Cyber Safety for Today’s Teens

It goes without saying that technology has fully inserted itself into most aspects of our day-to-day lives—and children and teens are no exception. Children are learning to swipe smartphones before they learn to turn the pages of a book, and many of them are swiping on their own devices. For parents, the endless exploration of technology raises many concerns for children and teens. Parents need not only be aware of what their children are getting from the constant connectivity, but also what they may be putting out into the digital universe. Yes, the horror stories surrounding teens and technology are vast and worrisome, but these hard-learned lessons can provide other families with safe cyber practices that will make all the difference for security and peace of mind.

Limit screen time, especially for youngsters. We may have grown to rely on our devices in the adult world. I, myself, use my phone for everything from navigation, to paying bills, to making grocery lists—the list (no pun intended) goes on and on. However, for children, it is essential that their screen time be limited and purposeful. Use screen time as an occasional reward, but make sure that everyone is clear about how long they can use the device and for what purposes.

If you feel that your child must have a phone for staying in touch, consider phones or plans that provide programmed options for usage. For instance, there are ways to program children’s phones so that they are only able to call or text a set list of phone numbers. You can also set restrictions on how data is used or what websites or apps your children can access. The key here is to keep your children’s circle small when introducing them to their first phone—the stricter the parameters, the more peace of mind parents will have about children using technology.

Be aware of your child or teen’s social media presence. Keep a very watchful eye on your child’s use of social media and limit access to devices when concerns arise. You should insist on access to or control over your teen’s social media accounts whenever necessary. If you suspect that your child is cyberbullying or being cyberbullied, take the phone. Keeps records of any evidence that your child is being bullied, including text messages, screen shots, profile posts or photos, etc. Schools today are cracking down on bullying; however, parents must present documented, repeated instances of harassment or bullying before school officials will intervene.

Along the same lines as cyberbullying concerns, parents should monitor social media accounts to ensure that children are protecting themselves and being digitally responsible. Teens today are so concerned with obtaining “likes” and gaining “followers” that they lose sight of how vulnerable they may be making themselves online. Explain to them that, even with privacy settings, nothing is 100% private when it comes to posts, comments, photos, etc. Make sure that teens are not using personal information, like a full name, specific address, current location, or school. Social media sites make it extremely easy to tag one’s location, but too often teens fail to consider who might be keeping tabs on their location. Gently, but firmly, remind your children that not everyone on social media is who they claim to be.

Talk about the permanency of our digital footprints. This means that, once posted online, ownership no longer belongs to you. Even deleted material is not ever fully erased if even one person has captured, saved, or screenshotted the post. Not only can deleted posts resurface, people can edit or manipulate the photo or post in any way they choose. Teach children and teens to think carefully before making a post.

From a Teacher to a Teacher: Kindness in the Classroom

Dear fellow educator,

I think it goes without saying that these are crucial times for our young people, not only with regard to education, but also in forming the next generation’s principles. All politics aside, our students are coming of age in a time where kindness, empathy, and integrity have been shoved aside in favor of judgment, rivalry, and naiveté. As we move into a new school year, fervent introspection has me focusing on one question: how can we craft and nurture ‘goodness’ in our schools?  

Perhaps one of the biggest perceived roadblocks in our quest to add kindness to the curricula is the fact that we are here to educate, not parent our students. No matter what age, our students come to us with a belief system and moral gauge that far exceeds our reaches. With so many uncontrollable variables at play in our classrooms, how could we possibly begin to stomp out hate that may have been engrained in a child since day one? Is it even acceptable, as mere educators, for us to take on that role or responsibility? These perplexing questions may forever go unanswered.

Instead of looking at changing the child’s cognizance, I’ll begin to nurture kindness by looking at my personal practices in the classroom—let’s consider it a ripple effect of sorts.   

  • Use seating charts to recognize the “lonely students.” This is a concept used by a veteran teacher from Texas throughout her entire career. On Fridays I’ll ask students to write down the names of two people that they would like to sit with next week. I will make clear that these requests are not guaranteed to be granted.  Students will occasionally get their wishes. However, the key here is that I am not concerned with the seating chart in the least—who sits beside whom is of no concern to me. I am looking instead for the names that are not written down—which child is never sought out as a seating partner? Are these missing names indicative of a bullying problem? Do I recognize signs of grief or depression in any of the students that are not requested as seating partners? By analyzing the seating requests, I am better able to reach out to the children that may feel lonely or withdrawn and potentially change the course of their unhappiness.
  • Praise acts of kindness just as much, if not more, than test scores, grades, or GPAs. Academia is designed to breed competition through class rankings, SAT scores, honor roll lists, etc. Several schools in Montgomery County celebrate their seniors’ achievements by posting each student’s college admittance for the coming year in the local newspaper—a great opportunity for young scholars to shine. However, with such recognition comes an inevitable ranking or hierarchy among graduates. Seeing my name and future university in print, followed by so-and-so attending Harvard, would undoubtedly sour my sense of accomplishment. Yes—that’s the real world—someone is always going to be smarter, more successful, better… Consider this: Focusing on achievements in kindness would not take away from anyone’s academic achievements. This praise and acknowledgment would simply be an additional measure of character—one that is just as important (and sometimes as lucrative) as academic success. If a student is struggling academically, try showing appreciation for that student’s kindness. Highlight students that have shown acts of kindness to others—use this as an opportunity to place value on the concept of being a good person.
  • Model empathy at any opportunity. Seeing as I teach middle school, empathy is something that many of my students are still grasping. During the adolescent years, the brain is primed to self-serve. This sometimes creates an inability to see things from another’s perspective. It’s not that they don’t want to—it’s that the adolescent brain is still maturing. Demonstrate how empathy works by expressing your own instances of relating on an emotional level. Try starting the conversation with, “You know that we all make mistakes…” or, “I’m upset that you’re getting down on yourself for one low grade…” or, “I see that you’ve really tried to improve and I admire your effort.”

 

Pre-Back to School Advice: For High Schoolers

The high school years are very influential for teenagers on various levels. Students’ personalities, capabilities, and goals are budding during this time—all in preparation to progress into adulthood. With the coming school year, parents of high schoolers can try a few different strategies to ensure a smooth start to the school year.

  • For parents of juniors (or maybe just very eager sophomores), this school year is essential for making plans about what will come next. These pivotal months, in which college and career readiness become the focus, can be an exceptionally stressful time for high school students and their families. Planning ahead, especially before the chaos of the school year picks up, can make all the difference during the college search. Consider providing your high schooler with literature about universities and colleges—The Princeton Review does a great annual compilation of schools full of details, statistics, and admissions information. Plan as many college visits as possible for your family’s schedule—the more students see, the more clear their decisions will be. Although high school teachers and counsellors are very familiar with the need to schedule college visits, try to limit absences by using weekends or occasions when schools are closed to take college tours.
  • The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers get 8-10 hours of sleep each night. However, recent studies indicate that only 15% of America’s high school students can say they get a full 8 hours of sleep regularly. In addition to getting an adequate amount of sleep, high schoolers need to have restful, uninterrupted sleep. Encourage your teenager to silence or shut down the smartphone to achieve a restful night’s sleep. Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter are popular culprits when it comes to sleeplessness in teens. If social media is taking away from your teen’s rest, it may be time to have a conversation about the privilege of cellphone use. As much as they’ll fight tooth and nail for the phone, remember this: you are the parent, you likely pay for the phone, and you know what is best for your child.
  • Insist on organization. Gone are the days of micromanaging every aspect of your child’s education. Looking to the future, problem-solving and coping mechanisms will be essential as your child progresses through adulthood and post-secondary education. Organization is key to being on top of your game. Help your high schooler find the best process or method of organization for him or her. For some, an agenda or planner helps with the week’s tasks. For others, a digital reminder, like calendar alerts or phone apps are preferable. Discuss the importance of prioritizing and time management—these will be essential as your child goes through college.
  • Discuss effective study skills. To many of us, studying involved simply rereading material in an attempt to shove facts into our short term memories for long enough to spill it back onto the exam. This is a very ineffective strategy—if we can even call it a strategy. College professors today are shocked by their students’ inability to analyze text for critical information and think critically about a concept. Instead, like many of us, students feel that cramming and memorization will suffice. Teach your teen how to read for vital information—skimming the fluff and honing in on the critical concepts. Anticipating practice questions or essay prompts is another helpful tip. Jot down ideas or concepts that the teacher repeats, goes into detail with, or spends lots of time discussing. If studying seems to be your high schooler’s weak area, consider looking into tutors or classes that specifically target this area of the learning process.

Back To School Tips

Without fail, the summer always seems to end the same way—abruptly. While families have been soaking up the sun with days filled with themed camps, pool time, beach vacations and fireflies, classrooms have been prepped for a new surge of activity. For most of us, the backpacks are buried in the closet and homework has long been forgotten. However, all of that is about to change. Signs that school is just around the corner are everywhere—the stores are stocked with school clothes, while ads are displaying the hottest new school supplies. One thing is for sure, it’s time to get in gear for the school year ahead.

  • Set a schedule. Start a school schedule at least a week prior to school. Include bedtime, morning wake-up and routine, and lunch preparation.
  • Gauge feelings. Talk to your children about their feelings and concerns.  Ask questions that prompt conversation and help them feel in control. What subjects interest them most? What friends are they excited to see? What new challenges await them?
  • Aim high. Talk to your children about the expectations for the different parts of their day. Consider creating a visual “to do” list that includes a morning routine, homework, and other responsibilities. Encourage students to check off listed items prior to leisure or screen time.
  • Drive by. Drive or walk by the school, take a tour of the classrooms, visit the website, and visualize the school day from start to finish. What will the bus ride be like? What will lunchtime entail? Where are the gym, art room, music room and restrooms?
  • Phone a friend. Reconnect with friends from last year. Schedule a play date or meet for ice cream. If your child is shy or new to the school, this is a great way to have a friend waiting on the first day of school.
  • Give control. Students often have mixed feelings about going back to school. Shop for supplies early and allow them to make selections. This decreases their anxiety, limits pressure on you, and avoids the last-minute crowds.
  • Strike a pose. Take your child shopping at his or her favorite store to pick out new school clothes. Your child’s style may not be your style, but here’s a chance to encourage positive self-image and expression.
  • Ease into it. Don’t suddenly stop summer fun, but slowly infuse learning opportunities. Take a trip to a museum, paint pottery, or visit the library.
  • Be available. As your child eases into a new school routine, regularly make time to listen to your child’s first impressions, new discoveries and fresh challenges. Be proactive in helping your child adjust and advance, and you will stay informed as new challenges arise.
  • Be an advocate. Before school starts, schedule a meeting with the school nurse, teacher, or guidance counselor to discuss significant changes, learning concerns, or summer progress. Remember to initiate a follow-up chat once school gets underway to ensure any issues were addressed.

How to Insert Learning into your Summer Plans: For Parents of High Schoolers

It’s about that time: Teens have worked hard all year and are now experiencing the freedom and relaxation that summer brings. It is arguably the best time of year (especially for teachers!), but there is a downside for many. Over the long summer months, learners have a tendency to forget or lose some of the knowledge and skills that they have acquired over the previous school year. Research and statistics indicate that learning and retention declines noticeably during June, July, and August. As expected, if you are not using it, you are losing it—your knowledge, that is. The key here would then be to continue the learning outside of the classroom, which could prove to be a difficult sell for high schoolers eager to follow their own agendas for a few months.

Instead of approaching this sustained study as school work, parents should consider creatively utilizing certain activities so that the learning is there—only presented as a game, puzzle, challenge, etc. Check out some ideas below to help high schoolers retain information over the summer months.

  • Have your high schooler plan the most time and/or cost efficient driving route for the family road trip. Which route allows for fewer toll roads? Which route currently has the least amount of construction? Is there a route without many rest stops that you would like to avoid? Are there any potential attractions along the way that might interest the group? All of these real-world considerations that parents typically consider could mean a great opportunity for your teen to build or expand upon his critical thinking skills. Add in the concept of planning for gas money, and you have another added layer of math practice. Negotiate stereo control or time behind the wheel for the effort they have put into planning the most efficient trip!

  • Read a recent “book to screen” young adult novel together. Be sure to let your teen choose the novel. Discuss the characters, plot, setting, and make predictions about how you think the story will end. Once you have finished the book, rent or go see the movie. Then discuss how the two versions compare. Did the characters appear how you had pictured them? Was anything in the movie noticeably different from the storyline? What creative choices did the filmmaker(s) have to make to translate the text to the screen?

  • Encourage your teen to begin looking into postsecondary education options. Is she especially creative or interested in visual arts, culinary careers, music and performance art? Browse options for liberal arts schools or specialized programs. Is your teen a huge sports fan, athlete, scholar, or philanthropist? Prompt him to peruse options for schools with a large sports following, abundant athletic scholarships, Greek chapters or volunteer programs. Have your teen build a list of non-negotiables when it comes to colleges and universities. Once you have a good idea of what he is looking for, arrange a visit to the campus.

  • Try a competitive activity like golf/mini golf, bowling, Bocce ball where score is kept. Leave the teens in charge of tracking the score and progress of the game to help maintain a strong memory.

  • Get your teen started on a savings plan or spending budget for the summer. Use some money from a yard sale or other chores to start with a base. Set guidelines for the budget, including a minimum amount that must remain in the “account.” Help your high schooler work towards a purchase of some sort, but make sure that she finds the best price for the item by doing research.

  • When doing any summer baking or cooking for a barbeque or party, have your teen help with the measurements. Ask him to double or triple the recipe to suit the large group coming over.

  • Pick up a second (or third!) language together. From the internet to Amazon, disks, apps, and books for language learners are all over the place. Begin by labeling items around the house to familiarize your teen with certain pronunciations. Consider watching a movie with subtitles, then gradually build up from there.

 

Encouraging Student Effort in the Home Stretch

May is the time of the school year when many students and teachers begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, making it a difficult month to focus and persevere. Even as the adult in the classroom, I notice the excitability in the air when the school year has begun to wind down to mere weeks. The difficulty then becomes maintaining the attention of children and teens when, truth be told, they are likely daydreaming about their soon-to-be-realized freedom. Below are tips for holding students’ interest at the end of the school yearand quelling the impatience that comes with it.

  • Fake it until you make it in order to sustain engagement. Yes, this is the opposite of what the body and mind is telling us. Towards the end of the year, students are not the only ones dreaming of long summer days and sleeping in. As the adults in the room, it is our responsibility to set the tone of the classroom, even when all attention is elsewhere. Students, no matter the age group, feed off of the energy that you bring into your lessons. When we lack motivation or energy, students undoubtedly pick up on that lethargy. When this happens, all bets are off for maintaining a focused and engaged classroom. So, even when you are fried—which you certainly will be—remember the mantra above: fake enthusiasm and let the energetic tone be contagious. 
  • Talk to your classes about the importance of follow-through and self-sufficiency. Remind students of all of the hard work that they have done over the course of the school year. Stress the importance of finishing strong and working diligently through the last assignment of the year. Now is not the time to let distractions interfere with the momentum that has been built since day one in the fall. Instead, encourage students to finish the last leg of the race that is the school year as if each assignment decides their final grade. 
  • Keep creative with lessons and assignments. Obvious? Yes, but necessary nonetheless. Try not to let the allure of summer sunshine blind you—plan engaging lessons that allow students to explore, create, or choose from different options in terms of assignments. Avoid the go-to “busy work” plan that leaves students will dull or redundant worksheets. 
  • Think outside of the classroom. When possible, plan activities or lessons that could take place outside. Keep the activities structured and organized, as to maintain control of the learning. Rotation stations allow for collaboration while ensuring that groups are small and productive at the same time. Feel free to have small blocks for silent reading outside. This practice helps students to see reading as a leisure activity, as opposed to simply a completion box to check. 
  • Consider holding catch-up or work periods to ensure that students are thoroughly completing assignments even as they weeks are winding down. Provide students with additional copies of tasks that they may have misplaced, make-up work from absences, reassessments, etc. For students that are all caught up, have options for them to partake in.

Homework: How to Make it Work

In the education world, homework has become a controversial topic—one in which people are greatly divided. Proponents of homework typically praise the fact that it allows students the opportunity to practice skills, self-check, and reflect on the learning. Conversely, opponents believe that homework has become “busy work,” an unnecessary or burden on young learners. Whatever your stance, most can agree that parents are the likely homework liaisons between young learners and the assignments that frustrate them. Parents are the ones to wipe the tears and pick up the pieces (sometimes literally). Thus, it is not unusual for parents to feel helpless at times when homework is getting the best of their children.

When you are feeling the pressures of homework at home, remember some of these key points:

  • Homework is not your job as the parent. Yes, you should remind, encourage, assist, and guide. However, it is to no one’s benefit that the parent handhold the child through the work. The point of homework is to assess the knowledge or skills acquired during class. If you are the one prompting answers or pulling teeth to get an assignment completed, your child is not getting the most from the learning opportunity.

  • The responsibility piece is huge when it comes to homework. On those evenings when your teen announces a surprise poster is due the following day, remember that this is not your responsibility to go on a late-night Staples spree. Will this frustrate your child? Yes. But encouraging your procrastinating adolescent to “figure it out” will end up being a greater learning moment than if you had scurried into super posterboard mom mode. Just be sure that your method and involvement as a parent matches your child’s age and genuine abilities.

  • Encourage your child to get into the habit of writing down the full details of an assignment during class. If your child or teen is unaware of the exact terms of the assignment, or its due date, the whole assignment can get lost in translation. It is not unusual that, when in a hurry, students will jot down a vague idea of the assignment, with little to no detail about how to complete it. This sloppily-scribbled, nondescript “worksheet” will not be much help when homework time begins. Instruct your child to write down the homework as specifically as possible, i.e., the page number, website, number of questions, chapters to read, or due date.

  • Stress the importance of the attempt. This is key when an assignment is becoming an overwhelming frustration for your child. Crying over geometry homework at the kitchen table will do little to motivate your child. If this happens, encourage your child to complete what she can, and explain the rest to her teacher privately. At this point, it is not about the homework points or credit. It is about the need for clarity before she can master the content or skill. Especially for the younger learners, completion for the sake of credit is not always worth the hours of frustration. Instead, send a quick email to your child’s teacher explaining the effort that your child put into the assignment. Homework is, after all, indicative of the child’s knowledge of the topic. The teacher will be appreciative of the information, as it will help to guide instruction and re-teaching strategies.

How to Perform a Close Reading: High School

In terms of critical thinking and close reading skills, high school students are fairly well-equipped to delve into text analysis. They have built a foundation and found some close reading strategies that work for them.  As we advance from reading comprehension and understanding texts to dissecting and analyzing the content (i.e. close reading), we must alter the strategies to explicitly teach students how to examine the finite details. This practice in critical thinking and analysis does not evolve in one fell swoop—it must be practiced.

The goal is to gain a richer understanding of the text by questioning, dissecting, and relating to it. This practice should help to cultivate an appreciation for literature—not stifle a high schooler’s interest with rote exercises. In order to accomplish this while still scratching the surface of building close reading skills, educators and parents can implement different strategies to subtly introduce the concept to their high schoolers.

  • Use movie stills—from films that students may not be familiar with—to up their analytical thinking skills. Cover the image with post-it notes. Then, while slowly revealing portions of the still, ask your high schoolers to describe what they think is happening in this scene of the movie. The key here is that they closely “read” the scenario without relying on the spoken words. This is a subtle way to prompt readers to look at the context clues in an image. Be ready with questions to take the discussion further, such as, “What genre might this movie be categorized as?” Or, “Where do you think this scene takes place based on the background?” Be sure that students explain and elaborate to ensure that they are not simply making blind guesses. The point of close reading is to use all of the clues available, along with prior knowledge and inferencing, to assess the text on a deeper level. Activities and questions like these motivate readers to look closely at the details and draw interpretations and inferences—the same practices involved in close reading written text.
  • Collect song lyrics to use as warm-up practices for close reading and analyzing. Choose from an array of genres or styles and print lyrics for each student. Just like poetry, song lyrics can mean vastly different things depending on the audience. Open up the discussion by asking why certain terms were chosen by the songwriter—does slang play a deliberate role, for example?
  • Provide high schoolers with advanced texts that prompt a more analytical approach. Perhaps the text is of a higher Lexile level. Or maybe you provide them with a period piece in which they would have to decipher an unfamiliar dialect. Whatever the case, high schoolers can further develop their close reading skills by approaching more complex texts. Ensure that they have access to search engines so that they can investigate words or concepts for more clarity. When reading any text, even an article, poem, or short story, there are bound to be some words that a high schooler is less familiar with. Practice recognizing when this happens by asking if she can define the term in her own words. If she doesn’t know, use a dictionary or web search to define the word. This practice allows teens to not only recognize when they are unfamiliar with a word, but encourages them to seek clarification—a skill required for close reading. Enrich this practice by asking high schoolers to create a Frayer model for each new term or find synonyms and antonyms for these newly-defined terms.
  • Introduce the concept of questioning the author’s creative choices by discussing the title of a new book. Again, the subtly of this practice is a great pre-reading strategy that encourages readers to make predictions. Ask why the author may have chosen this specific title? Are there any other titles that might fit the story? Ask students to make inferences about what might happen in the story based on the title. Be sure to ask her why she thinks that. After reading, refer back to initial assumptions or predictions and discuss new findings.
  • Encourage your readers to ask questions while reading. These questions are likely the beginning of the close reading process. Explain that questions may be left unanswered based on the story. Discuss how these unanswered questions allow readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions. Then, encourage students to seek others’ responses to the text. Many academic forums, like databases or anthologies, provide students with examples of close reading pieces written by authors, professors, etc. Viewing samples of the process helps students to recognize what to look for when performing a close reading.
  • Seek clues from uses of figurative language and other creative writing approaches. For example, ask why a certain poem contains repetition. Does it create a sense of urgency? Help to establish rhythm? Solidify the theme or central message? Look into an author’s background to identify influences or common themes. An understanding of the writer helps when investigating the text during close reading.

Stress Awareness Month: How to Lower Stress Levels in the Classroom

Stress in the classroom is all too familiar to a teacher. Someone once likened teaching to monitoring 30+ open, blinking tabs on a computer screen, while juggling and reciting Shakespeare. This comparison seems fairly accurate a lot of the time. So, if the adult in the room is feeling the stress, how do you think the students are feeling? Not so surprisingly, American children are sadly experiencing chronic stress in and out of the classroom. In fact, data indicates that pharmaceutical use for children with emotional disorders has risen to an alarming rate, as has the suicide rate for adolescents. We know from our own personal experiences that mounting stress has an enormous ripple effect on our day-to-day lives. Sleeping patterns, eating habits, productivity, concentration, academics, social/emotional well-being—all of these factors are very much correlated to stress levels. Seeing as teachers spend much of the day interacting closely with students, it then becomes our responsibility to not only teach, but also monitor the emotional well-being of our students.

The solution to stress in children should not begin by managing stressors once they have reached their peak, but rather helping students avoid getting to that point of eruption. Here are a few tips to help teachers take a proactive approach to stress:

Allow time for homework, large assignments, projects, or conferencing during class. Yes, this down time is likely not a central part of the scripted curriculum. However, with pockets of down time, students can not only practice multi-tasking, self-reflection, and peer conferencing, but they can also use this time as a moment to simply breathe. The typical middle schooler has anywhere from five to eight core classes during the day. With only a break for lunch and the rushed locker visits between classes, it is no wonder why middle schools are reporting an increase in stress levels, visits to the counseling office, and absenteeism. A simple 10-15 minutes of class every other day to pause, organize, reflect, or ponder could be a very necessary practice to employ if students are visibly stressed. Often times, adolescents’ stress levels mount when they feel incapable of maintaining the balancing act. To avoid this, allow class time every once in a while to simply have students get their bearings. These pockets of time can be used for anything—a school project, extra math practice, reading, or simply organizing. The key here is that the time is used to keep that overbooked sense of urgency at bay.

Encourage feedback on how your students are managing their schoolwork. Explicitly discuss what assignments, assessments, or projects are consuming the most time outside of school. Inquire about how long it took the average student to complete last weekend’s homework. Often times, what teachers consider to be “simply extra practice” can end up being a student’s sleepless night. Perhaps you may give anonymous monthly surveys to gauge how stressed your students are. But don’t just collect the data—use it to plan how you and other colleagues can minimize the impact that school stress is having on students.

Be flexible when a student is visibly struggling. If you know that a student is having a personal struggle at home, or if he has been out sick for several days, consider excusing the student from any assignments that are simply review items or filler homework. Of course, most assignments are (hopefully) central to the learning objectives of the class. For these tasks, provide extra help or one-on-one assistance so that your student does not feel burdened with the piles of make-up work. Similarly, be lenient with due dates—as teachers, we can easily tell the difference between a student who desperately needs more time and one that is milking absences.

Think of outlets for stress. In the same way that we hit the gym to expel the stress of the day, allow your students to explore options to clear their minds and bodies of any angst. If a walk to the water fountain before a big test keeps the jitters at bay, make that a routine. Or, have a stress ball or fidget collection to occupy nervous hands during class. When said task/test/lesson is over, acknowledge your students’ concentration, tenacity, and composure.  

 

How to Broaden the Social Circle: High School

One major aspect of schooling that helps to promote a teen’s development is the socialization that school provides. In no other realm would adolescents have hours of interaction with diverse groups of peers and adults on a daily basis. Learning alongside peers also benefits the development of teens’ social skills—not only do teens learn appropriate interactions at school, but they also learn other vital skills such as compromise, collaboration, perspective-taking, empathy, etc. So, recognizing that social skills are critical to education, how can we encourage building and maintaining strong social circles at the high school level?

Encourage acceptance. This may sound simple, but building acceptance and understanding among peers, especially teenagers, can be a tricky undertaking. Have open discussions about the importance of diversity, individuality, and differences among friends. The more accepting high schoolers are, the more open they will be to befriending someone new. Not only are these conversations important for families to have with their teens, but rather they also help to teach young adults the value of acceptance and compromise—two vital qualities for college and career readiness.   

Remind your high schooler that popularity should not come at the price of making genuine friends. Again, easier said than done. However, hard lessons about friendship often revolve around the supposed need to be “in the right crowd.” The adolescent years are difficult in terms of willingness to stray from the group. However, teenagers can only benefit from making connections with others. The idea of “the more, the merrier” certainly applies here. Being friends with others does nothing to take away from core friendships. Remind your teen that it is normal to have different or varying social circles. He or she should feel comfortable having family friends, neighborhood friends, sports friends, and more. Furthermore, remind your teen that to have a good friend, one must be a good friend.

Branch out when selecting or joining new extracurricular activities. Encouraging your teenager to try new things will not only broaden his or her horizon, rather it can also broaden his or her number of friendship groups. Your adolescent may want to try developing a new skill or hobby. Perhaps he or she could participate in a new art class, dance class, swim club, or tennis camp. These opportunities allow your teen to interact with and get to know new peers—peers he or she may not get to meet otherwise.

Discuss your own memories of friendships with your teen. Talk about how some of your friendships have stood the test of time, while others may have dissipated. Explain that it is normal and somewhat likely that some friendships will be fleeting. Depending on circumstances, friends come and go; some are relationships of convenience, not true compatibility. While discussing your own experiences with friends, model what it looks like to be a truly genuine friend. Puberty, confidence, self-consciousness—all of these transitional moments can make it difficult for teens to foster strong, authentic friendships. The more your teen understands what it looks like to be a good friend, the easier he or she will be able to meet new peers and maintain strong friendships. Ask him what he looks for in a “good friend.” Explain how he can take these positive traits and apply them to himself to ensure that he is treating his peers the way that he would like to be treated. Talk about the importance of honesty and loyalty. Make sure that your teen knows how to keep someone’s trust, be a good listener, and offer support when his friend needs him.

Avoid putting too much emphasis on the term “best friend.” Often times, teens can become caught up in the terminology. It may be because of a competitive desire to be “the best friend,” or because of the “cliquish” atmosphere that occurs during the teenage years. But, either way, a friend is a friend. Remind your teen that, just like she has other friends, her own friends have other friend groups as well. This does not mean that she should feel threatened or left out.