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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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 8th, 2018, 0 Comments

A Better Way to Think About Competition

Some experts argue that competition encourages excellence and builds character. Others claim that we’ve gotten too carried away with striving to be number one and that there is no such thing as healthy competition. So who’s right?

Researchers recently set out to answer that question. But after analyzing hundreds of studies on competition they concluded that there was no clear answer. Sometimes competing enhanced kids’ learning and performance, but just as often it did not. Digging deeper, however, researchers found that competing often beats working solo when kids get a chance to experience camaraderie and mastery as part of the process.

Many kids say they prefer to compete as part of a group (like on math teams and in chess clubs and science fairs) because they like being with their friends while learning. There’s still pressure – including the additional pressure of not wanting to let the team down. But the stress is buffered by the camaraderie of having teammates.

How kids think about the competitive process can also affect learning and performance. The best competitors view winning as succeeding at problem solving. And they don’t just compare themselves to others. They focus at least as much on learning something and beating their own personal best.

Try This
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you think about competition.

It’s okay if kids want to win. Most of us long to be the best at something. And it’s much more fun for them (and us) if they win. But it’s much more important that kids learn to work hard even when they compare themselves to the best around them and determine they’re not a star. This is essential for succeeding in a competitive world. We can encourage this by expanding our definition of what it means to succeed – so that the motive becomes not just to win but to learn or master something as well.

Kids don’t need to always win. If kids always win, even when they’re not turning up the effort, they’ll come to think that just showing up entitles them to a win.
Plus not winning can help give kids an accurate world view – letting them see that they’re not the best at everything and that losing is not the end of the world.

Kids do need to learn how to fail forward. To be successful over the long haul, kids have to be taught how to bounce back, reset goals, and keep on growing. We can encourage this by helping them see competition as a problem-solving task – with losing viewed as falling short of their goals, not falling short as a person.

Pressure should have an end point. Pressure itself is not a bad thing. In fact, the right amount of pressure can help kids focus on the task at hand. But endless pressure can be harmful. So there should be some ebb and flow in the pressure kids face, giving them time to rest and recuperate.

Encourage group and team activities. These emphasize cooperation and camaraderie that can teach kids how to work with and cheer for others.

Be aware of your messages. Our model is powerful. If we’re too quick to quit when things get tough or blame external forces when things don’t go as we hope, our kids will pick up on this regardless of what we say.

Bottom Line
We aren’t going to eliminate competition. If we did, we’d have to let everybody do whatever they want whenever they want to do it. And that can’t be done. But we can reframe the way we think about competition. After all, winning is exhilarating and motivating. And although it’s almost always more fun to win, losing can teach valuable lessons too.

Selected Sources and References:
Bronson, P., and A. Merryman. 2014. Top dog: the science of winning and losing. Hachette Book Group. New York.
Richtel, M. 2012. The competing views on competition in New York Times.
Rimm, S. 2010. Teaching healthy competition.

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