Creating a Life of Balance

It seems it gets harder and harder to find a way to feel balanced, especially with the influx of information coming at us around the clock. I remember as a child when the TV screen would turn into “snow” at midnight because there was no more programming available for the night. Then, things seemed to shut down and rest for a period of time. I’m not sure that exists for much in today’s world. It’s a constant barrage of information, notifications, and endless opportunities and while there certainly are benefits to this, it makes it hard to keep a healthy balance of work, play, and rest in our lives. I believe it can lead us to feeling significantly depleted. Balance is important because it allows us to focus on the aspects of our lives that matter the most while we are feel refueled and at our best.

How do you find that balance that you are seeking? Here are some suggestions for those who are interested in making improvements with finding balance.

1. Create a list of those aspects in your life that matter to you and/or you’d like to enjoy or accomplish. Prioritize this list. Evaluate how much energy you are giving to these important areas of your life right now (Perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being not giving enough energy and attention to 10 meaning giving it plenty of energy). Examples of these areas that many find important to them are: family time, time with friends, time with a significant other, hobbies, self-care, physical health, and work to name a few.

2. Determine those areas in your life that cause you to be distracted or get off track. How often do these occur and when do these occur? An example of a distraction that is common for me is my use of technology (checking social media, email and text notifications, etc). There are also apps that can monitor our use of technology on phones/iPads/tablets/etc and can give us a close estimation of how much we are being distracted by the use of technology as well as when these distractions are occurring.

3. Create a plan to reduce these distractions and determine a schedule that will allow you to be more intentional with your time and give more energy to areas that are lacking. An example of a plan to reduce these distractions would be the following:

If I am struggling with being distracted by email and text notifications and I find that I am interrupted 47 times a day by this, I can set aside time when I will turn off my phone for one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon so that I can be more intentional about where I am using my attention and energy. I can also make it a goal not to check these notifications until I am awake for at least one hour in the morning.

4. Find an accountability partner with whom you can share your new plan and check in with your progress. For me, my best accountability partner is my spouse due to him noticing most of my technology use in the morning, after work hours, and during the weekend. And he loves and cares for me enough to speak honestly and open about what he is noticing. Who would that person be for you?

By evaluating areas in our lives that are important to us and determining if sufficient time and energy are being given to these areas, we can begin to take steps to feel more fulfilled and balanced in our lives. If one aspect of my life is not receiving the energy it truly needs, such as self-care, I may find myself truly exhausted and out of sorts. Each of us has a varying degree of energy and time that we feel best when devoting to these different areas and we uniquely have differing priorities as well so my list may look quite unlike your list. There may also be things important to you that may not make my list and vice versa. No “right” answer or way of doing this really exists for anyone. It is individualized. But I think we do begin to feel out of balance when there are aspects of our lives not getting our attention and energy and we find we aren’t quite as fulfilled as we’d like to be. Hopefully by taking an honest look at what truly matters to you, evaluating how well you feel you are able to give adequate energy to those areas and making the necessary adjustments, you will find that you are enjoying a life of balance.

The Importance of Connection

Connection. It is defined as a relationship in which a person, thing, or idea is linked or associated with something else. But I experience it deeper than that although I recognize that connection is very much on a continuum. I am a little connected to some and deeply connected to others however connection to me is very much about being “seen” or “known” by someone else. There is such a special vulnerability to it and I believe we all want to feel connected.

This becomes so meaningful to me today because I recently returned from my first experience of being on the Appalachian Trail with some people in my life who I knew very well, some a little bit, and others I had not met before. There were nine of us to cover 40+ miles of very difficult terrain and five of us had never done anything like this before in our lives so as one could imagine it was filled with excitement, apprehension, and hesitation. On the trail we spent most of the day hiking and shared so many things about ourselves and our lives. We encouraged each other, got snarky with each other, cried with each other, and laughed until we hurt. There was nothing else to interfere. No distractions. Just us ladies and the earth. And all I kept thinking about was this was something that I wanted more of. Yes, hiking for sure but this type of connection. It is something I believe we all desperately want and need.

From my work as a counselor in many different facets (schools, private practice offices, inpatient psychiatric facilities), I hear over and over about how people want to be heard, to be listened to. The want to feel connected. They want to be seen and known. And we desperately want to feel loved unconditionally. I find it concerning that we are spending more than 11 hours per day watching, reading, listening to or simply interacting with media (new study by market-research group Nelson) as well as receiving on average 46 app push notifications throughout our day. In addition, on average Americans send and receive 94 text messages daily and also send 34 emails daily and receive 88 emails per day (textrequest.com). This information was very shocking to me despite knowing that we are very much engaged with technology. And while these seem to be “ways” to connect with others, we feel more isolated and alone than ever before. Mental health issues are rising in our country and our relationships are crumbling. We are missing out on what happens when we sit together, or in our case, walk together through life experiences. We are not feeling “seen” and “heard” and our kids are not either.

From my experience out on the Appalachian Trail, what I can certainly share with you is how important it is to physically be present with others. In addition, I believe spending time with those who are positive in our lives and encourage us to be our best selves while removing those in our lives who are toxic is so beneficial to our overall well-being. When we are developing a relationship with someone, we are able to drop the walls and allow ourselves to share and be vulnerable and the connection that results is life changing. Our kids are no different, they desperately need this as well. Here are some suggestions I have for reducing all of the distractions in our lives (some I am planning to implement myself!):

1) Create morning and evening routines that do not include any sort of media for an hour upon awakening and going to sleep.

2) Schedule a weekly date with someone in your life and meet outside of either of your homes and leave your cell phones off.

3) Eat dinner at the table with your loved ones and make it a no phone / no tv zone.

4) Turn off notifications during your sleeping hours.

5) Create a policy for yourself that when others begin talking to you, you put your phone down and make eye contact until the discussion is over.

6) And, of course, a walk in the woods with someone you cherish.

Perhaps these may seem like simple suggestions but I do believe some are harder to incorporate than others if you are similar to me and have fallen into some not-so-great habits with your media use. 🙂

Resources to help with Getting Connected with Others:

Marriage –

  • Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Doug Abrams, John Gottman, Julie Gottman, and Rachel Carlton Abrams
  • Hold Me Tight by Dr. Sue Johnson
  • The Science of Happily Ever After by Ty Tashiro, Ph.D.

Family –

  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Fabre and Elaine Mazlish
  • 131 Conversations That Engage Kids: How to Get Kids Talking, Grow Their Friendships, and Inspire Change by Jed Jurchenko

Other Relationships –

  • I Hear You: The Surprisingly Simple Skill Behind Extraordinary Relationships by Michael S. Sorensen
  • Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen
  • Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently by John C. Maxwell

Living Authentically Series – Accepting Others

There are so many factors that influence our thoughts, beliefs, actions, emotions, and relationships and while there is so much diversity between all of us and we are very much unique, finding those in your life who accept you just as you are is very important. The other side of that is being accepting of others. Giving to others what we want for ourselves, the feeling that no matter who we are, what we feel, or what we experience, we want to be cared for, loved, and accepted. Not feeling judged or criticized is what we hope for with others. Not being ostracized or “booted” but loved, heard, and connecting with others even though what we think, feel, or believe may be different.

I believe that those who criticize or judge others truly are not taking the time to understand the paths that others have walked. Authentic people, while they also wrestle with judgmental thinking, intentionally listen to others and are present while having a deep level of care for others. Authentic people recognize that they do not have a complete understanding of other people’s journeys or experiences that lead other people to make the choices they make. Even further, authentic people sincerely encourage others to be true to who they are and to allow others to see their true selves.

Unfortunately I think that many people believe if they are accepting of others, it means they are in agreement or are approving of them even if they have different views/beliefs/opinions. So, that belief in itself causes us to not show acceptance and leads to judgement or criticism. Again, I believe it is important to keep in mind there are so many pieces of a person’s journey and experiences that we do not know about. So many experiences and facets of people’s lives lead them to the place where they are and being able to accept them just as they are is demonstrating love and concern for them. I have been so guilty of this myself. Making judgments about a friend who had not been in touch with me for quite a long time. Rarely responding to me when I reached out by phone calls or messages, led to me being angry and resentful and opinionated of the “type” of friend she was being. Authentic people inquire, they ask pointed questions in an effort to understand and they fight the urge to place blame or criticize. When I learned truly what was going on after not handling the situation well at all, I learned she was in a place of very high anxiety, struggling to leave home and dragging herself through her days. The hurt for her and it was not just about the hurt that she was already experiencing but the hurt I caused by my actions and unkind words. It was eye opening to me.

Why the need to judge and criticize? To understand why we make judgements of others or about situations, we need to understand that we naturally do this. In an effort to make decisions about ourselves and our lives, we instinctively respond with judgement about what is going on around us. However being able to take a moment before responding to others is so important. By giving someone the benefit of the doubt and listening to them in an effort to understand rather than respond or react is giving others grace. Isn’t that something we all want? Grace to be listened to, to be loved and accepted.

Judgement also comes when we are unfamiliar with something or are uncomfortable with someone or a situation. There have been times when I have had particular thoughts about homosexuality, until I experienced this on a personal level. Instead of judging those that I love deeply, I decided to take the time to gain knowledge about it through understanding and research and it has caused me to be more open and accepting of others. When we allow ourselves to really discover the details of other’s lives and try to understand from a place of love and care, it truly changes how we view and interact with others.

I believe acceptance of others is also very important during difficult times. Gaining understanding of others and how they cope during hardship is of particular importance because we all respond differently to tragedies, loss, fear, etc. During natural disasters, senseless events and tragedies, and intense political debate, approaching each other with care and love is the most critical action we can take. Understanding that the approach we all take to address our thoughts and feelings related to situations or events will be as unique as each of us are. It is not helpful to label these approaches as right or wrong. While some of us may retreat, others may take action, and many may become fearful, we all desire support, care, and to be accepted just the way we are. With those currently experiencing the fires in California and the loss experienced by recent shootings, we can reach out and offer help. We can take small steps to bring comfort whether through kinds words, encouragement, making a meal, offering shelter, or making donations to agencies assisting these victims. Each small gesture demonstrates such care for others. Authentic people are fantastic about offering this to others and they extend endless grace and love to people in their lives.

What gets in the way of you giving this to others? Perhaps your own insecurities, fear of things that are unfamiliar to you, or maybe even fear of someone else believing you are in agreement with those you extend grace to? Our world needs more care, love, and support for others rather than judgement and criticism. What step are you going to take today to offer that to someone else?

Living Authentically Series: Self Acceptance

Recognizing who we are, what we value, and what makes us tick is so important for healthy development in our lives. Identifying our strengths and weaknesses and accepting them as a part of who we are is also important. Perfection does not exist and for so many, that is their goal. We are surrounded by commercials, ads, and articles about how to improve our skin, reduce and eliminate wrinkles, have a flatter stomach, a rounder tush, whiter teeth, a more organized closet, an emaculate home, on and on. I believe there are very few aspects of our lives where we cannot find an array of material to work on improvements. And while I believe that it is healthy to continue to have personal growth, I caution others that what is most important is that you accept yourself exactly the way you are. Acceptance does not mean you will not work to improve particular areas. Acceptance means being totally okay with how things are at this moment. There is not one perfect person running around, with the perfect partner, and perfect kids living in the perfectly organized, peaceful home. We all have areas where we can improve. It is part of being human but so much is hidden behind the masks we wear. Being ashamed or anxious that others may discover something with us or our lives is a sign that we haven’t quite reached self acceptance.

There was a period of time in my life where I felt like such a fraud. Struggling with postpartum depression that lead to having to be prescribed medication to function was something that was hidden for quite some time. I felt less than. I felt ineffective. I felt like there was something so seriously wrong with me that if others found out they would most certainly judge me. How could I be feeling the way I did when I was married to a wonderful man, had two beautiful and healthy children, fantastic relationships with friends and family, and a flexible career that allowed me to work part-time to make raising our children my priority? From the outside looking in, my life looked pretty put together but there was such deep sadness and loneliness that I just could not pull myself out of. I was shutting down and barely sharing or talking and I really began to feel like I would never feel anything different than how I was. Initially when I began to share with others what I was really going through, it was so uncomfortable to be so vulnerable and “exposed” but as I began to allow those who love me to truly know what was going on, it began to feel freeing and I could start to feel movement in a positive direction. We don’t have to walk through hard times alone. Surrounding ourselves with those who love us and get us is necessary to navigate life because we all will have our issues to address.

What does your true self look like? What does it consist of? I think developing a sense of who we are and what defines us is critical in fully developing ourselves. Going through life without having any idea of truly who we are I believe we find ourselves just floating through without any clear intention or goals. We struggle to find our purpose which can lead to us wondering what all this is for.

What is important to you? What do you value? Determining what our true passions are and what we value most in our lives will drive where our time is spent and what our priorities are. Without that we we are fumbling without direction and can be easily influenced by other’s opinions and advice without identifying what is valuable to us. I think this too is something that changes throughout our life to a certain degree. What we value or see as important at 20 years old may not remain exactly the same as when we are 60 years old. We are in a continuous journey of learning about ourselves and accepting these changes.

Living Authentically Series

Hello again friends.  I know it has been quite a bit of time since I have posted here. Life has a way of really taking off and I can feel like I am just running from one thing to another taking deep breaths along the way.  The thing is a lot of what is happening in life is really good stuff. At times, too much good stuff (can that even be a thing?) however what it leaves me with is very little time to write.  I’ve missed it very much. I’ve had others ask me, “what about that writing thing you are doing?”. So, because of a very sweet friend, I actually joined a group that helps writers with many aspects of writing but one part is creating time to sit and write and so here I am.  I thought a great return post would be about being authentic. Certainly I am sharing why I have been absent from this blog but also living authentically is something that comes up almost every day in my professional and personal life, so I thought I would begin with this post and create a series about living authentically to address so much of what comes to me through other’s struggles and from my own experiences.

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Authentic.  How does that word even resonate with you?  To me it brings strong feelings of vulnerability.   Openness. Realness. Honesty. All really great feelings but for me and I know for others vulnerability is not the most comfortable emotion and quite frankly many, myself included at times, run from it.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, authentic means:

  • not false or imitation.  REAL. ACTUAL.
  • True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

I think when we show up as real and genuine, it requires a certain degree of courage with allowing our true selves to be seen.  We put ourselves at risk of judgement, being criticized, and honestly having conflict with those who may not agree. So I believe many of us struggle with being authentic and it is just not the teens I work with, it is the adults in their lives as well.  To some degree I believe the teens learn this from how it is modeled by the adults in their lives.

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So when I’m asked “how do I live more authentically?”  Here is what I know, there are several characteristics or traits that those who truly live authentically strive to possess and I have always said to clients, teens, friends, and family, we are a work in progress and this is one of those areas that is a continual process. Being able to put serious consideration and improvement into developing these traits is so necessary for ourselves and for those in our lives.  According to Psychology Today, the following traits are significantly apparent in those living genuinely:

  • Are accepting of themselves and of others and understand that we are all unique.
  • Are thoughtful, kind, and give love to others.
  • Have a respectful sense of humor.
  • Can express their emotions freely, clearly, and in a healthy way.
  • Are open to learning from their mistakes and accept their weaknesses.
  • Have an awareness of their values and desires and live life connected to those and understands what motivates them.
  • Take responsibility for their lives.
  • View reality in a realistic way.

I think when we consider the teens in our lives, this list of characteristics may be a bit tough for them to fully possess.  Part of what makes the struggle real is that several of these things are areas where typically teens are working to develop.  Many of the adults in teen’s lives (myself included) continually work in this area and find it to be a struggle at times as well. During times of changes with our career or with friends and family members, we find ourselves reevaluating what causes us to struggle with living authentically and it is necessary to find solutions to this so we can all live from a more healthy place. To be so honest, we all have stuff.  Behind every closed front door, there are struggles.  Some are Earth shattering struggles that the people behind the door are trying their best to come to terms with.  But so many are doing this in hiding. And while they are struggling with what is real behind the closed front door, they are presenting their lives as perfect.  This gives those around them a sense that they can’t share things, especially the struggles, because of being ashamed that they don’t have the perfect life too.

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I’m not suggesting that we hang all of our “dirty” laundry out for the whole world to see and to know but finding a way to show up, support each other, and be real with each other rather than judging and having conversations behind each other’s backs is so important.  If we don’t we will continue to feel disconnected, lost, and fighting through struggles in silence. In addition, according to Kerri’s, Goldman, and others, those living authentically tend to feel better, are more resilient, and are less likely to turn to self-destructive habits for comfort.  They also tend to be intentional in their choices and are more likely to follow through on their goals. Furthermore, they tend to have strong, deep connections with others. I don’t know about you but I yearn for this. To be seen as I am and be acknowledged, accepted, loved, and supported as I walk through life.

High Anxiety Teens

With my profession, I come into contact with teens on a daily basis who are writhing in anxiety.  Some over their current grade in a class, others over a relationship with a friend, and more trying  to determine what they want to do as a career.  Our teens are hit with an enormous amount of information every day and it seems like they never take an opportunity to “turn it off”.  I believe it increases the intensity of their emotions and often leaves them feeling very anxious.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, close to 30 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys have had symptoms significant enough to diagnose an anxiety disorder.  Anxiety is now among one of the most common mental health disorders that presents itself during the teen years and it seems to affect anyone regardless of your social class, income level, or your ability to perform well academically.  In addition, teens with high levels of anxiety have been shown to struggle more academically, avoid typical social events for teens, and are at a higher risk of alcohol and drug use.

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress for anyone and I find myself still becoming uneasy when I have to speak in front of a room full of parents.  So for our teens to be unsure about a test in math they are preparing for, giving a speech in a class, an upcoming game with their biggest competitor, or going on a date, this all seems reasonable.  So while some anxiety is beneficial for us, I think it’s important to recognize when it becomes an issue.  For teens and their parents, I feel using these questions to determine the significance of your teens anxiety would be helpful:

  • Is your teen having difficulty sleeping?
  • Is your teen complaining more often about headaches, stomachaches, or feeling tired for no apparent physical explanation?
  • Does it seem like your teen constantly worries?
  • Is your teen avoiding a situation or people because of feeling anxious?
  • Does it seem difficult for your teen to focus?
  • Does the worry seem excessive, consuming, or irrational?

In regards to anxiety and teens today, I have seen many things contribute to this difficult emotion.  Teens today worry about being accepted and liked by peers, they find themselves overcommitted to things, and our teens are overexposed to the frightening state of our world.  Not only are teens coping with school pressure and graduation requirements, they are constantly bombarded by information on social media.  They spend time wondering how many “likes” they will get on a selfie post.  They watch an argument with a friend that occurred during the school day get commented about all night long on a social media platform.  With the constant “on” of their lives, it requires heightened attention which I believe leads to higher levels of anxiety.   Further, teens are experiencing such higher stakes for college admissions.  They are stressing over ways to get a higher class rank or a better ACT/SAT score to ensure that they will be accepted to the University they always dreamed of attending.  Not to mention, graduation requirements are becoming more difficult as well and our teens are the most tested students there has ever been.  If these students don’t score high enough, they do not graduate regardless if they have passed every class required for graduation.  This leads many to feel anxious.

While we cannot erase the situations that create more anxiety for our teens, there are several suggestions that may be helpful in helping our teens cope with feeling so worried.  I believe it is important for our teens to recognize their emotions and understand why they are feeling the way they do.  Teens being able to recognize the situations that create high anxiety would be very beneficial to them as well.  Furthermore, I often talk to students about some of the most basic ways to cope.  It is important for teens to create a good sleep schedule and to eat well.  I also talk with students about exercise because it allows for teens to destress and it also increase the “feel good” chemical in our brains.  In addition, I spend a significant amount of  time working with students to create great time management skills.  Other coping methods that I share with teens include the use of yoga, mindfulness training, and meditation.  I am a big believer that our teens need to learn to unwind and unplug and it will be a valuable skill that will help them in so many ways throughout their lives.

Many times I’m asked from parents of teens who are struggling about what can the parents do.  Here are a few suggestions I would recommend:  Listen carefully and respectfully to your teen with no judgements about how they are feeling.  Reassure your teen that anxiety is a normal part of adolescence.  It would be very helpful you can talk with your teen and help them recognize the situations/experiences that are causing the anxiety and praise your teen when he/she gets through a situation they were so unsure about.  Please work very hard to stay calm when your teen is worried about something.  While I know that is a difficult task because it is so hard to watch our kids struggle, if we get emotional when our teen is confiding in us about their worry, it only makes the situation more difficult for them.  In addition, please refrain from sharing with your teen that “these years are the best years of your life” sort of statements.  It is not helpful and it is not true.  I often have said to colleagues who work with high school students that no one could pay me enough money to be a teen again, especially during this generation.  It is hard and it is a whole different adolescent experience than what we experienced.  So be compassionate and a soft place for your teen to fall.  It is so desperately needed for them.

Lastly, I wanted to share several resources that I like to use with teens:

  • The Anxiety Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Deal With Anxiety and Worry – Lisa Schab
  • My Anxious Mind: A Teens Guide to Managing Anxiety and Panic – Michael Tompkins, Katherine Martinez, Michael Sloan
  • The Anxiety Survival Guide for Teens: CBT Skills to Overcome Fear, Worry, and Panic – Jennifer Shannon
  • The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies For Managing Your Anxiety So You can Get on With Your Life – Alice Boyles
  • Mindfulness for Teen Anxiety: A Workbook for Overcoming Anxiety at Home, at School, and Everywhere Else – Christopher Willard

Summer Suggestions for Teens

I receive so many inquiries from parents and teens about careers and College/University searches.  I find with my job as a School Counselor and all of the time restraints due to testing, scheduling, etc. that I am limited to give every student the time I really think they need to truly discover their interests and potential careers.  I spend a lot of time talking about deadlines for applications to Colleges/Universities and for scholarships but it leaves me with very little time for discussion and helping students really dig and explore what careers or career areas they should pursue further.  I thought it may be helpful to put together a suggestion for summer activities.  Our teens tend to have a bit more down time in the summer and I think doing some or all of these suggestions may put students in a  better place once the next school year rolls around.  When I created this list I based much of it on the fact that our teens really are very committed during the school year and I feel these suggestions would fit nicely during the summer months and would also help alleviate some of the pressure and work teens face during the school year.  So here we go:

  1. Encourage your teen to talk about the past school year and really look at one or two areas where they feel they could have made some improvements. Many procrastinate, some don’t feel they really know how to study, and others don’t feel very organized.  Encourage your teen to set one or two goals for the next school year to address these areas.
  2. It’s important for teens to keep a log listing all of the activities they do throughout the year and summer is a great time to update their log. Often when teens become seniors in high school and are asked on college and scholarship applications what activities they were involved in, they become overwhelmed and dazed as they try to recall everything they did during the past four years.  I  encourage students to put EVERYTHING, no matter how small it seems to them.  I’ve had students list everything from Blood Donor to Student Aide to Vocalist at a Christmas Church Service.  It’s important that Colleges/Universities and scholarship committees see all that our teens are involved in so updating this list yearly helps students not lose track of everything they do.
  3. Another suggestion I make to students to do during summer break is to find a small part time job or volunteer. It is important for our teens to have experiences working with others although I let students know it doesn’t have to be many hours because some find it just too difficult to add to what they are already committed to in the summer and that is fine.  Also, if the job or volunteer opportunity can be in a career area that they find interesting, even better!
  4. Encourage your teen to check out these resources for career exploration. Many times teens come to me panicking about not knowing what they want to do for the rest of their lives.  I attempt to calm them down a bit because I feel as if there are plenty of adults still running around unsure what they really want to do.  However, I do believe it is important for teens to get to know themselves better and explore different career areas.  Here are my favorite resources:

Webpages:

Career Finder – www.insidejobs.com/careers

Career One Stop – www.careeronestop.org

My Next Move – www.mynextmove.org

Quest Career test – http://www.e4s.co.uk/blogs/jobs/career-test-how-to-choose                                                                      a-job/

Quiz Rocket – http://www.quizrocket.com/career-quiz

 

Books:

What Color is Your Parachute?  For Teens – Carol Christen

Career Match:  Connecting Who You Are With What You’ll Love To Do – Shoya                                                                                               Zichy

Getting Real:  Helping Teens Find Their Future – Kenneth Gray

Careers:  The Graphic Guide to Finding The Perfect Job for You – by DK

Do What You Are:  Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of                                                                   Personality Type – by Paul Teiger, Barbara Barron, and                                                                                                   Kelly Teiger

  1. I also encourage students to put time into preparing for the ACT and/or SAT during the summer months. There are so many resources available today for students, everything from websites to apps for their phones.
  2. Summer break is also the perfect opportunity to job shadow once or twice in a career area of interest. I encourage students to ask family or other adults in their lives about any connections they have to the careers they are interested in.  Students can also inquire with their school counselors for connections as well.  Job shadowing is such a valuable experience that many students need to take advantage of.  It is the best way to really see what someone does day to day in particular careers.
  3. This suggestion is especially important for students who will be seniors during the next school year. Many colleges and universities are using the Common Application (www.commonapp.org) for their admission application and while it is very lengthy, it is a time saver due to the fact that you complete one application online and can send it to multiple colleges and universities.  Common Application has already released the essay prompts that will be used for the application for next year, so I encourage students to get a head start on those essays and have the essay proofread multiple times by an English teacher.  In addition, I encourage incoming senior students to be searching for colleges and universities they will want to be applying to in the fall.  Furthermore, investing time and applying for scholarships is so important!  Here are two of my favorite online resources:

www.zinch.com

www.cappex.com

  1. And last but not LEAST! I encourage teens to relax and enjoy time with their family and friends.  This break is so necessary to get fueled back up for the next school year!

Raising Kids Who Have GRIT

I think one of the most challenging things about being a parent is watching your child struggle with something.  Whether that would be having a hard time with math, having a big fight with a best friend, or not getting into a college your child was hoping to, it is very heart wrenching to watch our kids hurt.  I often come in contact with parents, either through my profession or in my personal life, who are trying to minimize the uncomfortable pain their child is feeling or to erase that pain all together.  I understand the feeling of wanting to rescue our kids when they are struggling, it makes it seem better but truly we are keeping them from  building the skills they will need as adults to persevere when things are tough or even how to deal with difficult feelings during times of struggle.

An awesome book, “The Gift of Failure”  by Jessica Lahey, is full of research that demonstrates that when we actually involve ourselves to rescue our kids, we actually are hurting them.  All parents have the goal of raising healthy, confident children, but saving them from experiencing failure or struggles keeps them from learning important skills in handling challenges later in their lives.  I recently began reading this book when I was searching for resources related to teenagers and GRIT.  Grit to me is having the persistence to persevere despite things being hard.  Honestly, grit seems to be lacking from most teens that I come into contact with.  I have talked to groups of kids about pushing through hard things and not giving up whether it be on the basketball court, in speech class, or taking a test.  More and more kids want to throw their hands up and be done when the going gets tough.  This characteristic will not prove them well in adulthood and it concerns me more than their academic success, their grade point average, or their class rank.

I spend much time trying to determine why this persistence doesn’t exist with most of our teens.  What has brought us to this point? I’m certain there are many factors but one that is so interesting to me is the role parents play in their children having persistence.  Today’s stakes are very high for students who are pursuing college.  More and more colleges and universities are wanting students with the highest GPAs, class ranks, and proof of students taking the most challenging courses.  Because of this reality, I believe it causes parents to put the pressure on our kids as well.  However what comes along with this pressure, is the parent’s refusal to allow failure to happen because the stakes are too high to allow this.

Many teens today fear any failure.  Parents become over involved in an effort to keep their child from experiencing failure and as Jessica Lahey shares in her book that the setbacks and failures that parents have shoved out of the way of their children’s paths are the necessary experiences that teach our kids how to be resourceful. persistent, and resilient.  So many times when our kids fail, we personally feel as if we have failed.  Not only are areas of our kids lives very competitive but parenting has become very competitive and judgmental.  There have been times when my own kids have said, “ if we decide to do this or that what will people say or think?”.  This concern drives so much of what our teens and other parents choose to do rather than making decisions to do what is right for them.

So while many of us would agree that our children really need to be independent, persistent, and resilient, it then is necessary for us to take a step back and allow our kids to find their own way.  As Lahey shares, failure is a necessary and critical part of our children’s development.  These failures end up being opportunities in disguise.  They teach our kids how to make adjustments and also allows them to see that they are capable and competent to work through any difficulty.  Lahey shares research that children who have parents who don’t allow them to fail are less engaged, less excited about education, less motivated, and less successful than those children with parents who allow them to experience difficulty.  So many parents wonder that by backing off, what is most important to do?  Lahey shares that parents should focus on encouraging their children to embrace opportunities to fail, find ways to learn from the failures, and create positive relationships with the other adults in their children’s lives.  While I certainly find that this isn’t an easy task and I still have plenty of times that I fight with myself to keep from getting involved, I do relish in the times when my own kids have been so proud and feel confident when overcoming a difficult time in their lives.  Parenting is full of questioning yourself and just hoping you’ve done good enough for your kids.  What a great feeling it will be as we watch our kids create happy, fulfilling lives.

Why do they feel like giving up?

Last week I attended a seminar to learn about the updated statistics of mental health with teenagers and how to help them in the school environment.  One of the first statistics I became aware of was that suicide had moved to one of the  leading causes of death for teen girls.  In addition, suicide has increased 200% from 1999 to 2014 for girls ages 10 to 14. Since that day it has not left my mind.   I’ve read numerous articles, listened to TED talks, and have watched many teen girls I’m surrounded by on a daily basis and I keep wondering why?  Then today happened.  During a day that was full of excitement we took our daughter to Ohio State to participate in a dorm open house that would help her decide where she may want to live.  The campus was buzzing and full of energy for a Monday morning. We had been to the Union twice already that day when we were headed back to get our car, we found we could not enter the parking garage because a young female student had jumped from the third story.  Why?  What in the world is going on?

With regards to wanting to find out why this has increased so much, I’m learning there are so many factors that may be influencing these teens to want to give up.  From puberty happening earlier for girls to social media use and drastic changes in family dynamics, it causes me to have even more concern for girls today.  I see daily that life as a teenager can be very difficult.  It is a very unsettled, anxiety producing time of their lives.  The pressure they feel to perform well and balance so many commitments often makes me wonder how they keep it all together.  So many situations teens struggle with feel out of their control and I often question if these teens that attempt suicide see it as a way to escape the pressure and pain.  Many situations that adults struggle with also affect teenagers in the same way.  These situations mixed with teens feeling like they can do nothing about it can cause them to turn to suicide for a way out.  Divorce, domestic violence, substance abuse, and physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in their homes are situations teens are dealing with that may lead them to consider suicide, especially teens who have very little support networks.

Another large area that affects teens is social media and while there are many positive aspects of the use of social media it also has the potential to negatively affect our teens.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, teens are using social media an average of seven and a half hours a day.  To me, that is alarming.  Our teens are spending seven hours a day at school and many average over seven hours a day on social media sites.  Honestly, I had no idea it was to that degree.  Also, teens who are the heaviest users of social media, report not only being bored and sad, but report being bullied online.  In addition, a link between cyberbullying  and higher levels of depression and anxiety have been found.  To make matters more concerning, cyberbullying has been connected to more cases of suicide than traditional bullying.

Most importantly, I believe it is necessary to be aware of the signs teens show that tell us they are struggling.  I’m a big believer in being available to listen to teens.  Not to lecture and rant about what they “should” be doing or how they “should” be feeling, but listening to understand.  I’m convinced they need more adults to listen with our mouths closed.  And while that may seem harsh, I believe it is more true every day.  These are the signs that indicate that our teens may be in trouble:

  • isolating or withdrawing from friends and family
  • no interest in their personal appearance
  • difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • changes in sleeping patterns
  • changes in eating – weight gain or weight loss
  • not enjoying activities that they once enjoyed
  • physical symptoms – headaches, upset stomach, feeling tired often
  • sadness and feeling hopeless
  • changes in their personality
  • drug and/or alcohol use

If you notice your teen has been struggling with any of these indicators, acknowledge what you are noticing with your teen and sit with them and listen.  Reach out to your school counselor, a pastor, mentor, physician, or someone that you and your teen trust and get help.  Our involvement is becoming so critical in helping to save their lives.

 

Raising Healthy and Happy Kids

raising kids

I’ve often said to parents of clients/students and to friends of ours that I wish kids came with manuals.  A clear set of do’s and don’ts to guarantee our kids will turn out to do great things and be fantastic people.  The hours spent awake at night by parents just grueling over the right thing to do for their kids is so common.  I’ve also said many times, our kids are like parts of my heart just out walking around and the anguish I feel when they are struggling is huge.  While I know it is important to let my kids experience hard times, it doesn’t make it easy to watch.  With so many ideas about what we want for our kids, most importantly I hope that my kids are happy, healthy, and successful GOOD people.  I truly believe that is what parents want for their children however the biggest dilemma is what can parents do to help this happen?   With today’s blog I hope to share with you what I’ve experienced in the past 22 years in working with teens and families and with raising two of my own.

One of the biggest factors I believe that affects kids success is that kids have parents who have a good relationship with each other and who are engaged in their children’s’ lives.  I am not suggesting that kids with parents who are divorced have a huge disadvantage to creating a successful, happy life however I am saying that parents need to have a good relationship regardless if they are married or not.  The amount of unhappiness and stress that I have heard year after  year from kids who have parents who do not get along is staggering.  It oozes into every facet of their lives.  It consumes them.  It makes it hard to enjoy a birthday or to focus on studying for a big test.  It changes that amount of joy they can experience during their childhood.  If there is anything I can get people to understand and to really work on, it would be to find a way to get along with each other so you can be good parents to your children.  Please step outside yourself and the negative feelings you have towards your kid’s parent and really look at how the relationship you have with the other parent is honestly affecting your child.  If you need to seek counseling to address the feelings you have for your child’s parent, do it.  Resolve those feeling so that you can move past it and your child doesn’t experience the negative effects of it.  And by all means, stop bashing the other parent to your kids.  STOP IT!!!  There is nothing good that comes from that.  Nothing at all.  It destroys parts of your children and is totally unnecessary.  Kids feel secure and happiest when they have parents who get along and show respect to one another.  Kids can then focus on what is necessary for them to be successful and happy.  Ok, now that I am clear about this, let’s move on.

Kids need engaged parents.  They thrive with parents who ask about their day and the particulars of their day.  Kids need parents who will listen without any interruptions.  Find time daily to sit without anything else to distract you and listen to your kids talk and do this without judgement.  I also encourage parents to ask their kids questions to prompt their kids to think about their lives such as “what do you think it will be like to be an adult for you?”, “what kind of jobs do you think you’d like to do?”, or “what makes you happy?”.  Ours kids are blown away sometimes when they learn things about what our lives were like as young kids.  No remote for the TV? Your phone was connected to the wall?  You had a “party” line on your phone?  It’s very interesting to get kids to start thinking about the possibilities of what their lives will be like.  It starts the planning process for them.  More and more teens share with me how hard it is to think about their future.  Many are scared and feel so unprepared.  It is so important that we provide opportunities to talk about the options and to check some of these options out.  Encourage your teen to job shadow a career area they are interested in, visit different parts of the country that are different from where your family lives, take teens on college visits, talk with recruiters, etc.  And lastly, please be involved academically.  Encourage your teen to give their best effort in school.  The reality is the stakes are higher than ever.  Teens need to be persistent and do their best while at school.  I’m not a believer that college is right for everyone, however learning to work hard, to problem solve, to work together, and persist when things are tough is so necessary to be successful in the world of work.   Parents who communicate and work with school staff to ensure their kids are giving their best will help kids create a life that can be fulfilling.  By being engaged in your kids lives it shows them that you care deeply and that what they are doing is important.

Another factor that I believe is important for our kids to create successful lives is for teens to be responsible and show commitment.  Developing responsibility can begin early on in our kids’ lives through simple chores that they help with.  Their responsibility then grows as they grow.  They learn that every one has responsibilities in a family and they are responsible for their part.  I also believe teens need to be responsible to pay for some of their own things to understand the value of money.  My own kids have been shocked by the cost of things after they started working and we told them they had some financial responsibilities.  Their gas tank is filled every two weeks.  Make it last or fill it up on your own dime.  This creates an opportunity for them to have to think things out, plan, and make sacrifices and it allows this to be a learning moment for our kids and there is low risk involved.  Its a safe way for them to start making some financial decisions.  I believe that making teens keep commitments is important as well. If they begin a sport or club, it is important for them to see it all the way through.  To be a practices or meetings and to make it a priority because other people are counting on them.

And lastly, I am a big believer of parents providing structure and consistency for their kids.  By providing this, kids are able to learn what to expect and what is expected of them.  In our family, we eat dinner together.  There are times with sports practices or our kids work schedules that we need to move the time of our dinner, but most evenings we are sitting at the table and eating together and it has been a constant throughout of kids lives.  TVs and cell phones have not been allowed in our kitchen and our kids’ friends respect that rule as well.  It is our time for each other, uninterrupted and our kids have learned to count on it.  It provides an opportunity for discussion and sharing.  Curfews have also been a part of our kids lives and despite the occasional comment that “so and so doesn’t have a curfew”, our kids know that we can expect to know when each other are coming and going and we know where each other are. There is comfort for our kids and ourselves in knowing this.  I encourage parents to discuss what kind of structure they want for their family and to create it, be consistent with it, and honor it.  Kids will thrive from a structured environment.

While there are no guarantees that what parents provide will ensure growing great kids, the factors I’ve shared are common in families that I have seen raise fantastic kids.  Have their children been without crisis, drama, or tough situations? Absolutely not.  It is not a guarantee of having no strife, but it is assurance that you can provide very positive attributes that will enable your children to be happy and successful.  Teen life is full of tough situations.  There are so many decisions that kids can make that can negatively affect their lives however there are just as many good decisions as well.  I believe its time for parents to be parents and not worry about being their teen’s friend.  Our kids need parenting and so many times I find parents afraid to set limits and structure because they don’t want to upset their teen.  Providing opportunities for open communication and for them to demonstrate responsibility, being engaged in your teen’s life, and creating structure for your teen will help reduce the possibility that your teen will make impulsive, poor decisions that could negatively affect their life.  Always remember YOU are such an important and integral piece of your kid’s lives and the impact YOU make is tremendous.