Tips for Parents with Teens Sheltering in Place

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My daughter’s senior prom night a few years ago when things were normal.

I’ve been thinking about how graduating seniors are feeling — stuck at home with mom and dad. Normally, teens are seeking independence from their parents and are ready to fly from the nest — which usually means college. But with COVID-19, some universities aren’t opening in the fall or they are offering classes online only. There may be no end in sight for these teens that they will ever leave the nest. Top that off with missing milestones like graduation and prom, and I wonder how the kids are surviving? They have been away from their peers for a couple months already. I remember how important friends were to me at this age — friends were my world.

In the Los Angeles Times, I read an article called Teens are feeling lonely and anxious in isolation. Here’s how parents can help by Lisa Boone. It offered advice from several mental health experts with tips of how parents can make their kids feel less anxiety during these crazy days of shelter in place. I suggest you read the entire article here.

When my son was a senior in high school, we really had a rough year. He was desperately wanting to be an adult, live his own life, and I was hanging on to motherhood and wanting him to be the child I had loved and known for 18 years. Of course we clashed. I can’t imagine what that year would have been like for us to be stuck at home with each other day and night!

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My son at the podium giving his graduation speech.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

As tens of millions of us continue to shelter in place, the most tractable of teens are feeling frustrated and anxious. They miss their former lives. They are uninterested in online classes and don’t want to follow quarantine guidelines anymore. And who can blame them?

Living in seclusion can produce quarantine fatigue, according to South Pasadena-based psychotherapist Noelle Wittliff, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with children, families and adolescents. “Many of the teens at my practice are hitting a wall,” Wittliff said. “They are over it. They want to go outside and connect with their friends. The online connection is just not cutting it.”

Normally adolescence, a developmental period marked by impulsivity and feelings of invincibility, is a time in which teenagers separate from their parents and bond with their peers. Now that families are confined at home, parents are in a peculiar position in which they have to balance the seriousness of the novel coronavirus with their teen’s desire for social interaction.

“Many of our teens are experiencing tremendous loss, and grief is an appropriate response to loss,” Wittliff said. “Depending on the age and school year of the teen, these losses can include proms, graduation ceremonies, end-of-year sports events, dances, parties, school activities, yearbook signings and simple proximity to beloved friends, teachers or significant others. The school shutdowns happened so abruptly that many of the teens that I work with did not have the opportunity to gather belongings from their lockers or classrooms, let alone say meaningful goodbyes to teachers and classmates.

“As parents, it’s important to hold space for all of these feelings and to recognize that teens don’t always communicate sadness in expected ways,” she said. “Sadness is often masked by frustration, irritability, anger or disconnection. These are protective reactions that mask vulnerability. The goal isn’t to take these defense strategies away but rather to be curious about what other feelings might be hiding underneath.”

For teens struggling with maintaining distance from their friends, Wittliff encourages parents to validate those feelings with empathy while reminding them this quarantine is temporary. Also, as a parent or guardian, manage your teenager’s expectations and don’t make promises that won’t come true.

Wittliff offers this advice: “Tell them, ‘I hear you and I know how hard this is. I know how much you miss your boyfriend or girlfriend and your friends but this is what is going on. The entire world is going through this. We are all taking precautions to stay safe.’”

Among the advice offered by experts in this article is to establish a routine — that you let your teen help develop. Try to have a fun activity every day plus get exercise outside. There’s many more tips in the article that are so helpful like practicing mindfulness, cooking, drawing, etc.

Although my daughter has left her teen years behind, she came home to shelter in place and work remotely rather than being in a tiny apartment with two other people.  For the 60 plus days she’s been here, I’ve learned to give her space. I no longer walk into her room unannounced like I would have when she was a five-year-old. I let her come to me instead. Also, we’re enjoying an outdoor activity each day. She plays tennis with me a few mornings a week or we walk or play smashball in the backyard pool. She also rides bikes with her dad in the evening. More than that and she’d probably be sick of us

Structure and predictability will help with the passing of time and give teens something to look forward to. “Every day and week that they get through sheltering in place brings them that much closer to getting back to their lives,” Wittliff said. “This is hard, but our kids are resilient. And they will get through it.”

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My son’s senior prom. They had a catered dinner in our back yard before the dance.

How are you helping your kids with COVID-19 fears and isolation from friends?

 

Tips to Make the Senior Year Count

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My daughter’s graduation with her pup Waffles.

School is starting and for a large group of parents, this may be their children’s senior year — whether it’s high school or college. Warning: you’re going to be emotional. There’s going to be a host of final moments. Lasts. And never agains.

Here’s some advice I wrote for SwimSwam about how your kids can make their final year count. I heard this from a former swim coach of my kids. I think it applies outside the pool and to more than our children. We can take the same approach ourselves to enjoy and make the most out of our kids’ senior year, too.

“I tell my swimmers to try for best times and leave on a high note their senior year,” said Tim Hill, a coach with more than 30 years experience at the club and collegiate level. “You have to plant the seed and let them know they can do it,” he advised. Hill currently coaches at Sharks Swim Team in Texas.

Often, I see kids quit swimming before their senior year because they aren’t improving and it’s plain hard to keep working at such an intense level. They may get “senioritis” and feel they’re “over it.” If our kids believe they can still improve, maybe they’ll stick with it for one more year and put in the hard work and effort.

Trying for a best time is one bit of motivation that can propel our swimmers through their final year. What a great time to look forward to—their final meet where seniors are recognized. It’s an amazing experience for them to compete for four years and have a satisfying closure to this chapter of their lives. When they know they’ve given it their best, they’ll look back on their swimming careers without any doubts or regrets.

What can we do as parents to encourage our young adults to keep swimming throughout their high school and college years?

ONE

Be proud.

According to a poll from the National Alliance for Youth Sports, around 70 percent of kids in the United States stop playing organized sports by the age of 13. If our kids are swimming through their high school and college years, we have reason to be proud and celebrate. We need to tell our kids how proud we are that they are sticking with their sport.

TWO

It looks good on their resumes.

We’ve heard that employers value athletes and especially swimmers. Employers know how hard our kids work, how organized and disciplined they are. They are competitive, goal orientated and can thrive in a challenging environment. Completing four years as a student-athlete is an accomplishment within itself.

THREE

Savor each moment.

According to many coaches and sports parenting experts, it’s important to tell our children, “I love to watch you swim.” When it’s the final year, treasure their swims, the other parents, the officials and coaches. It’s a part of our lives that seems to go on forever when they’re young, but at some point, it comes to an end. Don’t end your swim parenting years with any regrets. Have fun at your final meets and reach out to other parents to share the joy of being a part of the swim community.

What have you done—or will you do—to make the last year count?

Do you have plans to make your senior year count? Will you volunteer for senior banquets, graduation and other senior events? What friends will have you made that you want to see once the kids are gone? One thing I discovered was people I took for granted disappeared once we didn’t have kids on the team or school together. It’s worth the effort to stay connected. It can be as simple as a phone call or text. I’ve reconnected and stayed in contact with several school and swim moms and it’s a joy to get together.

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My son giving his high school graduation speech.

What are your plans to make the final year count?

 

3 Things My Son Did Wrong Applying to College

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son applied for college four years ago. Yes, he got in. But, it wasn’t to his first choice school. Nor, to his second. It was more like his 9th. Yes he got into one out of nine schools — his fall back school.

So what did this smart, kind, valedictorian, athlete, musician student do wrong?

First, the list of schools he applied to were all big-name top tier schools, ie. Harvard, Columbia, Yale, CalTech and Stanford, to name a few.

Please, do your research and apply to a wider variety of schools. Each application costs you money. Pick each school you apply to with care. There are many great state schools, small private schools and everything in between.

imgres-4Second, he freaked out about the essay. 

He sat for countless hours worrying about what to write staring at the blank computer screen. Looking back on it, he said it terrified him because he thought the essay was going to be the definitive work of his life.

Trust me. It’s not. Keep it simple, write in your own voice and give yourself time to rewrite, revise and rewrite again.  Let someone — a parent or teacher — read it before you send it in.

Robert with bandmates at the scholarship banquet

Robert with bandmates at the scholarship banquet

Third. He refused to show need of any kind. One of the 14 factors colleges look for in admissions is:  “Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances, including but not limited to: disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status.” I wrote about that here.

He truly had struggles with asthma. He had so many setbacks with swimming and missing school because of his health that most kids won’t experience. But, he said he wasn’t “playing that card.” My advice? Play whatever cards you’re given!

With upwards of 75,000 applying to a school that accepts less than 5,000 incoming freshman — it’s a numbers game. I wrote more about the numbers here in “My Son Wrote About His Crazy Mom for His Senior Project.”

Just for fun, you can listen to his highschool band, The Saucy Stenographers here. The song is called Desert Nights, written by Robert and sung by Marilynn Wexler.

With my son at the beach

With my son at the beach

7 Tips for Move-In Day for Parents of College Freshman — Or, You Too Will Survive.

Move-in day for the parents of college freshman can be overwhelming. Here are a few tips I wrote when we moved my daughter into her dorm room.

 

The check-in table at Move-in day.

The check-in table at Move-in day.

Yesterday was move-in day for our youngest. It was easy to spot check-in with bright red pop-up tents, a field of red carts and dollies, and a line of students ready to help move us in. Not us, but my daughter. It sure felt like us, though.

Being 15 minutes early was an excellent idea. There was parking. There were carts. There was a small line. Later in the day — parking was in the outer limits — and it was wall-to-wall students and parents making their way to the dorms with car loads of matching “Big Box College-Bound” gear.

In her dorm room getting settled.

In her dorm room getting settled.

Once in the room, we began lifting bedding, towels and clothing out of the cart. I wondered if I’d be strong, without tears, and how I’d get through the day. 

Here’s what worked and didn’t work:

1. Don’t try and unpack for your kid. Don’t try and put things away. This is their space, their new home. They need to make it their own.

2. Don’t hover and stay in their room. Make sure they have what they need and leave them alone. Be sure to be nearby for when they will invariably call.

3. Be prepared to shop multiple times during move-in day. We made one trip to Bed, Bath and Beyond, Home Depot and Costco — and five to Target. This was after we drove a packed-to-the-hilt Sequoia through four states with everything she needed.

4. Make lists. The large stores have lists for your student to make shopping easier. Of course, they have way more things on their lists than you actually need, but it’s a good starting point. Make your own list with the store’s list as a guide. After you move in your freshman’s things, you’ll discover what you didn’t think about or forgot — like strips to hang up pictures and art. Revise and rewrite your list as the day goes on.

5. Don’t try to stay up with the roomie. Some roommates will come equipped with flat screen TVs, $1,000 bikes, and the best and latest technology. Don’t worry about what they have and you do not. In a dorm room, keep remembering the mantra — LESS IS MORE!

6. Don’t go out and buy a router for the dorm’s WiFi until you read the section on technology on the college’s website. Most likely routers are not allowed and it’s a simple passcode that is needed instead.

7. Feed your student. He or she may be so intent on getting unpacked and settled and meeting dorm mates, that he or she won’t take time to eat. Make sure to stock bananas, apples, yogurt and other healthy snacks in their room and fridge.

The swim tee shirt quilt I made for my daughter's dorm room. Years of memories.

The swim tee shirt quilt I made for my daughter’s dorm room. Years of memories.

I made it through the day without tears — mostly. It was a long, busy and tiring day. When my husband and I stopped for lunch — alone — and I realized that we were truly alone — the tears ran down my cheeks. I wiped them off and prepared myself for battle for the next stop at Target. When it’s time to say good-bye — well, I’ll tell you how that goes. You can read about how I said goodbye here.

18 years ago.Here’s a song “Teach Your Children Well” that fits my mood today. Listen and enjoy!

14 Factors Colleges Look for in Admissions

I recently read an interesting article by Peter Kuo about state bill SCA-5. He believes the bill will discriminate against Asians in college admissions. It’s called reverse discrimination by many. Because of this, he’s running for the state senate.

images-7His article hit home, because of my own kid. We thought every school would be clambering for him to come to their schools, but he received small letters — instead of big packages — by 8 out of 9 universities. I don’t know for sure, but it seems this phenomenon called reverse discrimination might have been at play for him, too.

My son and friend at high school graduation.

My son and friend at high school graduation.


He had a resume as a high school student that most adults would envy. Things like top 10 student in the county, Boys’ State, a talented swimmer and musician, a tutor in math and english, president of the Latin and JSA clubs, awarded honors for academics by John Hopkins. Add to that valedictorian and high SAT scores, and community service — who wouldn’t want him? Well, Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Cal, UCLA and USC to name a few.

imgres-1Because of his GPA, the UC’s had to take him. (It’s called Identification by UC as being ranked in the top 9 percent of your high school class at the end of your junior year Eligible in the Local Context or ELC). So, he ended up at UCSB. At first he didn’t like it, because he was sorely disappointed with the flood of rejections. But, after getting through his freshman year, he began to thrive and love his new home.

Personally, I think I would have chosen UCSB over all the other schools he applied to. There’s something to say for being surrounded by the gorgeous majesty of mother nature every single moment of your day!  Also, I’m not sure the “big name” schools are all they are cracked up to be. Here’s an interesting article on this subject.  Of course, it’s up for debate, and if he’d been accepted to Stanford, I’m sure we’d have loved it!

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

View of the breathtaking UCSB campus.

So, what do universities look for when reading applications? There are 14 key factors that the UC schools use. Each UC campus has a few extras they consider  Here’s one point that stood out for me that my son didn’t have in the list of 14:

  1. Academic accomplishments in light of your life experiences and special circumstances, including but not limited to: disabilities, low family income, first generation to attend college, need to work, disadvantaged social or educational environment, difficult personal and family situations or circumstances, refugee status or veteran status.

You can read about all 14 factors here

At Cal Berkeley they add another factor that my son didn’t have:

In addition to a broad range of intellectual interests and achievements, admission readers seek diversity in personal background and experience.”

On the UC websites  it specifically states: “Race, ethnicity, gender, and religion are excluded from the criteria.” But in the factors I’ve highlighted, I see a large loop-hole to do just that — diversity in personal background?

So what could my son have done differently to be accepted? Intern at a major university with a professor and be published in journals? Or begin the ‘comic con of the desert’ he talked about?

Or, he could have stuck with his 12 years of swimming. Swimming can and will open doors to higher education. I’ve written a lot about swimming and college admissions in my blog.

Swimming opens doors for college.

Swimming opens doors for college.

On the other hand, my son studied, loved learning, was hard working and followed his passions.

In the end, you have to learn to be happy where you are. Making it into a name brand school, or being denied admissions to the school of your dreams isn’t the end of the world. Your four years in college — where ever you may be — are only as good as you make them.

Do you have any experiences with rejections from colleges? Please comment. I’d love to hear about them.

5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before The Kids Went to College

imgres-9This week I made the trek to the University of Utah to attend orientation with my daughter, who is an incoming freshman. Class of 2018 — does that sound scary or what?images-1

I spent two days in the pristine mountainside beauty of Salt Lake City with clear blue skies and intense sunshine. Parents attended most meetings without their kids, who were similarly engaged with topics angled for teenage consumption.summerFun_FrisbeeGolf_LBoye_067

Having been to college orientation three years prior with my firstborn, I didn’t think I’d learn anything new. However, in “Supporting your College Student” presented by Dr. Kari Ellingson, Associate Vice President, Student Development, I wished I’d heard her advice before I sent my first child to college.

“I think she’s met my son — the one who’s going to be a senior in college,” I whispered to a mom next to me. (He’s also the son who tried to give away the cat on FB.)

She answered, “No, I’m sure she’s talking about my oldest daughter!”

What did Dr. Ellingson have to say that we wished we heard the first time around?imgres-10First…

Children go through changes. But, if it’s your first child going to college, or your last, you will be going through changes, too. We are in the process of changing our relationship from parent to child to adult to adult. We go through transitions, pushing them away and holding them close.

Second…images-2
A student who works 10 to 15 hours on campus will do better in school than someone who works off campus, or doesn’t work at all. Students working on campus are making connections with the campus, student, and staff. They are completing their identity as a student first.

Students born from 1980 to 2000 are known as millennials. They don’t like to suffer —  they love nice things — and they don’t mind working for them. Unfortunately, this can interfere with their education. So, if they want spending money, suggest a job on campus.

Third…images-3
Cell phones according to Dr. Ellingson, are “the world’s longest umbilical cords.” Some students call home 5, 6, 7 times a day. In our day, we waited in line for the phone down the hall on Sundays — when long distance was cheaper — and horror of all horrors — there wasn’t such a thing as a cell phone!

Don’t let your child’s crisis become your crisis. Let them problem solve. Ellingson’s example was a daughter who called her mom and said, “I flunked my midterm. The professor hates me…” After consoling her crying daughter, the mother called back later with more advice. The daughter was like, “Huh? What are you talking about? Everything’s fine.”

images-5Fourth …
They are learning to become themselves. Making new friends. They will be grieving and letting go of high school friendships, but will build new and deeper ones. A main developmental issue is finding their identity. Their core stays the same, which has been developing over the past 18 years. But, how they express themselves changes.

They may try on new identities by copying new friends to see how it fits or feels. You may say to yourself, and hopefully not to your child, “Who the hell is this?” Then you meet their new friend, and say to yourself, “Oh, now I see who this is!”

Intellectually they are still developing. They see things differently than before. They love to debate. They will try out their debating skills, or how to express themselves by choosing opinions contrary to yours, even if it isn’t what they truly believe.

And Fifth…imgres-2
Dr. Ellingson talked about independence: “Their first steps as a toddler are towards you. Every step after that is running away from you.”

They need to discover how to be on their own — and this is one of their fears. Delayed maturation is common. It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28. They will say to you “Leave me alone!” Then, “bail me out!” This is normal. The pendulum will swing back and forth.

Just remember to love them, guide them, but let them figure it out. The more we solve their problems, the more we delay their growth into independent, responsible adults.

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And one more thing…”GO, UTES!!!”


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3 Things to Tell Your Daughter on Graduation Night

katwideToday my little girl graduates high school. What a joy she has been to raise, teach and hang out with. I remember her kindergarten interview where she had to be tested for one of the coveted spots at St. Theresa’s. She had fun buns on her head and ankle high “Britney Boots,” marketed for little girls dreaming of becoming Britney Spears. She boldly entered the kindergarten class and announced to the world that she was “Robert’s little sister.”

IMG_4888Today, I have a tall, wise-cracking young lady with a big smile and sparkle in her eye. If I could tell my daughter three things she needs to know for her next adventure called college, what would it be? 

katpromharryFirst…

“To thine own self be true.” Don’t worry about what other people think. Do what you know is right. This famous quote is from Polonius to his son Laertes, before Laertes boards a boat to Paris in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Even though it’s pretty old, it still resonates today.

katsurfSecond…

Happiness is not having a boyfriend or being thin. My mom would tell me the worst things when I was my daughter’s age — mainly focused on the need to “have a man” — or that “a man would make me happy.” This must be a throwback to my mother’s generation, where a woman’s identity and self worth were wrapped up in a spouse. Instead, I will tell my daughter that happiness is found within yourself — by doing something that you love. Once you find happiness in yourself, only then can you share it with others.

swimmer4Last…

Don’t worry about what your career or major will be. You will figure it out. Don’t feel pressure about it. Most people going into college that have a major, change their minds anyway. Get your basic requirements out of the way and then after taking different classes you will discover what you don’t like and what you do like.katandrobert

And most importantly, not even on the list — I love you.

What three things would you tell your daughter on graduation night?