Thursday, April 24, 2014

Things To Consider Making THE College Decision

I may be a little late on this one. I think the deadline for making college choice decisions is next week. But I wanted to offer a little advice based on a conversation I had recently with a parent whose daughter is transferring after finishing her freshman year.

The school she chose to attend last May was in a warm climate, which she loved, was a college that has become one of the "it" colleges over the last 5 years, and had that cache and vibe that both parents and seniors in high school respond to. Pretty campus, small but not to small, 5,000 students, good program in the academic area she "thought" might become her major. Notice I put the "thought" in quotations. That is because many, many kids start off with an interest in one area, and when they graduate are in a completely different major. Which is great by the way. That actually is what the college experience is all about. Trying out different identities, different interests, different kinds of relationships, and different academic areas. OK so what went wrong. Turns out the school was a complete mismatch.

While the "big picture" of this college fit the bill, the actual day to day of college life did not. This is a school where the "Greek Life" is king. Everybody pledges a sorority or a fraternity, or if that doesn't interest you, than there are academic clubs that function like them. These clubs unite people who share a similar major. You live together on the same dorm floor, study together and party together. This is a college divided. So... if you don't get into the frat or sorority of your choice, and you haven't yet settled on a major, or if you have, and you don't particularly want to surround yourself by your classmates 24/7 you are kind of left out in this college. And all this happens by the middle of your freshman year.

This left this student with few people to hang with. Though she had made friends in her dorm, many of them pledged or joined something and they were otherwise engaged. She didn't get into the sorority of her choice. Also turns out living on a beautiful campus, in the middle of nowhere left few alternatives for leisure non-partying activities. No real town to go to, go to a movie, take a walk, or go to eat. Pretty place, but very isolated.

The areas you and your senior should be discussing now are not academics, but college life. Because honestly, this will be the make it or break it of settling into and loving their new college life. Here are some important questions to ask, and I advise making sure your son/daughter calls and speaks to at least two kids who are completing their own freshman year for their perspective. I know admissions offices will be happy to  furnish your teen with students who have offered to talk to incoming freshman.

Questions:
  • Does size matter? Yes it does. 
  • Does rural VS urban VS suburban matter? Yes it does. How does your teen like to spend their free time, and does this school offer those chances to do what they like to do. 
  • What happens if they don't pledge a sorority or fraternity or do not get into one they want, or aren't interested in that whole joining thing, what do these students do and where do they go for their fun?
  • What do people do on the weekends? At the college I teach at, many of the students go home on the weekends, and those left have nothing really to do. My school is in the suburbs, and most students do not head into Boston, and there is NOTHING to do in the town  where the college is located. Not surprisingly many of my freshman students are transferring, at first thinking small and suburban was good, but now hating it's limitations.
This choice-making time is all about asking the detail questions, which your college-bound senior will not like to do. Teens look at the big picture, and have little patience for the smaller stuff. You will need to help them do that. It can make the difference between the phone calls you get from happy college freshman or miserable ones. Which call would you rather get?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Social Networking Posts That Can Put Your Kid In Jail

Promotion Wednesday. Have I mentioned I have a book coming out, and that it is available right now on Amazon. Here is a chance to read an excerpt of one of the tips that is on the Psychology Today blog website.
PS I am having a bunch of readings, if you live near any of these, please, please, please come and help me celebrate my book.
May 5th  Porter Sq Books in Cambridge 7 PM
May 14th Buttonwood Books  Cohasset  7 PM
May 16th Wellesley Books  7 PM
May 20th Barnes and Nobles North Shore Mall Peabody  7 PM
May 29th New England Book Fair Newton 7 PM
June 9th Barnes and Nobles 86th and Lexington NYC 7 PM
 Invite your friends!!!

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/singletons/201404/facebook-posts-can-put-your-kid-in-jail

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Night Of The "Bad Teacher"

OK this is shameless promotion Tuesday. Many of your kids are on vacation this week, so I thought I would offer up a fun activity for Thursday evening, @9:30 PM. Shameless Promotion: My daughter Ari Graynor is an actress. She is the star of a new CBS show that premiers on Thursday night @ 9:30 PM called Bad Teacher. Though it does share the name and basic premise of the movie that starred Cameron Diaz the similarities stop there. This bad teacher (my daughter) is a narcissist, but a sweet one. This is actually a show that you can watch as a family. It is cute, funny, and does not include any raunchy sex jokes, I promise! So sit down with a bowl of ice cream, or popcorn and your middle/high school kids and enjoy at family night in front of the tube! Here is a sample of the show. Enjoy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrlkXmFS1KM&feature=share

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Teaching Moment For Your Teen About Pot

Most teens think pot is no biggie. And it probably isn't if they are using infrequently as a treat. But for many teens, pot is becoming the high of choice. It mellows you out, you don't throw up from it, and hey it's legal in Colorado so how bad can it be.

Well as it turns out, it's not good. In the developing brain of teens, it changes the way the brain grows. Rather than trotting out your own lecture on why drugs are bad, why not read this article at the dinner table!


http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2014/04/15/casual-marijuana-use-creates-brain-changes-new-report-shows/X1cN8A7h5pOVJkeYkXTXlJ/story.html

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

When I Was A Teenager.....

I've been thinking about the the standards parents set for their children as they grow up. I was a very average student in high school, but I surely did not want my daughter to be like me in that regard during her high school years. I wanted her to be better, to have more options, to exceed what I felt was my own mediocrity at the time. PS, I think I am doing fine now!

In my parent coaching lately, I have been struck by the disappointment many parents feel about their teenagers lack of perceived motivation and achievement. Sometimes it's academic, sometimes it's the lack of passion their kids seem to feel for anything significant, and sometimes it's the resentment for the time and effort their teens put into their friends and not their family. When I ask these parents what they were like in high school, they often say, rebellious, angry, social, party animal, disrespectful to their parents... and then we smile at each other. One parent said, she didn't much like her teen these days, and started to cry.

Projection is a defense mechanism we can thank Freud for introducing us to. We often "project" on our children those qualities, memories and characteristics we hate most about ourselves. We sometimes see our children in a light that unconsciously reminds us of that part of ourselves we least like, and then wonder "how did they ever get this way?" Hmmmm

I urged the mom who was feeling so negatively about her teen to tell him she totally understood how he was feeling. She had never really shared honestly with him about her own teen years, which were full of rebelliousness and anger..just like her son. She could see how her own parenting style was mirroring her parents, smothering, and overbearing. She worried that being honest with him might encourage him to throw it back in her face. In fact, just the opposite was true.

Sometimes your teen feels your expectations so keenly and worries that they will fail. So rather than disappointing you and not living up to your expectations, they will just stop trying, and then you can be angry with them rather than disappointed. Anger is a much easier emotion to deal with than disappointment. This mom remembers well how she continued to disappoint her parents, and frankly continues to disappoint her family, not because she isn't successful enough, because she is,  but because she isn't doing what they had expected her to do. She made choices to do what she wanted to do. The message that you are OK being who you are, is so much more loving and accepting than, you need to be how I want you to be. And they will be just fine.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Money Matters

Unless you are comfortably wealthy, most parents these days are using up their retirement portfolios, giving up restaurants, vacations, new cars and any other perk that one usually looks forward to in mid-life, to pay for their kids to go to college and have the freedom from debt as they start their young adult life. And most parents I know who do this, do it freely and with love.  It is only when the semester grades start coming in, or the epidemic of changing one's major multiple times, that requires students to take additional courses (read more money) for their interest of the year, that parents start to wonder about the return on their investment. Many students I know are now on the 5 year plan due to flunked classes, need to make up credits or change of heart in what they want to study or do with their life. And because they have not been a part of the financial planning for their college career, and because they live in a fantasy world when it comes to money, and because many parents are afraid to talk money with their kids, they are not taking much responsibility for these decisions. Kids seem to want more, fancy phones, expensive video games, unlimited supply of clothes, and parents work hard to give them more. We aren't doing them any favors. Before they go to college is when they need to learn the meaning of money.

How many of your kids have any idea what their phone bill is, or their computer or cable bill that allows them to order movies on demand without regard to the extra $6.99 that appears on your bill.
How will your teens ever develop an appreciation for what things cost unless you teach them. I am a big advocate whether you are a family of means or a family where you need to count every penny, that you have a monthly date to go over the bills. Let them see just how many movies they did order and what the cost was. How much their portion of their cell phone cost. Dollars and cents, they need the reality. So much of teens lives in this 21st century make it easy to live in lalaland. They can say things without consequence through impersonal devices, they can order things without using the old fashioned greenback, and so it is no surprise that when they go off to college with a car full of new clothes and comforters that it feels magical. They absolutely need to know that college can cost up to $50,000 a year, and that is a sh**load of money.

Start teaching them now. They may not have to pay the bills, but at least let them know that it all costs the real deal...money. Maybe there is a limit on downloads and uploads, and scanning the bills together you develop some budget items. Let them know that mediocrity is not acceptable for college when everyone in the family sacrifices for their ability to go. A little guilt never hurt! And more importantly, obstacle and challenge make the journey to success so much more meaningful.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Preparing For Proms

With Prom night looming, its time to talk about the safety issues of prom night. A parent called me recently with this prom night delemna. Her 15 year old daughter had been invited to a prom. The kids in this group had decided to rent not just a limo, but a party van which seats 20+ kids. The plan was to all go in the party van to a restaurant for dinner, sans adult supervision and then head back on the van to the prom. Sounds like fun!!!! Except the sans adult supervision. Though it is verboten to drink on these party buses, where drivers are trained to make sure kids get on the bus as alcohol free as possible, the stop at the restaurant would be a perfect opportunity for some pre-party alcohol/drug prep. No watchful eyes of limo driver or parents. I'm guessing mulitple visits to the restrooms provide ample opps for quick and dirty booze comsumption.  Not safe!!!! This is drinking at its least safe. With a small increment of time teens will power drink so that they can reach the desired "highness" before re-boarding the bus. This is a prime-time for kids drinking potentially lethal amounts.

Expectations, expectations, expectations. This is night that has been planned for months, down to the most finite detail. Not least of which is how to sneak, hide, and invent new ways to party so the adults won't catch them. A few years ago it was water bottles. Teens, feigning dehydration, brought in their innocent looking water bottles into the prom party. No need to even hide their drinking, it was "just water". It didn't take long for the chaperones to figure out that ploy as kids vomited all over the dance floor, and passed out.

Moving on, last year, a few students ate some brownies, a lovely gift from mom to snack in the limo. Only these brownies may have come from mom's oven, but not mom's recipe, being full of pot. The kids still throwing up on the dance floor, (must have been some pretty strong pot) were sent by ambulance to a local hospital. Let's just say, there will now be no food or drink allowed into the prom. So much work, such creativity, all in the name of getting high.


The message here is that teens are extremely motivated to find new and different methods of partying before the party. I remember a community drug/alcohol committee I served on many years ago. Around prom time, the committee met with the group that included a number of high school students. When asked about a "sober prom" all the students said that kids would almost rather not go to the prom if they couldn't party before fearing they wouldn't have fun if they weren't drunk. That just made me so sad.

There is work to be done here. Below are some tips on helping your teen have a safe prom night:

"I Get It" Opportunities:

  • I am so excited for you.
  • I know how much fun you are going to have.
  • I know there will be some situations that you have never been in before, lets figure out what they might be and put a plan together. 
Prom proofing your home:
  • Lock up all alcohol and prescription drugs
  • You drop off your teen's backpacks and sleepover bags to houses they will be going to either pre-prom or post-prom. (This helps with the hidden contraband kids pack in their backpacks)
  • If kids come to your house to pre-prom. Supervise. This is when a lot of kids try to imbibe since they can't drink in the limos anymore. 
  • If kids come to your house to post-prom, be the keeper of the backpacks and bags. Stay up all night if you are having an all night sleepover. One parent I know made it a requirement that all parents whose kids were coming to her house after the prom had to call her personally to let the parents know the rules of the house. No cars, parents were responsible for picking their kids up in the morning. This guarded against any kids sneaking out and possibly driving to get booze or drive drunk. Any teen caught with alcohol would have to be picked up by the parents immediately. 
  • For those parents who think it's ok to let kids drink in your house to celebrate prom night as long as you take their car keys thinking you are now the "responsible parent" Listen up. First of all it is not your right to make a decision about kids that are not your own to drink. That is every parents right and responsibility to make their own rules and expectations about alcohol and drug use for their own kid. Also just because you are giving them "permission" and may have purchased the booze, don' think that means that kids will drink responsibly. That just means kids are going "yippee" we can get trashed! Getting trashed also means getting sick, passing out, getting alcohol poisoning, falling, tripping, get the picture? Also what happens if one of those kids you have given"pemission" to drink has a medical condition you don't know about, and alcohol exacerbates it and there is a medical crisis. And finally, IT IS ILLEGAL TO GIVE MINORS ALCOHOL.
Prepare and help your teen plan for:
  • Getting in a car with someone who is buzzed.
  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Drinking and drugs at a house party
Strategies and scripts for getting out of unsafe situations:
  • Make an "escape plan" using text message code word
Provide scripts:
  • I'm allergic, alcohol makes me sick
  • My boyfriend/girlfriend wouldn't want me to fool around with anyone else
  • My parents drug/alcohol test me
  • Thanks I don't need a ride, I'm going with someone else
  • I feel like crap, I'm going home
If things get out of hand, and a friend is out of control and wants to drive:


  • Get a few friends together and grab the keys from the kid who shouldn't be driving.
  • Text the parent in the house that there is a problem in the basement, or outside
  • Go to the bathroom....for a long time. Text me, and I will meet you around the corner
Proms are fun and are memory makers. Really, don't be scared with everything I just wrote. I just want you to be prepared, and for you to prepare your teen. When you "get" that this night can be full of surprises, and that the awesomeness of it all can make it hard to stay safe, you are being smart. Be excited with your teen, and help them to be safe.