Setting the Stage for a New School Year

For many kids and parents, it can be an enormous challenge to head back to school in the fall. (If you missed it, check out this post about the emotional transition back to the school routine). If you’re the parent of a middle or high school student, this transition can be more overwhelming given the increased independence your student is expected to develop (or have). The move from parental involvement to letting kids manage their own time and homework load can be hard for students and parents alike. Knowing when to back off and let kids learn from their own mistakes and when to step in and set strict guidelines for phone and tablet use is tricky, to say the least.

One way to help your student develop some self-awareness around how distractions may or may not be affecting their academic performance is to have them track their time.  I think that starting this exercise with a definition of their own personal goals and values is important, so you could encourage them to either jot down some answers to this on their own or, if they are willing, sit with them and talk about their answers.

  1. What are my goals for this school year? They can be anything from getting a certain GPA to becoming more proficient in a foreign language to really mastering algebra. These can also include athletic or other extracurricular goals, but it is important to ensure that there are some academic goals on this list.
  2. What are my longer-term goals? These can vary from getting into a good high school to finishing high school with a few college acceptance letters. They may also include graduate school plans or ideas about what kind of career your student wants, although it is vital to remember that 5 or 10 year goals need to be flexible because there is no way to anticipate what might happen.
  3. What are my most closely held values? Often, once we get started listing our values, it can be hard to stop. If that is the case here, let your student write as many down as they want to and then choose the top three for purposes of this exercise. Examples might be persistence, courage, excellence, family, hard work, community.
  4. How am I spending my time? Does it reflect my values and goals? This is where the rubber meets the road. Over the first two to three weeks of school, have your student simply track how they spend their time. Certainly, as they do this, it will be extremely difficult for them (and maybe you, too) to not judge or criticize, but do your best to resist the temptation to do so. Simply looking at how much time they spend playing video games, texting friends, watching TV, practicing piano, doing homework, speaking French, etc. offers them a window into whether or not they are actively choosing to engage in pursuits that further their goals. If they are spending far more time in recreational activities than they are working on their goals, have them spend some time reflecting on what that means. Does it mean the goals aren’t all that important, after all? Or are they simply doing these things out of habit? Where can they shore up their efforts to really live their values and move toward their goals? Or do they need to change the goals? 

This exercise is good for all of us to do once or twice a year. We can so easily get sidetracked by unexpected events or transitions or simply fall back into old habits that it benefits us all to check in with ourselves every once in a while and make sure that we are living our values. And maybe if our adolescents see us doing this, they will come to understand its importance.

Important Gender Differences in Values and How We Can Help Teens Break Them Down

 

“If you change the way you look at things, you will change the things you see.” Dr. Wayne Dyer

Dr. Wayne Dyer was an educator and author of dozens of books on individual development and spirituality. He was well-known for his research regarding what motivates us and how we can live our most closely held values. Whether or not you ascribe to his spiritual beliefs, one portion of his research strikes me as something that educators and parents can use to understand their adolescents better and perhaps spur conversations with them.

He looked at what drives young men and women in our culture and discovered what I think are some incredible differences that might explain some common communication issues and give us a window in to just how much we are influenced by the underlying values our society tells us we should have.

The table below illustrates the top five motivating factors broken down by gender*.

Boys/Men                                              Girls/Women

Wealth                                                     Family

Adventure                                               Independence

Achievement                                          Career

Pleasure                                                   Fitting In

Respect                                                     Physical Attractiveness

What I find most interesting about these responses is that, for boys and men, all but one of the things on their list is determined by external factors. With the exception of pleasure, everything on that list depends on how other people see them. Looking at it this way, it’s no wonder that adolescent boys feel pressured to perform and appear capable and competent and wear that mask nearly all the time.

For girls and women, the first three items are naturally in conflict with each other. In our world, having a family and a career and finding independence are nearly incompatible, and while those factors are associated with internal motivation, the last two definitely show that women and girls have a keen eye on cultural expectations as well.

Armed with this information (and knowing that every person is different, so not all of these will apply to the teenager you might have in mind), we can begin to think about the kind of pressure our kids are under to live up to their ideas of what is or should be most important to them. Seeing kids through the lens of the cultural messages they are sent every day can offer us ways to talk to them about why certain things are important and whether there is a way to reframe their values to express their individual desires and interests.

One way to begin is to have them think about the times when they are so caught up in an activity that they forget about the outside world. What are the things that they bend over backward to make time for? What can they not imagine doing without – their guitar or sketchpad or the local library? What is it about those things that are so compelling – is it the time alone, the opportunity to be creative, the feeling of accomplishment, the challenge? After a while, we can encourage our kids to begin looking at the ways they spend their time and energy and slowly shift them to become more in alignment with their own personal values rather than being in service to some external idea of who they should be.

 

*I don’t generally deal in stereotypes, but I do think it’s important to look at trends and use them as a springboard for further exploration in to the things that influence us without us really recognizing it. I believe that these responses reflect some pretty powerful cultural mores and by acknowledging them, we can begin to change them.