Keep Calm and Parent On

The other day I noticed a mother vibrating with stress attempting to calm her crying baby. The little one couldn’t crawl, walk, or talk, but her instinctual senses were sharp enough to know stress when she heard, saw, and felt it. The mother’s attempts were futile — you can’t calm stress with stress.

Keep Calm and Parent On

This snippet reminded me just how often I see the same mistake in my practice. Moms and Dads, with the best of intentions, try in vain to bring calm and order to their teens’ lives. They fail for the very same reason the mother above failed: They’re wearing their frustration on their sleeves, hoping to fight stress with stress.

Not all parents fail in this goal, of course. A seemingly gifted handful have the ability to bring order to their kids’ hectic lives by approaching their roles as parents with a calm, coolness usually reserved for Bond villains. What’s their secret? Though every case is unique, I have seen three skills pop up again and again.

Step One: Do Less.

As a parent who loves your kids, it’s hard not to feel compelled to do everything for them. But I want you to do less, and do so for two reasons. First, your kids must learn how to become capable and resilient if they want to succeed later in life. Doing less now allows them to develop these skills for use later. Easier said than done, but still crucial to their wellbeing.

Second, hovering just feet away from your kids, ready to act on their behalf as a moment’s notice, is stressful. It’s stressful for you and it’s stressful for them. If you put it on yourself to run two people’s lives, you’ll quickly run yourself raw. It’s too much. When you let yourself do less — and give them a chance to do more — you have time to breathe, to relax, to have fun, which means you’ll be refreshed and ready to tackle the larger issues that come your way.

Step Two: Watch for Signals.

Parents who bring calm order to their surroundings are also great at reading their own moods and emotions. Tune into your body. What happens when you get stressed or overwhelmed or frustrated or overtired? What signals predictably appear? They’re there, no question. The issue is whether you can detect them.

I struggled with this myself, but soon found the cure: my wife. I may not have been aware of what my body did as the stress gathered, but she definitely saw it. Like the moments when we’re gripping the wheel with intensity but don’t realize it until someone comments on our white knuckles, she noticed my signals plain as day. She cued me in, which helped develop my own radar.

Step Three: Interrupt the Stress.

Recognizing stress isn’t enough. You need to interrupt the pattern before approaching your kids. Sometimes that’s as simple as noticing the stress, taking a breath, and regrouping. Other times you’ll need to put your parenting plans on hold and do something else entirely; try as we might, sometimes we can’t think our way out of a bad mood.

Once the frustration or bad mood has been recognized and interrupted, you can safely engage with your kids without worry of bringing more stress into the situation — or more gasoline to an already burning fire.

Develop these skills and you’ll have a far easier time serving as a calming force and effective parent, even when faced with the most difficult of situations. But there’s something else I see in clients who possess these talents. They’re modeling ideal behavior.

Kids of all ages learn so very much by watching what we do. They’re more than sponges; they’re mirrors. Hundreds of times, more likely thousands, they’ll be faced with tense situations that call for calm. How will they respond? If they were raised by parents able to remain calm when the world around them was closing in with chaos, they’ll respond in a way that would make mom or dad proud.

Life is stressful. Add parenting to the mix and it can feel as though you’re carrying the weight of the world on your back. Still, you have a choice. Impulsively react or calmly respond. One may be harder than the other, but it’s also well worth the effort.

Four Steps to Becoming a Rock Star Parent in 2016

Four Steps to becoming a Rockstar Parent in 2016

Co-authored by Jason Gracia, author of Shifting the Balance.

It’s that time of year, the time to set goals and resolutions for the year to come. From starting diets and making more money to living of life of your dreams, goals of virtually every shape and size bounce throughout the days and weeks of January. But a goal rarely heard, a goal I believe to be among the most important ever set in mind and down on paper, is the goal to become a better parent.

Spending more quality time with the kids, practicing patience, creating special moments, teaching values and morals… all vital goals to a parent and a child.

But there’s a problem.

It’s not strategies. Tips and tricks tumble from the pages of countless magazines, websites, and blogs.

The problem is motivation.

Like any goal, if you lack the motivation to see it through, it’s as good as whispering in the wind. So today I’m going to walk you through a simple system to help you get and stay motivated to move those parenting resolutions from Do to Done.

Step One: Define the Outcome

Clarity is power when it comes to setting and achieving goals. If the outcome is vague, more cloud than concrete, your chance of success plummets. Why? Because there’s nothing actually to work toward (and, as you’ll see, no rewards or prices to uncover). You need to be as clear as possible with your parenting goals, such that success is obvious when it happens. “Be a better parent” doesn’t make the cut. What does that mean? What steps should you take to get there? When will you know when you’ve done it? Instead, a goal such as “Spend one night a week of quality time one on one with my daughter” is a step in the right direction. The outcome is clear, success is defined, the steps forward are easily uncovered.

Step Two: Uncover the Rewards

When you have a clear outcome, you also have the key to motivation: rewards and prices (prices are up next). Without diving too deep, think of motivation as a balance. On one side are all the reasons you have for wanting to do something. On the other side are all the influences against it (for example, pain is working against exercise). Whichever side carries more weight with you — logically, emotionally, spiritually — wins. If you have more positives than negatives linked up with, say, attending your son’s basketball games, you’ll do your best to be there. If not, you won’t.

The first part of the equation is the rewards, all the good things you associate with following through and acting on your goal. These are the ideas that kick the goal off to begin with, rewards such as a new body after exercise or more money after working for a promotion. To get and stay motivated, you need to make a detailed list of every good thing that will come from reaching your parenting goal. What will it do for you and your family? Emotionally, socially, financially, etc. Think of rewards as weights — the more you have, the heavier the balance will tip toward action.

Step Three: Uncover the Prices

Rewards aren’t alone. They have a counterpart which are often more powerful in getting people to act: prices of procrastination. Think of prices as the rubber band snap of motivation — they are the negatives that will happen if you don’t do what you say you’re going to do. For example, if you don’t help your teen practice driving before the big road test, they may fail. Two major prices to be paid for this laziness: First, their negative reaction to failing. Second, now Johnny can’t drive Sally to soccer as you had hoped. These negatives drive you to make sure you do what it takes to succeed to avoid paying the price. Like rewards, make an exhaustive, detailed list of every price you’ll pay if you fail to do what it takes to become the parent you hope to be. The more painful, the better.

Step Four: Map the First Steps

With your motivational weights in hand, you’re ready to go. But where do you go? That’s the final piece of the puzzle. All the motivation in the world will do you no good if you don’t know what to do with it. You need a plan, but not the usual one. I don’t want you to create a long, drawn-out diagram of what you need to do; that only leads to resistance (negative weight on the balance). Instead, I want you to make a list of three simple steps you can take to move toward your goal. The simpler, the better. The point is to build momentum. A wonderful thing happens when people take small steps toward their goals — the rewards and prices tied to success get stronger. They’re self-reinforcing.

If I want to spend more quality time with my kids, a major reward will be their reaction: love and happiness. When I see that, when I feel that positive reaction, the rewards I wrote on paper take on an entirely new meaning. They’re real, tangible. In turn, they become even more powerful and drive me further toward success. Each small step you take toward your goal will make it that much easier to continue down the path.

You want to be a better parent. That’s the first and most important step. But you can’t stop there. To ensure your early hopes don’t become future disappointments, tap into the natural workings of your motivation to create an unstoppable force for positive change.

How Saying Yes Changes Everything

After all my years working with teens and their families, I’m convinced that raising healthy, happy kids depends on two words: Yes and No.

The secret is knowing when to say which.

Kids need boundaries. They yearn for structure and limits. Few will admit it, but it’s a natural and universal need that revolves around No.

Can I eat cake for dinner? No. Can I see how far the cat can fly? No. Can I stay up late, phone tethered to hand? No. Can I treat this person with disrespect? Never.

Limitations such as these create safety. A free-for-all creates uncertainty and chaos, which leads to confusion and fear. Say No when laying the groundwork for safety and security as well as character.

But No is not always the answer.

In fact, saying No at the wrong times can shut down a teen faster than an eighth-grade romance gone bad or a cell phone battery on its last leg. It can cause stress, distrust, secrets, and separation. I’ve seen it happen countless times in my office. As dire as the situation may feel, the solution is often found in swapping No for Yes.

Say Yes to self-expression. Say Yes to unexpected choices. Say Yes to your teen being who they are or who they’re working so hard to be.

I know how hard this can be. As the adult, we feel in our bones we know the way forward, whether that entails saying no to an invitation to jump off a bridge or saying no to passing up sports in favor of drama.


Despite the difficultly, you’ll get what you want in the end if you can open the door to choices that may differ from yours but present no actual threat to your kids.

They’ve come from you but they are not you. They need to follow their path, with all its fascinating and frightening twists and turns. Giving them the freedom to write their own story ensures that you’ll be a part of it.

That’s what my parents are truly after. They want to be part of their kids’ lives. They want to be informed and involved. When you say Yes at the right times, you will be. You’ll be an influence. You’ll be a guide. Say No, and you’ll have a teen that keeps you as far from his or her world as possible.

Here are three tips to help you get started with Yes:

1. Let your teen know you understand the importance of making their own choices. Though they may differ in the extreme from your own, recognize the importance of giving them the freedom to carve out their own place in the world—and let them know you get it.

2. Show respect for their choices. This is not easy. Most parents pour their heart and soul into predicting a perfect future for their kids. When a choice appears to derail that plan, we leap to resentment or anger, with our fragile ego calling the shots. It’s only natural, but it’s not right, nor is it helpful in the long run. Shout down the ego with a love for your kids that trumps any conception of an ideal, pre-planned future. They’re writing their story in real time. Respect every plot twist.

3. Want to lock down a wonderful relationship with your kids? Go beyond showing respect for what they do and actually dive in. Take a sincere interest in their interests. You created this bundle of flesh and feelings, of bones and potential. Take joy in seeing it evolve. Take interest in seeing it fully form. As Dale Carnegie taught us decades ago, we are interested in those who are interested in us. Let your kids write their own story; then join them for the adventure.

A teen who feels understood, respected, and supported is far more likely to become the human you had hoped for, regardless of the path taken to get there.


Guiding Teens from Good to Great

Jim Collins took the business world by storm with Good to Great, the bestselling book that showed organizations how to reach beyond average levels of success and instead strive for greatness. I believe it’s time we took the same approach with our kids. We all want them to be healthy and happy, but what if that’s not enough? What if setting the expectation to get good grades and find a good job is cutting short their potential? What if, instead, we could raise our kids to be great?

No matter the situation you’re facing, no matter the challenges that get in your way, you have it within you to raise amazing children. The steps below will help make that happen.

1. Set New Expectations

From the first day I began working with teens I’ve noticed a phenomenon that just won’t quit: Kids fall down or rise up to meet expectations. Low expectations let them know we don’t expect much, and so they’re more than happy to meet them–why try hard when everyone expects so little? But the opposite is also true. When they’re set higher than high, kids strive. They push and reach and surprise. Greatness begins with expectation.

Let your teen know that you expect more than most from them, not through heavy-handed pressure but through belief. You believe they’re capable of great things. This will not only offer an immediate boost to their confidence and sense of acceptance to go for big things but also open their eyes to a greater potential. Your belief will help redefine what they think is possible.

2. Make Room for Growth

After setting the expectation, the next step is to back off. As parents, we have a tendency to take control and offer up our detailed plan for what our kids should do. Don’t. Instead, give them the freedom to dream their own big dream. Support them, guide them, offer insight when needed, but don’t smother them with prepared plans.

One of the exercises I enjoy most is giving my clients the freedom to set big goals. I offer no limits, no restrictions, just a springboard to paint a picture of things they’d like to do, be, or have in the future. Of course, they’re not always realistic (even when the purpose is to dream big), but within those lofty goals are hints at something that is within a stretched reach.

3. Seek to Understand

While the ideas are flowing, I again need you to resist the temptation to interrupt or correct. Giving your kids the chance to talk about things they’d like to accomplish in the future, especially when we’re talking greatness, opens the door to ideas but also to insecurities. It takes guts to open up and be that vulnerable. If you react with criticism, chances are they’ll immediately shut down and shy away from ever giving it another try.

This is the point to truly listen. I’m not talking about putting aside distractions and holding eye contact. I’m talking about really hearing what they have to say, letting their words tumble around in your head to fully understand what they’re trying to explain. Few things make us feel as good as being heard. In order for your teen to pull off greatness, he’ll need that type of support by the heaps and mounds.

4. Be an Accountability Partner

After your teen has chosen a project or goal or dream to pursue, it’s time to switch gears: out with the judgment-free support, in with the tough love of holding them accountable. Humans are hardwired to fear change. Change invites risk and risk invites the potential for pain and loss. As a result, we resist stepping out of our comfort zone. But that’s the one thing you can’t allow.

Your teen is going to find himself or herself in uncomfortable positions, doing things they’ve never before attempted; greatness requires talking to new people, doing new things, going to new places, thinking new thoughts. All of this “newness” is going to drive your teen back to the comfort of the average routine. This is why so many people start a goal but never finish. The discomfort it takes to change or achieve is too much to overcome. That’s where you come in. Your teen needs someone to hold them accountable, to check on progress and push them forward when fear gets in the way. No one is in a better position to offer that service than you. Be more than a cheerleader; be a partner in their eventual success.

5. Celebrate Success, Learn from Setbacks

The final step is perhaps the most important. Too many people believe the hard work in achieving great things is choosing the outcome, laying out the plan, and launching into action. Those steps may prove challenging, but the true test comes when our dreams are slammed to the ground by an uncaring reality. From the smallest goal to the grandest vision, setbacks, missteps, and failures play a role. They always do. The key isn’t to avoid wrong steps. The key is to make your way through the inevitable problems that slither into the best of plans. This is true for me, for you, and especially for your teen.

Help them see the truth about setbacks, how they are meant as a test and a means of growth. They aren’t signs of defeat or impossibility. They are everyday players in the quest to do and be something great. Expect them, prepare for them, accept them, and most important, learn from them. Failures truly are stepping stones to greatness.

It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to be a lot of work, and there will be some highs and lows. But following these steps can help put your child on a path to greatness.

The Passion Myth: Why Teens Struggle to Find Their Purpose in Life

It seems you can’t look, listen, or feel for sixty seconds without seeing, hearing, or bumping into the word. It’s always and it’s everywhere, popping onto the covers of countless magazines, serving as the subject of countless books, and springing from the lips of countless teachers and speakers. It’s the focus of adulthood and the goal of adolescence.

It’s also the cause of misery for millions. The word is passion.

People the world over, especially teens, are obsessed with finding their passion. The common command: Go to school, earn a degree, get a job that fills you with passion, live happily ever after. The only problem is they’re doing it all wrong (which we’ll get to in a moment), leaving them without the answers they were hoping to find. Instead, they find confusion, guilt, and shame.

I see this time and again in my work with teens. They feel intense pressure to live their true purpose. When I ask for details, the story is often the same, and it’s that story that causes all the confusion and misery.

They are waiting for passion to arrive.

They believe the answer will come to them, a sign from the heavens or a nudge on earth below. They are thinking. They are hoping. They are waiting. They are breaking the first law of passion: It demands action.

I am happily dedicated to helping teens become successful adults. The work fills me with joy and excitement. It’s clearly my passion. But it didn’t start that way. It started with odd jobs and random experiences, from working at a local Subway and waiting tables to selling nuts and bolts and working as a counselor at a summer camp.

Through it all, I paid attention. I didn’t blindly move from side to side, but instead knowingly moved forward. I learned all I could from each experience, both about the task at hand and, more important, about myself and my abilities and interests.

Studies show that passion stems from doing things that tap into your natural abilities while challenging you to deliver at the height of those powers. You can’t, as most believe, discover these things by thought alone. You must engage with the real world and unearth them as you move forward.

Every odd job or random opportunity was a stepping stone toward my ultimate calling. I learned things about myself I never would have known had I sat and thought on the subject. Over time the picture of my abilities and interests became clearer and clearer, eventually guiding me toward the work I love and do today.

I didn’t need to discover my ultimate purpose at 18. I couldn’t. Chances are you can’t either.

You can no longer wait for passion to arrive; it won’t knock you on the head as you sit patiently whiling away the hours. You must start experiencing all that life has to offer, paying attention to the clues you find while you’re busy living.

Those clues will lead you to your passion, but it’s up to you to take those all important steps forward.

5 Traits That Build Meaning and Stability Into Your Teen’s Life

Teens need meaning in their lives. They search for purpose, value, and fulfillment. Existing day-to-day and week-to-week isn’t enough; they hunger for more than daily routines and obligations. When they find nothing to fill those voids, they’re sometimes at risk for exploring treacherous ground with lost people.

For life to make sense to a teenager, for him/her to find the motivation and desire to build integrity and achieve, five traits that parents can teach their child to develop will create the bedrock he can stand on.

Those traits are resilience, direction, focus, passion, and consideration for others. Qualities like these lay a foundation within that a successful and gratifying life can be built upon.

Resilience is the number one quality I’d want my own child to develop, if I had to choose. The ability to get up after being knocked down. You have a choice to stay down — or get up and keep moving forward. Rocky says it best to his son in this scene from Rocky Balboa. Check out this video:

I see many kids fail in academics and sports, or struggle socially. What is missing is resilience. Kids need their parents to help them build resilience. It begins when the toddler tries to walk and falls down.

Parents could shame the child for failing, but most parents will help their child stand up and try again with enthusiasm and determination. From that point, everything the child attempts is another opportunity for developing resilience.

Parents need to back off the lecturing and start telling stories. Tell your kid stories about when you struggled, battled, and were down for the count. When everything you had known to be true just wasn’t and you felt betrayed and kicked by life. What did you do? Did you stay down and give up? Or did you get back up and continue moving forward? And how? How did you do it?

Talk about it, because these are the things your child needs to hear to form his own ideas about how to bounce back from difficulty and failure, how to survive and thrive.

Many teens haven’t yet developed the level of resiliency necessary to be successful in their lives or their relationships. By talking about these experiences, you’re showing them a way of being in the world. At the dinner table, or following a movie or television show, or in the car when you’re riding together, opportunities to model your responses to challenges are all around you. Telling stories of your battles and how you overcame or how you failed, but got back up again, give your son or daughter wisdom to draw from in their own lives.

How can we get stronger if we never fail? Failing is good.

Often in my practice, I put my client into a really difficult situation, get them to hold steady in that space for awhile, then guide them as they work their way out of the crisis or failure. It’s incredible to see. You know why? Because they gain confidence as they work through or overcome the situation. And over time it becomes more natural, and their emotional strength and confidence grow, too.

Teens need direction. From my perspective, direction is the ability to look into the future and project success. It’s not what you’re going to do for the rest of your life, i.e. your career.

How is a teen supposed to know what they’re going to do for a living? Income is not direction. When I hear, “make a living,” I hear money and material things.

I’m all for making a living but the only way this will happen is if that teen has the ability to live his or her best possible life. Look into the future and consider what it would be like to be successful. Parents, you can do this with your kids.

Help your teen imagine himself in various roles, and doing things he believes in. Help him create a picture of himself living a meaningful life — what that would be like, feel like, look like. The elements of fulfillment and meaning are more important than the career and money. Help him lay his foundation so he’ll recognize direction as it forms within him.

Focus empowers a teen to follow his direction. Focus is not the ability to sit in class for an hour without moving. What a shame that a student’s ability to focus is reduced to that single skill. When my clients speak of focus I regularly hear this definition — to be able to sit still and take in information.

We aren’t meant to sit still. Notice all the legs bouncing and the bodies swaying in a classroom. Focus leads to results. If I give my attention to something, focus my mind and drive on it, then results WILL come from it. Focus is about thinking into the future, literally feeling outcomes before they even happen, and then charging forward to accomplish those results. It’s being single minded to achieve a goal.

My own mentor told me one time, “where you put attention is where you get results.” This concept is teachable, and can be imparted.

Passion fuels a kid’s focus to achieve results. Passion is the gas that runs the motor. Where do teens find passion?

I often hear this: “He just doesn’t have any passions.”

Lay off and consider the fact that humans are constantly evolving and often change what they desire. Understand that if your child has the space to move forward the passions will ignite as he goes. He has an entire life before him and there will be passions that come and go. It’s not just one thing, one job, or one career.

Encourage your child to pursue interests as they arise, and see where they take him. If given opportunities and latitude, your child will discover what is important to him, what motivates him, and what he’s passionate about.

Consideration of others gives your teen the power to focus on others outside himself and to find the creative energy that’s at his disposal when putting his attention on the welfare of those around him. It takes the pressure off himself and helps him to see his place in the world; and to see his own problems and value in a larger perspective.

Kids learn to be ‘others-focused’ from their parents, teachers, and mentors; and you can teach your teen to look beyond himself through conversation, stories, compassion for those less fortunate, respect for other family members and friends, and through experiences like volunteering, camp, babysitting, and other opportunities.

While it may seem that your highest quest in helping your kid grow is that he pursue high grades with all his might, or excel in sports, neither of these things will serve him as well as having the solid strength in his character to deal with whatever life throws at him. When that’s in place, academics and performance tend to take care of themselves.

How to Help Your Teen Who Won’t Talk to You

This world is a busy, distracting, pressure-filled, and sometimes cruel place. While it’s true that each generation has its difficulties, kids today face bigger and scarier life challenges than ever: “fitting in” means being perfect, having sex, use of drugs and alcohol, getting into the best universities … there’s even pressure to pick on others.

My friend Pete is a good example. He’s such a great kid, the type of kid that would make any parent proud. He works part-time at the local supermarket and his grades have always been above average. If he has spare time, he loves video games and blogging about his favorite sports teams.

The problem is, though, that when he’s not acing exams or stocking shelves, Pete is overwhelmed with the pressures that come with being a teen and he doesn’t know how to handle it or where to turn.

His gut tells him he should be able to handle his life, and to tell his parents how he feels is to admit he’s not up for the task. He looks around him and it appears to him kids his age everywhere are handling their lives and pressures fine, so he doubts himself and his ability.

Who can he turn to? Where can he go for help?

Between school, work, and friends, Pete doesn’t have much time left in the day. And honestly, he does sometimes feel like parents, teachers, and peers demand a lot from him, maybe too much.

He feels like he’s pulled in a hundred different directions at the same time, and he finds it pretty difficult to figure out what he wants, what’s important to him, and which path to follow.

Then there’s his social life. Like any teen, he wishes he had more friends, or a romantic interest, but … like so many his age … he’s shy and feels anxiety when meeting new people, so he needs help with his confidence and self esteem.

Plus, it’s tough for him to figure out which of his friends brings real value to his life, and which ones are just using him. In fact, it’s even harder to formulate the idea that he should sort his friends on that basis. It could sure help to have a second opinion.

On top of all these worries and time consuming activities, he’s expected by parents, teachers, and peers to choose a college, take entrance exams, and present the grades, scores, and extracurriculars needed for top universities.

Life is moving at an accelerated pace and all the little concerns Pete had as a young kid don’t compare to the crushing pressure he feels every hour of every day. The uncertainty and pressure are getting to him. They make a good kid like Pete unsure of himself and uncertain about his place in the world.

Because Pete’s embarrassed to talk about his problems with his friends or his parents, he’s stuck. And what’s worse, he has no idea how to make things better for himself. He just has no idea.

Clearly, Pete needs someone he can trust, who understands the issues he’s facing, and is a reliable source of sound feedback and solid advice.

You’re his parent, and you’d like to be able to help. You’ve carefully shaped his world as he’s grown up to give him every advantage, to build trust between you, and to prepare him for his life ahead. Now he’s reaching the threshold of the time he’ll move out of your home into his future, and he doesn’t want to talk with you…??

Have you failed? What happened??

Don’t worry. Just as there’s an age for a healthy infant to roll over, sit up, walk, and talk…there’s an age when a healthy teen begins to separate from his parents to empower himself to live his own life. Your teen needs to talk to someone else. He needs to feel autonomous, even in his struggles.

In the above column, Jan Faull M Ed refers to a teen girl’s reluctance to talk to her parents and writes, “She’s breaking away from you so that she’ll eventually be able to stand on her own as a young adult. … Some parents mourn the loss of their child’s closeness. Of course you miss those conversations and friendly interactions. Once your child moves out after high school and establishes herself as a young adult, she’ll come back for easy conversations and even ask for advice. But in order to determine who she is right now, she needs to separate from you.”

Jan is right. And she points out in her column that you’re still your teen’s parent, overseeing his or her welfare, so you monitor his activities: where he is, who he’s with, and when he’ll be home. In addition, as the parent you need to step up and be proactive in another way:

Protect your child’s future from being dictated by luck or hope through providing a solid and reliable source you and your child can trust. Rather than leaving that position in his life open to be filled by whoever, such as a peer who’s as confused and overwhelmed as he is, provide for him a professional mentor.

A professional mentor may or may not be a licensed social worker or counselor, but it’s critical he or she be educated and trained to understand what kids like Pete go through … and knows how to help. He can show them how to live with confidence, focus to achieve their full potential, and develop skills they need to navigate the tough decisions in their lives.

As Jan Faull pointed out in the article above, by proactively providing what your child needs now in a third-party mentor, your teen will come back home later with gratitude and be ready to talk and listen on new terms … as an adult. Because you gave him the space he needed to grow up.

What’s Needed to Prepare Your Child for the Future?

Since Junior’s birth, you’ve been socking away savings from every paycheck to ensure he has money for college. After all, that’s what responsible parents do, right? Making sure he has the education to prepare him for the workforce, to care for himself and his family …?

When he leaves for college, your heart swells with pride, hope, … and a little trepidation.  Will he do well? Is he ready for all that freedom? Will he make the most of your investment?

Two semesters later, he comes home whipped, defeated, demoralized. While he had the grades to get into that Ivy League college …  he didn’t have the life skills to succeed.

There’s more to preparing for adulthood than academic education. I believe if kids spent their summers in camp, they’d be better prepared for later decisions like whether to go to college, and how to make the best life for who they are.

Kids, especially teens, need mentors they trust, separate from their parents. These role models provide guidance and help them prepare for their adult lives by helping them lay the foundation now.

I started camp as a 10 year old, and didn’t stop till I was in my 20’s. Though many may view this as parents getting rid of kids for the summer, my parents told me it was an investment to set me up to be a more independent, confident person. They were so right.

Camp taught me how to grow up. It taught me to take responsibility, and the importance of meaningful relationships in life. Before I started attending camp I had friends, but no significant relationships that I viewed as important. In fact, I had no idea what that even meant.

I didn’t need to be “cool” at camp. It was the first place I could truly be myself, and was accepted for who I was. In fact, I felt pretty damn cool for the first time. My self esteem boosted, my confidence increased, and I learned about investing myself in things that matter.

An interesting thing happens at camp when kids are taken out of their usual environment. The rules change. Everything changes. Authenticity is rewarded. Responsibility is cool. Maturity adds clout. If it weren’t for camp, I would never have been ready for college, which led to graduate school, and the mentoring career I enjoy now. It was a natural progression that began in camp.

As a camp counselor I learned the importance of putting attention on others. The older I grew, the more I learned to be at camp for the campers, rather than for myself.  As I grew as a camp counselor, and worked with the kids, my personal development transformed as I spent time with them to give them a meaningful, significant experience that wouldn’t go away. It changed me…and it changed them. As my focus turned away from myself and I became focused on others, well, that was a huge piece of the growing up process.

Without this type of experience, kids often flounder through their teens and early twenties, unsure how to:

  • choose valuable friends,
  • make decisions for their lives, and
  • have the confidence to pursue their dreams.

For me, camp was a big group of mentors I looked up to, who gave me amazing advice, guided me on my journey, taught me lessons about growing up, showed me the importance of meaningful relationships, and …most important … how to find them.

Through my development in the camp experience, I learned how to leave camp and go back to school and find valuable friends.  By the time I was in high school I had learned how to surround myself with people who would bring the most value to my life.  I wasn’t born with this important skill…I learned it at camp.

Kids need to learn how to develop this skill at a young age. To choose the people they put around them who will help them in their own development, push them to be successful, take chances, and show them how to be a good friend.

A moment stands out most in my memory as to the impact it had on my life. In fact, it plays a big part in how I work with teens in my practice today.

I was 16 and learning to be a camp counselor. This meant I needed to grow up and take responsibility, but I didn’t know how. At one point, the assistant director sat with me and asked me how my summer was going.  I told him I was having a great time. He then proceeded to ask me several questions that would change the course of my life.

“How is the summer for your campers?” he asked.  “Who’s struggling?  Are you able to pay enough attention to notice where you need to focus? … Why do you think you continue coming to camp…?”

Then the last question, which changed me forever:

“What is it you want your campers to have at the end of the summer that they don’t have now?”

I’d never thought this way before. From that moment, I set out to work with campers in a completely different way. I was determined to help them have the experience they were looking for. I would ask them all, “What is it you want to have at the end of the summer?”

One kid told me he always wanted to make it to the top of the climbing wall. So we worked on it little by little … inch by inch …  and the last day of camp he made it and was on top of the world. I have no doubt to this day, when he struggles with something difficult, he looks back on that summer, the work he invested, his determination … and his success.

Whether your child has the funds to go to college or not, his future growth and management of life depend on how he’s living today.  Sometimes I think we as parents forget what’s important now. We’re so focused on what is necessary later, we don’t realize we need to set our kids up now to have the skills to live later.

So, saving funds for college is important, but saving for camp each year can really change a life. Let’s let our kids decide if college is important to them when the time comes. Let’s give them the tools necessary for them to make the decisions that will catapult them forward.

Give them the gift of camp.

If you wonder why I’m posting this at the end of summer rather than the beginning … Here’s why:

The new school year is beginning. You have nine months to save for next year’s camp. Make it happen for your child’s future success.



9pm on a Saturday is When I Received the Call

16-year-old Jimmy is standing outside of a house. His so-called friends are inside smoking pot, hooking up, and doing who knows what else.  He picked up the phone and called me. What was done on our ten minute phone call changed the course of his teenage years.

First, let me give you some background.

Jimmy is a junior in high school. He is incredibly smart (tests in the 98th percentile), yet in the past year his motivation and interest in school has dropped. He thinks all the time, yet until we started working together, he shared little of his thoughts with anyone. More than anything else right now, he is lonely. He is looking for more meaningful connections with others, specifically, in the types of relationships he has with his peers.

Jimmy talks about the pressures to drink and smoke pot to be part of a specific group. Though he would do it, he would often wonder why he would hang out people that he does not feel comfortable with. Very early on in my work with him, we started to put attention on determining who in his life brings value to him. When his answer only included his family and no peers or friends, he really had to do some thinking. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t ready to do what it would take to change things, explaining “I’m not ready yet to make drastic changes, I just need friends.” That was true at least until the night of this phone call.

After our ten minute phone call, Jimmy decided to leave the party. He had a conversation with one of his friends and explained that he is just not into the drug and hooking up scene. He was preparing to be laughed at and teased, instead he was shocked. The friend had a better response than he expected. His friend actually respected him and confided that he too sometimes wished things would just slow down and be the way they used to be.

Yet when Jimmy suggested they just leave the party to go do something else, his friend turned him down. “It may not be the most fun, but at least it’s better than sitting home alone!”

Jimmy thought about it, and then had a realization: It wasn’t!

That’s when he called his parents for a ride home, then called me again. His first line on the phone to me was, “Remember how you always talk about having to be willing and ready? I think I am.”

Over the next four months, his life changed.

In follow up meetings with Jimmy, I was able to teach him some basic techniques to help him

· With confidence and how he views himself
· Learn what it means to look for individuals who bring value to his life
· Surround himself with the right people – not the ones that set him back
· Have a clear sense of what he wants moving forward, with school, family, and relationships

He started looking at himself in a really positive way. His grades started to improve. His attention was on finding out who brought value to his life. He even contacted a boy from his multi-media class whom he’d always wanted to spend some time with. This boy was not into drugs, in fact, it turns out that they were looking for something similar. A few weekends ago they took their video cameras into downtown Chicago and shot a short film, then spent hours editing it.

Jimmy is alive again. He’s back on track.


Welcome to the New!

I truly believe in the work that I am doing: To mentor teens and young adults to live life to their best. With this as my foundation, I am proud to introduce my new website, which is the beginning of a new phase in my life, and my practice.

This website is meant to inform parents, teachers and families and provide them with the resources to begin the life-changing process that I call mentoring.

Spend time on this site, explore my approach and perspectives, get to know mentoring and begin to ask yourself, what life would you or your children like to live?

I would like to thank my support team, because without them none of this would be possible. The next phase of my life and my practice is happening because of loving, caring, supportive individuals who make my life better. I would like to thank my wife for supporting me every step of the way. Somehow she knew that if I followed my direction it would ultimately lead to my passion. The passion is here, the time is now, and the work is life changing.

Thank you,

Todd Kestin