Sunday, January 31, 2016

Today’s Generation Gap: Our Youth Are Stressed – Why Is the Pressure Out of Control?

Anxious students abound.  They are everywhere and of all ages.  I’ve seen 3rd graders literally cry from the anxiety of having to take standardized tests on computers.  I have conversations more and more often with parents of teens who are stressed and seeking the help of mental health professionals.  I cannot help but think back to the years when I was a student and wonder at what seems to be a drastic shift in the emotional health of our youth.  Adults in my generation and older discuss our concerns for today’s youth but there is a gap – we really have a hard time understanding what has happened.  Some of us wanted to achieve, too, but we weren’t crippled by it.

I am an achiever, a perfectionist who likes to get things right the first time.  I was always an honor student, involved in school and outside activities and, eventually, I graduated from college summa cum laude (with high honors).  I was stressed sometimes and I certainly made myself a little too crazy about doing well all the time.  I was not, however, suffering like I have seen in the young people I encounter.  There have always been and will always be youth who are on a quest to achieve, be popular and be at the top of the class.  Why is today so different than in the past when the desire to achieve isn’t a new phenomenon?

The difference between today and generations past has to be in the messages young people are receiving from the world around them.  What’s the differences between the world of my youth and today?  Here are a few:
  • Today’s parents are far more aware of the goings on in other people’s lives and have become more competitive with people outside their homes.  My parents and parents of their time didn’t know what everyone was doing all the time.  All they cared about was what happened in their own homes.  They cared that we did our homework, met our responsibilities and had goals for the future.  They did not know or care about the achievements of anyone else.  There was, you see, no social media to constantly feed human insecurities.   I firmly believe that this constant glimpsing at the activities and accomplishments of literally everyone we come in contact with has warped our sense of privacy and our sense of self.  Don’t misunderstand – I am certainly a user of social media.  You may even be reading this article because you saw it on social media.  I just think we have to own what it has done to our focus and priorities.  Do you think you don’t pressure your children?  Ask yourself this – How often do people who are around your children comment on the achievements of people who really have no impact on your daily lives?  Remember being young and wanting approval?  When everyone else seems to be doing such amazing things, it is tough on a young person’s self-worth.
  • Today’s youth have adult schedules.  I’m an adult and I often feel overwhelmed by my own calendar.  I cannot image being 8, 10 or 15 years old with appointment after appointment after appointment.  They come home and have to go to a variety of planned activities.  It seems that it has become rare that the choice of activities and the hours spent at them is limited by adults who understand the limits of what a young person can reasonably do.  Years ago, children had to make choices.  A child could take dance lessons or play tennis or try out for the school play but, when I was younger, we weren’t permitted to do it all.  We picked.  Well, we picked some things.  Many of us had to go to religious instruction but then we could pick one other activity.  Today, everything is treated with equal gravity – being a dancer or a baseball player or soccer star is as important as homework, religious instruction and other lifelong foundational tools.  Young people are running all over the place all the time because the message is that it is all crucial.  Oh, if only they had to do the lifelong foundational tool and then just pick one more activity….  They might get some free time to recharge.
  • Today’s youth don’t spend nearly enough time freely playing, especially in nature.  This is really an offshoot of my last point.  The children are running here and running there.  There’s no time to invent, create and explore freely.  It lifts our souls to have free time to play, even when we are adults.  A day spent just having fun is all too rare these days.  When I was young, we were with friends so often.  We were out in the neighborhood or going to each other’s homes. We had downtime when there wasn’t a responsibility other than getting back home by our curfews.  The world has changed.  There are fears that prevent some of that time wandering the neighborhood.  It’s a shame – it has taken something from our children.  Parents today need to do what they can to replicate that freedom.  There has to be downtime when young people learn to entertain themselves, to enjoy the company of others with no pressure to achieve anything and to notice beauty. 
  • Today’s institutions promote production of products rather than the wonder of the process.  The focus of days spent in school has shifted.  In generations past, we were encouraged to create more and take standardized tests less.  We spent more time on multi-faceted projects and papers that fired our critical thinking skills.  Months of our school year was not spent on test preparation.  Instead, we had life preparation.  Today, only the product matters – the grade on the paper, the score on the test, how that score reflects upon the school, the town, the state.   We have lost sight of the fact that children are involved in that process.  Children need time to be creative and to hone critical thinking skills but not on paper.  They need to fine tune the process of thought.  Constant having to spit out scores is impeding their development of thinking skills.  When you can critically think, you can better reason and figure out how to cope. 

Whenever I speak to either teachers or parents, I am always asked if I believe that the pendulum will swing back.  Will the demands on our children become more reasonable?  I tell them that the only way that will happen is either for today’s adults to realize the harm and dial back the demands placed on the children or for today’s youth to grow up and want better for the next generation…. I hope it doesn’t take that long.

This article is the 3rd in a series about Today’s Generation Gap.  Click on the titles to read past articles:

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Go to my full website for information about webinars, presentations and individual coaching for parents and educators -Helping Kids Achieve.

Copyright 2016 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved

Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

5 Steps to Restoring Kindness, Patience and Joy: How Parents and Teachers Can Refill Their Souls

The wonder and joy of being a child’s important adult is so fragile.  Our buckets of energy, patience and empathy get emptied by the demands of hectic schedules and societal pressures.  We have many layers of responsibilities – financial, relationship, career – and while we may find joy from what we do and the people around us, they all deplete our resources. We need to take time to refill our buckets.  We need to consciously, purposely and proactively restore our joy.  When we are not remembering to see the world through eyes of wonder, we are harming the children around us.

Unintended lessons can come from our experiences and this year has been my year of incidental learning about the bucket that some people call the soul and others call the human spirit.  This has been my Inner City Consulting Year.  I am honored and humbled each time I am hired to work in communities with at-risk children who live in poverty or have specials needs including the need for more love.  I am interacting with 3 and 4-year-old children who face hunger and hopelessness every day.  Their stories break my heart.  If I can have an impact on the joy and learning that they get from being in their safe preschool environment, I will be so grateful.  The work exhausts my soul.  I sing with them, laugh with them and hug them.  I revel in their laughter.  I advise their teachers and administrators who are some of the most compassionate people I have ever known.  I come home empty.

That exhaustion and emptiness of soul is a vaguely familiar feeling.  I remember sitting in the rocking chair with my own sick child and wanting to cry from the fatigue of sleepless nights filled with monitoring his fevers that tended to suddenly spike.  I remember teaching in a classroom with 15 toddlers and feeling like all I did was change diapers.  I know that my bucket has needed refilling before, maybe not to this degree, but still it was depleted.  I wish I knew then what I have learned now. It isn’t so hard to regain the joy and wonder. 

Today is my refilling day.  I cannot seem to shake and move on from interactions I have had this week.  I can still feel the strong hug from the 3-year-old boy who had only met me once before but is in so much need of kind human contact.  I keep thinking about the little girl who only draws pictures of sad faces and her friend who puts food in her pockets for the long ride back to the shelter.  I have had challenging exchanges with adults this week.  I would be wrong to let myself remain depleted because I am a parent and a teacher.  The children in my life deserve my best. 

I share with you what I have learned this year about finding my equilibrium and remembering to keep the children at the center of my concerns rather than my own loop of pressure, frustrations and demands.
  1. Stop to Listen to the Sounds – Some people stop to smell the roses.  I stop to listen to the sounds.  I am in my living room listening to the howling wind during a blizzard that is interrupting the usual schedules of the people who live in the Northeastern United States.  I hear my son walking in his bedroom and the clock ticking.  The sounds bring me to the present moment so I can pull my brain out of yesterday’s challenges or tomorrow’s worries.  If I am very still, I can still hear the sounds of my boys laughing together that have been a mainstay in these four walls.   Stop to listen to the sounds – the sounds that ground you in this exact moment and recall the sounds of joyful children.
  2. Close Your Eyes to See More Clearly – When I close my eyes, I search for the pictures in my mind of that best day – the day when I was a child’s hero because I fixed a broken wheel on a toy truck or the day when a crying child smiled at me through tears.  I use those pictures to remember that what seem like small moments are actually the big ones.  I never know when I could have a positive impact and I am reminded that I don’t want an opportunity to give the best of myself to pass.
  3. Breath in New, Pure Air – Take 6 deep breaths and with each breath, exhale the anxiety, sadness, frustration and need for power.  Inhale kindness, understanding and patience.  Breath in through your nose and out through your mouth as you exchange the challenging conversations, the work drama and the negative emotions.  Literally breath in the new, untainted air that is filled with a refreshed outlook.
  4. Take a Moment to Remember Yourself as a Child – When I quiet my adult thought loop, close my eyes and breathe deeply, I can remember that little girl who preferred giggling over tears and kindness over grown-ups in bad moods.  I remember only wanting that mean teacher to be fair to me because she isn’t perfect either.  I remember the joy of being unconditionally loved and applauded for singing that was undoubtedly off key, praised for barely recognizable drawings and the feeling of both physical and emotional hugs.  I am a parent and a teacher so I know that one of my life purposes is to help children to know that they are enough.  They don’t need to be anywhere near perfect.  They are enough for this world.  It is all that little girl in me wanted to be.
  5. Honor the Impact You Have on The Lives of the Children – It isn’t true that children in a classroom move to the next teacher and it is as if you never existed.  You leave your mark.  What do you want that mark to be?  It isn’t true that children will only remember the good about their parents.  When we die, our children may prefer the conscious memory of the good but the effects of worst in people remain in the subconscious and impact their lives.  We all make mistakes.  I want my mistakes when I am in the presence of children to be minor.  Never forget that everything you say and the way you say it, every physical interaction and its gentleness or roughness, every look of approval or disapproval leaves a mark in their soul.  

The only thing in this whole world that you can control is your own actions and reactions.  You get to choose to model the best or the worst in people.  Take time out of your busy schedule to refill your bucket and recharge your soul.  The children in your life deserve your best.  My next visit to an at-risk community is in two weeks.  I am sure I will have other stresses in my life by then.  I will need to take the only type of time out that is good for us – a time out to restore the joy, kindness and patience that children deserve from me.  I will block off time on my calendar to listen, close my eyes, breath and remember so I can have the impact that I choose…

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Go to my full website for information about webinars, presentations and individual coaching for parents and educators -Helping Kids Achieve.

Copyright 2016 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved

Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Do You Make the “Big Picture Decisions” When Parenting Your Children or Teens?

Parenting is filled with moments of judgment calls based upon seemingly contradictory goals.  We want our children and teens to be independent and to be able to make decisions; yet, we have to protect them from harm.  Sometimes, it is hard to know if we are giving them too much autonomy.  We also need to be careful not to be those “helicopter parents” who do so much for our children that they don’t know how to function without us when they become adults.  Where is the line between autonomy and obedience?  When should parents take charge of decision making and have an active part in the process?  When is it best to say, “Okay – whatever you think” to our children and teens?

While every situation should be evaluated independently, I do believe there is a guiding principle that parents can use when deciding whether to say, “This is how it will be” or not.  Parents need to ask themselves, “Is this a big picture decision?”

A “Big Picture Decision” is one that lays a foundation for the future.  Most parents already make many “Big Picture Decisions.”  We know, for example, that our children have to be educated so schooling is not optional.  When our 7th grader comes home and says, “I hate school,” we tell them that they have to have an education.  A child may be given a voice in the decision to attend one private school or another.  The child may be asked an opinion about public vs. the private school that you visit together.  School attendance itself, however, is not optional.  I do want to acknowledge that homeschooling is an option selected by some families and that children do go from quality homeschooling environments to college or to gainful employment.  In a school setting or by homeschooling, a vast majority of parents ensure that their children have a foundation of knowledge.

In my household, having a religious foundation was an important “Big Picture Decision.”  My children grew up knowing that religious instruction was not optional.  There was no moment of “Do you want to attend?” for religious school and they both continued religious school through the 12th grade program (which by then was palatable as it took place only one evening per month).  As adults, they can now make their own religious decisions and I know they do so with a foundation of learning, attending worship services, participating in traditions and seeing the adults model the importance of community.  The foundation is there and now they can make intelligent decisions having had years of immersion.

Your “Big Picture Decisions” maybe the same or different than those of other people.  You have to decide upon the foundation that you want your children to have when they are adults.  They cannot.  They do not have the wisdom to know that at age 40 or 50, they will be so glad that they have a certain educational level.  Children and teens do not understand how difficult life can be and how much they may depend on knowledge, traditions, faith, closeness to family or other lessons that you insist upon. 

Insist.  Don’t be afraid to say, “This is not negotiable.”   There are decisions that you can negotiate or simply hand over to them.   At a certain age, let them pick their hair color if they want to dye it.  Hair grows back.  They can negotiate a curfew time within reason.  They can decide which electives to take in school, which clubs to join or which sports to try.  Those decisions are about the here and now.  They do not have an impact that will resonate when your children are 30, 40 or 50 years old. 

Ask yourself, “Is this a ‘Big Picture Decision?’  Is this part of the foundation that I want my child to have when he/she is an adult?  What are the experiences that are the basis for who I want my child to become?” 
  
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Go to my full website for information about webinars, presentations and individual coaching for parents and educators -Helping Kids Achieve.

Copyright 2016 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved

Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

If You Want to be a Teacher…

What would you say if you were asked to address potential education majors?  What would you want them to consider and remember based on your experience?  Here are my remarks from when I was asked to offer my perspective.  I hope you will share it with the potential teachers in your life.

If you want to be a teacher, don’t do it because school is all you have ever known.  Don’t decide on teaching merely because you have little world experience and you think you babysit well.  Standing in front of a class every day is not at all like babysitting.  It is not being a camp counselor or a fun neighbor.  It is a rewarding career for the right people.  It just isn’t always easy to know if we are right for a career we’ve never tried and not yet lived with choosing.

Teaching is a calling for quick thinking, patient performers who enjoy plotting and planning.  Teaching is both a natural ability to communicate while being engaging and a learned set of skills.  Not everyone with knowledge can teach. Not everyone with knowledge should teach.  

As you proceed on your educational path, take every opportunity to be in classrooms in a leadership role, not just as an observer.  If you can, find a job working with young people.  Each young person you encounter comes to you with talents and challenges.  If you find behavior more challenging than intriguing, you may need to consider the age group you are concentrating on or the profession as a whole.

The most important classes you will take are those that address child psychology and classroom management.  Personally, I think everyone who is in classrooms, coaching, teaching art or gymnastics or working with camp groups should have to take courses in child psychology and classroom management.  It isn’t hard to state your knowledge.  Dealing with all of the personalities is, however, a dance that takes lessons and practice to get anywhere close to mastery.

Remember that as a teacher, you have the awesome responsibility of touching the future.  Everything you say and how you say it impacts your students.  You are human.  You will make mistakes – we all do.  Learn from them.  As a teacher, you never stop being a student of human nature – yours and your students.

And someday if you find that teaching isn’t joyful or you hear yourself yelling or feel yourself getting exasperated at the students all the time, consider getting out.  Remember that your peace of mind matters, too. 


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Go to my full website for information about webinars, presentations and individual coaching for parents and educators -Helping Kids Achieve.

Copyright 2015 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved

Please do not sell, post, curate, publish, or distribute all or any part of this article without author's permission.   You are invited, however, to share a link to this post on your webpage, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and other social networking sites.