Nothing Beats Conversation
High School, Middle School, Parent Tips

Nothing Beats Conversation

Looking at my to do list for the day, I see that I need to reach out to a few more people. Deep down I know that my conversations will be more effective and that my relationship with these people is likely to improve if I call them or talk to them in person, but I have a lot to do and it would be great to simply write a quick email and check those tasks off my list. So, hopefully I force myself to make a call, but often I succumb to the email or even a text message.

Dr. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist and clinical psychologist who teaches at MIT and author of the book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, says this is all too common: people (kids and adults) prefer to text rather than talk. Dr. Turkle believes this stems from a desire to send the perfect message in the hopes that we will receive the perfect response. However, when we text, we remove the opportunity for an open-ended discussion and spontaneous thoughts that further our understanding and encourage collaboration.

Eliot Spencer, a middle and high school school history teacher in Connecticut, has found that his students do exactly that. Anytime between 10 pm and 3 am the night before an assignment is due, Eliot receives several emails from students with questions regarding the assignment. While the emails are well-written, the responses to questions are not always easily explained via email. There can be more nuance to the answer than Eliot can give students in a email that asks for a black and white answer. According to Dr. Turkle, this turns the communication into a transaction instead of a conversation. The problem is that good ideas and learning do not come from transactions. That is where conversation and coming in to speak with the teacher is essential.

Dr. Turkle calls this quest for the perfect email and response part of the “edited life”. A perfectly worded email sustains a fantasy of perfection – you are not in a vulnerable position where you might accidentally let it slip that you are not perfect and do not know all the answers. It is also seen as a way to control time. As one person told Dr. Turkle, the problem with conversation is that it “happens in real time and you can’t control what you’re going to say” (2016).

During conversations, we stumble. We pause. We take moments to think. We build relationships with the other person in the conversation. That takes time and can be uncomfortable. So instead we send emails.

The weird thing is that, according to Dr. Turkle’s research, “people don’t feel good” about texting instead of talking. They know what they are doing is wrong and will not have the effect they want (like I do), but they send the email anyway.

When I worked in finance, I had five bosses and collaborated with coworkers in offices across the country. That meant I had to be an expert communicator (and manager of expectations). Some of the best advice I got on the job came early on from one of my bosses (the one who worked in California): If you have a question for someone or need someone to do something for you, call them or walk over to their office and knock on their door. Most of the people in the office, he explained, send emails for everything, but work actually gets done faster when you have a conversation instead.

It is true. People better understand what you are asking of them when you speak with them. You also start to develop relationships with them. Then they like you more and are more willing to help you.

The same goes for teachers. You cannot underestimate that power of developing a relationship with your teacher. When your teacher knows how much thought you have put into an assignment because you spoke with her about it at length one day during your study hall, she will be more inclined to give you extra credit or let you do a re-write if somehow the paper came up short.

How do we encourage our kids to do this? It’s hard, but here are some suggestions:

  1. We role model it for them. Instead of emails, we make calls and speak with teachers in person. (Perhaps email or text to set up a good time for a quick chat first).
  2. We remind them when they say they haven’t heard back from a teacher that perhaps they should follow up in person after class tomorrow. 
  3. And teachers can help by instituting mandatory “office hours” where students are required to sit with their teacher and have a conversation about a project or how the class (or even just school) is progressing.

When it is hard to pick up the phone and you are itching to send an email, try to remember: this will actually have a better outcome if I just pick up the phone and call this person. What is the worst that could happen?


Reference:

Spencer, E. (2015). Personal communication.

Turkle, S. (2016). Being Human in the Digital Age. NYSCI: Spring for STEM: New York.

Toxic Social Situations
Difficult Topics, Middle School, Self-Advocacy, Social Life, Stress Management

Toxic Social Situations

Middle school, as we all know, is an awkward time in kids’ lives, particularly with peers. And high school is not known for being a walk in the park socially either. Kids worry about being popular, being left out, saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong outfit – the list goes on…

Imagine the following scenario:

You (well, middle school version of you) walks up to a couple of girls, who then turn their back on you. You maybe try to say hi, but then they walk away from you. So you walk away and try to be friendly again later, only for the same story to play out. Sound familiar?

As middle schoolers, we naturally internalize this behavior as indicating that something is wrong with us. And then we dwell on it and put ourselves down and enter this terrible feedback loop because we approach the next social situation with trepidation instead of confidence.

As parents of children who are going through this situation, and dealing with issues we did not have to (namely cyberbullying), we need to teach our children that it really “isn’t you (your child), it’s them (the bullies).”

That is hard when ‘everyone’ (in the eyes of your child) thinks this other person is amazing. But I suggest talking to your child about:

  • how this other student may be a bully,
  • how your child is wonderful (in specific and sincere ways, as usual),
  • how this other person behaved badly,
  • how upset you are that someone else made your wonderful child feel so bad,
  • how it was wrong of that person to behave in such a manner,
  • how your child should act in the future. 

And how should your child act in the future?

According to Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, one of the best ways to manage stress is “Active avoidance of triggers” (2015). In this situation, the other student(s) is the trigger of the bad feelings and social anxiety. Therefore, one of the best ways to deal with it is to avoid that person. Stop trying to hang out with her. Find other people who treat you well. When your friends want to hang out with that person, you can find something else to do (or give a second chance – just not too many second chances). 

Another strategy to try at the same time is to help your child find something he is really good at: a sport, school, a specific subject in school, playing an instrument, coding, drawing, building robots, volunteering, and so on… It is even better if you can help him pursue this skill with others. As Dr. Ginsburg explains, people feel better and less stressed when they contribute to the world, when they feel as though they have a sense of meaning, and when they are “surrounded with thank yous rather than condemnation” (2015). Helping your child find that sense of meaning through an after-school activity will help him find other friends and feel confident and maintain his self-esteem during those uncomfortable, and perhaps toxic, social situations.

My favorite activity is volunteering because it helps solidify a sense of self: I am a good person. Which can then help your child when confronted by “mean girls” because she can say to herself, “They just hurt my feelings by turning away from me. That is not something a good person does. I will go find other people like me to hang out with.” But all of the activities help your child define herself, can bolster self-esteem, and help your child deal with the hardships associated with growing up.


Resources:

Davis, P. (2016). Personal communication.

Ginsburg, K. (2015). Building resilience: Preparing children and adolescents to THRIVE. Learning and the Brain Conference: Boston.

Life Isn't Linear
Editorial, High School, Middle School, Risk-Taking

Life Isn’t Linear

Life isn’t Linear. At least, it has not been for me or most of my role models.

At lunch the other day, I was speaking with a frustrated mother whose middle school was recruiting parents for a Career Day. She was on the recruitment committee. The parents attending Career Day all had linear career paths to their current jobs as investment bankers, wealth managers, lawyers, and doctors, but no entrepreneurs. Each parent had a clear path to career success, giving the message to kids that, if they know what they want to do by age 18, they can have a successful career too.

Despite her requests to find someone with a less clear-cut career path to inspire the students who do not want to be in finance and who do not operate in such a linear fashion, the committee was not interested in finding such a person.

That is a mistake.

Kids need proper role models. Ones in whom they can see themselves. But such extensive career planning and execution are simply not a part of who some students are. We teach students to pursue their passions and to be well-rounded, but then expect them to be singularly focused when it comes to their careers.

So where are the entrepreneurs? The problem solvers? The ones for whom the end goal is a little less obvious at the beginning? What about the Richard Bransons who start magazines at age 16 (and who have dyslexia) and who go on to found companies that are made up of more than 400 other companies?

There is a popular LinkedIn post titled, “These 150 People Are Ridiculously Successful and All Have the Same Career Path: None”. What about any of those people?

One of my biggest role models, my dad, did not have a clear career path. After college, he joined the Navy, went to business school and ended up in Human Resources at NBC. He was then offered positions in the company with the finance department (about which he knew nothing), and eventually he ended up as the general manager of a radio station. From there, he went on to start his own company flipping radio stations like someone would flip a house. If you were to tell someone that to be a radio executive you needed to start in the Navy, no one would believe you.

The point is: there is merit in the journey and it is okay not to have a linear career path.

 

Adam Grant, writer for The New York Times, recently published an article “How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off”. The gist of the article was that when really smart kids are told exactly how to complete a task, they do it really well. And when they show interest in a career and focus on it, they flourish. However, they do not change their respective fields. Instead, “They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves” (2016). The kids who are given more freedom to figure out their own values and interests are much more likely to become the “adult geniuses who change the world” (2016). Parents of these children “encouraged their children to pursue excellence and success – but they also encouraged them to find ‘joy in work.'” These children were encouraged to pursue their interests, whatever they might be, and that led to successful, creative, often revolutionary careers.

Indeed, Grant continues, “Evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth, of our knowledge and experience…. In science, winning a Nobel Prize is less about being a single-minded genius and more about being interested in many things. Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians…” (2016).

Off to defend his thesis for his PhD in Mathematics, this young man rides a unicycle and juggles, just because he likes it!

Not knowing what you want to do for a career, being interested in several different options, going down different paths before you get to your dream job is worthwhile. The breadth of your experiences can enhance your ability to succeed at your job!

There are benefits to a linear path too, of course. My other role model, my mother, was a nurse. She went to college for nursing and graduate school to further her nursing acumen. Then she was the head of all the nurses at her hospital at a young age. She dominated her career by being so focused. But my dad also dominated his career by having a multitude of experiences. Both ways can work and schools should at least show children there is more than one, clear-cut path to a successful career. However, if your school does not, you can still discuss the many ways to be successful career-wise with your children. 


References:

Grant, A. (2016). How to raise a creative child. Step one: Back off. The New York Times.

Karabell, Z. (2015). These 150 people are ridiculously successful and all have the same career path: None. LinkedIn.com

cyber bullying
Difficult Topics, High School, Middle School, Parent-Child Communication, Social Life

Fireside Coffee Chats: Cyberbullying

 

Protecting our children from cyberbullying entirely is just about impossible. At some point, they are going to run across some sort of digital antagonist. However, by communicating effectively with our children, we can help them deal with cyberbullying so that they do not internalize the hurtful messages.

In the second episode of Fireborn’s Fireside Coffee Chats, Fireborn spoke with Carson Davis, who was once the victim of cyberbullying, and her mother, Executive Functions Coach Paige Davis, to help us understand cyberbullying and to figure out what we can do to combat it.

 

Easy Action Items, Elementary School, Middle School, Motivating the Unmotivated, Use Your Summer Wisely

The 45 Minute Museum Max

Wish your children were more cultured? Wish they enjoyed museums more? Do you wish you enjoyed museums more? Does the thought of going to a museum exhaust you?

You are not alone. A trip to the museum tends to turn into a day long event of standing, staring, and listening, with breaks of more standing in line to get food as well as searches for seats to rest. These day long “adventures” turn into exhausting exercises in focus that many of us fail. Trips to the museum are no longer seen as exciting, but are rather daunting tasks that are necessary to raise a well-educated child!

The 45 Minute Museum Max

Museum Hack embraces this knowledge and gives short burst museum tours filled with energy and interactive games. However, you do not have to spend money on tours to enjoy your visit – just follow this simple principle:

Instead of making “a day” out of the trip to the museum, make the trip a 45 minute visit, at the most. 

Then, go back and back and back. That way it is still exciting to go each time.

(Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, as my sister likes to point out. If you have a baby Rembrandt who wants to stay at the museum forever, stay as long as you can stand it and still look forward to the next trip.)


Resources:

Belden, S. (2015). Personal communication.

Difficult Topics, Middle School, Parent-Child Communication, Social Life

Should I Talk to an Adult?

What constitutes “cyberbullying”? So many online activities. So many in fact, researchers have found it difficult to accurately define the term. Without a usable definition, how are we supposed to create effective interventions? Given bullying’s prominent place in the media (and based on conversations with researchers who study bullying), effective interventions are currently few and far between.

Emily Weinstein, a doctoral candidate at Harvard Graduate School of Education, recently published her research on cyberbullying. She used a website, A Thin Line Campaign, to “help define the line” between normal adolescent online social mishaps and cyberbullying. She found six recurring “digital stressors” (with the caveat that there are still others as well), three of which teens told the victim to “get help” (and therefore was crossing the line into cyberbullying):

  1. Impersonation (hacking into the victim’s online account and posting mean or embarrassing information about the victim).
  2. Mean and harassing attacks
  3. Shaming and humiliation

Should I Talk to an Adult?

However, for the other three situations, the victims were not advised to seek the help of an adult:

  1. Breaking and entering (a friend or significant other breaks into your phone or social media account, sees who you are friends with, potentially deletes contacts, reads messages, looks at photos…).
  2. Pressure to comply
    1. Pressure to send a “sext”.
    2. Pressure to provide access to social media accounts (e.g. “Give me your Facebook password. I gave you mine.”).
  3. Feeling smothered (bombarding the victim with texts: “Where are you?…???…Why haven’t you texted me back… and so on. Or requiring the victim to “check-in” with the other person every hour or so).

Continue reading “Should I Talk to an Adult?”