Sunday, February 3, 2019

Pulling All Nighters in High School

In the past couple of months I have had a half dozen conversations with teachers about students — almost all of them males — that are staying up very late playing video games.  Most often the game of choice is the relatively new phenomenon Fortnite.  Perhaps your son is one of these, or if not one that stays up late and night, is playing video games more than doing anything else.  The reality is that video games are tough competition for other things going on in a young man’s life, and it should be a concern to parents.  On Tim Elmore’s Growing Leaders blog, Andrew McPeak has written an article that provides advice to parents as to what they can do if their child is spending large amounts of time playing video games.  

What Can Parents Do About Fortnite

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Can Less Be More When It Comes To Work?

Perhaps no other nation has identified more with a strong work ethic than the United States of America.  Settled first by Puritans who believed in the morality of hard work — the Puritan Work Ethic — our nation has been built on strong backs and a commitment to getting the job done.  Generations of Americans have believed that one can get anywhere they want in life if they work hard enough.  While the average American does not do the amount of physical labor of workers of previous generations, work is something that is still highly valued.  For example, most of us are highly critical of people who are lazy or are slackers.  In fact, many of us are resentful of people that do not work, though that is a topic for another day.  

As I write this, according to recent statistics, our state has reached the point where everyone looking for a job has a job.  In fact, in many parts of our state’s economy, there are simply not enough workers.  That said, the point that I want to make is that while this is a good thing, in the bigger perspective, is it good for us as individuals?  Is it good for us in our social and family life?  Is it good in terms of productivity and the economy?  Lets take a look.

Americans work 137 hours more per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours a year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers, according to data gathered by the International Labour Organization. In addition, workers in the United States do not have any federal laws that require paid sick days, annual leave or parental leave, thus adding more working hours compared to workers in other parts of the world.

In 1930, famed pro-capitalism economist John Maynard Keynes proposed that the workaholic culture of that era would eventually give way to a more efficient work economy with a very high standard of living in which Americans would be working as few as 15 hours a week.  That has not been the case, contrary to his belief that technological advances in the work place would allow people to work less and produce more.  In fact, the opposite has occurred.  

Boston University professor Erin Reid has produced research that shows that the longer people work, their level of productivity drops.  Working longer hours does not result in increased productivity, and it actually decreases after 50 hours of work a week.  In fact, Reid found that a person who works 70 hours in a week actually produces the same amount as an individual who works 55 hours.  The law of diminishing returns kicks in and employers are actually paying for nothing at that point.

There is no question that Americans value their weekends and other free time.  Some pack as much into that time as possible, with the leisure market in our country a very profitable industry.  And, there is some early data that the millennial workforce that values a balance between work and play are forcing employers to look at different options in terms of work schedules to attract the best and the brightest.  Flexibility in the workplace is much more common as the young labor force is not prepared to sacrifice their personal life for work.

When one looks at the modern American family, it is not too much of a reach to suggest that in some families parents are too busy working to spend time with this kids.  It is a simple argument to suggest that some of society’s problems could be lessened if people were working less and giving more time to supporting their children and serving their communities.  Europeans in the middle class tend to take full advantage of holidays (vacations) experiencing the world and spending time with family.  When it comes to starting families, other developed nations provide significant paid time to both mothers and fathers after the birth of a child. Is it possible that our American work ethic has turned around and bit us in the tail?  While we have been out there working to make a good living, we have lost site of other important things.

Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate work in our country.  What is important is that the work gets done, and from what we know, it is getting done.  There is no doubt that many businesses are responding to worker’s desires for more flexibility, and perhaps it will not be long before Americans are taking care of themselves and the stresses they have because of work.  It would seem that the rest of the world is doing just fine working less and maybe it is time we do the same.

Friday, January 4, 2019

My Suggestions for Change to a Sport I Love

Watching football, especially college football, is one of my greatest pleasures.  I plan my weekends in the fall around the Nebraska Cornhuskers football schedule.  I love almost everything about the game!  The one thing I don’t like, and I haven’t liked for years, is what is the gratuitous attempts by someplayers (and coaches) to inflict injury on opposing players.  I personally remember the night that Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders launched himself like a missile at Daryl Stingley, a receiver for the Patriots.  Stingley never took another step in his life as he lived the rest of it in a wheelchair.  The game was always rough, but after that it seemed that defenders recognized that they could intimidate offensive players with the threat of blasting them to Kingdom Come.  That’s also how you could get on Sports Center.  And, it was with this that players started talking publicly about inflicting injury or harm on other players.

With better equipment came more fearless players and more physical play.  Back when they first emerged, helmets were soft and used with the purpose of protecting the players head, not to be used as a weapon.  Bigger, stronger, faster players have become capable of delivering incredibly hard hits.  The result of this has been the discovery of CTE and the incredible number of concussions and head injuries suffered by players.  The crazy thing is that there was a time in the history of professional football that the game was so violent that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to end the sport in the country unless rules were implemented to bring about more humane play.  At all levels today, rules have changed, but from what I read, they are not resolving the problems they were designed to prevent.  Of course, Roosevelt was responding to players dying on the playing field, but I would argue that what is happening to players today is only slightly less serious when one takes into consideration that some ultimately end up taking their own lives or dying well before their time.

Participation numbers at the high school level have been on a downward trend for the past few years.  In some states there has been as much as a 10% drop in the past decade.  Participation in youth football has declined across the country.  In the past two years over 35 players under the age of 30 have retired from playing in the NFL, giving concern about head injuries and CTE as the reason.  From my perspective as a school leader, I do not blame parents or students at all if they choose not to play.  The risks are there, and each year despite the efforts of our coaches to teach safe technique, we have multiple players experience concussions.  So what can happen to make this sport more safe without doing too much to change the integrity of the game?  Is there anything that can be done?

Rule-makers at various levels are heeding the concerns and are making some changes.  For instance, at all levels new rules in recent years against targeting, or a defensive player leading with his head, have been put into place.  Referees have been diligent in making the calls in spite of some players, coaches, and fans disagreeing with some of the calls that are made.  The point is, the officials are cognizant of the potential harm that might come from these blows.  Some argue that it has changed the game and at times defensive players are being unfairly punished.  Along with these changes, the NFL is putting a couple of new rules in place this season, one being a change to kickoffs, where they report a large number of damaging hits take place, and another more specifically defining what leading with the head looks like, including from the perspective of an offensive player.  It will be interesting to see if these rule changes have the impact they expect.

While the rule changes may have an impact, there are changes to the game otherwise that have some traditionalists frustrated.  The game has become more wide-open with a lot more passing and reliance on speed over brute force and power.   For many, it is more exciting than watching teams run the ball between the tackles.  Regardless, the physical play still exits among linemen, banging heads each time the ball is snapped.  And, with the speed at which they are playing, collisions in the open field are still physical.  The vast majority of coaches are doing a good job of teaching technique for tackling and blocking that lessens the risk of head injuries, but the reality is that one cannot eliminate it.

I want the game to remain, and I want it to be safe.  My primary idea seems radical, and usually people instantly dismiss it when I share it.  What I propose is to take the helmets and shoulder pads off the players.  As soon as I say that I get one of three responses.  The first is, “Oh, you want to turn it into rugby."  The second one is usually along the line of “Then it wouldn’t be football.”  And the third is, “So you want them to play touch or flag football?”  No, I am suggesting that you keep the vast majority of the rules of the game in place, but players do not wear helmets or shoulder pads.  I wouldn’t’ be opposed to using some soft padding to protect a bruise, sprain, or contusion, but nothing that is hard that can be used as a weapon to injure an opposing player.  The helmet gives a sense of invincibility and some players simply believe that they will be protected.  They don’t give a thought to colliding with another player, or leading with their head.  Take the helmet off and it won’t take long before they change their ways.  They will not play with the reckless abandon risking a hard lick to their head.  The reality is that we as humans by our nature avoid situations that hurt!

Yes, the game will look different, and it may be even more wide-open than it is now.  I don’t think it will look like rugby, other than the players may be outfitted the same.  And even if it does, fans in many countries are as fanatical about their sport of rugby as we are with football.  The current game looks a lot different than it did back in the early 1900’s, and I am sure if we could bring back some of those old players they may not be fans of the way the game is played today.  But that said, I believe it is a way to save the game.  Let youth players go back to playing flag football where they learn the fundamentals.  Put more running into the game so that players are healthier and fit.  It can still be a tough, physical game, just safer.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Dangerous Apps Your Kids May Be Using

It has been a while since I have relied on Tim Elmore for one of my blog posts.  Elmore provides a great deal of advice on raising young people to parents and educators, and I strongly encourage you to subscribe to his blog Growing Leaders.  For this installment of my blog I am recommending that you take a little bit of time and read an article he recently posted about some apps that kids are using that most of us adults no little or nothing about.  And, like others that I have shared out on in previous blogs and in the high school newsletter, in the hands of teens these apps can present some real dangers.  I am not suggesting that we continue to wrap out kids in bubble wrap to protect them from the mean, nasty world out there, but I believe that the more we know about what our kids are doing, the better chance we can have open and informed conversation with our kids to help them make better choices.  

Five Dangerous Apps Parents Don’t Know Teens Use

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.