Sunday, October 14, 2018

Should Schools Ban Cell Phones?

Over the course of the past few years I have had many people tell me that we should ban cell phones at the high school.  It is no secret that we have had significant problems with the devices as well as social media and other related problems.  We have spent a tremendous amount of time studying how best to deal with them, as have school leaders in every other school district in the country.  I have yet to find a public high school that has banned their use, and to the contrary, most colleagues share similar concerns that I have about their presence and the influence they are having over the lives of our students.  

I have to admit that I raised my eyebrows and perked up my listening skills when I walked through the office a few weeks back when I happened to see the scroll on the bottom of the screen say that cell phones had been banned in French schools.  Intrigued I went to Google to see what I could find out, and found it interesting that other countries have placed a ban on cell phones in schools as well.  And then I found the article I have included below, which I believe has relevance beyond the concept of banning phones.  In reality, it provides some suggestions for parents that would result in their kids not thinking they need their phones, and to have control over their lives so that a phone is simply a tool to use to communicate.  Give it a read!

Schools are banning smartphones. Here’s an argument for why they shouldn’t — and what they should do instead.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Grit: A Few Thoughts From Angela Duckworth — Part III

In my final column about grit, the focus is on what parents can do to build it in their children.  In Duckworth’s work, an entire chapter is dedicated to this topic, and I sincerely encourage you to purchase and read the entire book.  Duckworth leads off by defining what parenting is, and points out that it is derived from Latin and means ‘to bring forth.”  Parenting is a tough job!  I know that very well, and also am very aware of the awesome responsibility we all have in terms of helping our children develop into responsible and productive adults.  Duckworth points out in her book that there is a lot of research on parenting, and quite a bit of recent research on grit, but there is not a great deal of research on parenting and grit.  Thus anything that she recommends is not necessarily supported by the level of research she has done in other aspects of her study of grit.

There are generally two schools of thought on parenting in terms of helping children lead successful lives.  On one side are those that advocate establishing and demanding high standards that will serve to drive young people to success.  On the other side are those who believe that they can best succeed by wrapping them in unconditional love and support.  Some of us may have grown up in a strict, authoritarian household, while others of us may have experienced more permissive parents.  And, to no one’s surprise there are those who advocate that each example is the best way to raise children to become successful adults.  However, is one form of parenting better than the other when it comes to helping young people develop grit and lead a successful life?

Larry Steinberg, a researcher who gave an address to the Society for Research on Adolescence, shared that after studying 10,000 American teenagers, kids raised by warm, respectful, and demanding parents faired better than those who were not, regardless of the parent's marital status, ethnicity, gender, or social status.  It does not matter how the message is sent — authoritarian or permissive — rather how it is received.  Parents that are psychologically aware and pay attention to the messages they send and how they are received are more likely to have the positive impact they want to have on their children.
When it comes to developing grit, parents that practice what they preach will find that their children will emulate them.  If a parents demonstrates grit, there is a good chance their child will do so as well.  Recognize however, that just because a father may work incredibly hard, unless the child understands why, there is no guarantee he will follow in his father’s footsteps.  As we know, effort is more important than talent when it comes to achieving success, but unless the parent communicates this effectively in a warm and respectful manner, hard work for the sake of hard work may not in fact lead to success.  There must be purpose and passion as well.  

There is no doubt that most parents want their child to succeed in life.  Those, who from an early age have expectations and place demands on their children, will most likely see them develop the habits and drive to succeed.  This can be done in a variety of ways, but what is important is that it is done.   Whether authoritarian or permissive, it is important they have expectations they expect their children to meet, and demand they are met.  A mistake often made by this generation of parents is that they do far too much for their children rather than letting the child be responsible.  Parents who model responsibility and respect are more likely to have their kids emulate it, but they have to provide opportunities for their kids to learn how for themselves. 

To demonstrate this, I will use an example I am very familiar with, changing the names of the individuals so as to protect their identify.  Both of the young men I refer to became college basketball players at the D-III level, and both of them eventually became coaches.  Greg was the son of a coach and has had a very close relationship with him throughout his life.  From the time he was old enough to shoot a basketball he loved the game.  When he became a middle school student his dad required that he take 300 shots a day.  That increased to 500 a day in high school.  Often, his dad was there rebounding for him.  Greg was a good shooter in high school and college, and was considered a successful player.  In the gym as he grew up, there was often a lot of tension, yelling, and anger between the demanding father and his son.  However, the son reached many of his goals and has a very close, loving relationship with his father today.

Jimmy was a gym rat much like Greg, riding his bike to the gym even in the winter as a young boy, and getting a key from his coach when he was in high school so he could shoot late at night.  Often he was with his friends, but more often than not, he was by himself.  Jimmy’s dad and mom both worked very hard at hourly jobs, often taking overtime in order to provide the best they could for their two kids.  Jimmy’s parents wanted him to have a better life than they had, and stressed the importance of a college education and giving back to others.  They knew their son loved basketball and did what they could to support it.  In hindsight, their most important contributions were that they were strong role models in terms of work ethic, and they gave Jimmy the freedom to pursue his dream.  Jimmy’s dad taught him that anything worth doing, is worth doing well and to take pride in what you do.  In other words, if Jimmy was to become a basketball player, then he needed to be the best player he could be.  If he was to become a garbage man, then he should be the best garbage man he could be.   Like Greg, Jimmy shot took thousands and thousands of shots, and became an incredible point scorer.

As stated earlier, Greg and Jimmy both became successful college basketball players, both became high school coaches, both of them have incredibly close relationships with their dads, and both of them have very positive relationships with the young people they work with each and every day.  One grew up in an authoritarian household, while the other found himself in a home with more freedom and not nearly as strict.  A hard work ethic was present in both, as were expectations, respect, and strong family bonds.  Success was not taken for granted, and both boys rode their passion for basketball on top of a strong work ethic to get to where they are today.  That’s grit!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

What Is Good and Bad Social Media?

I have subscripted to a newsletter from for quite a while and have found an incredible amount of very good information on this site.  Yes, it is a commercial site and they are trying to sell you something, but the free information is very good as well.  The individual who started the site, Josh Ochs, does a very good job explaining the various social media platforms, as well as providing important information that parents should know.  I encourage you to explore the site when you have a chance.  For the purposes of this edition of my blog, take a look at the video on the page.  The title indicates it is about the negative effects of social media, but it does touch on some of the positives as well.  Perhaps you will find some useful information that will help you make decisions relative to your child’s use and access.   

Before you access the site, one quick thing I want you to consider.  If your child has a smart phone and accesses social media, whether YouTube, Snapchat, or Instagram, they have been involved in negative use at least at some level.  Even if they haven’t posted something negative, they have been at least exposed to it.  Or, they have been impacted by it in a negative way because of the relationship they have with other students.  As a parent, you have authority over your child’s phone and their use.  I strongly encourage you to educate yourself about social media and various apps as you would if your child had a serious medical condition, and then take control of your child’s use.  What goes on with social media can have a much more severe impact on your son or daughter than many medical conditions.  You need to do it for them.  

The Negative Effects of Social Media for Teens

Friday, August 17, 2018

Grit: A Few Thoughts From Angela Duckworth — Part II

It may be best to go back to my February 5, 2018 article for some context to this article.  At the time I wrote it I had intentions of following up much sooner with this part II article, and the part III that will be coming soon.  In my opinion, the work that Angela Duckworth is doing provides the best explanation for why so people experience high levels of success, and the best pathway for people to achieve.  It has nothing to do with what has been written in self-help books, or what you may see on a late night infomercial.  Passion and persistence make up grit, which is what separates those who succeed at high levels from those that do not.

In order to better understand grit and the role that it plays in personal development and success, it is imperative to look at a couple of important characteristics and beliefs.   Those two things are talent and effort.  What role do each of these two characteristics play in terms of a person achieving a high level of success?  What Duckworth has found is important, and can be applied directly to anyone that wants to achieve anything, from a simple task to being the absolute best at something.

Many of us look at successful people and make the judgment that they have incredible talent, and with a little luck, have achieved at a high level.  How many times have you heard people make the comment “in the right place at the right time” or “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know?”  In essence this is how many people often rationalize their own shortcomings because both talent and luck are out of their control.  It does not matter the task or skill, it always appears that there are people that are “naturals” who seemingly excel because of innate talent.  And for some, it appears that they put forth incredible effort, yet cannot reach the same level of success as those that were “born” with certain gifts.

The truth is that some people have more talent than others.  This may be superior physical skills or for someone else, cognitively.  Some people may have genetics on their side that give them certain advantages on physical tasks.  Others may have access to learning opportunities that others do not have that enhance their skills.  LeBron James was born with some physical genetics that enhance his ability to play basketball at a high level.  Bill Gates was very fortunate to grow up in a community where early computers were built and attend a school that was a beneficiary of being given a lot of the cast-off computers where he and his friends could use them to their heart’s delight.  However, there are hundreds of thousands of men that are 6’8” tall and weigh in the same ballpark as James, yet they are not the best basketball player in the world.  There are many that are the same size, and are outstanding basketball players, but are not the greatest in the world.  And, there were other boys who had access to computers at an early age like Gates, yet they did not start Microsoft and become one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Duckworth argues that talent is important, though many of the tests that are used to measure it do a very poor job of measuring it.  There are tremendously talented people that go unnoticed, as well as those who never achieve success.  So what explains the reason for this?  Duckworth says it is because effort is twice as important as talent!  In her opinion we have a tendency to overemphasize talent and underemphasize everything else, including effort.

Perhaps the best way to look at it is to reference a master artisan Duckworth writes about in her book.  A Minnesota potter by the name of Warren MacKenzie was 94-years old when interviewed by Duckworth, and in his lifetime he had thrown thousands of pots.  Many of them are beautiful pieces of art, while others were actually quite poor.  None the less, he is considered a master, one of the best at his craft.  What was his secret?  Effort.  Once he made the decision to be a potter he threw pots every day to develop his skill.  Many people have talent, but it is only with effort that people turn that talent into a skill, and after throwing what he figures to be about 10,000 pots, he stated that it started to get a little easier to produce high quality pots on a regular basis.  From this perspective, one can look at a mathematical equation: Talent + Effort = Skill.  As he threw more and more pots, and became more and more skilled, the quality increased significantly and he started to sell more, becoming quite successful.  Thus, his skill improved and coupled with continued effort, he experienced success.  So, Skill + Effort = Success!

Imagine the discipline and passion that it takes to wake up every day and throw clay onto a wheel and make pots.  Or, like James Patterson, block out “office hours” each day to write.  You see, LeBron James did not just show up at game time and become a great player.  He spent hour after hour in the gym practicing to develop his skills.  Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, all of the great basketball players of any era were blessed with talent — as were many other young men at the same time — but they also outworked everyone else too.  It is likely that no living golfer today has hit more golf balls than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.  They put in the effort to be great.

One of the most common statements that I hear each year from different students goes something like this: “I’m not good at math.”  It is very reasonable that some students have more talent for math than others.  In my household, I am at least the number three, if not the number four most talented mathematician.  However, as Duckworth points out, while talent is important, it is not as important as effort.  The frustration working with many students who are “not good at math” is that they put forth very little effort to improve their skills.  Carol Dweck writes about mindset, and these students have what she describes as a fixed mindset.  Because they believe they cannot be good at math, they do not try to be good at math.  They will not put forth the effort.  They will not put in the time.  In other words, they lack grit.  Thus, one of our great challenges is to instill effort and commitment.  If one is going to succeed at anything, they have to have it.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Should We Monitor Our Kids' Social Media Use?

By now anyone who has followed my blog or heard me speak in various venues knows how I feel about students and social media.  I am not a fan at all, particularly when they are at school or in proximity of other people.  I can go on with reasons for this belief, and have.  However, that is not what is important for this article.  My favorite blogger about young people and leadership, Tim Elmore, shared his perspective on whether or not parents should monitor their child’s social media activity.  Obviously if I am including this on my blog, he must have a position close to mine!  Well, he does, and he articulates it much better than I can.  Give this a read as I believe his argument is very convincing.

Should We Monitor Our Kids’ Social Media Use?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

I’ll Be Back!

As I wrote the title Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator voice echoes in my mind!  I hope that you don’t take this as a threat as was intended in that movie!  Actually, my last column was back in April, and honestly, I just could not allocate the time to keep writing two new articles for the blog each month.  I have remarked to others that this past school year was the most demanding of my professional career, and there were some things that I really like to do that I had to set aside.  My practice is to have a number of articles in various stages of completion and then just put them in the blog, trying to stay a few articles ahead.  However, I fell behind and just could not keep up.  So, this summer I am working to complete a number of articles for the upcoming school year so that I won’t fall behind, and will also have a few started that I can complete in a short amount of time.  That said, I will have articles ready to go August 1 and will continue to update a couple of times each month through the school year!  See you then!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Social Media and Your Mental Health

For those of you that regularly read this blog, my columns in the newsletter, or have been around when I have have shared my thoughts about smartphones and social media, you already know that I have very strong, negative feelings about the impact both are having on youth today.  I have spent a lot of time reading research and talking to people who are a heck of a lot smarter than me about this topic, and nothing I have read or heard has changed my opinion.  Smartphones and social media are corrupting our kids today, causing mental health issues, standing in the way of their learning, impacting how they develop relationships, and adding stress to already difficult lives.

In a study conducted by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, some very interested findings were shared in their report regarding use of social media, particularly with Instagram, a very popular platform used by our students.  I have included an article about this study from Time magazine.  After reading it I would strongly encourage you to have a conversation with your child, and require that they give you access to their Instagram accounts.  Yes, accounts plural, because most of our Instagram users at NFVHS have two, the one they refer to as their “regular” account, and their “spam” account where they post the “bad stuff.”  Most of your kids are going to tell you they don’t have a spam account, but I am telling you they most likely do.  Be persistent!  Give this article a read.

Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health