Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on September 17th, 2018, 0 Comments

Nudge Your Teen to Look into the Future

Parents often ask me what they can do to help their teen take school more seriously. My response varies, depending on the kid. For some encouraging their teen to get more sleep is at the top of my list. For others, it’s to get them involved in a school-related extracurricular activity.

And regardless of what else is on my list of suggestions, I also recommend that they nudge their teen to look into the future. Because having some vision of where they are headed – even if their vision changes multiple times – seems to benefit all teens.

Years ago while teaching seventh grade, I watched some students work hard and do well (persevering even when things got difficult or tedious) while some of their more naturally talented classmates did not. Most of the time the persevering students had a guiding purpose – a long-term goal that they were working towards that acted like a guiding North Star for them.

A decade later while teaching at the college level, I noticed something similar. Some of my students saw college as an end in itself. Others came to college with an idea of what they might do for their work life and saw college as part of that path. The students who had an idea of where they were headed seemed to have an advantage over their more ambivalent peers. Students with a career path plan – even if they changed their mind and headed in a different direction more than once – had a guiding purpose that gave them a reason to get to their early morning classes, work harder on the required coursework, and graduate on time.

Try This
As the new school year begins, nudge your teen to take a look into the future and develop some vision of where they are headed.

Talk with your teen about their current interests and strengths. Encourage them to make lists of the things they like to do, the things they like to learn, the things they value, and the things they’re good at – perhaps even better than most kids their age. Then talk with them about how their combination of interests and strengths might be used in a career someday.

Encourage your teen to explore their career interests. Informational interviews and job shadowing are great ways for teens to learn more about a career that interests them from someone with real life experience. Both also can help teens see how what they are learning in school can be applied in the real world.

Informational interviews are 20 to 30 minute conversations in which students have an opportunity to gather information about a specific career by talking with a professional and asking questions about what it’s like to work in their field and what it took to get where they are today. You can read more about informational interviewing and how to develop interview questions here.

Job shadowing lets students try on a career by visiting a workplace and following a professional through their workday. A job shadow usually lasts one day but they can last several days or longer to give a student a more in-depth look at a certain career. You can learn more about job shadowing here.

Many professionals are willing to help with informational interviews and shadowing. Some school guidance offices have lists of professionals in the community who have volunteered to help. Your network of family and friends is another good place to look.

Bottom Line
Teens who regularly think about what they want to do with their life and what kind of person they want to become, have a better sense of direction. They may change their mind and head in a different direction more than once. But at any given time they can articulate in a sentence or two where they are headed and what everything they are doing is all about.

Teens with a vision of where they are headed tend to take school and their other activities seriously. And instead of being discouraged by setbacks, they tend to take charge of their problems and persevere – and are, thus, less likely to get off track.

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Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 27th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 5, The Verdict

Plotline: Luke Volunteers Because It’s Mandatory
From the get-go tonight, Luke drags his feet over the required volunteering. He’d even join Claire for “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” to get out of it.
Luke: I’ll go to work with you, Mom.
Phil: Stop trying to get out of community service. You need those hours to graduate.
Claire: And you’re not a daughter.
Luke: Mom, Dad, sit down. There’s something I need to talk to you about.
Phil: You’re going.

Luke does go – along with Phil and a group of boys, including Manny – but his heart is not in it.
Phil: Okay, men. Gather ’round. Teachable moment. Don’t think of community service as a requirement. Think of cleaning up this park as an opportunity.
Luke: To get hepatitis?
Phil: To make the world a better place.
Manny: That’s why I’m here. I already did my required hours.
Luke: That’s a fancy way of saying you’re a virgin.
Manny: Joke all you want, but this looks good on an application to NYU or UCLA.
Luke: Or KFC.
Phil: Okay, stop trash-talking and start trash picking-up.

Things then go from bad to worse. And it’s not just trash-talk. A car gets trashed – right after Phil gathers everyone around for one last teachable moment.
Phil: I guess the answer is nothing. Nothing separates us from animals. Grow up, Manny. Human beings are basically terrible.

Many high schools – like the one Luke and Manny attend – have made volunteering a graduation requirement since the 1990s when federal laws and funds began supporting it. Yet, when surveyed, most young people say they’re opposed to required community service. And there’s the rub.

Our kids will reap nothing from volunteering if their hearts aren’t in it.

But there are lots of benefits to be had.

It’s good for them. Volunteering can help teens…

– Grow in responsibility because people depend on them.

– See what life is like for others and build a heart for helping others – elderly people, people with disabilities, sick kids, people in financial distress.

– Explore their interests. They may even develop a passion that helps shape their ideas about a career they might not otherwise have considered.

– Build new relationships. When working on long-term projects, these connections often develop into close friendships.

It looks good too. A long-term commitment to a cause or an organization can give teens an edge when it comes to college admissions by helping them…

– Demonstrate a meaningful use of their free time. A passionate involvement in a few activities can show dedication and responsibility. Although challenging high school classes, grades that show strong effort, and solid scores on ACT or SAT are at the top of the college checklist, extracurricular activities including volunteering and community service are also high on the list.

– Write a college essay. Writing about work done based on a cause that matters deeply to them can help students show colleges what they believe in and highlight their character, values, and goals.

– Earn an extra letter of recommendation. A recommendation from a community leader or a supervisor who knows a student well can put a spotlight on a student’s passion, special skills, and positive character traits.

Years ago Ralph Waldo Emerson said: Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm. This is certainly true when it comes to service learning. If our kids resent having to put in the time or just go through the motions, they’re likely to get less than nothing out of the volunteer experience.

Most teens could probably care less about Emerson’s words from long ago. But we moms might want to keep them in the back of our minds.

Connecting Lines:
If you have a kid who is dragging their feet about a required service learning project, it might help to remind them that unlike other parts of school, with volunteering they get to pick what really interests them and who they do it with. Your conversation might start something like this: You gotta do it and there are lots of ways to volunteer. So…
What is something you really care about?
What would make it fun? Who would be fun to do it with?
What would make it interesting?
What would make it meaningful?
What would make it count the most on a college application?

For additional help with the picking process, checkout the teen website (click here).

Sources and Resources: The Ten Most Important Factors in College Admissions by Judi Robinoviz; Teen Volunteering at

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