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by Rose Cafasso


A week from now, I will be an empty nester. Or should I say my husband and I will be empty nesting, for it’s a process, not an identity. It’s another phase of the journey we started when our children were little—slowly but surely letting them go.

Though I hadn’t a clue at the time, I started this process on the first day of kindergarten for my older daughter. Apparently, I couldn’t believe my little curly-haired girl could function independently. So I actually got on the school bus with her. I had no idea that parents simply didn’t do that. The bus driver looked at me like I was crazy, and I’m sure some of the bus stop moms snickered. I slowly backed down the two bus steps and watched her find her way to a seat, giant backpack obscuring half of her tiny body as she made her own way.

Now I am sending her and her younger sister off to college. Last night, the three of us stood in our basement among bags and boxes of stuff—towels, toiletries, mini ironing boards, shower caddies, under-bed storage containers, desk lamps, comforters, and snacks. I offered my best ideas on packing, but they actually wanted to do it themselves. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? They’re now taking the lead; I’m suggesting tips from the sidelines.

But it took me a while to get there.

When my second daughter went to kindergarten, I was a little stronger than when my first one went, so I didn’t try to ride the bus. What I recall is standing with her at the bus stop when she tugged on my arm and said firmly and clearly, “I am NOT going to school.’’ I faltered. Maybe I could drive her? But then I knelt down, looked her in the eye and said firmly, “Yes, you are.” It was the eye contact that did her in, and her quiet acceptance almost killed me.

Then there was the year my older daughter started middle school. She was worried about having to use a locker and in particular, remembering the locker combination. So, we bought her a lock and helped her practice over and over, until she probably could have done it underwater and blindfolded. Still, I worried so much that first day and felt no relief until she returned home to report that the locker experience was a breeze. She had moved on, but I felt 10 years older.

And then high school. I drove my younger daughter her first morning, feeling overwhelmed by this change. But she was in good spirits for she had connected with friends on Facebook to make a plan for sitting together at lunch. As I pulled away from the drop-off line, I felt buoyed by her mood, until I saw a young man—with a full beard, no less—get out of a car and head into the school. I could not believe that someone who could drive and grow facial hair could be a classmate of my daughter. Somehow, I found a way to keep driving instead of running into the school to warn her about male upperclassmen.

Before I knew it, the girls were both finishing up  high school. They had their licenses and were driving to school each day. They would whirl around me in the mornings, sometimes asking for an egg sandwich for breakfast, sometimes ignoring me while they argued with each other about who would drive.

In a few days, we will pack the car (to the brim). My younger daughter goes first to start her freshman year. Then, two days later, we will again stuff the car and take our older girl, who begins her sophomore year. I will do my best not to overstep, to let them take the lead.

And start my own process of empty nesting, the next step in letting them go.


Rose Cafasso is the social media manager for School Family Media, SchoolFamily.com's parent company. She lives with her family in the greater Boston area.

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Summer is an important time for middle and upper school students to think ahead to what they want for themselves after high school. If the plan involves going to college, then taking action now can improve the chance of getting into the college of choice. Our college counselor meets with middle and high school students and their parents. She advises them to choose an extracurricular activity they are passionate about and to stick with it throughout their middle and high school career. College admissions people like to see this for a number of reasons.

First, colleges like to have students who are well-rounded and have passions that involve pursuits other than academics. Playing a sport, taking piano lessons (or another instrument), helping with  Special Olympics, or becoming a Girl Scout or Boy Scout throughout middle and high school all show that there is more to this student than just getting good grades.

Second, staying with a single activity not only shows that your child has passion for it, but also that she can stick with something. If she starts playing a sport and then quits, the message she sends is that she cannot follow through with a commitment. The same is true for music lessons or other extracurricular activities. She doesn’t need to limit herself to only one thing, but ideally there should be at least one that she sticks with for the long term.

Third, deep friendships develop with others who have the same passion. It is likely that your son will bond with other boys who participate in the same activity. When he leaves home to go to college, he may be able to participate in the same extracurricular activities there, where he can make new friends quickly. In some cases, he may get scholarship money because of his skill, but more likely he will participate in club-level extracurricular activities. In either case, colleges like for their students to have close friends and to participate in campus life.

Take some time to talk with your child about how important it is to choose something of interest to her and to stick with it throughout middle and high school. It can be almost anything—from community service to taking art lessons or playing sports. Whatever it is, if your child can demonstrate her commitment to it, she will increase her chances of getting into the college of her choice and make some lifelong friends along the way.

College planning is certainly not my specialty area, but I do listen when our college counselor talks to students and families. Here are some key points I have heard her say many times.

Ninth grade matters. In most schools, the grade point average is calculated beginning in 9th grade. In some schools, certain 8th grade classes such as Algebra II might be counted in the GPA. Most 9th graders are not thinking much about their GPA and how important their grades are in upper school. It is important to help them understand how a GPA is calculated and what it means.

Extracurricular activities are important. Not only is it important to participate in things like band, drama, art, or sports, but it is also important to stick with it for the long term. If your son plays basketball in 9th grade and does well, he should continue through high school. Colleges pay attention to whether an applicant has interests outside the classroom and has the fortitude to stick with them for the long haul.

Take challenging courses. Your child does not have to take all advanced placement courses, but it is impressive if she chooses a discipline such as history or science and takes all the classes available in that track. For example, she might take honors world studies courses, AP US History, and AP Government to finish out the social studies track at the highest level possible in her school. When admissions offices look at her transcript, they will evaluate whether she is willing to challenge herself or whether she tends to take the easy path.

Do community service. Colleges also like to see that your child demonstrates an ethic of caring for others. Serving food at the local food bank or coaching younger students in the Special Olympics shows that he not only cares, but he is also willing to work to make a difference in the world.

Moving from 8th grade into 9th is a big change. It is important to discuss with your young high schooler the importance of working hard and doing her best. Seek advice from the college guidance counselor to help choose appropriate courses and to make sure she is doing all the right things to get ready for success in college.

As students prepare to go back to school, parents of those students who find middle and high school difficult may worry about their child’s future. Many students who struggle believe college is not an option for them. While college might be difficult, it is not necessarily out of the question. Sometimes it is the choice of college that presents a problem.

When considering which college to attend, students who struggle (and their parents) should think about these 9 points:


1. Will the college I am considering offer me the same accommodations I have been receiving in high school? This can include extended time on tests, access to a computer, or exemption from foreign languages. (See Ask for Help if Your Teen Has a Learning Problem.) When you visit the school, talk to enrolled  students with similar learning struggles to make sure the college actually does provide what it claims to provide.


2. How big are the classes? Smaller classes offer more opportunities for personalized help, so looking at smaller colleges is probably a better option.


3. Will I be allowed to ask questions? Some colleges have such large classes that students do not get to speak to their professors at all (and, as at any school, some professors are open to questions being asked during class and others are not). Be sure to choose a school that provides access to professors outside of class time. And then choose professors who are easy to work with. You can find this out by asking other students, your advisor, or by visiting online sites that rate professors such as Rate My Professors (note that while most reviews are legitimate, some especially negative reviews may be posted by disgruntled students).


4. Choose a major that will make use of your strengths. Some of my students have chosen to major in areas like physical therapy or recreational therapy because they are so good with people. Think about what you like to do and find a course of study that will allow you to do that.


5. Take fewer courses at a time. This way you can focus on less material and spend plenty of time studying for each course. It may take you longer to finish college, but the extra time will be worth it in the end.


6. Sign up to receive services from the learning resources center (or whatever it is called at your college of choice). Typically you qualify for this if you had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in high school. The center can help you stay on track, offer proofreading and other services, and help you receive accommodations if you need them. They can also recommend professors who are better at working with students who need a little more help. But signing up for services isn’t enough—you actually have to show up and use them!


7. Attend class regularly. It is so much easier to learn if you are in class, hear all the discussions, and participate in the activities. This is especially true if you have difficulty navigating your textbook and learning from what you read. (See Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Might Think.)


8. Form partnerships with other students in your classes. Set up study groups so you can get together to discuss what you are learning in class, and exchange phone numbers so you can help one another when you have to miss class.


9. Understand that some people learn easily in school and don’t have to work as hard as you do. Life is not fair. But someday when you have your college degree, you will be able to pursue a career that makes use of your strengths. You will have a better work ethic than other students who didn’t have to work as hard as you did. I firmly believe that School Is Not Life!

So, don’t give up. Hang in there until you get to begin really having fun, in your career.         

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Ever try to wake a sleeping teenager? It’s a time-consuming undertaking that’s frustrating for everyone involved, especially on early morning weekdays before the sun is even up.


That’s the reality for many parents and teens Monday through Friday, in order for the teen to get to school on time—and we’re talking school start times between 7-7:30 a.m. For those who must catch a school bus, back up about 20-30 minutes earlier, and we’re talking the wee hours.


Take our Poll: Does School Start Too Early for Your Teen


There’s been a fair amount of conclusive research and expert opinion that teenagers need more sleep rather than less.  [Listen for the applause and the “I told you so” looks from nearby teens.] But in many school districts across the country, school start time for teens—and even some middle school tweens—is getting earlier and earlier.


Since everyone is cost cutting these days, especially local governments and school districts, many schools say they’re starting earlier due to budget-friendly tiered busing schedules. This means that older kids—high school and middle schoolers—are picked up earliest, during the first tier of morning busing runs (they’re also dropped off earliest in the afternoon as well). Next come older elementary school students, and in the last tier are kindergarteners, who often are picked up by their buses as late as 8:30 a.m.


Do you struggle with getting your teen up and out the door 5 days a week? (Maybe more if your child has clubs, sports, and/or job commitments on the weekends.) And do you worry that your teen's lack of adequate sleep may be detrimental to his grades?


If so, take heart. Two women decided enough is enough and formed a not-for-profit organization to address the issue. StartSchoolLater.net, co-founded by Maribel Ibrahim and Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D., is staffed by an 8-member steering board (the women occupy 2 of the 8 seats) and a 12-member advisory board, and advocates exclusively for later school start times.


More than simply presenting solid research findings and hosting the conversation, however, this group is seeking nationwide legislation to mandate that no public schools start before 8 a.m. 


What do you think? (I know my high-schooler would heartily agree!)

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One-to-one Laptop Schools—those schools that provide each student with a laptop or tablet computer—may be good for some learners, but not for all. Many schools are also issuing digital textbooks along with laptops to all students. I recently had an opportunity to tutor a student who was in one of these schools. It seems like such a good idea, but for many students there are problems with working this way. The issues I saw with Marcus (not his real name) were significant and he was not doing well in school partly because of it.


First of all, Marcus needed to be able to move easily between his book, homework assignment, notes, and the Word document where he was actually working. Marcus was pretty good at this, but he had trouble holding everything in memory in order to accomplish the task at hand. He could have arranged a split screen, but his laptop screen was small and this would have made everything too small to work with. In order to work with him during our tutoring sessions, I would print out at least some of what he was working with, so he did not have to hold so much in memory.


Secondly, Marcus had trouble keeping up with notes during class. The notes were given to the students as a Word document. They had blanks where students were supposed to add information. Marcus’ job was to fill in the blanks as they went over them in class. Marcus said his teacher typed the answers in so he could see them on a screen, and he was supposed to type them. Marcus was very slow at typing and when he would arrive to our tutoring sessions, his notes were inaccurate. They might be only partially filled in, or the answer for one blank was typed in a different blank. We spent a lot of our time correcting his notes. A student with far-point-copying problems would also produce incorrect notes using this teaching strategy.


Finally, unless Marcus is somewhere he can access the Internet, he is not able to get to the teacher materials (such as videos and animations) to review what he learned that day in class. When Marcus leaves school and goes to after school care, he does not have access to what he needs in order to do his homework. This was also true for Marcus when he was working with me. His laptop was set up to access the wireless at school, but where we worked there was no wireless available for him to use. Therefore, Marcus did not have access to his textbook or teacher’s materials he would otherwise have had.


These issues are every day examples; none of the above addresses the problems that come up when Marcus begins studying for a test. He has even greater problems when it comes time to pull everything together for a unit test or exam. If you have a child like Marcus who struggles with having everything in digital format, schedule a meeting with his teacher to find out if there is the possibility of getting a textbook (the old fashioned kind) to keep at home for him. I use a lot of technology with students, but I will not give up the textbooks for my students—at least not willingly! I think many students really need to have a book in their hands.


We were recently visiting a family friend, a young woman who's a great young mom with two active preschool children. It was impressive to hear her speak and explain things to her son and daughter. I complimented her on her great use of language when talking with them. Her response was, “I thought ‘Why not get them used to the S.A.T. words early? The more they hear them, the more likely they are to remember.’”


I couldn’t agree more!


Helping your child develop and understand a wide range of vocabulary is crucial to good reading, writing, and speaking skills. Hearing and understanding synonyms and related words, from an early age, will not only help your child in elementary school, but middle school, high school and beyond. An easy way to do this is to start using “big” and varied words consistently. Make vocabulary fun by playing this SchoolFamily.com "Word of the Day" game at dinnertime. Use printable vocabulary worksheets, also from SchoolFamily.com, in which your child can practice a variety of vocabulary exercises.


And there's always Scrabble, that favorite family word game in which your child can practice using new words—and learn new words used by other players. Scrabble also offers a free Scrabble Word of the Day word game.


So, the next time you want to take your child on a “promenade” around your “locality” on a “frosty” day, don’t let him forget his “appropriate apparel!”


Editor’s note: Several online sites offer free S.A.T. vocabulary words of the day. One such site is SuperKids SAT Vocabulary Builder.



It’s that time of year: time to stress about sending holiday cards, time to battle the shopping frenzy, time to sneak one last glass of eggnog (I’m not judging); oh, and time for REPORT CARDS!

 For years now it’s been a simple stampede of S for satisfactory and N for needs improvement and E for….(what the heck is E for anyway)?

 We made it through junior high with mostly As, and a few Bs sprinkled in for spice. Not bad we thought. And it’s all practice and building and preparing for high school, right?

 As a parent what can you really expect from your high school student? Do they really understand as a freshman that these grades matter? As in—matter which college, and matter how much money out of their pocket, oh and the little matter of affording to EAT during the college years or not?

 The other night my 5th grader was listening to a conversation my freshman and I were having about whether getting one B is really all that big of a deal. The younger one said, “Who cares about grades anyway?” (She thinks a report card is just a piece of paper you bring home and shove in a box along with 3rd grade sloppy essays and glitter covered kindergarten art.)

 I explained in no uncertain terms.

 Grades DO matter. College matters. And it’s getting more and more expensive. Scholarships will make a huge difference and good grades will decide the bottom line in the university money game.

I simply expect my kids to do their best. Do I want them to get straight As? You bet your 10th grade report card I do! I know it’s important to be realistic and supportive. If my kid is struggling to pull a B in geometry and I see her spending extra time and effort, then a B is perfect and we’ll celebrate with all 31 flavors! But what do you do when you see a B on midterms and then find out assignments are missing and a recent test was a flop, (a test they can re-take by the way)?

That’s when it’s time to jump in and help the kid understand this isn’t junior high  anymore, and S for Satisfactory is in the far distant past. When all the kid’s other classes result in As but one class is lagging, it’s time to pull out your pom poms and short skirt and start up the Parent Cheer Squad. It’s time to help your freshman learn the fine art of STUDYING. And TIME MANAGEMENT. And PRIORITIES.

Okay, yes we took away texting for a few weeks.

We limited any type of “screen” time after 8 p.m.

And we made it clear we believe she can do better, and met with the teacher to map out exactly how.

It may sound like I’m doing the work for her, but I already took geometry (and memorizing all those theorems isn’t something I’d ever repeat)!  We will love and support all of our kids despite a little thing like grades. But until the last bell rings, we’re here to cheer our kids to do their best and send them off to college with the skills to put the smackdown on the 101 crowd.

Do grades matter? Yes.

Does it matter when you help your kids do their best? Absolutely.

Does parent involvement matter? Ask me again in 4 years.

The other day, an email arrived from my friend Cindy, with a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal. No, it wasn't about finding the best hedge fund manager or advice on what to do when the stock market takes another nosedive.

Instead, it was an article about new research findings for the most productive ways students can and should prepare for exams. And if I have any say about it, it's going to change the way my daughter studies for the exams she'll face in her 1 1/2 years left of high school, not to mention her upcoming SATs and the ACT. For her sake, I only wish I'd read it before the math exam she's facing today.

The article, which can be found here, covers everything from how to study effectively, to the type of sleep a student should get the night before an exam, and even the type of breakfast she should eat. 

Turns out that those of us (present company included) who pulled all-nighters in college shouldn't have bothered. According to the article, a 2008 study of 120 students showed that those who crammed the night before an exam scored lower than those who prepared  ahead of time. Further, it showed that an all-nighter "impairs reasoning and memory for as long as four days." Wow. Talk about a studying hangover.

As for how to successfully prep for an exam, the article confirmed what we' at SchoolFamily.com are hearing more and more—repetition and practice, practice, practice are the best ways to learn and retain information. A student preparing for an exam should test himself repeatedly to teach his brain to retrieve and apply knowledge, according to the WSJ article. This is the method also recommended by SchoolFamily.com blogger and full-time educator Livia McCoy. Read McCoy's blog post on the topic from earlier this week here

So we now know that repetition practice and self-testing are the ways to study, but how about the best time to study—or does it even matter? It definitely matters, according to the director of a sleep and research lab who is quoted in the article. He says students should study the most difficult material immediately before going to be the night before the exam, which apparently "makes it easier to recall the material later." He cautions against waking up earlier than usual to study, saying this compromises needed rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep.

Okay, so what about breakfast? A hearty morning meal of sausage, eggs, and bacon? Or perhaps a quick granola bar or a bowl of cereal grabbed on the run? WRONG. Students facing an exam should enjoy a breakfast full of carbohydrates and fiber. This combination, found in the form of, say, oatmeal, offers slow digestion and therefore a longer feeling of fullness. But the article also reports that what a student eats in the week before the exam also matters. In one study, students who ate a "high fat, low-carb diet heavy on meat, eggs, cream, and cheese" for five days before a test, performed poorly as as compared to the scores they received on the same exam after eating the recommended high-carb, high-fiber breakfast.

So long, Frosted Flakes. Hello Quaker Instant Oatmeal. 

Finally, in a recommendation that I found especially helpful (and that I appreciated as a nod to the significance of a student's emotional state before an exam), experts in the WSJ article offered an easily learned "calming tactic" for students to use before a test. Students are asked to imagine themselves in a pleasant yet "challenging and invigorating" situation, giving the example of kicking the winning goal in a soccer game. Once students have their image in mind, they are told to immediately switch that image to the room where the exam will take place, such as their math classroom. With practice, the experts say, students will be able to do this successfully on the day of the test.  

An even easier method (which speaks to me as a writer, and validates my propensity for making PRO/CON lists when faced with something I'm anxious about), is to have an anxious student use the 10 minutes before her test to write down her worries. In a study of college students, those who did this exercise scored the same on the test as the students who weren't feeling anxious about the test. In other words, confront your biggest fears and put them down on paper. Come to think of it, this exercise might work for any anxiety-inducing situation students, or adults, might face in life.

So, tonight I'll hear from my daughter about how her dreaded math test went today. And for  future exams, I'll encourage her to follow these guidelines and studying smarter, not harder.





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This week, SchoolFamily.com presents a guest blog authored by Clare McIlwraith and Chris Whittington, a.k.a The Study Gurus. This dynamic duo specializes in teaching student how to study effectively. They share their years of studying and tutoring experience at thestudygurus.com.

Is your teen uninterested in math?

Do you know they could do better in it?

You’re not alone. Math is by far the most unpopular subject in high school.

Fortunately we have a solution for your teen that will help them break out of their “I hate math” funk—and we’re not even going to mention a single math formula!


Why teens hate math so much

It’s a defining trait of human behavior that we simply don’t do something if we don’t have a reason to. (Or sometimes if we don’t have a good enough reason not to—in the case of procrastination!)

For a lot of teens math seems like a pointless exercise. While this is terribly frustrating for so many parents, we can’t blame our teens, because in most cases no one has actually bothered to explain to them why it’s important.


If your teen doesn’t know why he needs math, then why should he care what X equals?

Some teens are just naturally motivated to want to do well at school—even in math! But probably the majority of students aren’t—and they need to know why the subject is important in order to get motivated about it. Otherwise, their understanding will suffer, along with their grades…


What can you do to help?

You don’t have to force your teen into studying. Or have yelling matches about why she should care more.

The best thing to do is to just have an open and honest chat with her about the importance of math after school.

The point of this conversation is not to transform your teen into a math-loving mini Einstein overnight. It’s to plant the idea that math isn’t taught to torture them, but because it’s an incredibly important aspect of life in the ‘real world’.

It is used daily by pretty much everyone who has a career that isn’t flipping burgers.


How should this conversation go?

If you have some, you could start by sharing how you use the math you learned at school on a daily basis. Or maybe how you sincerely wish you had tried harder and done better at math because then X, Y, and Z would be so much easier.

Another approach could be for you to talk about all of the professions that use math every day, because there are a LOT…

Not just the obvious ones—engineers, architects, and accountants; how about doctors, builders, teachers, electricians, computer technicians, scientists, nurses… the full list is long!

The fact of the matter is that most (if not all) satisfying and well-paying professions require a reasonable level of math.

You don’t want your teen to learn this the hard way—when it’s too late and their hopes and dreams are dwindling down to the size of a Big Mac.

Now is the time for them to make the most of school and seize the day—even when they have math class.

For more math advice, visit The Study Gurus website.

As a parent, it’s inevitable that you have those “I wish I knew then, what I knew now” moments. My oldest child is a senior in high school. Needless to say, there have been a lot of those moments recently. 

Last spring, like other families with high school juniors, we embarked on the college search. It’s very exciting, but also overwhelming. So what do you think the first thing that people ask a junior who is starting the college process?

“What do you want to go to school for?”

This question seems innocent enough. I, too, have asked this question many times in the past. Now that I have a child going into senior year, I realize how much stress this simple question can cause the typical teen. Not many 16 or 17 year old kids know what they want to do for their career!  Heck, l know plenty of adults who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. 

In my daughter’s case, she recently decided that she thinks she wants to be an engineer. What brought her to this conclusion? She likes and does well in math, is creative, and really enjoys problem solving. But unless you have a parent who works in that field, how do you really know? So here’s where the “I wish I knew then, what I know now” comes in. I wish we had found ways to expose her to math and science fields along the way. I am not that kind of parent who wants to have my kids booked with activities and experience everything by the age of 16 to identify their passion, but I do wish that we found a few more simple ways to gain insight into career paths.

Through the course of college search process we have discovered several terrific sites that give girls an opportunity to check out math and science careers in a fun way:






Another great way to expose kids to careers without a huge time and financial commitment is find events in your area that match their interests.  For science, technology and math (STEM) related events we found an amazing site called Connect a Million Minds, that has a wonderful event finder. 

As I said before, it’s unlikely that a 16 or 17 will know what career path they want to pursue. But exposing kids to a range of careers that match their interests and strengths can only make choosing a college a little less overwhelming.  

Do you make it a point to find opportunities for your kids to learn more about various fields of study or career paths? Tell us how you do this without going over the top.

— by Lisa Gundlach, SchoolFamily.com



When my son was a college freshman, I remember dropping him off at school amid the chaos of freshmen move-in-day. After we'd helped him haul all his stuff in repeated trips up three flights of stairs in the dusty old dormitory, it was time to say goodbye. Yes, tears ensued ... and as we left I remember being so bothered that he didn't wear (or even own) a watch; how would he get to his classes on time? Instead, he kept time by the digital display on his cellphone - and couldn't imagine it any other way.

Those of you helping your son or daughter get packed and ready for the drop-off at school may want to take a short break from all the planning and fretting, and read this humorous, eye-opening, newly released list about members of the Class of 2015. 

For starters, this group of young people has never known a world without the Internet.

That and several more "cultural touchstones" are part of the Mindset List for the Class of 2015 compiled by Beloit College in Wisconsin.

The list includes everything from politics and political figures - "[To the Class of 2015] Jimmy Carter has always been a smiling elderly man who shows up on TV to promote fair elections and disaster relief" - to changes in child-rearing - "Unlike their older siblings, [the Class of 2015] spent bedtime on their backs until they learned to roll over."

For some of us, present company included, items such as these are startling: “'Dial-up,'” Woolworths, and the Sears 'Big Book' are as antique to them as 'talking machines' might have been to their grandparents."

Read it and laugh. And if your son or daughter doesn't wear a watch, don't worry; their cell phones will serve as a timepiece just fine.






Sue Blaney

This is a guest post by Sue Blaney, a nationally recognized award-winning author, speaker, and publisher dedicated to supporting parents in successfully raising teenagers. Sue specializes in communication and works with parents and professionals at many levels to educate, empower and connect parents of teens. Visit her website at www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com

In my morning inspirational reading I reopened a favorite book The Art of Possibility by Ben and Roz Zander. In it, Ben Zander notes

    “The drive to be successful and the fear of failure are, like the head and tail of a coin, inseparably linked. They goaded me on to unusual efforts and caused me, and those around me, considerable suffering. Of course, the surprising thing was that my increasing success did little to lessen the tension…. {Eventually} I settled on a game called I am a contribution. Unlike success and failure, ‘contribution’ has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison. All at once I found that the fearful question, ‘Am I loved for who I am, or for what I have accomplished?’ could be replaced by the joyful question, ‘How will I be a contribution today?’

When we measure our success by external measurements – our accomplishment, awards, money, fame, material acquisitions – we are playing in a “measurement model.” A measurement model is usually based upon a sense of scarcity… “better get yours before someone else does.” Zander suggests this is not only unhealthy, it is unnecessary. By reframing our definition of success we open up a world of possibilities – and joy. Rather than live in a stress-inducing scarcity model, we can live in a “widespread array of abundance.”

Let’s consider the high-stress world our teenagers inhabit in the context of the Zanders’ philosophy.

There is an epidemic of stress disorders among our young people. According to a new study, five times as many high school and college students are dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues as youth of the same age who grew up during the Great Depression. Comments I hear from parents reflect this; like “My daughter is obsessed with doing everything perfectly. She doesn’t seem to be able to tolerate anything less than perfection, whether it’s grades, friends, her looks, or anything else. And yet she is fragile and on the edge.” “The competition to get into the college of his choice is so intense it is impacting his relationship with his friends because they are competing for the limited slots.” “My child isn’t in bed before 2am on a typical school night.” Parents know this is unhealthy and you ask: “What can I do?”

Maybe you need to redefine “success.”

Many mental health professionals, educators, parenting experts, and cultural observers note that today’s teens put a high value on the external and visible measures of success. It seems today’s teens have different values to some degree, and we wonder if these values are linked to this rise in anxiety. While a valid cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven, it must be considered. Professionals speculate that the sources of the increased stress come from “a popular culture that focuses on the external – wealth, looks, status” to “over-protective parents who have left their children with few real-world coping skills.” And the students? “Students themselves point to everything from pressure to succeed – self imposed and otherwise – to a fast paced world that’s only sped up by the technology they love so much.”

One 21 year old in the study is quoted:

    “The unrealistic feelings that are ingrained in us from a young age – that we need to have massive amounts of money to be considered a success – not only lead us to a higher likelihood of feeling inadequate, anxious or depressed, but also make us think that the only value in getting an education is to make a lot of money…”

How do you frame and define “success?” The way you define success, the way you express goals and reward your teens are how you teach them values.

The Zanders raise a good point: How would your teenager’s experience be different if rather than focusing on achieving a certain gpa, accolade or reward, he were to consider how he could “be a contribution?” How would you communicate and teach this change in attitude? How would you provide rewards?

While parents tend to blame a materialistic culture and images and experiences that influence teens toward this externally based focus, we must take responsibility for being the primary teachers of values. While parents are worried about the high rates of anxiety and depression we must realize we may be part of the problem and we most certainly can be part of the solution.

How can you be a contribution to your teen’s well being today?

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This guest blog is from Paul Hemphill, a private college admissions coach and financial aid specialist. He has created six DVDs and written two books about strategies that make students stand out in the college application process. They are available from Amazon


No college is worth the agony of being wait-listed. And typically 1/5 of wait-listed students get in, but don't go by my figure because each college has its own rule. Some colleges accept no one off a waitlist. However, if your child truly feels he or she MUST go to a certain college, here are my tips for how to get off the waitlist.

  1. Call the college to find out when the admission director is in the office.
  2. Go to the college unannounced.
  3. Ask to see an admission person (if director is nowhere to be found) for just 2-3 minutes (Tell the receptionist how far you've traveled.)
  4. Chances are good you'll see an admissions person.
  5. Thank the admission person for the 3 minutes you're asking for.
  6. If you have to, READ 3 statements about why the school will be better for accepting you - what will you contribute to the freshman class?
  7. Hand the piece of paper to the admission person, thank him/her for their time, and ask when you can expect to hear from them.
  8. If the answer is in a week, hand-write a "Thank you" note for the brief meeting; if in a day, email your Thank you.
  9. Guess who the college will remember when they review their wait-list candidates?
Tagged in: College High School
Paul Hemphill

This guest blog is from Paul Hemphill, a private college admissions coach and financial aid specialist.

He has created six DVDs and written two books about strategies that make students stand out in the college application process. They are available from Amazon. This post offers Paul's perspective on preparing for the college admissions process.

  1. Begin the admissions process no later than the 9th grade. That is, start speaking about college. And sparingly. This is no time for so-called "boot camps" for college admission that do nothing more than create stress for the student and line the pockets of enterprising admission gurus. Occasionally mention college as an inevitable future experience. Mention something productive of your own college days as a hint of the good things that can be expected of the college experience. In other words, begin creating the culture of college as an expectation of new discoveries to be embraced. It's aging well, teen-style.
  2. When your child’s applications arrive in the room of the admissions committee four years later, it’s Showtime: the decision to admit your student will take no longer than 30 minutes. “Today, it’s a complicated and prolonged dance that begins early,” says J. D. Britz, dean of admissions and financial aid of Kenyon College...“there is little margin for error: A grade of C in Algebra II/Trig? Off to the waitlist you go.”
  3. Olympic athletes begin practicing their sport four years before their Showtime, which takes a lot less than 30 minutes, with very little margin for error. Your student’s preparation for admission success will take the form of fatigue, long hours, boredom, and little recognition until their qualifying moment arrives. The difference is that your student will more likely win the gold, which means admission to college.
  4. A student should specialize in one activity; texting isn't one of them. As an Olympic athlete must practice for only one event with total commitment, a student should specialize in one activity or talent that demonstrates a real interest, passion, or the student’s uniqueness. Limiting focus will allow for more time to study and to improve grades. Creating a limited but strong profile - a theme - gives the colleges what they desire.
    For example, if the student enjoyed working on political campaigns, his theme would be politics; if she enjoyed ballet, her theme would be dance; if it were playing the guitar, the theme would be music; if it were soccer, sports is the theme.
  5. The student’s mission is three-fold: to get good grades, good test scores, and to demonstrate a theme.
  6. Commitment is the operative word here. Ideally, colleges like to see evidence of leadership. But if you were never a captain or a president, a college admissions committee wants to see how you’ve managed your time and focused your efforts. Colleges want to see evidence of your passion for something. They want you to be part of a mosaic they are creating for a new freshman class.
Tagged in: College High School

Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?