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.

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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Girls Can Do Math and Science

I recall the first episode of the revolutionary television program The Wonder Years that premiered after the 1988 Super Bowl.  Somewhere in a box stored away I have recordings of every episode on VHS tapes that I will most likely never watch.  It is probably my favorite television show because it took me back to my childhood, though I was a few years younger than the main character, Kevin Arnold.  There were many nights when I could picture myself in that show.  

Another character in the show that made a big impression on fans was Kevin’s girl friend, Winnie Cooper, played by Danica McKellar.  Many of the storylines took viewers through the joy,  pain, and awkwardness of young adolescent boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, as well as the culture classes that took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  For many of us that remember televisions shows from our youth (or younger adult years!), we sometimes have those moments wondering whatever happened to some of the stars in those shows we were dedicated to.  In the case of Danica McKellar, she continues to act periodically, but she has also become a renowned mathematician and advocate for math education, particularly for girls.  She has published a number of books about math that can be found on her website  She also recently wrote a story that appeared on about math education that I think you will find interesting and have included below: 

I Want Girls to Learn Math and Science — and Their Own Self-Worth — Despite Stereotypes

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I Hated The Election of 2016

When I started writing this blog I purposely decided to avoid talking politics.  There is enough of that conversation that invades our daily lives.  Yes, my political leanings come through in many of the articles I have written, but I have worked hard to temper them as much as possible and still make the point I wanted to make without offending and with the purpose of getting people to think and reflect.  Today’s article is going to take politics head on, and I am not going to temper my opinions and beliefs.  I think you can see that based on the fact that I have used a very strong word in the title, yet I hope that you will read what I have to say with an open mind.  

I bring this all up because of where we are at in our country over a year-and-a-half after the new President took office.  What took place in that election has only been magnified since, and I think it scary how horrible people are treating one another in our country.  The lack of civility in the election, both the primary and general ones, was disgusting.  At the time I often asked myself and others, “Is this who we have become?”  In the months since, it would appear that is so.

One of the definitions for civil is “courteous.”  Another is “public.”  Until 2016, political campaigns were for the most part civil.  Oh there were instances of some dirty tricks here and there, but in terms of the manner in which candidates addressed each other, it was almost always courteous and largely respectful.  I remember when Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Benson put Dan Quayle in his place with a sharply worded comment, but stated in a respectful manner.  We expected our leaders to be courteous in their public comments, and when one deviated from that, they were generally heavily criticized by colleagues, the public, and the media.  In this country there has been a strong sense of decorum, perhaps not quite to the extent of England, but people did not mind if you had a difference of opinion as long as you debate in a respectful manner.  However, that has changed and I find it reprehensible.  

For this lack of civility I point my finger right at the POTUS.  During the campaign prior to the Republican primary he made outlandish statements, calling a female opponent ugly and make untrue disparaging remarks about one’s father being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy.  He used belittling nicknames for opponents, such as Little Marco, Low-energy Jeb,  and Lyin’ Ted.  Incredibly, once he won the GOP nomination he took it up a number of notches, referring to Crooked Hillary and “Pocahontas" Elizabeth Warren in unbecoming terms.  Replaying video of him talking about grabbing females by their genitals and mocking individuals with handicaps are yet the tip of the iceberg of vulgar and volatile comments he made.  And, he has continued with his tweets and pronouncements.  He has called a football player that was expressing his 1st Amendment rights a “son of a bitch” and mocked individuals who have different opinions.  

Of great concern to me is that this has given license to others to do the same.  Sure, all of us have made denigrating or derogatory comments about people, generally in private or in the company of friends.  Some of the things I have heard close friends say about Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are certainly not appropriate to say in public, and I do not recall political leaders saying those things in a public forum.  But now we have public personalities doing that.  LeBron James has called the President a Bum.  Other people have tweeted that he is an “asshole.”  There is no filter, and that has trickled down in our day to day life.  People believe they can say whatever they want without repercussions, or if there are, then it’s almost like they come out swinging!

The 1st Amendment is perhaps the most understood part of our Constitution.  Our freedom of speech is not an all out say-whatever-is-on-your-mind-whenever-you-want-to-say-it guarantee!  I have made this statement a number of times over my career: With freedom comes responsibility!  I try to impress that on students when we have conversations about the newfound freedom many of them have in high school.  Teenagers love to argue!  Every parent knows that, and the smartest among us know that the adult never wins that argument!  That said, when it comes to issues where people are speaking their mind or saying what needs to be said, there is a responsibility.  There are laws that govern speech, and actions like libel and slander prevent people from going off and saying whatever they want regardless of what harm it might cause.  But without reaching those levels of responsibility, there is something called civility and respect.  When our nation’s leaders fire obscene and vile comments at others, it is natural that Joe Public is going to do the same.  

I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between this “new” practice of spewing hateful or disgusting things and high school students becoming more emboldened with what they say.  Teenagers have always pushed the boundaries.  That said, when they hear or read what is being said by adults who are public figures with seemingly little consequence, I cannot help but believe it leads them to do the same.  What we have found is that when confronted, more often than not the teenager sees nothing wrong with what they said.  A classic example was when I confronted a girl about making a derogatory comment about another girl that begins with the letter b.  Her response was “Well, she is and I’m not sorry I said it!  If you knew her, that’s what you would call her too!”  Unfortunately it has become acceptable  in common public conversation to refer to people in such a derogatory manner.  Thank you Mr. POTUS!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Social Media Addiction: What You Need to Know

One of my primary interests and concerns right now is social media and the sometimes devastating effects it is having on young people.  I have spoken and written about it, and will continue to do so when given opportunity.  When parents on average spend less than an hour a day with their adolescent kids, while the kids are spending an average of over two-hours a day on their smart phones, I believe there is a major disconnect.  Here’s an article from the website that you may find interesting.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Grit: A Few Thoughts From Angela Duckworth — Part I

When I first discovered Angela Duckworth a number of years ago, I sought out as much as I could find to read about her theories on the concept of “grit.”  The first thing I got my hands on was information from some of her research into what made people successful.  She referred to that “what” as grit.  I grabbed on to any paper, article or interview I could find written by or about Duckworth and grit.  From what I have read and learned from her I believe there is far more than can be covered in one article on this blog.  Therefore, this is the first of three articles in which I attempt to share what I believe is very important information regarding what makes human beings successful.

First off, before I dig into Duckworth’s research, I want to try and explain why I am so intrigued by her work.  As a coach and former athlete I have always been very interested in what motivates people.  The mental aspect of sport has always been more interesting to me than the physical, so it is natural that I would be drawn to her work.  But there is another reason: the actual word — grit.  That word has been used in my family for years, primarily by my maternal grandfather and my mom.  I could not begin to count how many times they referred to a person as having grit.  Most often they were referring to someone that was tough, one that stuck to it and got the job done no matter what.  I remember times when my mom would tell me that I needed to have some grit at various times when I was competing in one sport or another!  At the time my understanding was that people with grit stuck to it and got the job done, no matter what.  And for the most part, that is what Duckworth has determined separates the truly successful people from others.

The title of Duckworth’s incredible book actually defines grit, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.  That definition has been now modified as perseverance and passion for long-term goals.  One only has to read a few pages of her book to get a clear picture of what grit is and why she became so passionate in her work to better understand why some people exceed at high levels and others do not.  It all started as she was a psychology graduate student looking at why some of the cadets at West Point washed out early on, and others persevered and succeeded.  What she determined is insightful.

I will try to be brief so that this article actually comes to an end(!) and the point is made, but you need to know a few things about West Point.  The United States Military Academy in New York is where our nation’s leaders are developed.  This list of West Point graduates is extensive in terms of leaders of our nation, business and industry, and other aspects of American life.  Only the very best and brightest young men and women are selected to attend in one of the most rigid application and screening processes that exists in colleges of higher education.  It is generally a two-year process, and once a new class of cadets is selected, one has a group of extremely talented, smart, and physically gifted individuals.  There is no question that on paper, after going through all of the assessments, interviews, surveys, and tests, each new plebe is an outstanding person that should easily succeed.  Folks, these kids are the best that America has to offer!

But, they do not all make it.  In fact, 20% wash out in the first two months of school at West Point.  The Army was concerned about those that did not finish and wanted to be able to identify why some made it and others did not.  For years the Army was using a measure called the Whole Candidate Score to try and predict which high school students had the potential to succeed.  It included a weighted average of SAT and ACT exam scores, high school rank adjusted for the number of students in the applicant’s graduating class, expert appraisals of leadership potential, and performance on objective measures of physical fitness.  Yet even with this scoring system they could not accurately predict who would stick it out and go on to be commissioned officers and who would go home before the end of their freshman year.  The Army was determined to figure out how to improve their tool so as to eliminate the “wash outs.”

In the plebe’s first summer, they encounter their first challenge, commonly called the Beast.  This is a seven-week intensive training that starts at 5:00 in the morning and takes the young men and women through a structured and grueling 17-hour day described in the West Point handbook as “the most physically and emotionally demanding part of your four years at West Point . . . designed to help you make the transition from new cadet to soldier.  It is because of the Beast that 1 in 5 new cadets quits.  And, the Army was stymied as to why.  So Duckworth and Mike Matthews, a military psychologist dug in to find out what the reason was that some made it and other’s didn’t, and was there a way to predict who those individuals would be.  

There is a lot more to this story, and I strongly encourage you to read Grit.  However, to wrap this up, through their work and analysis, they found that those who dropped out rarely did so because of their ability or their talent.  There was no trend that they could find in terms of where individuals stood on the Whole Candidate Score.  Some of the highest rated new cadets dropped out, while some of the lowest ones made it.  What Matthews surmised as they looked closer at the data is that those who made it had a “never give up” attitude.  They were driven to make it through every obstacle and had a passion to work hard and succeed.

Duckworth took this experience and also worked with people in a variety of fields, looking to explain why certain people made it to the top and others did not, and she found similar attributes.  The impression that many people held is that those at the top of the field were talented people who had some luck.  But she looked at something else because there are highly talented people that do not make it.  When she really started sorting through things she determined those who made it to the top and were highly successful had a ferocious determination to succeed, were resilient and hardworking, and they knew exactly what they wanted.  They had determination and direction.  They had grit.

Friday, January 12, 2018

When We Need to Quit Dreaming and Wake Up to Reality!

A while back I had a conversation with a student and parent and was criticized afterward for a statement that I made.  I guess I was too blunt.  However, I made a personal promise to myself a number of years ago that I was not simply going to say what people wanted to hear when it came to their child.  I think that is very dishonest and it does not do anything to move the child forward.  There comes a time when it is necessary to face reality and the truth, regardless of how harsh or brutal it may be.  It is great to have dreams, but there comes a time when you have to wake up!  

I am going to change the details of this meeting to protect the identify of the student and the family.  However, before I move on to the story, I want to make it clear that I am a goal-oriented person and I still have dreams.  In fact, I dare say that anyone that has experienced success in their life has set goals and worked to achieve them, and many times these goals are based on a dream that someone has.  There is no doubt that the great dreamers have made a positive impact on our world, and frankly, without them I have a belief that our lives would not be so rich.  That said, I do not want anyone to say that I don’t buy into people having dreams, nor do I want it said that I am a dream crusher because I do truly believe that if there is something that a person wants out of life they should go for it!

Back to the story.  It is not uncommon when a meeting is held with a student and her parents to talk about goals and what they want to do when they graduate from high school.  At the current time there is almost an obsession with making sure that teenagers can define what their career choice is as soon as possible so that they have direction in life (though that’s a topic of another article).  Depending on the type of meeting that is being held, this is often part of a goal setting process, or in other instances, a stepping off point to have a conversation about performance in a particular class.  In this particular meeting, the question that was posed was one asked all of the time: what do you want to do when you graduate from high school?  The student’s response came quickly . . . I want to play on the U.S Olympic Volleyball team.

This was not the first time I heard this from the student, nor was it the first time the other adults in the room heard it.  In fact, I anticipated that it would be stated.  It is fine for a 15-year old to dream, in fact, they should!  However, when we are talking about how to prepare for life beyond high school, at some point people need to look through a realistic lens.  In this particular situation, the student had some struggles in school, but some of that was due to not being focused on learning.  The reality for our students is that in a couple of years they are going to be done with high school, and then what?  How are you going be prepared for that next step?  How are you going to fulfill your dream?

Another thing that I knew going into this meeting was that the parent was 100% supportive of their child’s dream.  That’s a good thing too, and parental support is very important in terms of kids getting to where they want to get in life.  Yes, there are those instances when a child had a dream that goes against what a parent wants, and perhaps so that can say “I told you so,” go on to great success on their chosen path.  However, common sense would say that if a parent supports their child in their pursuit of their dream, that chance of meeting it will increase.  Yet in my opinion it is important that the parent also has their feet grounded in reality and recognize whether or not their child has done what it takes to position themselves to reach their goals in life.  None of this stroking their self-esteem because the priority is that their child is happy all of the time!

At the meeting when it came time to talk about what the student wanted to do after high school for a career, she said what I expected her to say, “I want to play on the U.S. Olympic Volleyball team.”  Mom patted her on the hand and gave her one of those motherly looks that sends the message, “Whatever you want, honey.”  This is where I came in.  I looked the young lady directly in the eyes and said, “Jillian, you are not going to make the Olympic volleyball team.  That is a dream that is not going to be fulfilled.  Less than ten Division 1 volleyball players are even invited to tryout for Team USA each year.  One, maybe two of them make the team.  From there, they go to training camp and the team is whittled down even further.  Each year in the state of Iowa perhaps ten high school seniors get a scholarship to play on a Division 1 volleyball team.  Each of those teams carry about 15 players.  a third of those players never see the court or get to play meaningful minutes.  At the current time you are a junior in high school.  You are not on the volleyball team this season.  You did not play on our team last year.  You quit the team midway through your freshman year.  You are not going to play on the U.S. Olympic volleyball team.”

I went on to say, “You need to put that out of your mind because it is preventing you from looking at things that you can do with your life.  I understand that the vast majority of kids your age have no clue what they are going to do with their life, but you are putting a self-imposed obstacle in front of your options because you are misleading yourself into believing you are going to be a world class volleyball player.  To look at it another way, we are here to help you achieve your goals and help your dreams come true.  How can we help you with this volleyball dream if you aren’t even going to play volleyball on our high school team?”

There was more to the conversation, but this is the jest of it.  This may be one of the more extreme examples I have confronted.  This is a lot different from the kids growing up playing basketball in the driveway dreaming of shooting a three pointer in the NBA for the Lakers.  We need to have those dreams!  Even high school kids that dream of playing football on Saturday afternoon need to have those dreams to get them through those mind-numbing practices in mid-October.  Dreaming is important, but what are you doing to make your dreams come true?  If you are just sitting their waiting for something to happen, it’s not going to!  A dream should inspire action.  For that young girl that dreams of being a star in the movies, she had better be doing everything possible to develop her skills and talent.  If she is just going about life waiting for some “star-maker” to tap her on the shoulder and bless her with fame and fortune, that’s not going to happen.

Why do I bring this topic up?  There are two reasons.  First, most people have a dream or two about what they want out of life, and in my opinion, that it good.  If it is going to come true, the burden is on the dreamer to make it happen, to take charge of their life and do everything in their power to make it a reality.  If a person is not willing to commit to living their dream, then they are basically wasting their time, and perhaps the time and efforts of others.  They are spinning their wheels going no where, and rather than seeing their dream come true, before they know it, their life is a fantasy with no real direction or purpose.  By the time a young person is preparing to take that step into the “real world” beyond high school, they had better have at least one foot in reality.   

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What Is Really Important?

“We need to care less about whether our children are academically gifted and more about whether they sit with the lonely kid in the cafeteria.”

What do you think of this quote?  I ran across this on a sign somewhere and stopped to write it down because as I was really taken by it.  It forced me to stop and think about what is really important in life, and what sustains our civilization.  I agree with this quote 100%, and yet I work in an environment where I am not sure that most of the kids come into this school with this general belief.  In fact, I know that this isn’t true because we do have kids sitting by themselves at lunch, and we do have students who also walk through the doors driven for academic success.

While I believe this quote and recognize that I can impact our student’s behavior, my mind has wandered to what it implies and how that is manifested today.  For example, we do have some parents obsessed with the academic success of their kids.  Straight-A’s is the minimum expectation, and while the student may be involved in some activities and have some friendships, there is a focus on “resume padding” efforts that are in reality little more than membership in a group or token efforts to provide service in order that one can place the “experience” on their resume, and applications for scholarships and college.  While many of these students really are good kids, there is often more of a carefully crafted image than substance.  But, aren’t these straight-A kids the smart kids?  Well, in traditional grading systems knowing how the “play the system” is often a stronger influence on the grade than being smart.  That said, I can also think of a number of students today and in the past that were top scholastic performers who were also very friendly and supportive to other students regardless of who they were.  So, I am not painting this all with the same broad brush, but I think it is important to recognize we have the problem.

Notice that at the beginning of the previous paragraph the term “ academic success” was used, not learning.  To be honest, many of the brightest kids, those that have learned a great deal, are at a tier below the top.  The success obsessed parents and students often disregard the importance of learning.  They figure out how to rely on a variety of factors to get the A, but do not challenge themselves, or stretch themselves to learn at more depth or at a higher level.  These grade-chasers look at good grades as tokens that will be converted to front-page pictures, scholarships, and awards during the senior year.  And for many, this is at the cost of learning as much as they could, and actually being a more well-rounded person.  Those kids that really want to learn tend to take more risks, and if they do not get a perfect score, they are willing to accept that.  They have internalized that what they have learned will take them further than the letter put on the top of a paper. 

It isn’t only academic success that some parents are obsessed with.  We also have some obsessed with athletic success.  Chasing the almighty college scholarship is more of a status thing for parents than it is a reality for the students.  The athletic obsessed parent often lives vicariously through their child and look forward to the opportunities to tell tales about the mail their child is receiving or the phone calls they get from coaches.  In our sports obsessed nation some of us believe that if we have a child that is being recruited to play sports at the college level, that makes us a little more special because that child carries our DNA!  Dads in particular talk about the full-ride scholarship offers, almost always stretching the truth because in reality less than 0.01% of high school seniors receive a full-ride athletic scholarship!  When it comes to high school, being the jock and recognized for athletic success is the top priority, and along with it comes a strong sense of entitlement.

This brings me back to the second part of the quote, many of us love to talk about our kids, and there is nothing wrong with being proud of their accomplishments.  I am very proud of both of my kids!  Yet how many of us have truly encouraged our kids to be a champion of those that aren’t given a fair shake?  Those that need a hand up, or are outliers for whatever reason?  Is it possible that we can expect our kids to give their best effort in whatever they pursue, stretch themselves and achieve at a high level, and at the same time reach out to those that are less fortunate?  Every day at lunch I walk through the cafeteria and see kids sitting by themselves.  How lonely is that?  A few have the courage to go sit at a table with a few other kids, but are just as isolated because they are totally ignored.  We have these kids at NFVHS, and yet other students all too easily walk right past them because they are focused on things other than the well-being of others.

How many of you spend time talking to your kids about being a nice person or doing something good for someone else each day?  Have you ever talked to your daughter about going out of her way to talk to a peer that seems to be all alone?  What about talking to your son about finding that young man that sits by himself at lunch and sitting with him?  How about instead of hanging with your buddies, who are going to be there anyway, reach out to the new kid that doesn’t know anyone?  How we treat one another is a true measure of our society and our humanity.  Quite honestly I have a lot more respect for our students that are good kids than I do those that achieve some high level of success.  They are going to have a much greater impact on our society than those that are obsessed with  high academic success, or having their pictures in the paper.  And, they will be a lot more important to that lonely kid sitting by herself at lunch.