Heart of the Matter

Andy Chan's Blog for Parents, Mentors and Teachers

Tips for Parents

Young Alumni Get LinkedIn

Earlier this week, OPCD Career Counselor Lauren Beam met with twenty young Wake Forest alums to discuss the importance of LinkedIn and networking. Here are some key takeaways from Lauren’s presentation that I think are beneficial for professionals of every age:

  • Over 70% of jobs are secured because of networking/connections, not through job postings or advertisements.  So don’t focus all your time applying to online job postings.
  • 89% of recruiters say they are checking LinkedIn during the hiring process, which makes having a positive online presence (especially LinkedIn!) an essential step of your job search.
  • LinkedIn is a useful tool for young alums to:
    • Search and apply for jobs (Many companies now pay to post jobs via LinkedIn).
    • Join groups (College alumni-related, location-specific, industry-specific) to find potential contacts.  These groups also post many sector- or affinity-specific opportunities.
    • Research organizations of interest.  You can learn a lot about the people who work there and find potential connections.
    • Create a strong online personal brand.
  • LinkedIn and networking isn’t about asking for a job – it’s about connecting with and learning from people who work at jobs or companies that are of interest to you.  The point is to put yourself out there as someone who is actively seeking career information and advice, and who is professional in their interactions with others. It’s not about expecting your contacts to hand you a job.

Use LinkedIn to supplement your other networking opportunities, to stay in touch and follow-up with key contacts, and to take advantage of the affinity you share with other Wake Forest alumni. The WF family is Pro Humanitate – of service to one another!

Confidence Counts

Last week, students, faculty and staff had the opportunity to hear General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt speak at Wake Forest University. As part of the Broyhill Executive Lecture Series, Jeff’s discussion on “Developing Global Leaders for a Global Economy” was a highly anticipated event on our campus. Over two hundred and fifty members of the Wake Forest community attended to hear Jeff speak on the state of the economy and his words of wisdom for future grads.

It was refreshing to hear Jeff’s positive advice to students regarding jobs and the economy in contrast to the doom and gloom most people are embracing. Rather than fixating on the perils of the current economy, Jeff spoke about GE’s commitment to hiring graduates, citing that Wake Forest students in particular “bring raw horsepower and a unique perspective to their work.”

As the Chairman of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, Jeff believes that the first step is re-building confidence in the United States and the economy. As I skim the daily news, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Immelt. It’s hard to look past all the articles that cite the 9.1% unemployment rate, the mounting debt, and the bi-partisan conflict that has stalled our ability to implement solutions that will create more jobs. So how do we begin to re-build confidence amidst all the bad news?

As parents, it’s our natural inclination to worry about our children, but we need to be thoughtful in how we communicate any negative feelings to them that we may have about the job economy. Many students I speak with today have already psychologically given up before they have even started the process. They have psyched themselves out by believing that the job market is so bad that they shouldn’t even try. In reality, there are hundreds of new jobs posted in our DeaconSource system each week in addition to many more that could be secured through networking. Last year, almost 90% of Wake Forest graduates were employed or in graduate school within six months after graduation – in a very difficult job market. Sure, the job search process will take time and won’t be easy – but who ever said that getting something worthwhile is easy?

According to Mr. Immelt, to be successful, our students must be confident in themselves. They must be comfortable with change and uncertainty. They must be competitors and have a huge desire to be winners. As Mr. Immelt said to our students, “Your mom and dad can afford to be afraid. You can’t.”

Talk to your student in a manner that builds their confidence. Tell them that you believe in them and that anything is possible with persistence and effort. The once piece of advice I’d like to offer is to make sure that they are asking for help and guidance from people who can really help them.

In order to succeed in this crazy 21st century job market, they’ll need you to be their biggest fan – motivating them even when things look bleak. The world isn’t going to make it easy for them. But they’ll have a better journey and more likelihood of success if they are bolstered by your confidence in them.

Motivating first year students

A reader recently asked me for suggestions on how to motivate her first year student to begin the career process.  Here is some guidance from our career counselors:

Most first-year students use the fall semester as a time to adjust to “real” college life, which includes the load and stress of classwork, studying and research, and the freedom to make choices in how they spend their time. It is normal for a freshman to not have considered the resources that Career Services can offer. We see interest in our services pick up during the sophomore fall and spring semesters, especially since major declaration is required in February.

However, it would be advantageous to meet with a career counselor this semester to begin the exploration process in a proactive, informed manner.  She will also be less likely to miss out on potential opportunities and experiences.

Another option is to talk to your daughter about pursuing some type of career exploration experience during this semester or the summer (e.g. shadowing a person/alumnus in a field of interest or obtaining a summer job/volunteer experience/internship) – in exchange for receiving something else of value.  Bribery does sometime work!  Once your daughter has this experience, her interest in career-related “stuff” will likely be piqued.

Also, ask your daughter to register for a career development course for first year and sophomore students scheduled to begin in fall 2012.   She will receive credit for taking the course so she will likely take it seriously and make progress on her journey from college to career.

What Senior Parents Need to Know at Winter Break

Your Senior student is likely one semester away from graduating – an extremely exciting accomplishment. This Winter break will be an opportune time for you and your student to discuss together your Senior’s postgraduate options.

At this point during senior year, many students are quite anxious.  With students dressed in business attire for interviews, some students worry when they are not participating in interviews or if they have not received a job offer.  The reality is that historically less than 20% of the student body has a job offer at this time.

In addition, many seniors are considering graduate school and won’t know about their options until later in the spring.  Since 30-40% of Wake Forest students attend graduate school each year, these students, too, are anxious about their uncertain future.

The good news is that the majority of employers and jobs that are available and filled each year come to the market just months before the start date.  So if a student is looking to start work in September, formal interviews for these jobs may not begin until June.  But this doesn’t mean that your student should wait until then to begin the job search process.

Whether your Senior is headed for postgraduate study, a full-time job, an internship within his or her field of interest, a “gap year,” work abroad, or volunteer work, here are some helpful suggestions for how they can take advantage of Winter Break:

  • Rest and reenergize that positive and confident attitude.  This demeanor will go a long way toward impressing all networking contacts and employers.
  • Network! Networking is the most powerful method to secure an internship.  Support your student in his/her networking attempts.  Introduce your student to some friends and family members that will share information about different types of organizations, careers and jobs.  Coach your student on how to conduct an informational interview. During the fall semester, students were offered programming on the most popular on-line networking site, LinkedIn.  Ask your student about their LinkedIn account; “How does it work?”,  “Is there a Wake Forest alumni group?”,  “What makes LinkedIn different from Facebook?”.  Check out the helpful video tutorials to get the most out of this tool.
  • Check out helpful on-line job search and alternative selection websites.  Over 63% of all Seniors are registered on DeaconSource, the only Wake Forest specific internship and job posting site.  As a result of our outreach to parents, alumni and employers this fall, the list of employers requesting Wake Forest graduates has increased considerably, thus growing the number and the quality of job postings within DeaconSource.  If your Senior has not activated their DeaconSource account they can email Laurie Cronin anytime over the break to have their account activated if they agree to attend a DeaconSource Registration meeting prior to February 11, 2010.
  • Winter break is a great time to do some stress-free research.  Your student should log-on to Vault to read about how employers describe their industry and career functions.  If your Senior is considering graduate school, take a look at www.petersons.com to explore and compare any graduate school programs in the United States.  Have your student check out our website for additional job leads, networking, career exploration, and interview preparation sites.  Also, check out the Document Library in DeaconSource under the Document tab for information on a variety of industries, bridge jobs and popular cities.
  • Students should closely review their resume to make sure it is clearly targeted to their pursuit.  Employers are impressed when an applicant clearly communicates their enthusiastic interest and value on their resume and in their cover letter.  Your student can get a constructive resume/cover letter/graduate school essay and application critique from a Career Counselor.  We offer daily resume walk-in hours every day from 1-3 pm and a bonus session each Friday from 10 am – noon.  To consider any of the other selections mentioned above, make an appointment to meet with a Career Counselor.
  • Finally, the interview is the ultimate test of how well a student can express personal value to a potential employer, admissions professional, or other decision maker.  Over the break, your student can use Interview Stream to practice and strengthen their interview skills.  Back on campus, your student can put their skills to the test by making an appointment for a mock interview with a Career Counselor. Interviews are extremely competitive and challenging for even the most confident candidate.  Preparation and practice are the keys to calming nerves and turning the interview into a valuable exchange of information that will benefit both the employer and the candidate.
  • Upon returning to campus, your Senior will benefit from a one-on-one appointment with a Career Counselor where ideas and plans can be shared, evaluated and further developed.  Our counselors have access to many tools, such as the Strong Interest Inventory and the Strengths Quest assessments, which students can take online to help identify their interests, strengths, possible career options and prepare for interviews.

Reassure your Senior that they do not have to “have it all figured out” with regard to their postgraduate plans.  They are not alone.  Our counselors have advised and assisted thousands of Wake Forest Seniors with all different majors, backgrounds, interests and plans and they have the experience and the tools to work effectively with your Senior, too.

Encourage and support your student over this Winter break to move forward with their postgraduate research, networking and planning. We find that students have (or make) little time for this important activity while on campus.  The Winter Break is a great time to make significant progress.

What Junior Parents Need to Know at Winter Break

Winter break is the perfect time for juniors to get a jump on the internship search.  The summer internship recruiting season formally begins in January and on-campus interviews will start in February.  While your student is home for winter break inspire them to spend some time doing the following:

  • Rest and reenergize that positive and confident attitude.  This demeanor will go a long way toward impressing all networking contacts and employers.
  • Network! Networking is the most powerful method to secure an internship.  Support your student in his/her networking attempts.  Introduce your student to some friends and family members that will share information about different types of organizations, careers and jobs.  Coach your student on how to conduct an informational interview. During the fall semester, students were offered programming on the most popular on-line networking site, LinkedIn.  Ask your student about their LinkedIn account; “How does it work?”, “Is there a Wake Forest alumni group?”, “What makes LinkedIn different from Facebook?”.  Watch the helpful video tutorials to get the most out of this tool.
  • Check out helpful on-line internship search websites. Over 47% of all Juniors are registered on DeaconSource, the only Wake Forest-specific internship and job posting site.  As a result of our outreach to parents, alumni and employers this fall, the list of employers requesting Wake Forest interns has increased considerably, thus growing the number and quality of internship postings within DeaconSource.  Students should also look at internship databases like internships.com and UCAN.  Your student’s DeaconSource account must be activated to view internships and to access UCAN and Interview Stream.  They can email Laurie Cronin anytime over the break to have their account activated if they agree to attend a DeaconSource Registration meeting prior to February 11, 2010.
  • Winter break is a great time to do some stress-free research. Your student should log-on to Vault to read about how employers describe their industry and career functions. Students should closely review their resume to make sure it is clearly targeted to the internships they are seeking.  It is very impressive to an employer when an applicant clearly communicates their enthusiastic interest and value on their resume and in their cover letter. Your student can get a constructive resume/cover letter critique from a Career Counselor.  We offer resume walk-in hours every day from 1-3 pm and a bonus session on Friday from 10 am-noon.
  • Finally, there is the ultimate test of how well a student can express personal value to the potential employer – the interview.  Over the break, your student can use Interview Stream to practice and strengthen their interview skill.  Later, they can put their skill to the test by making an appointment for a mock interview with a Career Counselor.  Interviews are extremely competitive and challenging for even the most confident candidate.  Preparation and practice is the key to calming the nerves and turning the interview into a valuable exchange of information that will benefit both the employer and the candidate.
  • Upon returning to campus, your student will benefit from a one-on-one appointment with a Career Counselor where ideas and plans can be shared, evaluated and developed.  Our counselors have access to many tools, such as the Focus2 assessment, which students can take independently online in brief 15 minute modules to identify career options that align with their interests, values, skills and personality.  Reassure your student that he or she does not need to “have it all figured out.”  Most students do not.  Our counselors have advised and assisted thousands of Wake Forest students with all different majors, backgrounds, interests and plans and they look forward to working with your student, too.

Encourage your student to use this Winter Break to jump-start the internship search process.  We find that students have (or make) little time for this important activity while on campus.  Winter Break is a great time to make significant progress.

What Sophomore Parents Need to Know at Winter Break

Sophomores will likely be deciding on their major during the upcoming spring semester.  I hope that discussions with parents, professors, academic advisors and career counselors, coupled with exposure to divisionals have already helped to narrow down the options.  If you’d like to support your sophomore as he or she makes this important academic and life decision, take some time over the winter break to consider a few ideas together.

Major Choice

Many students are inclined toward the majors they believe will create the greatest volume of job opportunities when, in fact, Wake Forest has a national reputation as a liberal arts college and the majority of our recruiters are looking to hire our students with any major.  So when your student elects to major in English over Education, Economics over Business, or Theatre over Biology, you might respond by simply listening and posing a few open-ended questions:

  • “I don’t know a lot about that major, tell me about it.”
  • “What do you think you will like/dislike about it?”
  • “How can you gather more information about this major?”
  • “How might you gather more information about the types of jobs and careers that result from pursuing this major?”
  • “I heard that the career office has an online self-assessment, Focus 2, that can help you confirm majors that fit you best given your interests, values, skills and personality.  You might like to check it out.”

Internship Search

Sophomores can feel anxious about having to decide their major and also having to think about and work on their summer internship plans.  Though summer is an optimal time for an internship, there are also plenty of spring internship opportunities near Wake Forest. If your student is interested, have them stop by the career office or log-on to DeaconSource to learn about some of these opportunities.

“What is the value of an internship?” College begins that time when your student should start to connect with the working world.  An internship gives students the chance to experiment with different job functions and skills and experience each function firsthand.  Support your student as they try something new.  Strongly encourage them not to return to their old high school job or to a job that does not help them learn about new environments, new skills or new relationships (e.g. life guard, sports team coach, camp counselor).  If they must, encourage them to also volunteer, do short-term projects or job shadow in another field.

There are many employers who actually consider hiring their entry-level employees directly from their internship pool. The earlier your student begins to stretch beyond their comfort zone, the stronger their foundation of knowledge will be – about themselves and about the working world. As they discover their interests and passions and how those interests and passions fit into the world of work they open doors to opportunities they never dreamed possible.  People learn best through experience, so encourage and facilitate new and varying experiences to enable your student to grow and learn.

Connect with Adult Friends

Over the winter break introduce your student to some friends and family members who will share information about different types of organizations, careers and jobs.  Coach your student on how to conduct an informational interview and allow them to develop their personal information gathering style with familiar and friendly adults.

Use the Career Office

Upon returning to campus, your student will benefit from a one-on-one appointment with a Career Counselor where ideas and plans can be shared, evaluated and developed.  Our counselors have access to many tools, such as the Focus2 assessment, which students can take online in brief 15 minute modules to identify career options that align with their interests, values, skills and personality.  Reassure your student that he or she does not need to “have it all figured out” when it comes to their career path. Most students do not.  Our counselors have advised and assisted thousands of Wake Forest students with all different majors, backgrounds, interests and plans and they look forward to working with your student, too.

If they haven’t already done so, students should attend a DeaconSource Registration meeting to activate their DeaconSource account.  DeaconSource is the only Wake Forest-specific internship and job posting site and keeps students informed about internship and job opportunities and educational events.  Over 51% of all sophomores are already registered.

All of these ideas and interactions will enable your student to make a confident selection of first, a college major and second, an internship opportunity.

What First Year Parents Need to Know at Winter Break

Many first year students are trying to decide on a college major.  They might also be wrestling with their summer plans.  As your student goes through this process of making these important academic and life decisions, your primary role will be to listen, motivate and encourage.

Major Choice

Many students are inclined toward the majors they believe will create the greatest volume of job opportunities when, in fact, Wake Forest has a national reputation as a liberal arts college and the majority of our recruiters are looking to hire our students with any major.  So when your student elects to major in English over Education, Economics over Business, or Theatre over Biology, you might respond by simply listening and posing a few open-ended questions.

  • “I don’t know a lot about that major, tell me about it.”
  • “What do you think you will like/dislike about it?”
  • “How can you gather more information about this major?”
  • “How might you gather more information about the types of jobs and careers that result from pursuing this major?”
  • “I heard that the career office has an online self-assessment, Focus 2, that can help you confirm majors that fit you best given your interests, values, skills and personality.  You might like to check it out.”

Summer Internship Search

What about summer plans?  College begins that time when your student should start to connect with the working world.  The summer is the optimal time to experiment with different job functions and skills and experience each function firsthand.  Support your student as they try something new.  If they must return to their old high school job, encourage them additionally to volunteer, do short-term projects or job shadow in another field.

Plant the seed for a thought toward the future.  The earlier your student begins to stretch beyond their comfort zone, the stronger their foundation of knowledge will be – about themselves and about the working world.  As they discover their interests and passions and how those interests and passions fit into the world of work they may open doors to new opportunities they never dreamed possible.  People learn best through experience, so encourage and facilitate new and varying experiences to enable your student to grow and learn.

Connect with Adult Friends

Over the winter break introduce your student to some friends and family members who will share information about different types of organizations, careers and jobs.  Coach your student on how to conduct an informational interview and allow them to begin to develop their personal information gathering style with familiar and friendly adults.

Use the Career Office

Upon returning to campus, your student will benefit from a one-on-one appointment with a Career Counselor where ideas and plans can be shared, evaluated and developed.  Our counselors have access to many tools, such as the Focus2 assessment, which students can take online in brief 15 minute modules to identify career options that align with their interests, values, skills and personality.  Reassure your student that he or she does not need to “have it all figured out.”  Most students do not.  Our counselors have advised and assisted thousands of Wake Forest students with all different majors, backgrounds, interests and plans and they look forward to working with your student, too.

If they haven’t already done so, students should attend a DeaconSource Registration meeting to activate their DeaconSource account.  DeaconSource is the only Wake Forest-specific internship and job posting site and keeps students informed about internship and job opportunities and educational events.  Over 37% of all first year students are already registered.

All of these interactions will enable your student to begin developing a confident selection of first, a summer work experience, and second, a college major.



Father’s Day

I have 3 awesome kids: Alex (16), Natalie (12 on July 5) and Angela (8).  I love them so much – words aren’t enough to describe the depth of my love for them.

I received a Father’s Day card from them today with a message worth sharing…

“What does it take to be a Dad?

Patience, Kindness, a Sense of Humor, Courage, Values, an Open Mind, Devotion, Hard Work, Loyalty…

and a Great Big Heart!

You’ve got it all, Dad.

Happy Father’s Day!”

I am humbled and thankful that my kids feel this way about me.  And I find myself wondering, How did I develop these traits?  And how will these traits be developed in my children?  I hope that my modeling positive behavior with them and with my beloved wife, Jessie, will be positive influences.  But I wonder if there’s more I can do.

Discussion question: How are you guiding your children to become great adults and parents?  What have you seen actually work?

Parents as Mentors

Allison McWilliams, Ph.D. and Wake Forest alumnae, is our director of the new Mentoring Resource Center at Wake Forest University.  She wrote the following to guide parents to effectively mentor their children, advice we are frequently asked for by parents of college students and recent graduates.

Can a parent mentor his own child? Absolutely, yes! In fact parents, often without realizing it, serve as informal mentors to their children throughout their lives, due to sheer proximity as role models; children watch their parents to see how they make decisions, how they deal with pressure and positive and negative feedback, as well as listening to their advice and guidance. However, should a parent take the extra step to more formally mentor his own child? It depends. This type of a relationship can be enormously rewarding, both for the student and for the parent. But it is a relationship that requires dedicated time and energy. Mentors, whether they are parents, community members, peers, or others, purposefully model certain skills, including:

  • Asking thoughtful and thought-provoking questions
  • Actively listening
  • Behaving as a role model
  • Providing objective feedback and guidance

If you are a parent who wants to serve in a more formal capacity as a mentor to your child, you should first ask if you are best equipped to fulfill this role. Is your relationship with your child one that will allow you to actively listen, to ask thought-provoking questions, and to provide objective feedback, without trying to “fix” the situation for your child, or to push him in the direction you want him to go (as opposed to helping him get to where he wants to go)? If the answer is perhaps not, then sometimes the best thing that a parent can do is to seek out another person to mentor the student. If the answer is Yes, then as with any mentoring relationship, there are some basic guiding principles:

1.      Set up regular one-on-one meetings that are dedicated to the relationship. Clearly, at this point you will need to get agreement from the student that he desires to take part in this process as well. Don’t force it.
2.      Set goals and a timeline for the relationship. How often will you meet? When will the formal relationship end?
3.      Facilitate a mentoring conversation during the meetings. A mentoring conversation is based on the principles of experiential learning:

  • What is the current situation? (Where is the student now?)
  • What is the desired state/goal? (Where would the student like to be in the future?)
  • What is the action plan to achieve the desired state/goal?
  • What happened? Why? What is the new current situation?

4.      Periodically evaluate the relationship. At the end of each meeting it is good to do a short “debrief”: What was discussed? What are the goals for the next meeting? Were the goals for this meeting accomplished? This provides both immediate feedback as well as clarity on next steps. Additionally, it is useful to take a step back every few months and evaluate whether and how the relationship is working.
5.      Bring closure to the relationship. Obviously, a parent is not going to “bring closure” to his relationship with his child. But there should be an identified end point to the formal mentoring relationship, whether it is six months, a year, two years, once the student graduates from college, etc.  Use this opportunity to celebrate what you have accomplished together, and allow the relationship to move into a more informal phase.

Some possible conversation starters:

  • Discuss the student’s favorite class, clubs and/or projects
  • Have the student write her “headline”: In 10 years from now, what will be said about her?
  • Work on a list of dream careers, and then find people in those fields to talk to about what their jobs are, how they got there and words of perspective or advice
  • Find a book to read together and discuss
  • Use examples from current events to talk about professionalism, leadership, ethics, character, values, decision-making

Some Mentoring Resources:
Ann Rolfe is an Australian who runs her own consulting business, and has an excellent website of resources. Some of it you have to pay for, but a good bit of it is free and worth checking out:
http://mentoring-works.com/

Look up “mentoring” on Amazon.com and you will find over 5,000 results, many of them quite good. Just to pick two worth checking out:

College Dreams – for parents of younger kids

I was recently asked to give a talk to parents, most of them with kids ages 5-16.  They asked for my observations of college and graduate students who struggle with college and career issues.  They were interested in identifying what they could do, as parents, to help their own children develop positive characteristics and behaviors to successfully navigate college and young adulthood.

We must first acknowledge that our children are growing up in very unique times and are very influenced by the times. In “Generation Me” by Jean Twenge, she writes “Like it or not, when you were born dictates the culture you will experience.  This includes the highs and lows of pop culture, as well as world events, social trends, economic realities, behavioral norms, and ways of seeing the world.  As in the words of a prescient Arab proverb, ‘Men resemble the times more than they resemble their fathers.’ ”

But that doesn’t mean we parents cannot influence their worldview at all.  We just need to be very conscious and deliberate about what we say and don’t say, what we do and don’t do (which communicates what we believe and value) and what we guide them towards experiencing and thinking.

Before we begin, let’s evaluate our own knowledge (or lack of) and beliefs about college and success.  The following facts are based on research by Jean Twenge, author of “Generation Me”.  Did you know that…

1)   75% of college freshman hope to earn an advanced degree?

2)   12% of college freshman want to be an doctor? Only 1% actually become one?

3)   In 1999, teens predicted they would be earning a salary of $75,000 at the age of 30? Yet the average income of a 30 year old in 1999 was $27,000?

4)   Even if you have a perfect SAT score and apply to Harvard, you only have a 50% chance of getting in?

5)   About 10% of applicants to Ivy League schools are admitted?

6)   The average GPA of admitted students at San Diego State is 3.5 and have SAT scores at the 67th percentile.  Not long ago, it was called a “party” school.

We need to be careful with what we’re communicating to our kids.  All the hard work, extracurricular activities, pressure and sleep-deprived nights will not guarantee college acceptance.  And college acceptance does not guarantee the good life (and not only in a recession – which most pundits think is going to feel like we’re in one for awhile, even if we don’t technically call it a recession).

There’s no arguing with the reality that life is much more difficult today than in 20-30 years ago.  From “Generation Me”…

“This is the scenario for young people today: To get a decent job, you must have a college degree, preferably from a good school.  It is harder to get into a good college, and more expensive to pay for it.  Once you get in and graduate, it is difficult to get into a graduate school and sometimes even more difficult to find a job.  Once you find a job, corporate downsizing and restructuring create the constant threat of layoffs.  By the time you’re in your thirties, career pressures are compounded by the demands of raising children when both of you have to work to pay the bills.”

“And although materialism has increased…that’s not why things are so financially depressing now.  These days, even the essentials are astronomically expensive: housing, health care, day care, and education costs have all far outstripped inflation.”

“ ‘You need a college degree to just be where blue-color people the same age were 20 or 30 years ago,’ says sociologist James Cote.’ “

Given these facts, we need to prepare our kids for a challenging, difficult future.  Going to a good college isn’t going to be enough. More than ever, parents need to play a big role in shaping their kids hearts, minds and souls.  (For those of you spiritually inclined, this is one of those ‘God-sized’ situations that I heartily recommend you ask for His help).

By the way, it’s not unreasonable to consider that your teen may not need to go to college.  For those who have strong mechanical skills working with their hands, they might be better off learning a skilled trade.  In America today, these skills are in high demand.  Think about how much some electricians, plumbers and fix-it folks charge you.  They could probably charge you even more and you’d pay for it.

Here are the types of traits I see in kids who struggle in college and post-graduate life:

  1. Not able to handle challenges, disappointment, failure.
  2. Not comfortable with venturing into the unknown and learning and trying new things.
  3. Not able to articulate likes and dislikes, preferences; Not able to articulate the core reason for their own feelings and opinions.
  4. Don’t want to plan ahead or take responsibility.  Would rather defer to parents or procrastinate until forced to decide or act.
  5. Uncomfortable and generally unwilling to ask for information and/or help from adults.
  6. Unwilling to work hard or strive to do great work; just try to get by.
  7. Selfish and self-serving; unconcerned about the needs and feelings of others.

No parents want their kids to exhibit these unproductive behaviors and attitudes.  Instead, there are positive characteristics that we must strive to help them develop:

1. Resilience – the world is rapidly changing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top jobs in demand today didn’t exist six years ago; and today’s student will have 10-14 jobs by the age of 38. Jobs today are not the hot jobs of the future. Recent events demonstrate this too.  Our kids need to be prepared for this new reality.  Young adults are stunned at how cold and cruel the world is.  In “Quarterlife Crisis” by Abby Wilner and Alexandra Robbins, one subject, Joanna, says, “College doesn’t prepare you for the real world emotionally…the environment in my first job was sterile, not nurturing and full of people who didn’t care about my welfare or happiness or well-being.”  What can parents do…

  • Allow their kids to try many things – even things they won’t be good at.  Allow them to experience failure.  Walk and talk them through it.  And love them all the way through it.
  • Talk about times that you experienced failure and made mistakes when you were a kid.  Tell them that you aren’t perfect.  Let them know that they don’t have to be perfect.
  • Don’t communicate that there’s only one perfect career for them.  Don’t get too enthusiastic about any specific thing they say “they want to be when they grow up”.  You may mislead them into thinking that they’ll let you down if they change their mind.  Instead, tell them that you’ll love them whatever they do.
  • Be careful not to say things like, “Do whatever makes you happy”; or “Follow your passion”; or “You can be anything you want to be”.  These are all phrases that aren’t very helpful because they are difficult to understand and near impossible to fulfill.

2. Curiousity, Inquisitiveness and Enjoys Exploring – When a child has a desire to gather information and have new experiences, they will be equipped to learn about all that college and young adulthood have to offer.  It’s a time to understand how the world works and how one shall fit in it.  Too many college students focus too early and are devastated when they find out that their chosen path isn’t what they planned.

  • Encourage them to try new things.  To do it on their own.
  • Get them to sleep more so that they have the energy and capacity to explore.  Tired kids don’t want to venture out and learn new things.  In “Nurture Shock”, by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, “90% of American parents think their child is getting enough sleep.  The kids themselves say otherwise: 60% of high schoolers report extreme daytime sleepiness.  A quarter admit their grades have dropped because of it.  Depending on what study you look at, anywhere from 20 to 33% are falling asleep in class at least once a week…It is an overlooked fact that children – from elementary school through high school – get an hour less sleep each night than they did thirty years ago.”
  • Also from “Nurture Shock”, “the performance gap caused by an hour’s difference in sleep was bigger than the gap between a normal fourth-grader and a normal sixth-grader.  Which is another way of saying that a slightly-sleepy sixth-grader will perform in class like a mere fourth-grader.”

3. Self-awareness – When kids know what they like, don’t like and why will help them identify and pursue interests and avoid things that don’t make sense – especially things peers or parents push them to do.  It’s amazing how many young people I meet who have no sense of who they are and what turns them on and off.

  • Ask open questions and listen.  Help them assess experiences and get to the essence of their feelings: “What do you like/dislike?  Tell me more about that.  What’s do you think is at the core of that feeling?”  Be silent and let them think about it.  Don’t rush it.  Do not push them to answer if they’re not in the mood.  Just re-visit at a later time when they feel like talking.
  • Don’t answer for them.  Don’t assume that you know – even if they’ve answered it before.  They are experiencing new things all the time and they are changing and discovering new things.  So let them change their answers if they want to.  Tell them that it’s normal and OK to change their mind.

4. Proactive and self-reliant – One goal that most parents share is for their children to be independent and able to take care of themselves by the time they leave for college.  Some parents struggle to achieve this goal because they want to “help” their children and unwittingly create kids who cannot handle tough situations and not able to plan and think on their own.

  • Teach your child how to plan and take action.  Don’t do it for them.
  • Encourage your child to take action in gathering information and resolving issues.  Don’t do it for them.
  • Don’t over-praise (advice from “Nurture Shock”):  your child become risk averse and concerned with image maintenance because they are afraid that you stop praising them.
  • Don’t over-reward (advice from “Nurture Shock”): they will not develop persistence, because they’ll quit when the rewards disappear (which could easily happen in college or on their 1st job).

5. Comfortable with adult relationships and conversations – Many students and young adults today make decisions independently or in the counsel of just their same-aged friends.  They are uncomfortable talking to adults from whose wisdom and perspective they could benefit.

  • Connect them with other adults and possible mentors.
  • Let them shadow your friends who have different jobs.
  • Role play the conversation you’d like them to have with other adults so that they can learn what a good conversation would sound like.
  • Tell them stories of how such conversations made a difference in your life.  Or  perhaps tell them that you wished you had done it when you were their age.

6. Strong work ethic, high standards and continuous learning – Performance is one of the major career assets that will help your child be marketable and employable throughout his/her life.

  • Grades are a by-product of having this attitude, not the goal.  Otherwise students believe that just getting good grades will lead to a college of their choice or a guaranteed job. In today’s competitive world, students with the best grades are not necessarily the most employable or most prepared for the work world.
  • Reinforce these positive attitudes and behaviors when they exhibit them.  Be specific about exactly what you saw them do and why it was an example of the attitude or behavior.  This specificity will enable them to clearly understand what you’re praising.

7. Compassion, generosity, purpose or meaning outside one’s self – Many young people are unhappy with their lives.  They aren’t fulfilled.  They aren’t happy.  Life is too hard.  Many have been set up to believe that life is supposed to be something it’s not.  Be careful with what you’re encouraging them to believe – given what you say and don’t say around them.

  • Life and work isn’t all about personal fulfillment, self-focus and satisfying selfish desires.
  • A job may not satisfy one’s every need and desire.

Remember that your child is not you.  Their life is not your life.  And their timetable is not your timetable.

I have received guidance from many experienced parents who tell me “Your relationship with your child is paramount.  Never do or say anything that endangers that relationship and trust.”

For me personally, I am not concerned about what college they go to or even if they go to college.  I am concerned about their character:  Their ability to independently handle and manage uncertainty, change and challenges; their self-awareness and clarity of purpose, beliefs and values; their willingness to explore, learn and ask others (especially elders) for help and perspective; their self-confidence and desire to deliver high quality work, results and strive to continually learn and improve; their compassion and desire to help others.  With these traits, I am pretty confident that they’ll be fine – no matter what the world throws at them.

I hope that my thoughts helped you think a little differently about your role and responsibility as parents of kids in the 21st century.  It’s a daunting task, but I am confident that you have the tools, mind and heart to succeed.  Just make sure that you are crystal clear on how you will define success and what it really looks like.