I don’t know about you, but as the school year ramps up, my overall stress has also been ramped up. It’s just a lot to manage, both as a parent and as a young person. We are all feeling the stress of transition. And then we add in all of the other fear and uncertainty going on in the world and it is hard to find any peace in our systems. We can’t control everything going on around us and we can’t control everything that our kids are going through, but we can build our own ability to cope and be resilient in the face of it all. As our nervous systems become more regulated, we are better able to stay calm, think more clearly, and move through stressful situations with more ease. Additionally, if we are regulated, then it is more likely that those around us (kids, partners, co-workers) will also be able to feel more regulated too.
So, when you notice your shoulders tensing and thoughts racing and your irritation growing, take a moment to breath by focusing on your breath coming in and out of the area around your heart at a count of 5 on the inhale and 5 on the exhale. As you do this, focus on a feeling of love or ease and let this feeling wash over you for a few minutes. Practice regulating your nervous system by calming your breathing a few times a day and notice if you start to feel a increased overall sense of calm or at least, the ability to calm down more easily.
This is the season that high school seniors and their parents are entrenched in the process of completing college applications. And while this process is undeniably important and the gateway to the next phase of life for our young people, it is also important to keep in perspective for parents and students alike that this decision is more about taking a step towards an independent life. Whether your student ends up at a 4 year college, community college, takes a gap year, or gets a job, there are a number of life skills that are important to reinforce as they move towards successful independent living.
How to ask for help. Too often, young adults feel the pressure to step into independent life seamlessly, with the expectation that they already know how to do everything. Please remind your students that life, and especially the newness of this stage, is about trying new things, making mistakes, getting some help, and then trying again. Remind your student that you won’t be disappointed in them if they don’t get something right. This is especially important when it comes to transitioning from high school to college academics (where old study strategies often fall short for the college work load) and mental health issues (especially anxiety and depression), which can emerge or exacerbate when away from home for the first time. Also, if you student chooses to experiment with alcohol or recreational drugs, make it clear to them that they can come to you for help if needed, whether or not you agree with the choice.
Balancing flexibility with discipline. Sometimes, the best laid plan changes. Or the needs of the students change. Parents and students both need to embark on this phase with equal parts flexibility and discipline. College level academics require sustained discipline over the semester and pushing through some very challenging times to complete the classes. Help your student remember to pace them self and that they are working towards a larger goal. But sometimes the chosen path is not the right fit. Whether it is the wrong major, the school is not a good fit, or realizing that your student really does need to take a break in order to figure out what they want. Sometimes students need time to mature a bit or have some real life experiences before they can commit to the demands of college. Changing coarse is part of the life path and it is not the end of the world nor the end of their higher education if they take a break.
Life skills don’t automatically happen at age 18. Tangible life skills related to cleaning, laundry, money management, cooking, and bill paying have to be taught. Do not assume that your student knows how to do these things just because it seems basic to you. Give them the basic knowledge to survive in the adult world.
The transition from adolescence to young adulthood is a dynamic and complicated one. Hold on to the perspective that foundation is being laid for adulthood during this time, but that this is not a permanent state, so enjoy this time of newness and exploration!
Parents, it’s time to get ready to have THE talk. Given the events of the past year and the rise of the #metoo movement, the talk about sex must now also include discussing sexual consent. The point of opening up this conversation with your young person is to start to honestly explore and ask questions about experiences, uncertainties, and gray areas, so that when they are with potential sexual partners, they can more effectively have the conversation. Of course there are some absolutes when it comes to this topic, like when someone is too intoxicated to speak coherently, than they are too intoxicated to give consent and this is an automatic “NO”. And, when someone says “No” to something having to do with sex, that is the answer. Consider including the following discussion items:
What they are and are not comfortable doing;
That it is fine to change your mind about whether you want to do something, and the partner has to respect this;
Consenting to one kind of sexual activity doesn’t mean you have consented to everything;
Consenting one time doesn’t mean that you have consented forever;
Learning to read body language that indicates that someone feels uncomfortable and how to ask partners if they feel uncomfortable;
How to set boundaries and say “no”;
Clarify within themselves about what they want to say “yes” to.
We are moving into long overdue new territory with the conversation about sexual consent. This is a conversation that everyone needs to get (un)comfortable having, so that it becomes the norm. This can be vulnerable territory for everyone (parents included), but there is no shame in asking questions, clarifying what is ok and what is not ok, and learning how to have this conversation. Thirty years ago, the conversation was about how not to get pregnant or contract an STD (STI), then it evolved to preparing young women (and men) to keep themselves safe from sexual assault, and now the conversation has evolved into a more nuanced one about shared responsibility and understanding consent and boundaries. And while parents are a key player in initiating this conversation, I recently heard a story about 4 cis-male college roommates who called a house meeting amongst themselves to make sure they all understood what sexual consent was. These young men exemplify this evolution.
Reader Question: Why is it Important to Validate Feelings?
“Do you really have to always validate other people’s feelings? What if they are just plain wrong?” Natalie, Lafayette, CO
Validation (of feelings) is a buzz word used frequently in parenting books and relationship self help. But what does it actually mean to validate someone’s feelings and why is in important? Often time, validation is confused with agreeing with what the person is saying or their perspective. Validation is not about agreeing with the other person’s thoughts, but it is about understanding how someone might be feeling. It requires using empathy, or putting yourself in that other person’s shoes. If you have ever been in an argument with someone and you take the approach of trying to change their mind and convince them that their facts are wrong, you have most likely found yourself in a debate or a power struggle, where anger and defensiveness takes over, and where no one actually wins or feels better. This is also true when someone is very anxious and you try to fix the problem before you validate the feeling.
On the other hand, validating feelings diffuses the emotion of the situation by acknowledging the feelings first and not getting into the facts until both parties are calmer. This may sound something like this “Ok, I see how upset you are. I can understand that you are feeling overwhelmed and like you have no power in this situation.” When someone is upset, they are operating from their emotions and the rational part of their brain is offline, therefore, if you pause and help to address and validate their emotions first, then the rational part of the brain (pre-frontal lobe) is more easily accessed.
Next time you find yourself in a heated moment with someone, remember this mantra: Diffuse, don’t Debate.
While most students strive for academic success, many struggle to consistently perform at a level commensurate with their potential. Each year, so many students start out strong, but as the school year progresses they hit a slump and may even struggle to pass their classes at the end of the school year. Too often parents find themselves relegated to enforcer and chief; frequently checking on progress, providing endless reminders to get homework done and make-up missing assignments, which usually leads to arguments rather than desired results. A more effective approach is to use an empowerment strategy where your child takes increasing ownership of their academic responsibilities, so that when college rolls around, your child has the skills necessary to meet with success. This effort should start early. While some students have unique learning challenges that may require special consideration, by the beginning of middle school if not sooner students should be in charge of their academic life. As parents we play a critical role of providing support and advice, but should not be overseeing everything… that’s their job. Consider the following approach:
At a positive moment, initiate a discussion with your child about the upcoming school year.
Allow everyone to share what went well and what didn’t in years past.
FIRST, offer to change your approach as a parent and encourage your child to provide constructive feedback and more specifically how you can better support your child in the future. Agree to try and implement any/all reasonable suggestions. AFTERWARDS, provide feedback to your child and offer your own ideas and suggestions.
After mutual agreement/negotiation, agree to an “Experiment” for a finite period of time (e.g 2-4 weeks) to try and implement the agreed upon suggestions, with a feedback session scheduled on the calendar when that timeframe is reached.
At the feedback session, try and focus first on any/all positives and only then focus on areas in need of improvement. Only make modifications that are mutually agreed to and restart the experiment clock.