Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Do You Expect Too Much: An "A" Student Does Not Translate To Success!

I read this letter in my morning paper in the Ask Amy Column:
Dear Amy: I am a sophomore in high school. Last semester was terribly stressful. I have many amazing friends who care about schoolwork and grades. We often study together at lunch. However, chemistry was really a struggle.
My father does not accept grades below a solid B. I ended up with a B in the class, but I did not do well on the final. I understand that I should have done more to save my grades during the semester, such as go to tutoring.
Every day when I come home from school he screams at me for my grades. This semester, I will try harder to get good grades and concentrate, especially on chemistry. I don't know how to fix this problem, because I get super anxious and start having trouble breathing. One time I started crying in class.
Any advice on how to be more independent about my grades? I want dad to care about how I do in school, but I don't want a bad relationship with him.
— Trying

Could this be your teen? When you see that B without a plus next to it, do you hyperventilate and worry that your teen is screwing his/her chances for college, or do you think in your head, they just didn't work hard enough. 

Here's the truth, most people are not only NOT good in everything, but they are also NOT interested in everything.   If your teen is a nice kid, works hard, is engaged and involved with friends and school, has a few subjects that really turn them on, and is not only NOT an all A, B+  student and might occasionally even get a C every now and then, they are absolutely NOT a slacker! 

In an Op Ed in the New York Times over the weekend titled: " What Straight A Students Get Wrong", the author states that "academic excellence is not a strong predictor of career excellence." See link at the bottom.
it turns out being a well-rounded kid is a much better predictor of success later in life. And lets face it "later in life" is really most of our lives!!

When teens feel this kind of grade pressure from a parent it actually can lead to the opposite affect. When a teen feels anxious and pressured to please, that anxiety can actually interfere with learning. So a grade that doesn't meet with your expectations can actually be your fault!!!  So lighten up if your teen is like this girl. If your teen puts in effort, is conscientious, and engaged, change up your expectations. Getting an honor roll report card does absolutely NOT correlate with success as an adult. Being engaged fully in ALL that life has to offer does!
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/opinion/college-gpa-career-success.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

PS Joani's Parenting Tips will now post only once a week on Tuesdays! Enjoy

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

If You Have a Son in Sports This Is Mandatory Reading!

A week ago two news stories broke about  high school football teams in Maryland where disturbing hazing incidents took place. The incident at Damascus High School was particularly heinous. The alleged hazing involved wrestling 9th grade players to the floor, while older fellow players, beat kicked and digitally penetrated their anuses with a broom stick. Sorry if you are reading this with your morning coffee. Disgusting, humiliating. This is not hazing, this is sexual assault. The boys said, oh, it's been going on for generations, as if that makes it all OK. Of course, no adults seemed to know anything about it!. Could the message these newbie football players have been given was to "man-up" during these initiation rights!.

I know boys will be boys, but really! The school superintendent have expelled these students and 4 out of the 5 will be charged with serious crimes..They are investigating not only this incident but the culture of athletic and activities of the entire system.

I feel bad for everyone. I feel terrible for the victims who were underclassman, who must have been elated to make the team,  and looked forward to playing for their high school team. Now that has all been tainted. I feel bad for the older boys who were responsible for the assault. I truly believe that they really didn't think there was anything that wrong with what they were doing. According to Michael Thompson, a psychologist specializing in the psychology of boys and who has written extensively about the culture of cruelty present in "boy culture", explains that is how you show you're a man! These are learned behaviors, not something you are born ready to do.  Who is teaching them that this OK.

Recently I showed my college students the documentary made by Michael Thompson called Raising Cain. It is available on youtube and I advise those of you with sons watch it with them, and then discuss this recent news story. (see link below) My students were given the option to write a reflection paper on this film connecting to their own experience. With permission of the student, I share this story:

From a young age playing hockey, we got the message that toughness and hard work will beat talent and skill. This was drilled into our heads at every practice for years. We cared more about hitting other players more than we cared about scoring goals. When people would get hurt, the coaches and teammates gave them little to no sympathy. For example, when I as 12 I blocked a shot during a game and fractured my foot. When I got back to the bench, I held it in as best as I could for a 12 year old. When the coach saw me wincing he asked what happened. I replied that I thought I broke my foot. His response was "suck it up", the foot's a long way from the heart...don't be a pansy." So I finished the game and afterwards played the following games since my coach and mom thought it was a bruise. The following week I went to get x-rays and found out it was fractured. My coach did not apologize and was actually proud of me for "playing through the pain."

I played with the same ice hockey team for almost 10 years. we were a very close knit group to say the least. However looking back now I can see that we enjoyed our own "culture of cruelty." When a player was scared to get hit and the rest of the team found out, it was an assault of name-calling from players and even coaches. Perhaps the fact that coaches often chimed in and in some cases led the charge made us think it was OK. 

What are the messages that coaches, staff  and maybe even the parents whose kids are on the team giving these kids?  Somewhere along the line, these kids are just not getting the message that hazing is serious business. Hazing, in this case, was not only physically damaging, but it sure as hell is psychologically damaging. When someone, especially a teenager, who is literally at the most psychologically vulnerable time of their life is humiliated in front of their peers, it can do real harm. I get that teenagers don't get this and don't understand this. But the adults do need to get it.

If you have a son or daughter who is on a sports team or a cheer leading squad it is your job to talk about this issue with them. You might tell them about this incident, and then say: " I get that upperclassmen/women feel sometimes that it is their right to "induct" new team member into the team through some traditional rights of passage. Unfortunately those "rights of passage" are illegal if they humiliate or put someone's safety at risk.  This is serious stuff, and I know you might be in a situation someday where you will be the subject of or be asked to be the perpetrator of hazing. Lets figure out what you can do, should you ever find yourself in this situation."

Though all schools now have very strict rules and regulations about hazing, I don't think the communicating part to the kids is happening. This is where you come in. Never expect that someone else will take care of it. Take care of it yourself!

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/hazing-incident-reported-at-another-maryland-high-school-officials-say/2018/11/11/c2a0daf6-e15e-11e8-8f5f-a55347f48762_story.html?utm_term=.0c0dbce90fd5

FYI: I wanted to let you all know that I will now be posting once a week on Tuesdays!! Thank you to all my readers I will continue to write about those pressing and not so pressing issues of raising teens in today's world!!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Understanding Your Teen's Temperament

Teens are: unpredictable, aliens, explosive, risk-taking, and temperamental. So say hundreds of parents when I ask them to throw out adjectives that describe their teen at my seminar: Adolescent Psychology-The Parent Version. You ask yourself, who is this person? I don't know what's going to come out of his/her mouth next. This is unsettling to say the least because what has worked in the past to calm your kid down so you can have a civilized conversation seems to have flown out the window. Not to mention, the way he wants to spend his time, the kinds of kids she likes to hang with, and what about how school used to be the most important part of his life. This isn't my kid, who is this kid?

Well actually deep down inside those tiny tank tops or baggy jeans and untied sneakers is the kid you raised, and all those characteristics you thought sweet or funny as a toddler, now in a taller, more filled out body...not so funny and sweet. For example, maybe you had that 3 year old who had fantastic verbal skills, and you thought it was so cute when they were able to talk you into reading just one more book at bedtime, or just one more cookie for dessert, or just one more episode of Sesame Street. After talking baby talk for 3 years, how refreshing to have these adult like conversations with your "little man". Well your "little man" has grown up and his verbal skills have grown with him, and he wants to share them with you! Now he understands that these verbal/negotiating skills can wear you down to the point that he is able to get exactly what he wants. And how about that adorable little 4 year old girl who had the energy of a rabbit, bouncing from one activity to the next. Running instead of walking, climbing the highest slide or jungle gym with you standing below, screaming, "honey be careful!!! Now at 14 she wants to run out of the house, hang with her friends, doing what and with whom..."Honey be careful"
Or maybe you had that shy 5 year old, who clung to your leg and didn't want to go into the school, or to the play date or the birthday party, and now as a 13 year old seems overwhelmed with the expectations of the 8th grade social strata.

See, they aren't really so different. What your teen brings to the table in terms of temperament and personality is biological, sorry,you can't change that. But you can be aware of it, and help your teen to see what their natural inclinations might be to keep them safe during this time in their life when their world is so inviting and exciting.  So if you have that risk-taking 4 year old all grown up now, it's important to have this kind of conversation; "You know honey, when you were little, you used to make me crazy with worry because you were always the kid who wanted to climb the highest tree, or ride your bike down the steepest hill, you were an excitement junkie. I loved how confident and fearless you were about things, always wanting to try something new. And I love that about you now, but because this is the essence of you, now as a teenager, you will also want to drive the fastest, party the hardest, take the biggest risks, and that worries me. We just need to make sure that you are safe, knowing that won't come naturally to you." Or if you have that verbal kid who has the skills of the slickest lawyer on TV, your job is to avoid getting into a verbal volleyball match. You won't win! Or maybe  you have that shy teen who has friends he wants to party with, and ends up going because he want to fit it. This shy 5 yr old grown up may be especially vulnerable to drinking or drugs because after the first experience with a few beers they feel the confidence and comfort in a group that they never felt before. That is a seductive feeling. So you need to say to this teen, "I know being in groups has always been hard for you, and now you have friends, which makes me so happy, and they want you to hang and go to parties where I know there is going to be alcohol and drugs. I worry that because those situations initially are hard for you, your friends might encourage you to drink to "loosen up" and that you might become dependent on alcohol or drugs to have fun in these situations.

Embrace the person your teen is and is becoming. Recognize the strengths in their personality and temperament, and give them the tools to manage them. Your legs won't be there to hold on to, and you won't always be waiting at the bottom of the slide.  They need the confidence and know-how to do it
"all by myself".

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Deflection: A Teen's Go-To Defense!

If your teen walks in the door and immediately starts an argument for no reason, he/she may be using the art of deflection. Perhaps teachers have let their students know their grades for the term. So now your teen knows that the B you are expecting them to get in English is now a C, and report cards might be in today's mail. So to preempt the "discussion" about the disappointing grade, your teen might walk in the door with some non-sequitur argument to get the focus off the grade and onto something else less ego deflating.

This happened recently to a parent I talked to. Her daughter walked in the door, and mom innocently said:" Hi honey, how was your day?" Mom expected the usual grunt "it was fine," but instead was bombarded by an avalanche of anger about issues that had nothing to do with school, and that mom thought had been resolved weeks before. Not to mention, this all came out of nowhere! Mom, baffled, got completely hooked into an argument about.......nothing! They both went to bed angry, for no real reason, since the argument was about....nothing.

Next morning, the daughter acting sweet as pie, confesses to her mom that she found out her grades, and they are not as good as she thought they would be. ( the truth is, there is no way she should be surprised) Mom, appreciating her daughter's sweetness and her honesty, congratulates her on being so nice! What happened is that mom was not able to see the dots and couldn't help her daughter connect these two rather disparate emotional presentations.

So when your teen walks in the door and starts up with something, tries to push your buttons and you are left scratching your head. Keep scratching. This should be your clue that something else is going on. Rather than get hooked into an imaginary argument about nothing you might say: " I get you're angry about something, but I don't think it's this. If there is something you need to tell me about, and you're worried about how I will respond, I understand. I promise I will just listen, and not react. I'm here for you, but I won't be drawn into an argument because you are upset, or anxious about something else." At this point, an "I love you" and a "let's talk later," and I think you are done! Real arguments are hard enough, imaginary ones even harder!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving: Join The Clean The Slate Club

I think the fires in California, the mass shootings, and what feels like the fragile state of our world has given many of us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the power of something that is completely out of our control, and how it can affect the fabric of our lives. In my regular spot on the couch, I watch the nightly news, where they highlight the enormity of the after effects of the fires, coupled with the amazing community of neighbors and volunteers that have risen from the destruction. Though people have lost family members, pets,  their homes, and their possessions, they find strength in their love for each other and the community in which they live.  It does make me feel so thankful for the blessings of family, friends, satisfying work, and good health. Life isn't perfect, and there are many days I feel discouraged, or whiny about what now seem like such silly things in light of what those dealing with the after affects of these fires, that people are dealing with. So this Thanksgiving is a time for real thanks.

Your teen may need a little dose of that thanks this holiday. Maybe things haven't been so great. Maybe report cards have been disappointing, or their attitude towards you and the family has you pulling your hair out, or they seem ungrateful and entitled, or distant and uncommunicative. There is not much good to be found. And the more they disappoint, the more you pull away.  Sometimes we need an excuse to wipe the slate. Why not have Thanksgiving be that excuse. If you have found the last few months weighing in on the negative, maybe just for the next few days, you share some thankful moments with your teen. Maybe a text, or a card left on their bed with a " I get things have been hard between us over the last few months, but I am so grateful that you are my son/daughter. I cannot imagine my life without your (insert some of the good stuff here, here are some examples: humor; getting me to watch movies I never would have picked but loved; forced me to learn about..., you get the idea.) I know we will get past this other stuff. I love you."

Don't look for a response or a thank you. This is a selfless gift you are giving with no expectations. Teens need to know that with all the crap they hand out, you will always love them, plain and simple.

Treasure these days. Enjoy this break from routine, and I will "see" you next Tuesday as I enjoy time with family and friends on Thursday.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

It's Good Enough!!! Leave Me Alone!!

Do you have a teen that rushes through assignments doing just enough to get the job done?  I would normally chalk this up to the impetuous and impulsive teenage brain, but then what would be my excuse. I know my blogs are hardly perfect. There are many times when I go back a few days after I have published a blog and see missed words, words that don't make sense, and sentences that don't make sense. You'd think that I would know better, and honestly I do, it's just that old enemy of mine, rushing through.

It was only during the summer of writing my second book for a publisher and editor I respected and truthfully, was a little afraid of, that I wrote and rewrote and rewrote again and again until it was as perfect as I could make it. And honestly it worked, my manuscript got through editing and copyediting with very little change. But, man, it took a lot of f**king time and patience I really didn't think I had.

There are those of us who are built for speed. We sometimes race through life with imperfection. Criticizing and judging have little effect on us speed-demons. When I was in high school I had an extremely critical english teacher. Though I liked him personally, I felt like a failure in his class. And I had him for two years!!! Plowing through something without putting all the time in for perfection is a way of avoiding imperfection. Does that make sense??

As an adult, I figured it out that summer. Work on small increments, and in small segments of time.  Repeat!! It really did work, and the pride I felt at my accomplishment was enormous.

So if you have a student that is kind of like me. Don't call him lazy. Don't criticize her for not taking the time to do a job well. Understand with him/her that in some way this goes against their nature, and get how hard it can be to acknowledge mistakes and work through them. And maybe suggest that they work a paragraph at a time, or a problem at a time. Take a break and go back and start again. It worked for me!


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The First Report Card Of The Year

Just like the first frost that appears on our last surviving plants on the deck announcing the end of summer, so do the first fall report cards appear, announcing another kind of reckoning. Parents hoping that this year will be better, easier, their teen another year older and wiser, having learned from last years lessons, open the envelope with trepidation and anticipation. Some glance quickly, scanning for standout grades in either direction, others take their time, each grade at a time, each comment at a time. Until...THE comment, THAT comment, that when parents read make their veins pop, and their hearts pound. " Johnny is a good student, BUT he is missing 3 homework assignments and because of that his grade is a C instead of a B.

For some parents this might be the first time they have seen this kind of report card from their teen. Perhaps in previous years their kid led a quieter, less social life than other kids, and studying hard and striving for good grades was their true mission. But what is this, where are the A's and B+'s they have grown accustomed to seeing? And then for some parents, who had been hoping for a fresh beginning, a new year full of promise, feel disappointed that its same old same old.

Though your first impulse might be to barge into your kids room, or start in on dealing with this as soon as they step into your car or into the house, I encourage you to take a moment, and take a deep and cleansing breath. You are probably feeling somewhat duped by your teen, having asked over and over and over again: "Did you finish your homework?", and the answer was "YES". You probably asked over and over, "did you make up those missing homework assignments? " And the answer was "YES!"
But here, in living proof is the evidence of that lie. You are storming.

Your kids are expecting the storm. They are primed and ready with excuses, and explanations, and promises for change. Consider this an opportunity to approach this in a new way. Rather than starting the conversation with: "This is what happens when you spend too much time on your phone, and on your computer and with your video games. In this house, schoolwork comes first!  Instead try this: "Hey honey lets go over your report card together. Let him/her read it out loud. After each grade and comment is read, say "so what do you think about what your teacher said and how she graded you?" Refrain and I know that this is really hard, but just let them talk. You might hear some complaining, some "its not my fault the teacher is mean",  and some denial, "I didn't know that was missing." The goal here is to use this report card not as an indictment on bad study habits but as a road map for moving forward.

Using an 'I get it" moment, you might say: "I get first terms are always hard. Getting back into a routine is hard after the summer, and I know keeping up with friends, and sports and all the stuff you like is important to you lets figure out a way for you to do both. If you don't put your teen on the defensive and focus more on I want you to feel successful, you will find them more willing to have a conversation with you, and figure out a plan of action.  This is not about the grades!!! This is about your kids mastering material and developing a curiosity for learning. And this goes for the kids who come home with the straight A report cards. If you focus on the "A" rather than, "I am so proud for all your hard work, and how much you learned this term," you have a kid who is motivated to learn because of the external motivator of making you happy, rather than the power of the learning itself.

Fall is a time for new beginnings. Maybe you can see that your teen has a really hard time settling in and developing good study habits. For kids 6th-9th grade, sometimes hiring a college student as a homework buddy/mentor can be very helpful. This is not a tutor, this is someone who grabs your kid, takes him to your library, helps him get his homework done, and then goes out for an ice cream. It reframes homework from being a lonely, isolating boring experience, to something more to look forward to. Hanging with someone cool, who helps them, and understands them. This also gets you out of the power struggle of getting them to settle down and finish their work. If you are worried that this homework thing is a chronic problem, make sure you communicate regularly with the teacher. E-mailing at the end of the week to find out about missing homework, gives you a leg up on the "I did it" avoidance technique many kids use. (Read post on the homework avoider for more suggestions).  The most important message is not to label your kid as lazy, or unmotivated, this does not change behavior. Providing them with motivation, structure, and understanding does.