tutoring, and mentorship opportunities          

·      Identify a go-to person in each class (may not always be a friend) that can be relied upon to provide notes or a heads-up about missed assignment after an absence

 

In a very real sense, your teen’s mastery of the challenges of high school academics are the 21st century skills they’ll need for post-graduation work and their college career.        

4.    Romantic relationships

Just like with drinking and drugs, I didn’t tell my kids how I felt about teens and sex in one big talk prior to high school. I shared my values with them over and over again. And I assure you, they weren’t always receptive to these conversations.

If you’re not comfortable talking about sex with your kids, get help getting there. Your kids need to know your values about love and sex. Not telling them is a missed opportunity to spark a dialogue. It may not happen in the moment, but if your teens hear you speak naturally and often about typically taboo or uncomfortable topics, it’s more likely they’ll see you as someone with whom they can discuss these issues.

If your kid is the one who is uncomfortable having that conversation with you, give them a great sex-ed book or two. Do not let them construct the narrative about healthy sexuality exclusively from the Internet and their friends. 

Just like with alcohol and drugs, as parents we ought to share essential info with our teens:

·      The efficacy of various birth control methods – and access to them if you’re comfortable with that

·      Dangers of sexually transmitted disease

·      Importance of consent and being a respectful partner

·      Issues around sexual orientation and acceptance

·      Emotional attachment as a consequences of sex

·      Impact of drugs/alcohol on decision-making and sex

And with young women 16 to 24 experiencing the highest rates of rape, sexual assault and stalking, teens need to know how to take action if any of these occur.

Sharing my values about sex may not have always led to the outcomes I personally wanted for my kids, but it did lead to learning opportunities for them, as well as conversations by which they could begin to establish their personal values about sex and relationships. I call that a win.

5.    The digital domain

When even the youngest of the current crop of parents were in high school, tweeting, sexting, texting and social media were unimaginable. Today, it’s the world in which we live… and around which your teens’ lives will forever revolve.

Talk with your teens about what is appropriate to view online and what is appropriate to share online. They do not know this innately, and therefore are more vulnerable to predators and other severe consequences.

It’s especially important that teens understands several things about their digital footprints:

·      The acronym “www” stands for worldwide web, which is exactly how far their posts travel

·      There is no privacy on the web; everything posted is officially on the record –potentially for all time

·      Unflattering digital exposure can be easily viewed by college admissions officers and future employers who aren’t above relinquishing offers based on what they see online

While the idea may be a tough sell to a 14-year-old, talk regularly about how you practice social media professionalism and point out examples of social media gone wrong whenever you see it.

Well, there you have my 5 pieces of advice for parents of high school freshman.

Here’s a bonus piece of Intel: If you do not want to be one of those parents freaking out because your incoming college freshman isn’t ready for university life, begin their preparation today.

Do not handicap your high school freshman by protecting them from failing. Do not handicap them by interfering with every decision they make. Let them stumble… or even fail.

As educational reformer John Dewey insisted, failure could be as essential to learning as succeeding. Your job is to give your teen every opportunity there is to practice self-reliance and problem solving in high school. The best you have to offer is your support, validation and empathy as they do the hard work of growing up.

One final note:  While I consider myself a parenting expert, it’s been more than a few years since I crossed the threshold into high school for the first time. So if your kids seriously tune you out – or if you sense they’ll be more responsive to hearing about high school from someone born in the 21st century – here’s some advice from the pros – high school sophomores! Their recommendations aren’t half-bad.

  

Want FREE parenting advice? Email and ask me a parenting question.

 

 

5 Essentials for ‘Back to School’ Success

With the school year just around the corner, you’ve no doubt written your list and checked it twice. Let’s take a look:

Missing a check mark by that last item?

Let’s take care of that right now. Why? Because developing a “partnership mindset” with your children’s schools is probably the single most important thing you can do to ensure your kids’ success.

So, what exactly is it?

A partnership mindset simply means you strive to be an advocate for your school-going children without being an adversary of their teachers or school administrators. It’s a commitment to developing a relationship with these influential professionals “based on trust, a shared vision and mutual respect.”

Easy enough, you say. Who doesn’t want to be respectful and trusting of teachers and the folks who run the schools? But a partnership mindset goes beyond civility and courtesy… all the way to advocacy. Here’s how you can make it happen.

5 Strategies for Developing a Partnership Mindset

1.    Talk to teachers and administrators early…and as often as necessary

If your child has any special needs… learning differences… or simply a personality trait that could impact their school experience adversely, share it with his or her teacher within the first week or so of school. Don’t worry about poisoning the teacher’s expectations of your child. Remember the adage, “Forewarned is forearmed.” Giving teachers and administrators a heads-up about any possible issues actually gives your child an advantage.

By all means, when age appropriate, share this information with each new teachers with your child present. This helps demonstrate your family’s transparency, removes any stigma from the child’s mind (“If Mom says that about me as if it’s no big deal, it must be OK”), plus it communicates to the teacher that you’re doing everything you can to provide the support your child needs.

When your kid is old enough, let her tell the teacher herself.

Here’s my experience: 

My middle child had a 504 plan. In grade school, she and I spoke to her teachers jointly. But by the time she got to high school, she was writing her own letter to her teacher outlining her needs, testifying to her strong work ethic and attaching the pertinent 504 recommendations. She finished her selective-enrollment high school as a straight-A student (just sayin’!).

If a teacher loses sight of your child’s particular needs? Don’t be shocked. If you had 30 kids, you’d occasionally forget something important, too. If issues arrive, simply remind the teacher in as kind and respectful a manner as possible.

2.           Establish your expertise… and respect theirs

I have a B.A. in education and my M.Ed. I’ve been a teacher, a parent-educator, an educational therapist and am now a parenting coach. That’s NOT the expertise I led with when I met with my (now grown) children’s teachers, however.

I led with being their Mom. I’m a bona fide expert on my kids – as you are on yours. No matter how many valuable coaches or mentors or tutors our kids may have, no one knows our children as we do. No one. So establish yourself and your co-parent as the go-to folks for information on what makes your kid tick… or tock.

Conversely, most parents aren’t teachers or school administrators. These professionals have had a lot of education, love kids, and are extremely passionate about helping children learn. That’s awesome!  You want all you can get of that for your children.

Still, there are times when you need to firmly advocate for your child around academic or other issues.

3.             Do your part… and ensure your kids do theirs

Be sure teachers and administrators know – by your words and actions – that you are a family that cares about and is involved in your kids’ school experience.

Both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence clearly show that when families are involved in their kids’ education, children do better across a variety of metrics. Until kids internalize good study skills – as well as the desire to succeed academically – parents need to provide plenty of external support. Teachers and educational specialists refer to this as scaffolding.

What might this look like at home?

·               Provide prompts, guides and structure

o   Dedicated place to study

o   Carts stocked with school and art supplies

o   Laminated lists that outline effective study techniques

o   A solid wifi connection

·               Model good performance and analytical thinking by doing it out loud

·               Have your more advanced math son or daughter tutor a younger sibling

·               Recognize your children’s growth moments

·               Reframe self-defeating comments with self-promoting ones

o   “I made a mistake” becomes “Mistakes help me improve”

o   “This is too hard” becomes “This may take some time and effort”

·               Make children accountable for study or instrument-practice time

As with home-building, educational scaffolding is essential to keeping your child’s external structure strong until they can internalize those skills and stand on their own. Neglect it at their expense.

 

4.             Be respectful and grateful in every teacher interaction… remember, they’re “people” first

Teaching is a startling demanding profession with less-than-stellar remuneration (trust me, I’ve been there). And, like every other human on the planet, teachers have bad days.

Given their occasional missteps – and no doubt, your kids’ flub-ups – there will be multiple “opportunities” for tête à têtes with teachers.

Communication is key, so here are some guidelines:

·      Begin every teacher conversation by expressing your gratitude and respect for the work they do for their students, including yours

o   Why be antagonistic to someone who has such a huge impact on your child in the course of the year?

·      Don't be one of those parents that teachers dread hearing from, who generally find exception to every rule as far as their child is concerned

·      Recognize that teachers are fallible – and give them a break when they deserve one

o   If they made a mistake adding up a test score and you’d like them to amend it, simply show them the math and ask for a correction

·      Don’t be defensive, blame, name-call or accuse; teachers try, but they don’t always get it right

o   Remember…it’s crazy-easy to have a knee-jerk reaction when we think we are protecting or defending our kids!

·      Use non-threatening language when talking to teachers… and encourage your kids to do the same

o   A parent could say: “I’m having a hard time understanding what the purpose of this assignment is…can you help me? 

o   Your daughter in AP Literature could say: “I was really disappointed with my grade on the last paper. Can you give me some examples of ‘A’ work so I can better understand your expectations?”

·      Close by reaffirming your support and confidence in the teacher

o   Conduct the conversation as if you’re the teacher’s advocate, too, and everyone comes out a winner

5.             Be accountable for your kids… (unless they’re perfect)

In generations past, parents typically responded to concerned calls from teachers with fury aimed at their misbehaving children. With the current generation, many teachers find themselves on the other end of the line with a furious parent who blames every problem on the schools, not their children.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

So if a teacher or administrator calls you about a serious problem – an abrupt change in behavior, a bullying accusation, suspected drug or alcohol use – how should you respond? CALMLY. Even if (especially when!) every bone in your body is screaming, “Not my kid!”

Fact is, why not your kid?  Let’s face it, even “good” kids can be disrespectful, make poor choices and even cause harm on occasion. So always ask yourself, What might be my child’s role in this?  

Actually, the teacher is no doubt as concerned about your child as you are, and may have some insights to offer you. Try, “What do you think is going on that is causing my son to express himself this way?” You may be surprised at how much they can help.

Ultimately, teachers, administrators and parents are partners working toward a common goal.  As long as we keep that in mind with every interaction, we can all serve our children better. 

They’re BACK: How to Navigate Adult Children Returning Home

 

You’ve heard the adage that says if you hear something three times, it’s something you need to pay attention to, right? Given that, I’m hereby announcing that if you hear something five times, it officially makes it a “thing.”

The thing in question is the skyrocketing rate at which young adults return home to live with their parents, something at least five friends or clients have mentioned in just the last few weeks.

 But it’s not just happening to folks in my circle. Here’s the skinny:

 In the U.S., bastion of the rugged individualist, the Pew Research Center reports that living with parents is now “the most common arrangement for people ages 18-34.” Why? One explanation is that although the U.S. unemployment rate is 4.9 overall, unemployment is almost double that for young adults.

Even in Europe, where it’s long been traditional for children to live with their parents until they marry – at whatever age – it’s now reported that 60% of Italian and approximately 80% Spanish 18-29-year-olds still live with their parents!

 That makes it a safe bet that, at some point, one of your adult children will ask to move home.

Since “once a parent, always a parent,” you’re likely to pause and ask yourself, “Is this the right thing to do?”

 As with most tough parenting questions, my best and most honest response is, “It depends.”

 What it depends on is open, honest and ongoing communication about the reason for the move, as well as frank discussions about money, boundaries, responsibilities and respect. Let’s start with what I consider to be some good reasons to allow your adult child to move back home.

 Transition after College / Grad School  

·      Finding even a good-enough first job isn’t an overnight process

·      Some grads may have a job, yet want to be strategic about where they’re going to sign a lease

Unexpected Personal Crisis

·      An adult child ends up in a situation with an unstable or unsafe roommate

·      Your adult child and his/her live-in partner broke up unexpectedly and he/she needs to move out immediately

·      Your adult child is diagnosed with a physical illness or depression

 Economic Situations

·      Unexpected or unplanned job loss

·      Living costs that exceed income

·      Adult kids with families who need temporary support due to economic hardship

·      Desire to save for a strategic expense, such as a wedding or down payment on a house 

Elderly Parents

·      Sometimes, the situation is a win-win, as when an adult child needs a place to live and an aging or ill parent needs some in-home support or care

 

 If you’ve decided it’s okay for your adult child to move back home, you need to establish – and agree to – ground rules before the move. Here are some good questions to consider when establishing the rules.

 To Pay or Not to Pay

These are basically need-and-capacity questions:

·      Is there enough room in your home to accommodate your adult child and, perhaps, his or her family?

·      Do you need your adult child to contribute to household expenses?

*  If Yes, does your adult child have the financial resources to contribute? Is it enough?

*  If No, are there non-monetary ways he or she can contribute?

·      Do they need use of a family car and, if so, can they pay for their own gas and insurance?

 Boundaries

Making sure everyone understands where the limits are reduces confusion and makes expectations crystal clear. Here are questions to guide your rule-making:

·      Defined length of stay

*  Is the “ask” for a month…six months…one year? 

·      Consider curfews

*  If we’re talking about your gap-year kid who is spending the year at home, will you impose one?

*  With your older adult children, will you not?

·      Friends’ rules

*  Are girlfriends / boyfriends allowed to stay overnight?

*  How about close friends?

*  What about people you don’t know?

·      Chores

*  Beyond being responsible for their own room and bathroom, laundry and dishes (please do not clean up after your adult child), do you expect help with general housecleaning, shopping, yard work and other routine household tasks?

 

Personal vs Parental Responsibilities

·      Does everyone understand that...”

*  You are not responsible for ensuring your adult kids get enough sleep, eat well and wake up on time for work and other responsibilities?

*  You have the right to set the household rules your adult children must abide by if they move back in?

*  You don’t have the right to oversee (or weigh in on!) every aspect of your adult child’s life or decisions… unless specifically asked for input?

 Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

·      Agree to talk - on a regular timetable - about what’s working and what’s not

*   Every two weeks, especially in the beginning, is probably about right

·      Agree to address unforeseen problems as they arise

*   Talk about uncomfortable issues immediately; don’t wait for a scheduled check-in

*   Don’t keep a tally of infractions; address the issues and then let them go

*   Don’t presume your adult children will know what you’re thinking or what you want

 Just to cover all the bases, I’m going to weigh in briefly on situations where it’s NOT a good idea for your adult child to move back home: 

·      If they’ve demonstrated that they can’t follow your house rules / expectations

*   Unlike the stock market, past performance is a good indication of future success

·      If allowing them to move home means you’ll be crossing the line between support… and enabling

*   Substance abuse issues

*   Irresponsibility about money

 Here’s the good news about kids who return to the nest as adults. If you raised them from 0-18 to be independent, capable and self-reliant members of society, you can be pretty sure that’s who is moving back home. Continued discussions with them about how to approach the everyday problems of adult life is a powerful opportunity for them… one that can bear fruit for them with their future partners, colleagues, and friends. So put out the welcome mat!