It’s not your job to make sure your kids are happy.

I love Pharrell Williams’ song “Because I’m Happy”. It’s an upbeat, catchy tune, and you have to love the videos of all those people dancing.

But… in real life, there’s way too much emphasis on our kids striving to be happy. It just breaks your heart when they’re sad or disappointed, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s inevitable. As much as you’d like to, you can’t prevent it. We all know there is unpleasantness in life.  In fact, you’d probably admit that those difficult times made you stronger.  But back to your kids.  if you can’t control it, what is your role? You have the power to guide them through it when the inevitable happens. This is the greatest gift of all. Let’s take a closer look.Happy and sad faces
There’s a crazy belief, and it spread like wildfire, that kids must be happy all the time, that it’s not okay to be feeling whatever is… well, the opposite. Trophies for the winning and losing teams, intervening with teachers, offering food and ‘things’ to compensate for loss, saying ‘yes’ when you ought to say ‘no’, encouraging them to be upbeat when they’re sad… they don’t bring true happiness (whatever that word means).

I, too, have been guilty of saying to my kids, “I just want you to be happy.” Of course I want them to be happy. But if there’s one thing I know I can’t guarantee for them, it’s that.

Then what is your job in the drama of their lives?

Your job is… to hold their hand when they’re miserable.
Your job is… to walk with them through sadness and disappointment.
Your job is… to express confidence that they can get through it.
Your job is… to help them figure out how to bounce back.
Your job is… to guide them in finding healthy ways to cope.
Your job is… to be their parent.

No, wait. It really is all about you.

We hear a lot about our children being part of the ‘me’ generation.  And to an extent that’s true.  “Give me, buy me, get me, you know nothing, the world revolves around me and my needs and feelings.”  In their eyes, it’s all about them.  We expect it, and know that it’s part of adolescence.  But… how you deal with it is all about YOU.  Getting your message across and making a lasting, positive impact on them is about you.  What you feel and how you respond is up to you.  (See the end of the article for linked articles to support and motivate you in taking your first steps.)

You know how your kid always knows what to say or do to aggravate you? How she has an unproductive (read ‘negative’) attitude, pushes all kinds of boundaries, and drives you crazy?  You may yell or bite your tongue, punish or ignore, but every action elicits a reaction from you.  It’s actually a law of physics.

Guess what?  It starts out being about her, but ends up being about you.  Yes, you are always the center of the universe, even when it feels like it’s about someone else.  Whatever your reaction, it’s about you.
 
I know, you’d like it to be all about your child, or your spouse, or your co-worker.   Then you can say that ‘they’ need to change, nudge them to do so, and be annoyed when they don’t.  It takes the focus off you.  The fact is that the only one you can change is you.  The only actions and reactions you can control are yours…. and remember, if you let your emotions rule your reactions, you’re definitely not in control of anything.

Your deep desire is to be a positive influence on your children, showing them how to be productive, respond to stress in healthy ways, and be in loving, respectful relationships.  That doesn’t happen when you are sidetracked and lose your cool.  It doesn’t happen with nagging, lecturing and punishing.

When you work on you, you can have a positive impact on them.  How do we describe the parent who is doing this work?  This parent:

* is aware of strong emotions as they arise (instead of reacting emotionally).
* waits to respond in stressful situations (instead of saying something  she’ll regret or not enforce.
* stays focused and on topic (instead of letting a child distract her from the issue at hand).
* keeps the bigger picture in mind (because often the issue is more fundamental than whatever the child just said or did)
* understands that her child is watching and learning from what she does (even when her child protests that she couldn’t care less).
* holds herself to a high standard (at least as high as the one she sets for her child, in all things).
* examines her own attitudes and actions (instead of placing blame elsewhere).

This list places high expectations for parenting.  In your hectic life, filled with non-stop demands and responsibilities, it feels daunting, undoable.  It is doable, though, and doable by you.  As with all big projects (and this is a big one!), you have to start small.  Read through these points again and find one that you’re willing to try.  Below you will find links to previous articles that give strategies and insights to help you begin.

Being a parent can be more satisfying and rewarding when you’re the healthy center of your universe.  What are you waiting for?

Emotional Intelligence
Name it to tame it
4 steps to stand your ground and outlast your teen
Watch out, because your kids are always watching you.
You have the answers.  Just start listening.
Be teachable.

Who knew cleaning toilets could improve self-esteem?

I once asked a mom about what her 13-year old son did to help around the house.  “Oh, nothing,” she replied.  “All I ask is that he do his schoolwork and get good grades.  I take care of the rest.”  That was already a tip-off to me about some of the difficulties in her family.  In a way, this young man was allowed to call the shots and to believe that the world revolved around him.  Let’s get real.  Grades are important, but they are not the only factor in determining self-confidence, self esteem and future success.

High self esteem does comes from good grades, athletics, and performing arts, but there’s more to this picture.  Even the mundane – especially the mundane – can build a sense of self-worth and competence in children of all ages.  Children must also know that their participation in all aspects of family life is important and appreciated. Let me start the list for you:  mowing the grass, cleaning toilets, organizing a closet, clearing the table, doing laundry, putting away groceries, dusting, changing sheets.  These are not just chores. They are life skills and confidence boosters.  (Yes, I really did say that cleaning the toilet can boost your kid’s confidence… as part of the bigger picture, of course.)

There’s one thing you must do first:  let go of your need for perfection and attention to detail.  Although you can probably do it more efficiently yourself, it’s time to sit on your hands and zip your lip. If the bed’s not made perfectly, who cares?  A few dust bunnies left after sweeping?  Not important.  Practice makes progressYou get help, and know that you’re preparing your child for life after the cocoon of your home.  He develops practical skills and feels competent.

He may not enjoy the work, but it’s necessary because:

1.  He needs to know how to do these things.
2.  You can use the help.
3.  Every member of the family must contribute in some way.
4.  He’s part of something bigger than himself.
5.  Not everything is fun.  This is the real world.
6.  He’ll have a story to tell about something icky.
7.  There’s a sense of satisfaction when it’s finally done.
8.  One day he’ll want this from his own kids!

I know you have a to-do list for the house.  Who will be on your work crew today?

Are you your kid’s supplier? What you must know about Rx drug abuse (part 2)

Last year I worked with a dad who shared a variety of concerns about his son.  One was the possibility that his son was ‘experimenting’ with drugs.  By our sixth session, he confirmed that it was much more than dabbling, and began the process of learning about an inpatient drug treatment program.  Prevention and intervention are critical, and parents are the first line of defense.

Where teens get their Rx drugs was in last week’s article; however, it bears repeating.

In a 2012 Monitoring the Future survey, 50% of high school seniors said that it is very easy to get opioid drugs other than heroin (e.g. Oxycontin).  Most get them from their own home, friends and relatives.  Every medicine cabinet or night table is a potential source of free drugs’, making prescription drug abuse a real and serious problem.

Your babysitter may be going through your meds.  Your kids may be looking in Grandma’s bathroom.  (Who would have thought that Grandma has a ‘stash’?)  Older teens and young adults are showing up at open houses and taking meds from the bathroom.

Kids will empty out medicine cabinets in preparation for a “pharming party.” When they get together at someone’s house, they dump all the pills into a bowl and choose them like brightly-colored M&Ms.

What are the side-effects and consequences of abusing prescription drugs?

* stimulants -  paranoia, dangerously high body temps, irregular heartbeat

* opioids – drowsiness,  nausea, slowed breathing.  They damage the brain in the areas of memory and learning, similar to Alzheimer’s Disease.

* depressants – slurred speach, shallow breathing, disorientation, lack of coordination, seizures.

* Because the teen brain is still developing, they are especially vulnerable and susceptible to these drugs and addiction.

* Brain circuitry has reward pathways.  Addictive drugs provide the reward.  Tolerance to these drugs is enormous and progressive.

* Accidental death from overdose

What about heroin?

As tolerance to prescription drugs grows, the pleasure center of the brain demands more and stronger rewards. When the free supply of Rx drugs runs out, and the cost of buying them on the street becomes prohibitive, the next step is heroin.  For $5-10, the cost of a pack of cigarettes, our kids can buy a dose of high-potency heroin.  There are also dangerous substitutes, such as the recently publicized “krokodil”, the poor man’s heroin.  This substance rots the flesh.  It is made from a combination of codeine, gasoline, iodine, phosphorous and other chemicals.  Revolting, and deadly.

Heroin overdoses and deaths are reported every day.  “Most fatalities occur before patients get to the hospital.  Overdoses often take place over one to three hours.  People just slowly stop breathing; often they are assumed to be sleeping deeply, or they are alone.”

You may have heard about a relatively new antidote to heroin overdose, Naloxone.  It has been available for about 30 years.  “It can be administered via needle or as a nasal spray, and it works by displacing heroin from its receptors in the brain and rapidly restoring the overdose victim to consciousness and normal breathing.”  Some states are considering making this antidote available to family and friends of heroin users.  Read this article, How to Stop Heroin Deaths,  (from which the above quotes are taken).

Warning signs of drug use

(Please note that although you may see some of these signs, it does not mean your teen is using; however, you should not ignore them.  If you see six or more warning signs, it’s time for a serious talk and seeking professional help, whether the problem is drugs, depression, etc.)

At home:
* loss of interest in family activities
* disrespect for family rules
* withdrawal from normal responsibilities
* physically or verbally abusive
* sudden increase or decrease in appetite
* disappearance of money and valuables
* use of incense, air fresheners, and mouth wash to mask the odor of marijuana

At school:
* truancy or always being late
* sudden drop in grades
* sleeping in class
* showing defiance to authority
* reduced memory and attention span
* quitting extra-curricular activities
* not doing homework, and poor work performance

Physical and Emotional Signs:
* smell of marijuana or alcohol on breath or body
* unusual mood swings
* argumentative, paranoid, confused, anxious, destructive
* little to no sharing of personal problems
* overly tired or hyperactive
* drastic weight loss or gain
* always needs money, or has excessive amounts of money
* unhappy and depressed

What to do if you suspect drug use

This can be excruciating.  No matter what the evidence, most parents are reluctant to acknowledge that their child has a substance abuse problem. Anger, guilt and a sense of failure are common reactions, and it is important to avoid blaming yourself.  Doing the hard thing isn’t easy, but it is necessary. Stay focused on getting the help your child (and the rest of the family) needs.

* Lock the liquor cabinet.  Dispose of unused prescription meds and keep the rest locked up.

* Follow your intuition.  You know when something is not right.  Whether it’s drugs or something else, it needs attention.

* Have an intervention.  This can be as simple as a conversation to express your concern or voice your suspicions (without accusing or judging). Discuss it with your spouse/partner first.  Do this when your child is sober and you’re calm. (You may have to wait a day or two.)  If your child is resistant  to talking about it – which is to be expected – ask for help from a guidance counselor, family doctor or local treatment center.

* Come prepared for your intervention.  Look for signs and symptoms.  You don’t have to find drug paraphernalia to make your case.  It can be observations of behaviors and symptoms.  (You smelled like smoke. Your eyes were red. You’ve been sneaking out.)

* Take note of changes in behavior, personal habits, schoolwork, friends.

* Keep track of how often your teen breaks the rules or does something suspicious.

* Search for drugs and drug paraphernalia.  Some parents see this as an invasion of privacy.  But if you need proof, and are committed to acting on your suspicions, it’s time to collect the evidence.  If you find something, be prepared for their anger and outrage, and stay the course.

I highly recommend the comprehensive Intervention Guide from The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

Are you your kid’s supplier? What you MUST know about Rx drug abuse.

This week I attended a symposium called “Do No Harm”, a half-day event geared to doctors.  While there were moments of medical terminology that were beyond me, for the most part it was understandable, informative, and downright scary.  The article, “Are you your kid’s supplier?  What you MUST know about prescription drug abuse” is a must read!  I have divided it into two sections, with part two coming next week.  There is a lot of information (although it is just the tip of the iceberg) and some of it may surprise you, so please read carefully.  You can also listen to the article.

This is an epidemic.  The number of accidental drug overdose deaths (over 40,000) now exceeds that of automobile fatalities, with as much as 60% attributed to prescription drugs.  I’m giving you the highlights, along with links to some sites that can provide more detailed information.

Please don’t take the attitude of “not my kid.”  You just never know, and we’re often surprised by who the victims are.  The ease with which our children can obtain these drugs, and their relatively blasé attitude about using them should be taken seriously. Even if your child doesn’t use, he or she knows others who do.  I guarantee it.  I don’t like to use scare tactics, but you must pay attention, for the sake of ALL the children.  You need to look out for all of them.

ARE YOU YOUR KID’S SUPPLIER?

When you have surgery or are injured, the doctor readily prescribes painkillers, as many as 30 to start with.  Forget for the moment that it’s way more than most people need, and you use few, if any, of the pills.  It used to be that you put the bottle in your medicine chest and forgot about it.  Months or years later you noticed it, and found all the pills still inside the bottle.

Not so anymore. Your medicine chest is a goldmine for anyone looking for a quick, free fix, and teens and young adults are taking more than their share.

Let’s take a look at some numbers:

- The number of accidental drug overdose deaths (over 40,000) now exceeds that of automobile fatalities, with as much as 60% attributed to prescription drugs.
– There is one death every 20 minutes due to drug overdose.
– Prescription opiates are the conduit to heroin, which is cheap and highly addictive.
– One in six (1/6) teens use prescription drugs to get high.
– The United States prescribes/uses 80% of the world’s supply of medical opiates.
– Every day, about 2,000 teens use prescription drugs for the first time, without a doctor’s supervision.

But those are just numbers.  Here’s what you really need to know:

This generation suffers from boredom, entitlement, and the mistaken belief that they must always be happy.  When they are without purpose, overindulged, and feeling uncomfortable emotions, there is a general acceptance that it’s okay to use drugs and alcohol to feel something, or to numb the unpleasant feelings.  It used to be a big deal to get drunk or high.  Now, it’s just something to do. They live in a culture where it’s fun, and another activity to stave off boredom.  Using these drugs goes way beyond their original purpose of pain relief.

Too many teens (and adults) mistakenly believe that abusing prescription drugs is safer than illegal drugs. Not so.  That’s why prescription drugs are taken under a doctor’s direction.  They can have dangerous short- and long-term consequences, not to mention the dangers of mixing them with other drugs and alcohol.

The stereotype of the junkie – poor, homeless, shooting up in an alley – is over.  Today’s addict is more likely to be middle- or upper middle-class, living in the suburbs and luxury high-rise as well as the inner city. They include high-functioning executives, moms and dads. Too many of them are our children, or children we know.

What are the most common Rx drugs they are taking, or rather stealing?  What are their street names?

Opioids
Oxycodone/Oxycontin, Vicodin, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Fentanyl
(Hillbilly heroin, oxy, OC, perc, happy pills, vikes)

Central Nervous System Depressants (CNS)
Barbiturates – Mebaral, Nembutal
(barbs, reds, red birds, phennies, tooies, yellows, yellow jackets)
Benzodiazepines – Valium, Xanax, Halcion, Ativan
(candy, downers, sleeping pills, tranks)
Sleep Medications – Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta
(A-minus, zombie pills)

Stimulants
Concerta, Adderall, Dexedrine, Ritalin
(Skippy, smart drug, Vitamin R, bennies, black beauties, roses, hearts, speed, uppers)

Where do teens get their prescription drugs?

In a 2012 Monitoring the Future survey, 50% of high school seniors said that it is very easy to get opioid drugs other than heroin (e.g. Oxycontin).  Most get them from their own home, friends and relatives.  Every medicine cabinet or night table is a potential source of free drugs.

Your babysitter may be going through your meds.  Your kids may be looking in Grandma’s bathroom.  (Who would have thought that Grandma has a ‘stash’?)  Older teens and young adults are showing up at open houses and taking meds from the bathroom.

Kids will empty out medicine cabinets in preparation for a “pharming party.” When they get together at someone’s house, they dump all the pills into a bowl and choose them like brightly-colored M&Ms.

(Next week:  Side effects and consequences of abusing prescription drugs, the escalating use of heroin, and warning signs of drug use.)

 

More information/resources:

Commonly abused drugs, including prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, and other sources you’ve never thought of.

Slide show to help you identify the pills.

The most addictive prescription drugs on the market.

Top 8 reasons why teens try alcohol and drugs.

Teen pitfall:  stress can lead to depression, drug use.

Are you crippling your kids? Tough love Rx for parents.

When you rescue, fix or overindulge kids, they begin to believe that they cannot do for themselves.  They question their own worth and competence.  They depend more on you, less on themselves.  This is when you begin to label them as lazy, unmotivated and apathetic, with no sense of self or purpose.  Is this what you really want for them, and for you? to be takers and enablers?

Sometimes I have to do the ‘tough love’ thing with parents.  You may be annoyed with me for pushing you, but you can take it, and so can I.

It’s not just teenagers I’m talking about.  These patterns start much earlier and parents are the culprits.  (I’m saying ‘you’, and please understand that I’ve been there, too.)

* When your child makes a mistake and you criticize or judge, you belittle.  When you find the learning opportunity, you empower.

* When you give her more than she needs, she will take things for granted.  When you give her what she needs and have her work towards what she wants, she will learn commitment, responsibility, appreciation and gratitude.

* When you ask your child for help  and your perfectionist nature says, ‘not good enough,’ you diminish. When you are hurried and frazzled and end up doing it yourself, you diminish. When you accept help and praise the effort, you empower.

* When you are the benevolent or terrified fixer, you send the message that he is helpless and should be scared of life.  When you encourage him to take a chance, maybe even fail, he hears that he is capable and resilient.

* When you give in or give up because it’s easier than dealing with wheedling and whining, you encourage self-centered, manipulative, even helpless behavior. When you stand your ground and set limits, kids learn to manage frustration and deal with disappointment.

You are not powerless to influence your children, even though some days you feel that way.  Every day, in every moment, you have the power and opportunity to move them a step closer to confidence and independence, and higher self-esteem.  Will you take it?

 

Reflection/Action

1.     Where do you see unproductive attitudes in your children?  In you?

2.     What would you like to see instead?

3.     When do you ignore your ‘inner guidance system’?  Are you angry, hungry, worried, fearful, in a rush?

4.     Think of a time when you enabled or overindulged your child.  What did he learn?  How might you handle that situation differently the next time?

What do you mean, you’re going on a trip without an adult?

A parent submitted the following question:   How do parents make decisions on older teens through early 20s who want to go away on vacation with friends or their sweethearts?  Is it an age-related matter? Is there a fine line? What should parents consider in their decisions?

The 18-and-Under Crowd

Teens under the age of 18 should not be allowed to vacation without an adult present.  There are health and safety issues, and potential legal issues if something goes very wrong.

Unsupervised (and even when supervised), the odds of someone bringing drugs and alcohol are high. Even if you have a very responsible 16-year old, you can’t know what kind of mischief and mayhem others are capable of, and how quickly the ‘mob’ mentality can spread.  And if it’s boys and girls together, need I say more?

It reminds me of when my kids learned to drive.  They insisted that they were good drivers, and they were. But there was no way of predicting what the other crazy drivers would do.  I spent more time with them as they learned the rules of the road, until they were as ready as they could be to go solo.

This is partly a matter of trust, and partly about reasonable caution.  Even for normally responsible teens, it’s unfair and unreasonable to expect them to be able to withstand or handle unpredictable people and potentially dangerous situations without an adult present.  Those who have no intention of getting into trouble shouldn’t mind an adult in the next room who regularly checks in.

Remember that even when your teen says, “Everyone else’s parents are letting them go,” that is rarely, if ever, the truth.  It’s what kids say to get their way.  Stand your ground, moms and dads.  And if all else fails, default to you being legally responsible for your children until they turn 18.

The Over-18 Crowd

If you send them off to live at college, they are on their own, making choices and decisions of which you are unaware.  It’s out of your hands. If, on the other hand, you’re going to enable them to take a vacation with other young adults, you should be setting parameters about the trip and its financing.

Consider the following:

     *  How much will you contribute?
     *  What are you willing to pay for?  What will you NOT finance?
     *  What is your young adult’s financial responsibility?  (Much of this will help determine where they go, what they do and for how long.)
     *  Will you require them to check in with you upon arrival, departure and times in-between?  (I gave my kids an ‘out’ by telling them they could make me the bad guy.  If someone made a comment about them calling home, they could say, “That’s my mom.  She feels better if I check in, so I do it for her.”)
     *  Review emergency procedures.  Who is the go-to person?  Who will be the designated driver?  Who is the calm one in the midst of chaos?
     *  Confirm ID, insurance cards, and information about medical conditions.

At the very least, expect there to be drinking and possibly drug use. These things have been readily available to them since middle school, or earlier, and they have (almost) all indulged in drinking.  This isn’t to say that you should expect the worst; however, it would be naive to believe that nobody’s doing it.
While you need to begin the process of letting go and giving them more freedom, you are also still their parent and guide. Maturity and self-control don’t magically appear when they turn 18.  Continue to educate, have high expectations, provide choices, and expect responsible behavior and accountability.

 

On a personal note…  The first time I recognized something had changed in a big way with my parents, I was living at home after college, covering my own expenses and paying them rent.  I told my parents where I would be for the weekend… and there were no questions.  I was taken aback.  Why wouldn’t my parents want to know more?  As they later told me, I’d been at college for four years and overseas for one. They had no way of knowing what I was up to, and had to trust that they had taught me all I needed to to know.  I like to say that my parents grew up when I did.

 

Applying to college – stories from the trenches (part 3)

Here it is — true confessions time again.  Do you remember about turning your mess into your message?  Today I’m sharing some of my ‘mess’ as I zigzagged with my kids through the years of preparing for college.  As always, it demonstrates that 1) I’m human, and 2) parenting is more about me than it is about my children.  It’s amazing how wonderfully they turned out, in spite of all my craziness.

We know how stressful applying to college is for our kids.  What about us?  What kind of agony do we parents go through?  Here are two stories from my experiences with my kids.

My daughter applied to one college.  One.  She had her heart set on one school and applied early decision.  If she wasn’t accepted, then she would fill out applications for her second and third choices.  It made me nuts!  I’m the cautious one, and tend to want all the pieces and contingency plans in place, so it was difficult to keep my mouth shut.  Fortunately she was accepted, so I could let go of that particular worry.

There’s another side to this story.  I really do believe that you can get an education just about anywhere, if you put your mind to it.  How much you learn and what you do with it is up to you.  Whether it’s Montclair State or Princeton, SUNY or Harvard, once you earn your degree, most employers don’t really care where it came from.  (Of course, there are exceptions.  If you are going into fields such as medicine, law and engineering, for example, you’ll want to get into the ‘best’ school possible to optimize your chances for the next level of studies.)

Sarah’s college has a great reputation and I was proud of her her acceptance to the place she thought was the right fit.  That being said, when some of her friends’ parents talked about acceptances at Columbia, Penn State and the like, a piece of me was envious. I felt like a hypocrite. (This is an example of cognitive dissonance, the discomfort of holding two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time.)  Be honest. Haven’t you ever been pretty content with how things are going, and then seen someone with more, or different, or better, and wanted it for yourself?  That faded away, too, but it was unpleasant when I went through it, and I kept it to myself.  

Our experience with our son was quite different.  His high school years were turbulent and nerve-wracking, to say the least.  By the end of his junior year he was failing multiple courses and we knew he was not on track to graduate.  We sent him to Hyde School, a boarding school program of family-based character education.  We chose Hyde because of the focus on character development both in and out of the classroom for him, and the rigorous parent program for us.

I will never forget our interview.  (Yes, my husband and I were ‘applying’ as well.)  When I expressed my despair about Josh ever getting into college, Mr. Felt said to me, “Mrs. Weis, you have much bigger problems than whether or not your son gets into college.  Even if he had the grades to do it, you’d be throwing your money away.  There’s no way he’s prepared to be successful in college.“  It was true, and a stunning reality check for me.  (Ultimately he did graduate from Hyde and from college — thank you, Hyde School! – but it certainly didn’t fit the vision, or follow the plan we’d originally had for him.)

I have shared this story with many parents, and echoed that sentiment to them as well.  College is not the be-all and end-all that we believe it is.  Not every high school student is suited for college, or for a four-year college, or for college immediately after high school.

Look at all the time and energy we expend preparing, nudging, micromanaging and nagging our kids so they will be accepted into college.  We can lose track of the emotional growth and life skills necessary to make it a successful experience.  We ignore warning signs that they’re not ready because that would mean giving up the ideal image to which we cling.

With 40-60% of students taking five to six years to graduate college, or not graduating at all, we need to pause and rethink the process.  Are our expectations realistic?  Are we being fair to our kids?   Course corrections may be necessary, along with attitude adjustments on all sides.  The dream we start out with may not be what we end up with, but it usually ends up being just what everybody needs.

Tips for taking the angst out of college apps (Part 2)

Parents and kids get caught up in the whirlwind of applications, finances and waiting for college acceptances (or rejections).  It’s a pressure-cooker that tests everyone’s patience and sanity.  What can you and your student do while you’re waiting?

1.   What are some ways for students to de-stress
during senior year and college decisions?

*    Learn something new (cooking, art, music), build something, play in the snow/sand, help someone else.
*    Mindset – Share what you’re thinking and feeling.  Learn to ask for help.  View problems as temporary and solvable.
*    Physical – Get some sleep!  Relax (read, hot shower, dance, sing, play with pets, yoga, meditation, exercise).

2.  What is the best response when the stress of waiting becomes overwhelming?
*    Stop checking online!  Find something else to do – sports, school play, volunteer work.
*    Avoid the ‘senior slide’.  Keep working in classes and make sure midterm grades go to the colleges.
*    Use a trusted teacher or counselor for support.  Remember, you are strong, adaptable, and you WILL get
      into college.

3.  How can parents help teens during the process and while waiting for acceptances?
*   Be a great listener.  Acknowledge their feelings (I hear how frustrated/anxious/worried you are).
*   In a calm moment, ask how you can help (with the process, or to support them).
*   Be the voice of reason.  There is no perfect college.  He’ll survive the process.  Remind her of past
successes.

4.  What are the best ways parents should deal with their own stress from dealing with teen stress?
*   Your teen picks up and feeds off your anxiety.  Do your own de-stressing and be there to support them.
*   You can’t eliminate their stress.  It may be unpleasant, but they will survive the college process and disapppointment… and so will you.
*   Follow the same advice you’d give them!  Focus on what you can control and get busy with the rest of your life.

5.  What three things should you take away from this?
*   Watch out for signs of stress and anxiety.  Is it normal or overload? Get help if needed.
*   Be a good listener and help kids vent.  Acknowledge what they’re feeling without judging or fixing.
*   Make sure teens have opportunities for exercise, creativity, friends and positive experiences.

Start paying attention to behavior changes that may indicate stress overload.  Take a look at your own behaviors and responses when the subject of college comes up.  There are always opportunities to take the angst out of the apps.

College prep goes on for years! Taking the angst out of the apps. (Part 1)

Back in the dark ages of the 1970s, preparing for college was a lot simpler.  I paid attention to which courses I would take, but for a soon-to-be liberal arts major, I didn’t have too much planning to do.  Most of us took our SATs once, perhaps an advanced placement test, and applied to five or six schools.  Then we went on with our lives while waiting for the letters to come, in the mail.  Yes, in an envelope, straight to the mailbox.

Today, course selection begins in middle school, so your student can get into the right courses in high school.  Some middle schools host college representatives.  Seniors check online, endlessly, to find out the very moment the results are in. Students apply to a dozen colleges, changing the odds of who is accepted.  There are services and consultants to help them prepare, beginning in 9th grade.  Others specialize in writing the essay or prepping for an interview.  And, of course, there are SAT prep courses galore.

It seems that the push is on at younger and younger ages, and we’re paying the price, parents and kids alike.  How do you cope with the madness?  Let’s begin with a look at what stress is, some warning signs of stress overload, and the role you play along the way.

1.  What are the most common areas of stress among teens?
*    For starters, the ‘college process’ goes on for years, with agony over course selection, grades, SATS, applications, volunteer and extracurricular activities.  This process has become a j.o.b.
*    Social relationships are always changing.  Today’s BFF is tomorrow’s enemy.  There is pressure to conform, the agony of being excluded, and the temptations of drugs, alcohol and sex.
*    For girls, more than for boys, body image is a big factor.  They are too fat or too thin, too tall or too short. Their skin is a mess (they think), their hair is never right, and someone always has nicer clothes.

2.  What is stress?  Is there good stress, too?
*    Stress is the body’s reaction to a real or perceived uncomfortable or dangerous situation.  The body reacts by releasing hormones (adrenalin is one) that activate the fight or flight response.  All systems are on alert.
*    Yes, there is good stress.  It’s normal, and has us performing at higher levels.  Examples are public speaking, preparing to go to a party, and taking the foul shot that could win or lose a game.  When the event is over, the hormones return to normal.
*    Then there is stress overload.  This is ongoing, low- or hi-level stress such as changing schools, divorce, a death in the family or bullying.  It can feel like a constant state of anxiety.

3.  How do teens respond to normal stress and stress overload?
*    You already know that it shows up in their moods (both boys and girls).  Your teen can be impatient, irritable, sad, depressed, anxious and overwhelmed.  They will often take it out on family and friends.
*    Physical symptoms include stomach/headaches, allergic reactions such as hives, changes in eating, sleeping and hygiene.
*    Then there are real danger signs:  self-abuse (eating disorders, cutting) and abusing drugs and alcohol.  They become secretive. This is what happens when they don’t know any other way to cope.

4.  Why does stress increase during the college prep process?
*    With all the pressure, teens feel that today’s choices are forever choices. “What if I choose wrong?  What if I make a mistake?”
*    There is the stress of maintaining grades and getting into the ‘best’ college.
*    This is a long, drawn-out process, with lots of waiting.  Life revolves around college for more years than it should.

5.  How do parents add to the stress during college prep?
*    With love and concern and the best intentions, parents add to the pressure.  You may be micromanaging around grades, homework and extracurriculars.
*    Parents nag about studying, prepping for the SAT/ACT, completing applications, and may compare their kids to others.
*    You may be complaining (loudly worrying) about the pressures of financing the college education.  (Here’s where you can set some parameters about the schools to which your child applies.)

Start paying attention to behavior changes that may indicate stress overload.  Take a look at your own behaviors and responses when the subject of college comes up.  There are always opportunities to take the angst out of the apps. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, when I give you suggestions for how both you and your teen can manage the inevitable stresses of the process.