My two teenage girls started new public schools in the scenic Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles. They are both making this transition during a phase in their academic careers when my youngest is entering her final year of middle school and her sister is starting her sophomore year of high school. The timing isn’t exactly ideal to make a significant change and be forced to make new friends and figure out a new school campus, but life is about staying flexible and finding a path that feels right. They have changed schools many times previously from public to private and back again. Some experiences were good, and some were downright ugly, but all were enriching nonetheless and each made them the strong, independent young ladies they are today.
As they blossom into full-fledged teenagers, my attention has turned to preparing them for the challenging road to college. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been combing the August issue of Town & Country - the one containing the College Anxiety Guide – and it has made me even more clear on the message I want to impart on my girls going forward. Given the current climate of our country and the vitriol we are witnessing across the globe, it is crucial that our teens are equipped with solid character-building skills and self-respect so that they can interact with their peers at school and the world in a way that is both meaningful and constructive. While I'll never stop preaching the tenets of The Golden Rule or reminding them to keep their social media clean, there are deeper themes I want them to hold dear at the start of this new school year.
Acceptance. These first days and weeks of school set the tone for the next nine months. One single student can make a significant impact for the better and have a rippling effect on a class at large. Whether attending a big school or small, there will be kids in attendance from different economic, religious, ethnic, cultural, and sociological backgrounds and each is equally entitled to be there. Be kind, be tolerant, and be friendly with everyone. A smile and simple acknowledgment place all on a level playing field.
Balance. Every teen needs an outlet and athletics or some type of physical activity is just the antidote for both the book worm and the social butterfly. The natural endorphins achieved through moving the body create equilibrium and help to diminish feelings of anxiety and anger. Participating as a member of a team or taking a group exercise class provides much needed interpersonal connection and expands social circles.
Intuition. The teen years are wrought with bad decisions and the constant test of will to do what is right or fall prey to peer pressure. Teens need to learn to go with their gut feeling. It will never steer them wrong. And, this is where the self-respect component plays a significant part. If teens have a strong sense of self and it is nurtured by their parents, they will tap into it to make better choices. They will become imaginative and find ways to fool their silly friends when it comes to drugs and alcohol and they will think twice before jumping into a car with an unsafe driver.
Passion. “Passion cannot be faked.” I wholeheartedly agree with Charles Isherwood in his article Liberal Bias for Town & Country magazine. Educational institutions are growing smarter to the fact that many kids may be fulfilling their parent’s prophecy rather than pursuing their own personal interests. Now’s the time for teens to explore activities that they are particularly passionate about whether that be student government or sailing the high seas. If they haven’t figured it out yet, then parents can present options and make suggestions, but they should really be in the driver's seat.
Trust. Teens throw this word around loosely without the faintest clue of its true gravity and power. They demand that parents ‘trust’ them as if they are old enough to make adult decisions. What they really need to start mastering is trusting themselves and earning our trust. They must also practice the art of trusting their friends and trusting the universe at large. Real trust can turn seemingly large problems into smaller manageable ones. It allows teens to take a beat and give another person the benefit of the doubt rather than going immediately for the jugular. By trusting the universe they are staying nimble, they are giving up control, and they are committing to the notion that everything will work itself out in the end. Not such a bad thing in my book.