Sunday, December 2, 2018

Team Before Me

If you pay attention to sports you at least know the name Geno Auriemma.  No other coach has accomplished what he has done in the last 25 years, and in the sport of college women’s basketball, his success is unparalleled.  Since 1985, Auriemma has been the head coach of the University of Connecticut Huskies women’s basketball team. In that time the Huskies have won eleven NCAA Division I national championships, the most in women’s college basketball history.  At one point they won 90 consecutive games!  He has been named the Naismith College Coach of the Year on eight occasions.  He has also coached the United States Women’s National Basketball team to two World Championships and two Olympic gold medals.  Without question, Geno Auriemma has done an incredible job teaching young women to play as a team at a very high level.  The operative word here is “team.”

All of the sports that we offer at North Fayette Valley High School are team sports.  A few of them have an individual component, but the foundation and focus of every sport is the team.  Teaching students to play as a team and become good teammates is their primary responsibility.  Unfortunately, in some instances that is difficult as students want to put themselves before the team.  This is nothing new.  It has been going on for a long time.  However, coaches at all levels express that it is more pronounced today that it was in the past.  At NFVHS we celebrate the team over the individual.  Yes, there are students that excel as individuals in given sports, and we do honor them when they achieve high levels of success because they are members of our TigerHawk Family.  But from my perspective, their success is a by-product of the efforts of the team.

We have been approached a few times about putting up posters of seniors each sports season, and the reason we do not do that is Team Before Me.  There would be no problem putting up a team poster with all of the members of the team and celebrate them.  In fact, we do have team and group photographs in our cafeteria.  

For a number of years business and industry have told us that they need people that can work on a team.  In many of our visits to various businesses, teamwork is obvious.  For generations coaches have expressed how playing their sport prepares young people for life.  One could argue that in some respects, but there is no question that being on a team, playing as a team, and being a good teammate does have value beyond the season.  Coach Auriemma shares a few thoughts in the following videos.

Geno Auriemma: Parents, teach your kids to be teammates, not superstars

Being On A Team

Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Do You Become An Adult?

If you regularly read my blog you know that I am an avid reader of Tim Elmore and his work on developing leadership in young people.  A while back I ran across an article of his that had some very interesting information about young people becoming adults that confirmed a number of thoughts and opinions that I have developed over the years.

In conversations I have had with a number of people I have stated my belief that young people today are significantly less mature than their peers of previous generations.  To put it another way, an 18-year old in 2016 is much less mature than an 18-year old in 1941, or an 18-year old in 1968, or even one in 1980.  This is not a unique view of the Millennial generation as a common belief is that they lack accountability and responsibility — among other things — because of the impact we baby-boomer and Gen X parents have had on them.  We have coddled and protected them so that they do not have to grow up!  So, let’s take a closer look at what is happening with our kids as they move into what we have considered adulthood for the past century.

In many respects we consider 18 to be the age that people become adults.  From a legal basis it is, but there is much more to becoming an adult than a date on the calendar.  Timemagazine reported that young people are overwhelmed with adulthood, seeing the next ten years or so as a time to experiment with different careers, trying things out until they find the one that is “just right.”  This isn’t necessarily bad because from their perspective there are many opportunities and options available to them, but there are also obstacles and opposition which many are not prepared to overcome.  Just think about how much more is out there for them.  However, this “more” isn’t there in all aspects of their life. has 800,000 jobs posted on their site and the U.S. Census Bureau reports that over 16 million college students are competing for those jobs.  Folks, that doesn’t line up!  Based on those numbers alone, there is no surprise that there is fear and legitimate concern for young people entering the work world.  So how are they reacting?

The quick answer is not too well.  Or at least not too well by traditional standards.  Rates of depression are very high for this generation of young people, and some are simply “paralyzed” by the uncertainty they face.  It is not uncommon at all for college graduates to move back home because they either do not have a job, or because they are simply not mentally or emotionally ready for life on their own.  On the subject of jobs, thousands of the recent college graduates are under-employed, at least based on the level of their degree.  Many of those who dreamed of salaried positions with benefits are punching a clock for an hourly wage.  That compounds the mental health for those who are already experiencing difficulties.  On the positive side, many of these young people are solid with who they are, and as referenced above, are comfortable moving from job to job looking for what’s right.  This is a lot different than my generation where once you graduated from college or trade school, you started with your career.  Careers for today’s young adults are down the road a ways.

So, the concept of becoming an adult starting when a person embarks on a career is not the same as it was for previous generations.  Whether it is because jobs are not available or the young person plans to “experiment” for a while, adulthood is being put off while they live at home or to not move forward into a career.

Another milepost that signifies become an adult — becoming a parent — has also changed.  Yes, teens are still having babies, some of them with the impression that all of a sudden they will be “grown up,” but not nearly at the rates they once did.  Most people are not having their first child until they are around 26 to 27 years of age.

It has become much more common for people in their twenties to still be living with, or move back into their parent’s home.  Some look at it as an opportunity to “test out” being an adult, but not being totally independent.  In fact, this new generation of young people (I still call them young adults!) defines adulthood based on monetary status.  Once they are financially independent then they consider themselves and adult.  When they can pay their own bills, cover their own rent, and stop hitting their parents up for financial assistance, they become an adult.  How times have changed!

From the perspective of a parent with a soon to be 23-year old and another about to turn twenty, I recognize the challenges that both of them face at this point in their lives.  Their mother and I have opted to take the same approach our parents did with us, with the initial approach of requiring the they leave the house and go off to college, with the invitation that they can spend summers here while they are attending school as long as they have full employment.  We do not expect they will spend more than a summer or two with us as they should be finding their own way and developing that ability to live on their own.  I believe my most important role as a parent is to prepare my kids to live their life without me or their mother.  That said, if something does not work out, we will provide support until they can make it on their own.  I believe the key is to get them out sooner rather than later, because it will only be harder the more they depend on us. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

How Much Is Too Much Time On Social Media?

Would you be shocked to know that the average teen today spends more hours in front of a screen than we adults spend at work?  Seriously, we commonly consider the average workday to be eight hours, and according to a report by Common Sense Media the average teen spends nine hours per day in front of a screen using media for their enjoyment!  And, that nine hours does not include time at school or doing homework.  That is staggering!  To add more context, nine hours a day is more the average teen sleeps every 24-hours and more time than they spend with their parents and teachers.

For the average teen, roughly six-and-a-half of those are spent on social media.  Kids from eight to twelve-years-old spend a bit over four hours a day consuming social media.  This is significant!  It is no wonder that Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that he would not want his nephew on social media, and prior to his death, Apple founder Steve Jobs stated that he didn’t want his own kids to own an iPad.  They saw the inherent danger these devices posed for young people.

There have been some studies that show some positive benefits of social media, in particular one conducted by UNICEF that stated “some time” on social media is actually good, and that there “may” be some benefit to the development of social relationships.  Students do connect with friends and stay up to speed on what is happening in the world.  That said, significant research points to the fact that too much time on a screen is detrimental to our mental health.  Dr. Adrian Ward from the University of Texas has concluded that the more dependent we are on our smartphone, the more our cognitive skills and abilities decline.  He also shares that in some sense we become delusional as to how smart we are because we cannot separate what we really know from what we can access from the device.

Jean Twenge, a Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, started noticing a significant change in teenagers around 2012 to the extent that she an her colleagues started looking much closer at the mental health of 13- to 18-year-olds.  Over a five year period they recorded drastic jumps in diagnosed cases of depression (33% increase), suicide attempts (23% increase), and successful suicides (31% increase).  Their conclusion that teens today are much more likely to experience mental health issues than their predecessors comes at the same time as the rapid increase in the use of the smartphone and social media.  Other studies support this as well.

The Monitoring the Future study states that just two hours a day engaged with social media contributes to social anxiety and unhappiness among today’s teenagers.  If parents are looking for what is a reasonable amount of time to allow their child to use social media, it is most certainly less than 120 minutes per day.  It would make sense to limit it to an hour a day.  Doing that would force young people to communicate face-to-face with their friends and peers.  When parents have taken these steps, it has resulted in happier kids and better students.  In addition, it will help them develop stronger interpersonal and communication skills, which has suffered dramatically in this social media era we live in today.  It will also give kids back control over their own life.  Rather than being depending on that buzz or ping from the smartphone, they can focus on other things.  They can be more in control of what they do rather than reacting to whatever happens on their smartphone, or what is snapped or posted on Instagram.  They will be more focused on things that really do matter on their life, not distracted by their phone.

We need our kids to understand how this powerful device can serve them rather than enslave them.  As a parents it is your moral and legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for your child.  We all have taken numerous steps to provide a safe environment to protect them physically.  It is imperative we do the same for their mental and emotional safety as well.

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.