Tag Education

Nine Tips for Deciding Among College Offers

college student in garbThis entry is written for parents of college seniors considering which college offer to take. However, it can be extrapolated to similar situations.

First of all, congrats: your child got into not only one somewhere but–an assumption I’m making because you’re reading this entry–multiple somewheres! Remember how anxious you felt about that? How uncertain? (The metaphor I used with friends was that I felt like an abandoned toddler in a wet diaper, in down town Manhattan.) So, yes, s/he will not have to manufacture meth in a van down by the river in order to survive. Given that, here are some principles for guiding the decision making process the rest of the way.

#1: Take the time and energy to celebrate! It’s so easy to rush and to move on to the next hurdle. As the hurdles never end, take a break from the race and savor. Your baby did it!!

#2: Decide what money you are prepared to offer to fund your child’s college. Perhaps you are willing to fund any of the choices. If not, front load this in the conversation: “Becky, as we consider our choices, lets keep in mind that we (parent, parents, grandparent, etc) can fund X a year. So, if your choice’s tuition is over that we (as in Becky also) would have to have a viable plan in place for making up the difference before sending in a deposit.” Your prospective college student may still be thinking like a child: this is mom and dad’s problem to solve. If so, you may need to grow him or her up quickly in this regard.

#3: Don’t be shy about being in touch with the financial aide office of the money held by handinstitution(s) for help if what they are offering is short of what you can afford, especially if you have cause to believe that they look upon your child as a desirable applicant. They can also be a wonderful source of information regarding private scholarships and other sorts of funding options that may be available, as can your child’s high school guidance office.

#4: Listen and provide empathy before sharing your perspective. For the rest of your child’s life, this will usually be an ideal opening position. And, don’t rush getting to your perspective, even over the course of days or weeks. Of course, don’t avoid getting there either. (Don’t worry too much if you falter with this sometimes It’s more about the earnest effort to pull it off more than it is about batting 1.000.)

#5: Consider another visit to your child’s top choices. You’ve likely already been to the campuses but a re-visit, from the lens of this decision, can be very helpful. Try on this visit to have a deeper experience (e.g., attending a lecture in the planned major or in a required course, arranging for your child to stay overnight). Many institutions have such days planned for those students to whom they’ve made an offer. If your institutions doesn’t, ask. And, don’t be shy about asking if they’d be willing to cover your costs as well (some even offer this up front).

character checking off checkboxes#6: Search for information from people in the know about the institutions your considering.

#7: There are almost an endless stream of data points to consider (e.g., who has the better library, the better athletic facilities, the number of faculty with this or that distinction) and families vary wildly in terms of who prioritizes what. However, one stat out there that can be helpful in this context is the freshman retention rate. This statistic regards the number of freshman who become sophomores at that institution, which is a general measure of student/family satisfaction and institutional effectiveness. While this number generally looks high across institutions, the ones you are considering may have some notable differences in this statistic. (You can find this statistic and US News and World Reports’ website that ranks colleges.)

#8: If you’re “lucky” (I think it was Thomas Jefferson who first noted the connection between working hard and luck), the decision-makes will ultimately all have the same opinion about which offer to accept. If not, things can get very tricky. My default suggestion would be to defer to your child’s decision. S/he either is a legal adult or is about to become a legal adult (I know, a tough idea to wrap your mind around…or at least it is for this dad), so s/he will the one to experience the good, the bad and the indifferent consequences of this decision. It seems to me that it wouldn’t be fair for him or her to be in the position to experience any potential qualified or poor outcomes based on someone else’s perspective, no matter how well reasoned and intended. Keep in mind that this recommendation supposes two things are true: you’ve made all of the relevant data available to your child, including the opinions and reasoning of adults involved, and you are respecting your own boundaries regarding how much money you will be investing.

#9: Once the deposit has been sent in, and the decision made, try to avoid mentorsecond-guessing…forever, even in your own mind. Second guessing with your child risks generating significant tension between the two of you. Second-guessing in your mind is like chewing on glass. You did due diligence. You put all the resources you could into the decision. That’s all anyone can do. So, either enjoy your wisdom (i.e., evidence that the right choice was made) or practice the Serenity Prayer and let it go.

My first-born daughter is a senior who got offers from several institutions that she adores. So, I’m living with this issue these days as well and know it ain’t easy!

By the way, are any of you, who are also parents of first-born seniors, also wondering how the heck you’re going to get through having your baby move out? We all need a support group!



Some (Hopefully) Calming Thoughts About School Violence

domestic violenceRecent accounts of school violence freak most of we parent-lunatics out. This is understandable as the stories are horrific, sensational and in our face when we access the media. I mean for this entry, however, to have a calming effect. I have two primary messages: (1) the rates of school violence appear to be either stable or on the decline and (2) there are multiple preventative measures available.

Rates of School Violence

The Center for Disease Control does a national survey of the risky behaviors engaged in by high school students every couple of years. It is called The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. In the 2013 version (which reported on data collected in 2011), over 15,000 high school students were surveyed. What follows are comparisons of rates of violent behaviors across years of the survey:

Carried a weapon

1991: 26%

2011: 17%

Carried a gun

1993: 7.9%

2011: 5.1%

Carried a weapon on school property"not okay"

1993: 11.8%

2011: 5.4%

A student was threatened or injured on school property

1995: 8.4%

2011: 7.4%

 A student was in a physical fight on school property

1993: 16%

2011: 12%

While any numbers above 0% call us to action, trends such as these may help us to keep the dialogue on track and in perspective.

2 thumbs upPreventative Strategies

I do not mean for this list to be anywhere near comprehensive. What I mean to share are four strategies that, if universally applied, would likely significantly and powerfully reduce the rates of school violence.

√ Maintain, expand or develop school based anti-bullying programs. The entire spectrum of bullying behaviors seems to synergize the risk for violence. Thus, school districts do well to develop and support comprehensive anti-bullying programs; this should include cyber bullying, relational bullying and racial bullying.

√ Do not let youth have unsupervised access to firearms. This is such a no-brainer that I feel like I’m insulting your intelligence to say more. But let me press a little bit by quoting just one of the many studies on point. This study is referencing profiles of youth who had completed suicide: “Firearms…were the manner of death in the majority (70%) of victims whose homes contained firearms.” (I’m a just a lowly psychologist. But, I almost wonder if it would make for good social policy to hold parents responsible if a youth gets access to a gun in their home and hurts himself/herself or someone else.)

√ Promote each child’s competencies. I’ve elaborated on this theme in this blog african woman's half faceand in my parenting book (e.g., methods for identifying competencies). But if a child has instrumental (i.e., specific tasks he or she is good at) and/or social competencies, and has regular opportunities to manifest such, that child possesses a mighty protective shield against life’s slings and arrows. As a related issue, I would suggest putting any vulnerable youth on display at school for a unique and positive contribution (e.g., the kid who raises and lowers the school flag, takes care of a mascot, helps the janitors, holds doors in the morning).

√ Promote each parent spending one hour each week one-on-one with each child doing special time. Readers of this blog, or my parenting book, know where I’m coming from with this. To summarize a complex discussion: I believe that an hour of special time a week is to a child psychologist what a daily apple is to a child’s pediatrician (i.e., as in “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”). Schools would also do well to create opportunities for teachers or administrators to spend one-on-one time with vulnerable youth (e.g., share a lunch), if only once or twice a month.

In closing let me offer that those wishing to develop strategies for discussing school violence with their kids might find some helpful tips in this article.

10 Coping Thoughts When College Searching

character college gradA time of acute stress is when teens are searching for a college to attend. It’s so easy to harbor thoughts that promote anxiety and stress. However, just like one can change out of an uncomfortable pair of pants, one can swap out painful (and usually irrational) thoughts for ones that promote peace (and are usually more rational). Here are my favorite 10 coping thoughts for this situation.

1. It’s impossible to visit all the schools that might be a good fit for your child. There are over 7,000 institutions of higher learning in the United States (and it can sometimes feel like about half of them are sending your kid email or snail mail). Better to set a number to visit and know that this means you’ll be leaving many, many good schools out.

2. It’s okay to not know how it’s all going to work out. This is such a complex, long and draining process. Who the heck knows what will happen? It’s certainly possible to fill in the uncertainly with epic worrying. However, think about this: did you ever have another time in your life when you had no clue how something very important was going to turn out? Didn’t it usually end up working out okay, even if there were some bumps and bruises along the way? If Vegas were involved, the smart money would be on that it’s all going to work out fine.

3. It is very rare for a human to do his or her best job at anything over a woman sitting on books with a laptopsustained period of time. Your teen is either on point for this process, or co-authoring the lead with you. This means that s/he is probably sometimes procrastinating, sometimes breaking deadlines and sometimes not exerting sufficient effort. It’s important to remember that we are all like this, at least some of the time, even with important projects. Forgetting this can cause some pretty intense and unhelpful conflicts.

4. There is no such thing as THE ideal school for your child. As you do college campus tours notice the percentage of kids at that school who state that they are very happy with their choice. Sure, they’ll sometimes talk the marketing talk (i.e., this is THE BEST SCHOOL EVER IN THE UNIVERSE). But, either all but one of those groups of kids are correct, or, most kids end up liking where they go.

character holding line charted5. If you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money…though it can take a while to figure that out. I was recently doing a tour of a campus and calculated that the sticker price, across four years, including all ancillary fees, added up to about a quarter of a million dollars. (Good thing I wasn’t eating any food at the time or I’d have choked on it.) We parent-lunatics are disposed to think that our only two choices are 1. To give our baby what s/he wants and have him/her be happy, in which case we are a good parent or 2. To not give our baby what s/he wants, have him or her be miserable and have us both be failures. I have to laugh to myself because even blogging child psychologists are vulnerable to this type of thinking.

6. Affluence has little to do with happiness. The research indicates that once you know that a person has enough money to take care of his or her basic needs (e.g., shelter, clothing, food, medical care), knowing how much additional money that person has won’t tell you much about how happy that person is. While what institution a kid graduates from might sometimes affect future socio-economic status, I’ve never seen research affiliating graduating from a particular institution with happiness (and, believe me, if such research existed, that institution would be doing a full court press in the media about it!).

7. Your child is likely going to have criteria that seem stupid to you, and that’s okay. You’re probably focused on things like cost, return-on-investment, and the breath and depth of opportunities that the faculty can provide. However, your kid may be focused on how the greenery looks, the range of food offerings, the size of the showers and what bands played there in recent years. Maddening I know, but getting upset over that, or trying to get your kid to not be a kid, is as feckless as trying to vacuum all dust mites out of your home.

8. The school a kid attends tells you nearly nothing about the quality of his or hercollege student in garb parenting. I find that many of we parent-lunatics subscribe to this, albeit often without much awareness. “She could only get into schools whose admission standards are a pulse and the ability to write a check that doesn’t bounce, so I must have not done a good job as a parent.” “He got into an Ivy league school, so I deserve applause from the audience.” However, in my experience, judging the quality of parenting based on the school a kid gets into is about like judging the quality of a marriage based on the car(s) the couple drives.

9. It’s okay for your child to go to a university and have zero clue what s/he wants to do for a career. I’m not saying that every kid graduating high school is ready enough, and mature enough, to make decent use of a college education. But, among those who are ready to go, it is common to feel a lot of confusion about which vocation to pursue. That’s what taking courses and speaking with faculty can help with. Moreover, many universities offer career counseling at no additional charge.

toddler learning to walk10. It’s normative to feel freaked out about all of this. In the past few months I’ve told just about anyone who would listen that the process of college searching makes me feel like a toddler, in a wet diaper, all alone, in downtown Manhattan, during rush hour. I’ve since figured out that most parents going through this process feel similarly, at least at the start. And, most parents who are on the other side of it (i.e., whose kids have since graduated from college), say that they worried for naught…of course, they are now onto other worries…This parenting, it is not an open wound?

Anyway, good luck to you and your progeny!

Five Tips If Your Kid Gets a Bad Report Card

Many of us have been there: our scholar, our baby, our future Nobel Laureate comes home with a report card that makes us wonder what percentage of his or her genetic material we share. But, as in all painful events, opportunity abounds. Let me begin by defining “poor report card.” I take this to be one in which your child’s grades are significantly below what they should be if he or she extended sufficient effort; of course, this bar varies based on each kid’s academic potential. If your child comes home with a report card that you believe is below this bar, here are five tips to consider.

Tip #1: Diagnose the problem. Just like a fever can have many causes, so to can a poor report card. Is your child investing enough effort each school night? Is the curriculum too challenging? Might she or he be suffering from a problem in learning? Might the stress in your child’s life be exceeding his or her capacity to manage it? Is he or she getting enough sleep? Might your child be suffering from a psychological disorder (about 90% of youth do, at one point or another, by age 21)? How is his or her vision? Is too much work being assigned?  Getting help in figuring this out can also save a lot of time and consternation, especially if your plan to fix things doesn’t work right away. Even the evaluation choices can make one’s head spin. So, I’d consider not going at it alone and get some help.

Tip #2: Avoid bad mouthing the teacher. If your child gets the idea that singing to you about the teacher’s incompetence or unfairness will cause your expectations for him or her to be relaxed, expect for that song to soar to the top of the charts in your house. Even if you believe that the teacher is part of the problem, use the experience to teach your child how to interact effectively within such relationships (i.e., this is hardly going to be his or her last experience having to deal with someone with power over him or her exercising such in a manner that is less than ideal). You may also value reading my entry on having an effective parent-teacher conference.

Tip #3: If your child manifesting a compromised effort is a key factor, incentivize such. As behavioral psychologists have argued for years, we all do those things that we believe are in our best interest. Of course, many youth know not what is in their true best, long term interest (i.e., if we dropped their brains into a fully grown adult body we’d say that that adult has brain damage). So, we parent-lunatics, need to align what they believe is in their best interest what we know to be so. In my parenting book I’ve detailed a variety of decision trees for rewarding desired behavior based upon the severity and nature of the problem. As the issue of getting a kid to do something when he or she doesn’t feel like it is a common theme in parenting I have multiple blog entries on related topics and strategies. For example, click here, here, here, or here.

Tip #4: Make sure your kid is experiencing success with his or her competencies. Using one’s top strengths in important ways contributes to every human’s sense of personal efficacy. However, this is even more important for a child as self-esteem is in a formative period. And, double that for a child that is experiencing challenges in another major domain such as academics. Without this countervailing force one worries that a child’s self-esteem could go south, which is then associated with a number of unfortunate outcomes. (Chapter Two of my parenting book, Working Parents, Thriving Famiies, covers strategies for this in dept.)

Tip #5: Establish a communication system from school to home. You’ve had the experience of the report card being like Mystery Theatre and likely don’t want to experience that again. So, getting good information on a regular basis is important. This allows you to remediate problems sooner, when they are smaller, than later, when they are bigger. The information you want, at least, is: the day’s homework, when the next quiz/test is, what grades were returned that day and when any long-term projects are due. If your child is motivated and cooperative this communication could be managed by him or her directly to you. However, most of the time you will need the teacher to facilitate your getting the information in order to ensure that you have an up-to-date and complete picture. My preference is to start out on a daily bases and then cut back to a weekly basis once things are better (i.e., it’s easier to have too much structure and relax it than the inverse). Keep in mind that you may also want to know what behaviors your child displayed (e.g., raised his/her hand in class, respected adult authority, stayed on task, related well to other kids in the class). I’d lay out the mechanics of how to do this if I had space, but, once again, all the details can be found n WPTF 😉

Reduce Separation Drama On the First Day of School

tantruming girlThe separation on the first day of school can be upsetting for kids and parents. In this entry I offer six strategies for lessening the drama.

#1: Preparation is key. For my blog entry on useful preparation strategies, click here. (Two key points I’ll re-iterate here are to avoid reassurances and the avoidance of developmentally appropriate situations.)

#2: Most kids with separation challenges have one parent, or parent-figure, that they are most attached to. Try to have that person not be the one to take your child to the bus stop or school, at least until the separation has become drama free. Separating from that person at home, while in the company of the other parent, or parent figure, allows your child to get into the separation bath more gradually instead of all at once. It’s also likely easier for your child to separate from the other person when at the bus stop or at school. (My experience is that the second parent/parent figure also tends to be the parent who is less nervous about the separation, which leads to the next point.)

#3: Be calm yourself. Our kids read us in ways that are outside even their black woman smiling backgroundawareness. As there is only so much you can fake, and your anxiety will escalate your kid’s anxiety, use your self-soothing strategies to be cool about school (e.g., thinking about something you’re looking forward to, relaxing your muscles and unobtrusively breathing into your abdomen, engaging another adult in an interesting discussion).

#4: Make the separation as cleanly and as quickly as possible. In this context, syllables synergize symptoms. “Have a great day!” “See you at X time!” “Can’t wait to hear about your day later!” are examples of simple phrases you can use to separate. Chatting your kid up suggests you’re nervous, or expect him or her to be nervous, which may start or fuel drama.

#5: Let whatever adult is taking over deal with any distress your child may be showing. Lengthening the period of separation, in an effort to calm your child, usually has the exact opposite intended effect. Rare is the child who won’t calm down on their own shortly after you leave, especially if the adults with whom you are leaving your child are baseline competent or better. If you’re concerned about this you can always arrange to call the school later to see how your child is doing.

cancel fear#6: If your child continues to struggle with separation for a period longer than two weeks, or your child displays school refusal, consider seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. Why have everyone suffering needlessly, right?. To get a referral, click here.

An Open Letter to College Students

black woman graduating from behindAs a university professor I often encounter developmental hitches in students that feel outside of my purview to comment upon. Yes, I’ll mention some of these things in my course syllabi. But, I usually don’t draw individuals’ attention to them as to do so would feel paternalistic and intrusive. So, I thought I’d pen an open letter to college students in this forum. As a parent, you may find value in sharing this content with your progeny, especially if you’re footing all or part of the bill.

Dear College Student:

As a strong letter of recommendation from at least one faculty member is usually helpful in order to get into a good graduate program, or to obtain a desirable job, I thought I’d offer some suggestions for accomplishing that and for getting the most out of your courses and professors.

• Be early to class and appointments. And, if you need to be late, don’t bring coffee or retail food with you, as stopping for such suggests you’re casual about being late.

• Give academic tasks your best effort. This may or may not result in an A grade. For most of we professors, a student who busted his or her tail to earn a B is more impressive than the student who dialed it in and got an A.

• Frequently raise your hand in class. In many classrooms it is much better to state the wrong answer to a question than to remain silent. We character raising hand in a crowdfaculty also appreciate students who are willing to alleviate the extended silence than can descend after a question has been posed.

• Present yourself in a neat and clean manner. And, avoid chewing gum in class. If your piercings or tattoos could be considered garish by an older generation, consider whether it might be wise to suppress them.

• Always have with you your schedule and a way to take notes.

• Unless the matter at hand is urgent, or the professor encourages the use of such, never go online or text in class. If it’s urgent that you do so, ask the professor in advance if it’s okay.

upset at laptop• If the professor allows you to take notes with your laptop or portable device, don’t abuse that by using it for other things. (Believe it or not, we can usually tell when you’re making this kind of mistake…also keep in mind research indicating that notes taken by hand are more helpful for learning the material than notes typed on a device.)

• Make eye contact and take notes. Even if you have a superlative memory, taking notes suggests engagement.

• If you get sleepy, ask a question. Nodding in and out of consciousness, or looking like you are struggling to stay awake, may draw the professor’s attention to you in a negative way.

• Try to spend one-on-one time with your professors. This is most easily done by going to office hours. However, many faculty are willing to share a lunch or coffee, go for a walk and so forth. You can discuss class material, career aspirations, projects with which the professor is involved or anything that helps you to get to know each other better.

• Ask your professors what professional projects they are doing outside of class. cocky teacher pointingIf any sound interesting to you, ask if you can help, especially, if the faculty member works within your intended discipline.

• Try to prioritize your career above your extracurricular interests. For instance, I recently had a very talented student decline a great opportunity to get involved in a project that would have advanced his career. He politely turned it down because it conflicted with a social activity from which he could have been excused.

• Play devils advocate with faculty who demonstrate that they value that.

• If you come across a resource (e.g., YouTube video, article, cartoon) that overlaps with class content, send it to the professor as an FYI.

• Read the syllabus before asking questions about tests, grading, procedures in the class, and so forth. (Of course, if the syllabus is vague or incomplete, ask away.) We faculty tend to pour a lot of time and effort into our course syllabi. Asking a question that is addressed in the syllabus (albeit mildly and implicitly) disrespects the faculty member’s work and can make you look like someone who is either unmotivated or needs to be spoon fed.

• Be kind and respectful to other students. Few of us want to spend time with rude or cut-throat people.

fear• Be daring and avoid suffering from WAIT, or “who am I too…?” Self-doubt seriously dampens your ability to take advantage of the universe of opportunity around you.

• If you cross paths with the faculty member outside of class, flash a nice smile and say hello, calling the professor by name; avoid pretending that you haven’t noticed him or her. This helps you to exude confidence and suggests you are socially adroit, even if the faculty member has a dampened response.

• If you’ve been positively impacted by something the professor said or did, send a note about it once the course is over. Any form is nice, but handwritten notes tend to be more impactful.

• If you’re not going to attend a class email the professor about that and your reason. If the reason seems trite reconsider whether you should miss the class (i.e., none of us get really good at anything unless we consistently do it when we don’t feel like it).

• Speak the truth, as exclusively and as kindly as possible. If the academic speak the truth signenterprise is anything, it is the pursuit of truth (not the same as using “the truth” as a club to hurt or to control others). Lying, even if used to provide comfort, is a seductive coping strategy: the more you use it, the more you will be tempted to use it. And, the more you use it, the more you risk becoming known as someone who can’t be believed.

• Ask for favors face-to-face, and preferably outside of class (i.e., the professor may be distracted by competing demands in class). Requesting a favor through an email risks creating the (perhaps unfair) impression that you are shy or unmotivated.

• Avoid sending emails that solicit a lot of typing in response.

•If you’re writing about some way the professor can improve on a course evaluation, do so in a way that is kind and respectful, even if the professor did not treat you that way. This makes it much more likely that your message will carry weight and make a difference.

Keep in mind that most of we faculty recognize and appreciate that you are an adult. So, we won’t harp on you like (many) parents and high school teachers. We will let you be independent. This can create an impression that we don’t care about the points I’ve raised above. Not true. We care and form our opinion about you based on such things. So, when you come to us for letters of recommendation, or for requests to mentor a project, or to become involved in what we are doing, how you’ve performed on such accounts will usually impact the response you receive.

success ladderI’ll close with two thoughts. First, I realize that you are likely to encounter faculty who violate principles in this letter (e.g., they dial it in, are rude). However, interactions with such faculty afford you the opportunity to demonstrate (if only to yourself) that you can be a pro even when the other person is not. Second, I invite you to find at least one mentor while in college. To many faculty you are beautiful in your state of becoming. For this reason we enjoy, and find meaning in, mentoring. (I suspect that there would be a lot more mentoring going on were it not for WAIT.)

Good fortune to you during these precious and exciting years of opportunity, learning and growing. I hope you can get the most out of them in order to define and advance your vocational mission!

Preparing Your First Time Student for the Fall

mom and daughter2I’d like to organize this post around five Q & As:

1.  Why should parents of rising preschoolers or kindergarteners be thinking about this now?

If no child or adult in your home is experiencing anxiety about the pending school year little preparation may be needed. However, if anyone is nervous a little preparation may increase comfort and reduce drama come the big day. When in doubt, it’s usually better to prepare, when that isn’t warranted, than the other way around.

2.     What are some things parents can do in the home to help prepare their young children?

The short answer: play and read together. The playing could be things like role playing (e.g., one of my fondest parenting memories is my eldest bossing me about the classroom, as my teacher, when we would play this game). It could also be drawing about the pending school year. Kids often use play to acclimate themselves to developmental challenges.

The reading could be acquiring related books on the topic and reading them to dadandsonyour child, maybe following such up with a discussion. I find the books at magination press tend to be helpful while I like how the scaredy squirrel books treat anxiety in general.

3.     Are their any field trips that can be helpful?

Probably the most useful thing you could do would be to take a trip, with your child, to the classroom; even better yet would be to meet the teacher and to talk about what the school year will be like. Many preschool and elementary schools are willing to make such a service available in August. If not, even driving to your child’s school and walking around it, or in it, can be helpful. Also, if your child will be taking a school bus for the first time, it can be a good idea to get permission to sit in a bus for a few minutes. (Meeting his or her actually school bus driver may not be possible. But, if it is, that could be a good idea as well.)

4.     Any other preparation that can be done?

The first preparation is an anti-preparation: avoid reassurances about the school year. But, if you must reassure, try not to overdo it. A reassurance indicates that there is something potentially threatening at hand. If you came to my office and I said to you: “don’t worry about getting lice here as I keep my office very clean” can you imagine how uncomfortable you could start to feel? A well intended, but sometimes unhelpful reassurance, could be something like “Don’t worry about going to school this year. You’re going to love it.” Instead, it might be better to say something like: “Guess what, you’re going to get to make lots of new friends in a few weeks!” But, you don’t want to oversell, less you create the impression that your pushing a lemon.

character students lined up in desksIt can also be fun to collaborate on school clothes and supplies. This needn’t break your bank. Just whatever you can afford. I think it’s also good to segue to your school time sleep routine the week before. (I’ve written multiple blog entries on sleep. Just enter “sleep” in the search engine above.)

5.     Will you be offering any other advice on this topic?

Yes. In the near future I’m going to do a blog entry on how to avoid separation drama on the first day of school. So, stay tuned.

Ten Guidelines for When an Adult Treats Your Kid Poorly

cocky teacher chastizingThe caption of this entry refers to situations in which it seems like a teacher, coach or some other designated authority in your child’s life treats him or her poorly or unfairly. What follows are 10 guidelines for responding to this maddening situation.

Guideline #1: Try to remember that your child will likely have a long stream of these kind of events happening in his or her life way off into the future (i.e., someone with authority over him or her exerts such ineffectively or unjustly) and that this event, while painful and unfortunate, provides a wonderful opportunity for on-the-job training.

Guideline #2: Keep in mind that all of we engaged parents are lunatics. So, we have to realize that we are, much of the time, disposed to over-reactions and/or efforts to over control things. That’s okay and even inevitable. But, we do well to humbly admit that our perception(s) and reality can be different.

Guideline #3: The older your child, and the slighter the infraction. the least likely it may be advisable to intercede, or at least not without clearance from your child. The younger your child, and the more significant the infraction, the more it may be advisable to intercede, sometimes even over your child’s objections. For instance, a coach publically screaming profanity at your elementary school aged child would likely call for you to intervene, while a teacher grading your high school student unfairly on an exam would likely not call for you to intervene.

Guideline #4: Get a full vetting from your child about his or her thoughts and mom and kidfeelings about what happened. Provide empathy. Stay at that place, not sharing your perspective(s), until your child is finished. Then, state any agreement you have with what your child has said before pointing out any alternative perspectives you hold. (Keep in mind that empathy and agreement are different things.)

Guideline #5: Decide if an intervention is warranted. This can be a complicated calculation based on factors like the odds of it happening again (including to other kids), the age of your child, how much the event has upset you and/or your child, the apparent maturity of the adult in question (as best as you can tell), the effectiveness of the administration above the adult in question and the seriousness of the infraction. In figuring this out it’s often a good idea to consult with at least one kind and wise person who is willing to keep your confidence and who is as equally likely to disagree with you as to agree with you.

Guideline #6: If an intervention is warranted, decide who will be on point: you/another parent/another adult or your child. Regardless of who is on point, decide if the other person(s) will follow up in some way (e.g., your child follows up with a teacher after you’ve had a meeting).

conversation teacherGuideline #7: If the child is on point, here are some possible interventions:

√ Asking for a meeting with the adult and your child; consider whether some other adult should be there or not, including you. Consider whether it be over the phone or in person, impromptu or scheduled.

√ Coach (e.g., through role playing) your child on how to get the adult’s perspective on what happened first, on how to provide empathy for the adult’s perspective and how to find common ground with what the adult asserts. This makes it more likely that the adult will be receptive (I know it feels odd to need to coach your child on how to manage the potential defensiveness of an adult, but that’s, unfortunately, how things often work here on planet Earth). Also coach your child that many points can be made more effectively with sentences that end in question marks than with sentences that end in periods or exclamation points. Look at two different ways to make the same point. First method: “coach, I’d love it if you’d let me play center field sometime!” Second method: “coach what could I do to increase your confidence in giving me a shot in center field sometime?”

√ Coach your child on how to get his or her position across kindly, calmly and clearly.

√ Consider what it is your child might ask of the adult or offer to the adult or both.conversation

√ Discuss what your child might say to the adult about your potential follow up (if you’re not to be at the meeting, that is).

√ Consider whether it would be advisable for your child to write something to the adult.

√ Consider whether it is a good idea for your child to be in touch with the person the adult reports to.

√ Consider whether your child should ask his or her peer(s) to be involved in some fashion.

Guideline #8: If you (or another adult) is to be on point, the principles in the previous guideline would be essentially the same. Most of the time it’s advisable to try to find common ground, provide empathy, share your perspective as kindly, calmly and clearly as possible and see if you can reach agreement on a follow-up plan. If the latter isn’t possible, then you could agree on which other adult(s) you might bring into the conversation, assuming what’s at stake is worth it to you.

crisisGuideline #9: Teach and model crisis = pain + opportunity. Do this all the way through the process, including after the fact, at which point it is often a good idea to do a psychological autopsy of what happened.

Guideline #10: If the situation is too painful and/or if the issues are more than you’re prepared to effectively negotiate on your own, seek out help. For example, to find a psychologist in your region, click here.

Who said parenting was easy, right? But, don’t you wish, on some days at least, that someone would have made it EXACTLY clear what it was that you were signing up for? And, can someone please tell us all where the guy lives whose job it was to have done that?! 😉

College Trips with Your Teen

diverse happy woman on floorHaving a Junior or Senior in high school prompts a daunting enterprise: finding a college. If ever there was a project that can take all the time you have to give, and more, it’s this one. There are so, so many (too many?) sources of information available regarding tactics. So, I won’t be discussing those strategies. Instead, I’d like to focus on some relationship issues I’ve seen as folks plan college visits.

• Try to develop some scoring rubric in advance of your trip. Divide 100 points up among those factors that matter to you and your teen: cost, distance, academic reputation, college atmosphere, student to faculty ration, etc. Then, as you do your trip do your independent ratings, comparing them after the trip is over.

• Try to surrender the concept of one perfect, or just right school. There are about 1,400 four year colleges in the U.S. So, there are likely more “just right” schools than you could ever have time to visit or seriously consider.

• Schedule an official tour (these will often answer many of your questions). Thenconfused graduate character develop your list of questions that you’d like to see addressed during the tour. The better of these will likely hit all the high points (e.g., dorms, library, classrooms, gym, cafeteria, study abroad options, internships, student center) but, if not, ask.

• Consider this to be a unique bonding opportunity with you and your teen. Take occasion to do some sightseeing or to create some special moments and momentoes. Who knows how much one-on-one time is in your near future with your teen; so, this time (even the commute) can be precious.

woman overwhelmed by books• Always ask for your teens opinion before giving yours. When you disagree with some analysis your teen has rendered, offer empathy for it and try to use questions to make your points. For example, if your teen, upon seeing a work of art at the entrance to the library, notes “Ewww. I could never come to a school that has such terrible art in front of its library!” You could first give empathy for that visceral reaction, pause (and maybe listen more), then ask, “what percent of the average students week here do you think he or she spends looking at that?”

• Try to schedule a visit to see a lecture in a discipline that is of some interest to your teen. Many universities, with a couple of weeks notice, are happy to help with this. (Don’t worry if your teen doesn’t have a major picked out yet. That’s common.)

• Make sure to take your own tour of the department where your teen may have a major. Don’t hesitate to knock on any doors where you see a faculty member and ask if s/he has 5-10 minutes for questions. (Make sure to have some ready.) The worse thing that happens is that s/he doesn’t have the time. The best thing that happens is that a faculty member, where your child ends up going to school, starts to develop a positive connection with your child.

• Try to make the time to look around the community surrounding the campus, leadershipfiguring out what various practicalities might be at play. (Many campuses are self-contained in terms of the range of services and entertainment available but sometimes it will be nice to break out to the surrounding area.) This can also give you a sense for the range of internships that might be available.

• Set up a timeline for yourselves. Your teen’s guidance counselor, or the myriad of other resources available to assist (e.g., websites, e-books), can guide you about what should go on your timeline. This can help you to feel some sense of control over what can be an incredibly daunting prospect.

man stressing to pursue money• Begin having discussions with your teen about financing as soon as you can in the process: what you can do and what you can’t do, or what you’re prepared to do and what you’re not prepared to do. This can be an important factor in helping your teen to be realistic about which schools s/he seriously targets and reduce the odds that s/he will fall in love with a school that isn’t a possibility. (Your guidance counselor can help you to rough estimate what adjustment down from the sticker price your child might hope to get from the school given the strength of his or her application.)

 • Begin reflecting on your teen’s capacity to manage himself or herself at various institutions. Is Becky ready to be 8 hours away on an urban campus with 10,000 students? Is Jaden prepared to do well in a lecture hall with several hundred students? In other words: what’s the nature of this pond and how well or poorly might your progeny swim there?
• Lastly, try to be patient with the process. We parent-lunatics are at risk to black man walingover-worry, to over-control and to get freaked out at all of the uncertainty. Somehow, someway, somewhere, s/he will likely land at some institution of higher learning and avoid a life of crime and/or homelessness.

Communicating with Teens about STDs

My various jobs call for me to read on a regular basis. However, there is only one book I’ve read that felt so important to my parenting mission that I interrupted my own reading of it and asked for my two teenagers to read the first chapter. That book is Seductive Delusions: How Everyday People Catch STDs by family practitioner Jill Grimes, M.D.

The national survey data on youth sexual behaviors indicate that teens frequently have sex, and in ways that put themselves and their partners at risk. For instance, the CDC’s most recent edition of the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, indicates that 46% of high school students have had sexual intercourse (African-American youths reported the highest rates at 65%), with 34% reporting that they are sexually active and 14% indicating that they have had sexual intercourse with four or more different partners. Moreover, 39% of teens reported that they did not use a condom the last time they had intercourse, though 22% did use drugs or alcohol.

The results of these behaviors can range from unwanted pregnancies (e.g., according to the CDC there were 409,840 infants born to girls ages 14-19 in 2009) to the contraction of a (sometimes life-long) sexually transmitted disease (e.g., quoting from Dr. Grimes’ book: “Estimates vary, but between 50 and 90% of adults have oral herpes by age 50…25% of adults have genital herpes, but up to 90% of them are unaware of it.”) I do my teen no favor if I think that she or he could never be one of these statistics.

Giving teens real life stories of peers and young adults suffering from STDs can be one effective way of reaching them about these matters, especially when those stories poignantly review the long term, embarrassing and inconvenient realities that can follow from even a brief lapse. That is what makes this book so important. The stories are effectively organized by type of STD and include facts about each disease at the end of each chapter; the reviews of the book have also been stellar (e.g., see amazon.com). I encourage you to review it yourself and see whether you might want to recommend it for your teen (or older) child. (Please also stay tuned to this blog as Dr. Grimes will be doing a guest entry for us sometime later this month or early next month.)

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