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If you’re a parent, you’re probably bracing yourself for the summer with your teen. There are so many things to consider: everything from what time your teenager needs to be out of the bed in the morning, how much time they should spend gaming, expectations around the house and curfew, and whether or not they should have a summer job, just to name a few. And typically, the teen’s perspective is vastly different from your point of view.

Obviously, the school year can be very taxing and it’s nice to have less stress during the summer. But experts encourage you to avoid throwing structure out the window as your kids rest up for the next school year.

One way to keep your teen constructively involved is to strongly encourage them to find a summer job. While 13 or 14 may be too young for employment, they do have other options. It isn’t too young to do yard work, babysit, clean houses, or some other type of work.

Teens can learn so much from a job experience. In fact, it can help prepare them for life. Actually going through the interview process is a serious accomplishment, as many young people struggle with conversations that don’t involve texting. Learning how to look someone in the eyes and answer questions about yourself is huge.

Once they have secured a job, they typically have the chance to learn a few things, like how to:

  • Get along with a diverse team of people,
  • Manage their time,
  • Deal with authority figures other than their parents,
  • Engage with people who are rude and difficult,
  • Build relationships with kind and encouraging people,
  • Develop an understanding of a work ethic, and
  • Handle the money they earn.

One teenager accepted an 8-week job as a summer camp counselor. The job was not glamorous and many of her co-workers were challenging, so the teen frequently talked with her parents about the difficulties she was experiencing. Halfway into her commitment, she told her parents that four other camp counselors had just quit. The parents felt like the teen was looking for a way out as well.

Both parents strongly advised her not to quit, reminding her of the commitment she made. She stayed, and to this day has never forgotten the lessons she learned about how to treat people, what respect looks like and that she had it in her to overcome adversity and finish what she started. She also learned a lot about herself that summer, and while she wouldn’t want to repeat it, she would not trade those valuable lessons.

Summer jobs can teach the life lessons most parents want to instill in their children as they prepare for independent living.

Your teen may simply want to build their resume for college or prepare to learn a vocation. Either way, securing a summer job can be just the character-building experience they need to give them that extra boost. It will certainly teach them lessons that will serve them wherever life takes them.

Image from Unsplash.com

A college freshman working as a summer camp counselor called her parents to vent about how bad things were with her supervisor. It was halfway through the program and six other counselors had quit because they were unhappy and not having fun. As the conversation continued, the parents realized their child wanted their permission to quit as well. Although it was a difficult situation, her parents told her to finish her commitment.

Have you ever watched your child struggle with something so much that it made you sick, and you wanted to rescue them? At that moment, what should you do?

  • Swoop in and save them from experiencing further pain?

  • Watch from a distance, knowing this is part of growing up?

  • Move closer and offer to assist them as they work to figure it out?

In many instances, parents are actually “swooping in” instead of letting their children struggle. It could be anything from a tough game, a difficult teacher, a complicated paper, an honest mistake or a friendship gone awry. But are parents really “saving the day?”

Most parenting experts would say these parents are actually hurting their children in the long run. They mean well when they seek to protect their children from experiencing pain, disappointment and/or failure. In fact, the parents’ goal is to set their children up for success. But unfortunately, young people who are never allowed to fail, experience consequences or problem-solve become adults who are ill-equipped to deal with adversity, setbacks and failure.

An ancient Chinese proverb says. “Failure is the mother of success.”

Think about it.

How many times has difficulty motivated you to keep on trying until you figured it out? Whether it was memorizing a recital piece, learning a football play, writing a paper or tying shoes, how did you feel when you finally accomplished the task? More than likely, you felt a sense of pride, newfound confidence and perhaps a little more independent. All of these are important ingredients for success in life. Consider how you would have felt had your parent swooped in to do these things for you.

Beginning with the end in mind, besides academics, what do you want your child to learn this year? If helping your child to be confident, independent and unafraid of failure is your goal, it may require some restraint on your part.

Here are some tips for when your children fail:

  • Unless they are in harm’s way, avoid fixing it for them.

  • Allow them to experience the natural consequences of their actions, even when it is painful to watch.

  • When they do fail, address what happened and ask what they would do differently next time.

  • Instead of taking matters into your own hands, go with your child and stand with them as they learn how to discuss an issue with their teacher.

Failure can be a powerful motivator. Instead of viewing your child’s failures as a direct reflection of your parenting skills, see them as steps toward future success.

If you happen to be a Tennessee or UTC fan, it has been painful to watch both football teams struggle to even get on the scoreboard. There’s usually a lot of armchair quarterbacking and coaching going on anyway, but now it has reached a fever pitch. People are calling for the coaches’ jobs and trash-talking team members.

Don’t think it is about just these two schools. We could all list coaches who have been fired because of a losing season. One coach commented that it’s always interesting when the fate of one’s career rests in the hands of 18- to 22-year-olds. 

After a weekend of tough losses in college football, this post appeared on Facebook:

“ … I grew up in a house where my Daddy was born and raised an Alabama boy and my Mama was born and raised a Tennessee girl. We never ever talked trash. Did we have healthy teasing? Sure! But never ugly at all! I also grew up with my Daddy being a referee and was taught to show respect to the umpire or referee and to never EVER run my mouth. What I have found is we have a stadium full of disrespectful people who boo kids, coaches and referees and could care less what anyone thinks. 

“ … I challenge anyone who has ever played a competitive sport to stop and think. Did you ever think, man I can’t wait to go out and suck today?! NO! Not once did I ever think that and I bet there isn’t another athlete OR COACH who has either! How about your boss?! How about if you messed up or if your team messed up and people started screaming for your job!? Tonight I hurt for a couple who I met and know are amazing because I know their love for these kids. So scream all you want but maybe just maybe it might be about more than points on a scoreboard. Maybe it’s about a family, a kid who did their best but still isn’t good enough but had so much pressure.” 

This post brings up a really great point – what exactly are these kids doing? Is there more to this picture than winning and the fact that college athletics is big business that brings in money for the school? Every institution of higher learning would probably say their goal is to produce successful leaders, and for their athletes to graduate. They understand that very few of their athletes will go on to play professional sports. 

It’s helpful to know that the prefrontal cortex of the brain where mental control and self-regulation takes place isn’t fully formed until around age 25. These coaches and their staff are taking kids who are still maturing and not only helping them develop as players, but as people. They spend a lot of time making sure team players have access to helpful resources for academics, character development, personal boundaries and decision-making. 

Family members of coaches or players on the field also feel the sting of the boos from supposed fans when their family member or their team isn’t having a good game. Even some coaches’ family members experience ruthless bullying. People talk about players on social media as if they were NFL professionals, when in reality they are 18- to 22-year-olds.  

So, what exactly is college football or any other collegiate sport really about? 

When Kansas State University Head Coach Bill Snyder took over the football program in 1989, he took over the “worst NCAA Division 1 football program on planet Earth.” The team is now ranked third in the Big 12 Conference. In his book, They Said It Couldn’t Be Done, Snyder outlines how he transformed a losing team into a winning team with his 16 goals for success.

Here’s the list:

  1. Commitment – To common goals and to being successful.
  2. Unselfishness – There is no “I” in TEAM
  3. Unity – Come together as never before.
  4. Improve – Everyday … as a player, person and student.
  5. Be tough – Mentally and physically.
  6. Self-discipline – Do it right, don’t accept less.
  7. Great effort.
  8. Enthusiasm
  9. Eliminate mistakes – Don’t beat yourself.
  10. Never give up.
  11. Don’t accept losing – If you do so one time, it will be easy to do so for the rest of your life.
  12. No self-limitations – Expect more of yourself.
  13. Expect to win – And truly believe we will.
  14. Consistency – Your very, very best every time.
  15. Leadership – Everyone can set an example.
  16. Responsibility – You are responsible for your own performance.

Snyder’s list is clearly about far more than football – it’s about life. It’s about helping young men who are playing football to be winners in life, to understand a commitment to something they believe matters and to pursue excellence in their accomplishments. It’s also about helping these men understand what it means to persist against the odds, teaching them how to pick themselves up after making a mistake and carry on, and showing them what it looks like to give their best. This mindset can lead to a life of success off the field, on the job and in all of life’s relationships.

Before school starts, you can’t go into a store without seeing school supplies. Kids are cramming in their summer reading and some parents are relieved that summer is almost over.

The new school year seems like a natural time to think about your child’s future. Parents often say they want health, happiness and success for their children, but do their actions actually help or hurt when it comes to preparing their kids for these things?

“Many parents micromanage their children’s lives,” says Charlie Sykes, author of 50 Rules Kids Won’t Learn in School: Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education and Dumbing Down our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write or Add. “Between parents who are extremely anxious to make sure their children are always happy and the obsession of the education system about self-esteem, we have this weird stew that profoundly impacts our children in lasting ways.”

How do children become responsible adults if they don’t work through problems, experience failure or deal with difficult people?

Numerous media stories highlight parents hovering over their children in the young adult years. Some parents even call employers and involve themselves in their child’s love life.

“Instead of allowing them to experience adversities, parents bubble-wrap their kids,” Sykes says. “This keeps children from developing coping and problem-solving skills. People learn how to be competent adults by working through the bumps and bruises and ups and downs. If parents do this for them, the kids have no immunity to the normal curve balls life throws at us.”

Sykes contends that parents who really want to help their kids be successful must learn to say no. Unfortunately, many parents want to enable, be a good buddy or be constantly concerned about staying on their kids’ good side.

“I think I had wonderful parents,” Sykes says. “I guarantee you they were not obsessed about what I thought or felt about them. They did not freak out when I was unhappy about their decisions. They stayed the course as my parents. Instead of being concerned about how I felt on a particular day, they were focused on the end results.”

Sykes believes we aren’t doing children any favors by insulating them from reality and responsibility. He encourages parents to pick positive and negative role models, and find out what they do with their children. Use them as examples of what you want to see and what is not appropriate.

“If you inflate your children’s expectations, every area of life, including work, marriage and parenting will disappoint them,” Sykes says. “Parents who believe it is their job to meet every single ‘want’ of their child run the risk of creating unrealistic expectations. This will probably lead to great disappointment in life.”

So, step back and evaluate the things you currently do for your child. If those things aren’t moving your child toward adulthood, it’s a great time to try something different.

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What exactly does it take for a child to succeed in life? Is it good grades? High test scores? Tenacity?

According to Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character and Whatever it Takes, adults focus on high test scores, pre-admission to preschool and SAT scores as child-success indicators.

Based on research, however, Tough says we focus too much on these areas. He believes that the most important qualities have more to do with character. These skills include perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism and self-control.

Tough and his wife became parents while he was writing his book. Surprisingly, the research actually made him a more relaxed parent. When his son was born, Tough was very much caught up in the idea of childhood as a race – the faster a child develops skills and the better he does on tests, the better he’ll do in life.

These days, the author is much less concerned about his son’s reading and counting ability. While he certainly believes those things are important, he’s more concerned about his character. He wants his son to be able to recover from disappointments, calm himself down, keep working at a puzzle even when it’s frustrating and be good at sharing. He also wants his son to feel loved and confident, and have a full sense of belonging. Most importantly, Tough wants his son to be able to handle failure.

It’s hard for us parents to let our children fail. Why is that? Because everything in us wants to shield them from trouble. But Tough and others are now discovering that we may actually harm our children when we try to protect them. By not allowing them to learn to manage adversity or to cope with failure, we produce kids who have real problems when they grow up. Overcoming adversity produces character. And character, even more than IQ, leads to real and lasting success.

According to Tough, scientists realize that early adversity in a child’s life affects the conditions of their lives.
It can also alter the physical development of their brains. This knowledge is being used nationwide to help children overcome constraints.

Regardless of socioeconomic status, Tough contends that children with the proper support in the most painful circumstances can still achieve amazing things. But many children do not grow up with that right support. For example, there may be two parents in the home who are so bent on their child’s success that they never let him experience failure. Or at the completely opposite end of the spectrum, there’s no support to help the child get back up when he fails.

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Is it possible that a skinned knee, failure on a test and not planning your child’s life completely is really a good thing? Dr. Wendy Mogel, clinical psychologist and author of The Blessing of the Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus, would say yes.

“The biggest problem I see today is that loving, devoted parents, armed with good intentions, treat their children like royalty,” says Mogel. “Parents are putting themselves in the role of butler, secret police, talent agent, ATM and hospital staff member, doing things for their children that they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves.”

Mogel believes this parental behavior is ultimately a bad set-up for kids.

“I frequently see parents who treat their children like hothouse flowers, who must depend on their parents for survival,” she says. “They overschedule, overprotect and overindulge their children to the point that the children end up feeling a combination of entitled, dependent, anxious and like they don’t measure up.”

In many instances, these young people head off to college full of hope. Three months later, they return home because they didn’t know how to deal with their roommate or the professor refused to spoon-feed them information. Perhaps, they simply don’t know how to work through problems on their own.

If it feels like Mogel is stepping all over your toes, you are not alone.

“There are many great parents out there with fantastic intentions who get carried away in their efforts to raise a successful adult,” Mogel says. “In the end, nobody wins. Boys go on strike, girls become perfectionistic, and parents get angry.”

So, how can parents avoid falling in this trap?

Mogel provides these words of encouragement to well-intentioned parents:

  • Kids go through phases … glorious ones and rotten ones. Do not confuse today’s snapshot with the epic movie of your child’s life.
  • Know the difference between a child’s wants and needs. Don’t fall for the smooth-talking 15-year-old’s line: “Mom, you’ll probably want to buy me a brand-new car. It’ll be really, really, really, safe … definitely safer than me driving your big, old van.” Privileges are not entitlements.
  • Let them learn to do for themselves. Remember, your child is competent.
  • Listen four times more than you talk. Before you nag, remind, criticize, advise, chime in or over-explain, say to yourself “W.A.I.T” (Why am I talking?)
  • Remember that disappointments are a necessary preparation for adult life. Stay calm when your child isn’t invited to her friend’s party, gets cut from the team or doesn’t get a lead role. Without these experiences, your child will be ill-equipped for the real world.
  • Be alert, but not automatically alarmed. Stop and ask yourself: Is this situation unsafe or just uncomfortable for my child? Is it an emergency or a new challenge?
  • Don’t take it personally if your teenager treats you badly. You can’t always judge his character on the consistency of in-house politeness, clear speech or degree of eye contact. Instead, notice what teachers say and whether he’s welcome at his friends’ houses. Also, observe his manners with neighbors, salespeople and servers in restaurants.

Mogel readily acknowledges that parenting is hard work and that the competition is fierce. However, parents who are intent on raising self-reliant, resilient and accountable young people will gladly put forth the effort.

What’s the secret to a happy life? Many might say that money is a big part of the equation. But intrigued with discovering the secrets to a meaningful and happy life, a group of Harvard researchers launched a study in 1938. Then, they followed 268 male Harvard undergraduates – for 75 years.

The unique Harvard Grant Study collected data on the men’s lives through surveys and interviews. They looked at all aspects, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies and alcohol use. What they found may surprise you.

Perhaps one of the biggest revelations was that love really does matter when it comes to living a fulfilled life.

In his book about the study, Triumphs of Experience, Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, study director from 1972 to 2004, writes: “There are two pillars of happiness. One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

The study’s most important finding? Relationships are the only things that matter in life. You could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, you’d be unhappy. The ability to take in love is a great human skill.

Interestingly, Vaillant says that so many of the things people thought mattered when it comes to happiness don’t. For example, many believe money and social class are vital to success. These two things were at the bottom of the list.

Even our earliest relationships are important to long-term happiness, especially the mother-child relationship. Men who had a warm mother-child bond were less likely to develop dementia later in life. They were also more likely to have professional success.

Avoiding smoking and not abusing alcohol were by far the most important things to increase longevity. The study found that alcohol abuse was the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects. Alcoholism was the leading cause of divorce among the 268 men and their wives. Plus, a strong correlation existed between alcohol abuse, neurosis and depression. Interestingly, the mental illness followed the alcohol abuse rather than preceding it.

Another interesting finding: More money, power and intelligence do not mean more happiness. Vaillant found that men with IQs between 110 and 115 were no more or less happy than men with IQs higher than 150. Furthermore, the only thing that really matters when it comes to achievement is contentment at work. Having a meaningful connection to our work is more important than achieving traditional success.

Additionally, Vaillant found that early success did not necessarily mean future success. Conversely, failure early in life did not necessarily mean ultimate failure. In fact, some who seemed they would not end up doing well actually became successful. Vaillant shares that the journey from immaturity to maturity is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection. Moreover, a big part of this shift has to do with the way challenges are handled.

In the end, it all comes back to relationships, connection and love. Are you on a pathway to happiness and a meaningful life or a dead-end road?

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on January 17, 2016.