Category Archives: Blog

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Are Community Colleges the Future of Higher Ed?

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By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

“I would encourage the young as well as the old to find what excites them and study it.” -Dr. Russell Hyken

The verdict is in: Stereotypes of higher education past have dealt community colleges and vocational schools a bad hand.

And a Time magazine special report on higher education showed the general population (74 percent) strongly or somewhat agreed that there is just too much emphasis on attending a four-year college as opposed to community college or a vocational school.

So, what’s the deal then? These educational experts weigh-in and dish why there’s absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a community college or vocational school for your next educational step after high school.

“Community colleges and/or vocational schools are better than elite universities.”

Surprisingly, this quote comes from Adrian McIntyre, PhD, a cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Berkeley. That’s right –– a public university.

So, why would McIntyre have a seemingly conflicting opinion?

“I have over 13 years experience in university teaching,” McIntyre said. “I’ve also lived and worked in over 30 countries as a journalist, educator, social science researcher, and humanitarian aid worker, so my perspective is rather unconventional.”

Here, he lists his top three reasons for attending a community college:

  1. They tend to serve the broad public interest, rather than the narrow self-interest of a privileged intellectual elite. This means that classroom instruction and practical training is more focused on what’s working now in real-world situations, rather than on the esoteric interests of a career academic whose own reference group is almost exclusively comprised of other career academics.
  2. They’re a good deal cheaper, in most cases, and provide a far greater emphasis on the acquisition of important work-related skills.
  3. They provide an excellent environment for students who are unsure of their long-term commitments –– which is most of them, try out lots of things and fail at them. (People tend to forget that trial-and-error necessarily includes error!) In my experience, students are in too great a rush to “get somewhere” in life without having a clear sense of where they’re going.

“I like that the general population is seeing that too much emphasis is being placed on four-year college.”

Dr. Russell Hyken, author of The Parent Playbook, said the “problem” with four-year colleges being the expected next step after high school is that, while some students are fit for the environment, many are better off attending a community college or vocational school.

“The key to being happy is following your passion in life. If a student loves cars, then go to community college and become a certified mechanic; if a student loves animals, then go to vet tech school; if a student loves literature, then go study English at a four-year college,” Hyken said. “I would encourage the young as well as the old to find what excites them and study it. There are growth opportunities in just about every field. Find your passion, work hard, and life will be better than being stuck in a job that does not fit your interest.”

Hyken points out that regardless of what form of education a student chooses after high school, the key is choosing something.

“Community colleges are great places to explore different courses and figuring out where your passion and interests lie.”

Dr. Francisco C. Rodriguez, superintendent and president of MiraCosta Community College District, a comprehensive two-year community college in Oceanside, CA, said he often tells students, “it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”

“From a two-year community college, students can transfer to nearly any university in the nation,” Rodriguez said. “Here at MiraCosta College, we have a large number of students transfer to UCSD, UCLA, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara and to private universities like Harvard, Duke and USC. The students who take this path are at a substantial advantage because of our smaller classes and emphasis on teaching excellence.”

Rodriguez said students also find two-year community colleges, like MiraCosta, advantageous because they are not only saving money, but learning skills that may not be taught in traditional four-year colleges. As a result, Rodriguez said they’ve seen a jump in enrollment as a result of students who are seeking education as trained workers.

“Most people would be better suited pursuing vocational training instead of attending a traditional college program.”

Chris Surprenant, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Orleans, maintains that the focus in today’s society needs to be on “vocational training, and not so much on the type of school that someone is attending.”

“Advanced study of the sciences, arts, or humanities is not suited for everyone. But everyone needs to get a job, and to get a job you need useful skills,” he said. “To the extent that vocational training will develop these skills, the vast majority of people should be pursuing some form of vocational training beyond high school.”

“Not everybody has to follow the same path to find career satisfaction and a good source of income.”

Dr. Brian Mauro, the associate provost of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s College at Florham in Madison, NJ, said that regardless of what path a student chooses, it’s important he or she considers whether the time, energy and expenses will provide career earning potential and career satisfaction.

“Each individual must choose his or her own educational path,” Mauro said. “He or she must determine which educational experience will provide the quality experiences he or she is looking for as well as the support to help him or her succeed.

Mauro said benefits of attending a traditional four-year college, such as FDU, include more job opportunities because the “unemployment rate is significantly lower for people with a college degree.”

“Community colleges offer locality.”

Dr. Kelli DuCloux offered a unique perspective on the subject when explaining the reasons she sent her 13-year-old son to Riverside Community College District in Perris, CA, after realizing his academic advancement.

“The community college setting offered a more conducive arena that could bridge that gap from the rigors of a major university setting with all its nuances, while still providing some academic challenge beyond that of traditional school for a 13-year-old child,” she explained.

DuCloux said she was also drawn to the fact that the local community college was close to home.

“Our local community college has three colleges in our vicinity,” she said. “He has taken classes onsite at a satellite location as well as online classes with instructors based at the main campus. Both sites are within 15 miles of our home.”

“Today’s community college students are looking for more than simply value.”

Jon Frank, founder and CEO of Admissionado, pointed out that, while budget concerns might have been the original reason students were choosing community colleges or vocational schools “today, reduced cost is just part of the picture.”

Frank referenced a study from Sallie Mae that reported 22 percent of college students with a family income of over $100,000 opted for a community college last year. Four years ago, it was at 16 percent.

“The bottom line is this: the image of the older student returning to community college to take a few certificate classes is changing,” Frank said. “Across the U.S., 46 percent of community college students are younger than 21, according to a 2007 report from the American Association of Community Colleges, up from 42.5 percent in 2003. These younger and often more affluent students also expect a rich on-campus community, complete with extra-curricular activities, upgraded campus facilities, perhaps even the ability to earn credits through summer travel experiences. To meet this demand, today’s community colleges are cultivating ‘the complete college experience.'”

“Students should pursue the degree program that is the best fit for their needs and aspirations.”

Ultimately, said Meredith Principe, vice president of operations and college counseling at, the driving factor behind any choice to attend an institution of higher learning should be the student’s goals for his or her career path.

“The pressure to attend college directly after high school, as opposed to taking time off to work, explore careers, volunteer, or travel, causes some students to enter college without putting serious thought into what career path will be best for them,” she said. “As a result, some students end up in a four-year curriculum before determining whether or not they need a four-year degree.”

Quick Tips:

  • Adequately research all higher learning opportunities to discover the school that will offer the best training for your future career.
  • Don’t let traditional standards interfere with your goals for school.
  • Keep in mind that a community college or vocational school can be used as a stepping stone toward eventually earning a four-year degree.

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Public Violence

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With the recent amount of tragic events, children are being exposed to public violence. Dr. Hyken was on Fox2Now discussing how to talk to your children about these events.

Ladue News gathered a group of professional counselors who shared their advice for families undergoing trauma and tragedy in their lives.

Dr. Russell Hyken, psychotherapist/education diagnostician, Educational & Psychotherapy Services

  • First, ask your son or daughter what they have heard about the event. If the children do have those gory details, then change the direction of conversation and focus on the good people supporting the teachers and parents.
  • Reassure children that their school is safe and tell them of the school’s protocols. “That’s what children want to hear—that they will be safe.”
  • When young children do voice their concerns and worries, acknowledge their feelings. Then, re-direct their energy and do something fun.
  • It is important to build time into your week to spend time with your children. “It doesn’t have to be serious conversations; but by having that time, children will feel comfortable talking with you in the future when serious or troubling issues occur in their lives.”

Rekha Ramanuja, child and adolescent psychologist, Clayton Behavioral and Epworth’s Residential Treatment Program

  • Talk to friends, family, or a specialist. If you are a grieving parent, then you need an outlet quickly.
  • If the child is actually a witness or survivor to a traumatic event, then there is no simple way to deal with everything your child is experiencing. “But start by letting your children know that you love them and are going to support them.”
  • If the child is afraid, “Be patient and let the child know this feeling will not be the same forever. Just let them know you’re available to talk.”
  • It is OK to say, “I don’t know the answer, but we’ll find it together.”
  • Children and teenagers display signs of stress differently. Some talk a lot, ask numerous questions, have stomachaches or headaches, or become preoccupied with the issue.
  • Older children may display changes in personality or in their habits. Parents can start begin a conversation by saying, “I noticed that you’re not yourself. Is it the shooting (or other traumatic event)? It’s OK, because it has affected me, too.”
  • If you are asking too many questions, then back off; let your child sort out their thoughts and come to you.

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Kids and Lying

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My kids have never lied to me – never! After all, I am a family therapist who knows how to raise truthful children. If I believe that, then my kids are not only telling tall tales, but also getting away with it. In fact, if your child has not fibbed, that may be more concerning than the lie itself. Telling falsities is an important part of one’s emotional growth, and it is not a bad thing, depending on the age of the child.

Fibbing for the toddler set is a sign of a fast-developing brain, an emerging quick wit, and a benchmark of future life success. In other words, children who tell ‘good’ lies typically are smart kids because lying takes a lot of brain power. In fact, creating untruths is a complex process requiring a young mind to not only merge multiple ideas but also manipulate that information to one’s own advantage. Parents should not be alarmed; rather, they should consider creative story-telling an opportunity to have a teachable moment.

Preschoolers have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. In most situations, it probably makes sense to let your child’s imagination run wild, but a ‘cover-up’ story to avoid trouble should be discussed. Respect your youngster’s creative abilities, but comment that lying is unacceptable. Don’t express anger; rather, encourage truth.

As children enter the elementary years, lying does not stop; it just changes. Kids begin to develop a moral compass and understand the concept of polite social lying. Most appreciate that it is better to tell grandma that they love the ugly holiday sweater than hurt her feelings. Children, however, still occasionally bend the truth mostly to avoid punishment or doing something unpleasant like emptying the trash. Now, however, it is time to have an age-appropriate consequence because your intelligent offspring knows they have done something wrong.

Teenagers typically lie to avoid consequences, protect their friends, or do something their parents forbid. In these situations, it is best to have a predetermined consequence that is short, immediate and painful, which will help to avoid an overblown parent/child argument. But also make sure to ask your teen what she was thinking as that question can provide needed insight into her adolescent mind.

No matter the age of your child, maintain your cool when dealing with mistruths, tall tales and blatant falsities. Parents should attempt to calmly discuss rather than interrogate. It also is important to appreciate your child’s honesty when they do finally admit to the lie. Avoid calling your child a liar, as this just leads to hurt feelings and more arguing. It is acceptable to express disappointment, but avoid criticizing. Your ultimate parental goal is to intrinsically motivate your child to make good decisions.

And truth be told, it is probably not your child’s fault he occasionally tells untruths. Kids learn from their environment, picking up both the best and worst traits of the adults around them. Most adults tell the occasional ‘white’ lie or omit the truth. Try to avoid this natural tendency when you are around your kids. While you may want to save money at the movies or while dining in a restaurant, misrepresenting your child’s age teaches that lying is acceptable.

If you notice your child habitually or compulsively lying, it may be time to seek professional assistance. Telling consistent untruths often is a defense mechanism young people use to avoid difficult problems. An infrequent isolated incident, however, is not a cause for parental alarm. In fact, it may be a sign that you gave birth to a highly creative, intelligent child; at least, that is what I tell myself on that rare occasion I catch my child stretching the truth.

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Staying Focused During the Holidays

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It is beginning to look a lot like the holidays: Streets are filled with decorations, Christmas specials are on TV, and kids fantasize about snowy days and new video games. This ‘most wonderful’ time of the year, however, also is a most distracting and stressful time of the year, especially if you are a kid.

School does not slow down during the holidays; rather, it speeds up. Final exams are taken, long-term projects are due, and essential last-minute tasks are assigned as the semester comes to an end. There also are big games and special events to attend. Combine an increased work load along with many distracting festivities, and it can be difficult for anyone to stay focused.

Parents should take advantage of the hectic holiday season to perpetuate a good habit or start a new family tradition: talking to your kids about school. It can be complicated coordinating multiple schedules for a serious discussion, but that is the point. When times get too busy, families need to focus on life, relationships and academics.

Learning to study is an evolutionary process that continually needs adjustment. Have a conversation with your student discussing what homework habits work best, as well as potential problem areas. Kids should be encouraged to learn from their mistakes, make changes as necessary and celebrate successes. Being a supportive parent is one of the greatest gifts you can give a child, but it may take many years before your offspring truly appreciates your parenting style.

In general, most students struggle to balance school and outside extracurriculars. The holidays, however, provide additional opportunities for students to go astray. A key to staying on task is to avoid being overwhelmed. With parental assistance, kids should set a schedule at the start of each week, designating times to study and times to enjoy the festivities.

Additionally, unforeseen activities often pop up during busy times, and kids may waste energy because they are not in the correct state of mind to attack their academics. Regular weekday check-ins can assist students with making appropriate adjustments and, at the same time, provide additional support. A gentle parental push to work efficiently encourages students to prioritize work and strike a better balance between school and holiday fun.

The proper ambiance also is particularly important during this season of distraction. The study area should be stocked with pens, pencils, paper and other essential aids such as healthy snacks and beverages. Sitting at a desk in a well-lit room also is more conducive to learning than lounging on a comfortable couch. Light background music can assist with focus, but upbeat holiday songs should be avoided until homework is complete.

Parents, too, can bolster academic productivity by joining the study-time fun. Sit at the desk alongside your student and bring your work to the table. This not only models good habits but also provides a unique bond as families unite to do work before engaging in play. Additionally, your student will also be less likely to text, Facebook or Skype with a parent in the room.

Finals are finished, school is over, and it is time to take a breather. An essential way to recharge and re-motivate is to enjoy the holidays and focus on the family. Shift away from the daily stresses of school and work to create a new family tradition. Get everyone together to bake holiday cookies, prepare a special breakfast, or take a trip to the ice rink. Special times create lifelong memories that outlast the temporary enjoyment provided by expensive or trendy gifts. Yes, kids want presents, but they also want to be part of a family.

Life is always hectic. The holidays can, however, allow families to temporarily leave behind the daily grind and spend time focusing on each other. The food is great, the atmosphere is special, and relaxation is encouraged—it truly is the most wonderful time of the year. Happy holidays!

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Bullying Knows No Age

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Today’s bullies are much more sophisticated than the troublemakers of my youth. Victims, these days, don’t typically have a black eye or bloody nose; rather, they arrive home with internal scars that are unnoticeable to their parents and more emotionally damaging than a punch to the stomach.

One thing that has not changed over the years is the definition: Bullying is unwanted or aggressive acts among individuals of all ages that involve a real or perceived power imbalance. These acts are continually repeated over time and may range from physical harassment to complicated emotional abuse such as exclusionary tactics and rumor-spreading.

Unfortunately, thousands of children wake up every morning afraid to go to school because they fear their peers, and it is a problem that affects kids from kindergarten through senior year and beyond. Interestingly, some children–especially younger ones–often are unaware that they are hurting others, but older adolescents will employ intentional tactics aimed at devastating their targets.

As kids enter into kindergarten, they begin to understand social norms and rules but have difficulty grasping expectations. Playground cliques emerge as some kids enjoy sports, others play house, and many climb on the jungle gym. When an unwanted peer tries to join the fun, a popular member may belittle the unknowing child to the amusement of his friends. Enjoying this new-found attention, the group leader becomes a playground bully.

While it is true that the elementary years are a time of innocence for most, it also is the period where many begin to notice that others are different. Children begin to tease their classmates because of height, weight, interests, learning issues, clothes, hair color and other unimaginably unique qualities. Sadly, frequent teasing often leads to more than just tears as even first-graders can become anxious and depressed.

When kids enter middle school, bullying becomes more common and more vicious. Peer pressure, pack mentality and an undeveloped moral compass can foster unrelenting meanness toward others. Some even become overly aggressive to establish their social status. Furthermore, it can be developmentally difficult for a tween to understand that he has ‘crossed the line,’ resulting in some viciously persistent harassment. Victims become isolated, and it also is common for the abused to physically fight back.

The middle-school mentality still exists in high school, but teen bullies often engage in a much wider spectrum of abuse. Furthermore, different sexes use different strategies: Boys typically are more direct (physically and verbally), while girls are more indirect, often engaging in relational abuse such as crowding an unwanted individual out of a lunch spot. Technology also enters the picture and cyber-bullying provides the opportunity for 24/7 attacks. Unfortunately, older adolescents are less likely to report acts of aggression and more likely to suffer serious mental health concerns.

No matter the age, persistently bullied children suffer long-lasting biological effects as structural changes occur in the brain as a result of the emotional damage. Bullied children produce more stress hormones, which creates a constant awareness and sensitivity to potentially stressful situations. For this reason, students spend more time scanning the environment for threats, making it difficult to concentrate, learn and relax. Furthermore, many victims don’t properly develop the needed emotional and cognitive abilities to lead successful lives because they are continually worrying and protecting themselves from others.

If you feel your child is the victim of continual harassment, take appropriate action. Call or email your child’s homeroom teacher or principal, and objectively report your concerns. Find a therapist who has school experience. And, most important, involve your child in a new activity that introduces him to other kids with similar interests.

At some point during the educational years, most students will be victimized. A recent American Justice Department study indicated that 77 percent of all students have been bullied, and 15 percent of those kids reported that they were treated severely and suffered long-lasting effects. To ensure that your children stay safe, stay involved in their lives. Continually connect with your kids so they feel comfortable speaking to you about any topic.

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Is TV Making Our Kids “Mean Girls”?

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A new study finds that social aggression is depicted on a vast majority of children’s TV programs, and could be playing into increases in psychological bullying. The Healthline Editorial Team recently featured Dr. Hyken in an article about how this trend is affecting our children.

Study Roundup: Is TV Making Our Kids “Mean Girls”?

By Megan McCrea

We’ve all heard the adage: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But is it true?

Over the years, considerable attention has been paid to combating the “sticks and stones”—namely, nose-bloodying schoolyard bullies. We’ve given less thought to hurtful words. However, mounting evidence suggests that our kids can’t ignore this psychological bullying.

In recent years, studies have shown that “social aggression”—mean-spirited behaviors like excluding peers, giving dirty looks, manipulating friends, and spreading rumors—can cause real damage. Victims of social aggression experience adjustment problems, suffer low self-esteem, and, in severe cases, commit suicide. The problem has become so severe that, in 2006, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services labeled “psychological bullying” a serious public health issue.

But where do children learn to behave this way? New research published today in the Journal of Communication provides keen insight on one possible cause: TV. In the study, researchers analyzed the content of the 50 most popular children’s television shows, from American Dad toZoey 101. They charted how often incidents of social aggression occurred, what kind of aggression occurred, and how that aggression was portrayed.

The Expert Take

The head of the study, Dr. Nicole Martins, said the study highlighted the antisocial messages prevalent on TV. The study found that 92 percent of the shows studied depicted instances of social aggression.

In an interview with Healthline, Dr. Martins explained the idea behind the study. “[We looked for] any behavior intended to damage the self-esteem or social standing of a target. This could include something as simple as calling someone a mean name…[or engaging in] more nuanced behaviors like cruel gossip.”

Dr. Martins and her research partner Dr. Barbara J. Wilson found that, on average, incidents of social aggression occurred 14 times per hour. That’s one rolled eye, cutting comment, or sarcastic laugh every four minutes.

They also considered context—whether the show depicted social aggression in an appealing way. The result? “Socially aggressive acts were significantly more likely to be committed by an attractive perpetrator,” writes Dr. Martins. In addition, the characters that perpetrated these actions were rarely punished.

Dr. Russell Hyken, a psychotherapist and bullying expert, says that this trend is troubling. “If kids see [socially aggressive behavior] on TV…it becomes commonplace and ultimately accepted,” Dr. Hyken says. “It can also spawn copycat behavior.”

Dr. Hyken notes that, based on his own personal observation as a psychotherapist and former school administrator, this sort of social bullying is on the rise. “The bully behavior used to be physical—bloody noses, bruises. You could spot it a lot easier.”

Today, he says, “the bullying has become more sophisticated”—i.e., socially aggressive—and harder to see. However, it still leaves profound emotional scars.

What’s more, the lessons kids learn today stay with them for life. “It’s important to keep in mind that young bullies grow into adult bullies,” says Dr. Hyken.

So what does this mean to parents? Should you throw away your TV?

“These findings should help parents and educators recognize that there are socially aggressive behaviors on programs children watch,” writes Dr. Martins. “Parents should not assume that a program is okay for their child to watch simply because it does not contain any physical violence.”

She suggests that parents “use these shows as a teaching tool. When parents see a socially aggressive portrayal in a program that their child is watching, [they should] remind the child that these behaviors are not okay and can cause real harm.”

Source and Method

Researchers from Indiana University Bloomington and University of Illinois analyzed 150 programs—three episodes each of the 50 most popular American children’s TV programs according to Nielsen Media Research. In order to measure social aggression, they noted each instance in which a perpetrator committed a socially aggressive act directed toward a target.

The study found that a vast majority of the children’s TV programs sampled featured instances of social aggression. These acts occurred frequently, and they were often perpetrated by attractive characters. These characters’ actions almost always went unpunished.

Other Research

While social scientists have done a great deal of research about the link between television-watching and physical aggression, the link between TV-watching and social aggression has not been widely studied. Only two previous studies examined social aggression on television.

A 2004 study published in Aggressive Behavior found that 92 percent of the programs sampled—a group of shows popular with British adolescents—showed instances of social aggression.

Another study, published in 2005, focused on TV programs popular with teens and young adults. That study found that 93 percent of female characters in comedies engaged in indirect aggression, a close cousin of social aggression.

Dr. Martins and Dr. Wilson performed another study, published in Human Communication Research, which examined the psychological effects of watching social aggression on TV. They found that children who spent more time watching shows depicting social aggression were more likely to perpetrate these behaviors at school.

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Separation Anxiety and the First Day of School

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Most back to school articles tend to talk about preparing kids for the first days of school, and this is an important, attention worthy topic. I, however, want to focus on us, the parents, and how we deal with the freedom that September brings. While many are excited to reclaim their homes and their free time, some actually dread the start of school and experience significant stress about their child’s academic success, social circles, and self esteem.

Parents, just like their children, can experience anxiety as summer vacation ends. Furthermore, an anxious adult can negatively impact their child’s mood as kids have an intuitive sense about their parents’ emotional state. If we don’t keep our feelings under control, our kids may mirror our behavior.

The pangs of separation often impact parents as they overly worry about how their children are adjusting to the start of school. In fact, some mothers drop by the classroom and send teacher emails to alleviate their concerns. Others overcome their anxiety by delving into household projects or other “productive” tasks. These short-term fixes, however, may not relieve those anxious feelings, so try to engage in some endorphin boosting activities such as running or scheduling extra time at the gym.

Many parents also rightfully fear that the initial separation associated with the first day of school will be overly emotional for themselves and their children. Visions of a crying child often loop through a concerned mother’s mind especially because this could actually happen. Emotional or not, parents need to exit school quickly after the initial drop off. In fact, a parental presence typically prolongs the stressful situation. While it is painful to see a panicked child, parents need to keep a stiff upper lip and move on. Teachers are well equipped to handle these opening day meltdowns.

Another big stressor is being unprepared for the start of the new school year. Many women focus on getting kids ready with back to school shopping, visiting the appropriate doctors, and attending to last minute details. It is just as important, however, to review school paperwork which contains valuable information about your child’s teachers, room number, and needed school supplies. Also, pay attention to adjusted hours that often accompany the first few days of school. This will ensure the first week goes smoothly reducing not only your anxiety but also creating a positive experience for your kids.

The start of school has also been known to create moody, cranky children causing many parents to be overly apprehensive about the first few weeks. These elevated emotions are the result of newly imposed structure. Students spend all summer waking when they want and lounging about the house. Overnight, they must get up early and eat at scheduled times. A week before the opening bell, structure the day like school is in session. Adjusting the internal body clock prior to the big day puts everyone in a better mood.

Also, don’t forget to talk to your kids about opening day jitters. Parents should not only reassure but also problem solve. Show empathy, work on real solutions to their valid concerns, and avoid dwelling too much on the situation. Parents can create bigger issues if they over focus on a child’s problems. Once you realize that your student is well prepared, your parental anxieties will be significantly reduced.

Lastly, to further alleviate any anxious parental feelings, email your child’s teacher. Professionals are happy to provide feedback about school progress. In fact, be specific about your concerns to receive relevant information about your situation. Teachers appreciate the inquires, and this will further insure that both you and your child have a stress free start.

The beginning of the school year is a period of adjustment for all family members. A good start, however, will benefit a student’s attitude, confidence, and performance long after the opening bell has rung. Even if things get a bit shaky, parents need to maintain a positive attitude. Time will resolve most issues, and kids are actually more resilient than their parents realize.

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How Important Are Grades?

While grades provide valuable insight into a child’s proficiency in a given subject, keeping scores in perspective is key to your child becoming a lifelong learner. Dr. Hyken recently contributed to an article by parenting and family expert Joanna Nesbit on Mom’s Homeroom, an MSN Living site aimed at helping parents empower their children to succeed in school.

By Joanna Nesbit

These days, many elementary schools use standards-based report cards featuring multiple scores in one subject to communicate a child’s proficiency. If your child’s school is among them, chances are you’re not getting caught up in a grade craze at your house. Still, it’s hard not to spotlight that report card each semester.

We want our kids to focus on learning and work up to their potential. We also hope they earn good grades. So how do we communicate what could potentially sound like a double message? And what happens if we focus too closely on the grade side of the equation?

According to Dr. Deb Moberly, former associate professor and founder of an early-childhood-development consulting service, education researchers examined the use of grades during the 1980s and ’90s and found that grades affected kids’ interest in learning. When graded, children tended to prefer easier assignments and became less interested in learning for learning’s sake. Studies also revealed that receiving low grades did not motivate kids to study more.

Yet somehow teachers must communicate students’ abilities and mastery of academic skills to parents. “But while educators debate systems, standards and assessment measures,” says Moberly, “ultimately it falls to the families to deal with teachers and their own children in grading situations.” Here’s how to keep it in perspective and give your kids the message that learning is more important than acing all their tests.

Understand the meaning of grades
First, think of grades not as a reward, but as a means of communicating with parents. “It’s important to remember that grades are a communication tool with a lot of gray area that varies from school to school,” says Dr. Russell Hyken, educational consultant, psychotherapist and author of The Parent Playbook. In the lower elementary grades, qualitative systems for communicating content mastery work best because kids vary a great deal in cognitive development. For example, a child may know her math facts but not be able to execute them quickly. “Being graded on speed before a child is ready can impede further learning,” Hyken says.

At the fourth-grade level, when children are learning new math skills that can often prove troublesome (fractions and long division), Hyken says a grade may capture the initial struggle a child is having but not reflect the fact that the light bulb is about to go on. “It’s important to understand whether it’s your child struggling or whether it’s a new subject that everyone is struggling with,” he says. Rather than looking to report cards, talking with teachers throughout the year is key.

Get involved with your child’s learning
Because grades may not capture the nuances of a child’s progress, Moberly recommends parents get involved with their children’s learning and become their advocates. She offers the following suggestions to take the pressure off grades:

– Have a conference with your child’s teacher at the beginning of the year and find out what is included in the grading system (e.g., mastery of content, attitude, behavior).
– Ask the teacher what you should be looking for in the papers your child brings home and how you will know your child is on the right track.
– Ask the teacher how you can support your child’s learning, and find out what topics will be taught so you can reinforce the classroom teaching and learning objectives outside the classroom.
– Ask your child how grades are determined (some kids believe grades are lucky or mysterious determinations by the teacher).

Keep grades real
Of course, it’s nice if good grades follow a child’s hard work, but how do you promote the work habits without everyone getting too focused on the outcome? “In my experience, when parents significantly emphasize top grades, kids typically experience anxiety rather than motivation to work harder,” says Stephanie Dethlefs, former fifth-grade teacher and university educator. These are the kids who also worry excessively about grades.

Hyken sees both kids and parents who melt down when a child receives something lower than an A, especially as kids’ middle school classes begin to have implications for the honors track in high school.

“If a student’s motivated to get a good grade, that’s fine, but what parents need to emphasize to their kids is their effort and attitude,” says Hyken. “Keep in mind that once kids get to high school, they might work really hard in a math class and may not always make A’s.” He would rather parents take a step back from grades and teach their children how to advocate for help from a teacher when they are struggling. “There’s a certain skill that goes with self-advocating,” says Hyken. “And then there’s a whole blend of communication and being supportive when a kid does get a lower grade. You can talk about why they got the grade and ask what they would do differently in the future, versus focusing on the bad grade.”

Additionally, to keep grades meaningful and instill motivation, Hyken recommends creating a family culture of valuing hard work by celebrating good grades received on papers or projects throughout the year. That doesn’t mean buying the latest video game or paying for grades, he cautions, but instead making a special dessert or going out to dinner to make the hard-earned grade a family event. “As kids get older, make sure you’re celebrating the right grades — like when your child has a big project and he’s been working all weekend for a couple of weekends and he makes a great grade,” he says. Keep in mind it’s the process you’re celebrating rather than the grade itself.

Put it in perspective
Of course, we love it when our kids earn top scores, but what if they don’t? Here are a few parenting strategies for keeping the big picture in mind:

Stay calm. If your child brings home a low grade, have a conversation. There are a host of reasons for low grades besides laziness. It’s possible he worked hard but the subject is challenging. Asking him to share his insights about his progress helps him see that you value process over results. If he didn’t work hard, ask what he will do to improve work habits next semester, such as not procrastinating, checking work for mistakes or not rushing.

Consult the teacher. Talk to your child’s teacher in a collaborative manner to learn more about your child. He may be academically capable but highly disorganized about communicating his work on paper and in need of extra help. He may be struggling with a concept he’s just about to master, or distracted by social issues. Or you and the teacher may suspect a learning issue that needs to be addressed.

Offer something extra. If a child is bright and understands concepts but isn’t pulling good grades, she may be a deep thinker and just need more time for tasks. Conversely, a distracted child may be bored and need an enrichment activity in class. Collaborate with the teacher about what might work best. If a child is exhibiting signs such as sloppy work or trouble with fine motor skills, or feels too “sick” to go to school, she may need an evaluation to determine what’s going on. A tutor may also be in order.

Consider the whole child. If your kid is making decent but not necessarily top grades, engages in extracurricular activities, and is generally respectful, you’re doing a great job, says Hyken. Spend time with your kids, he advises, because the more you do, the more they’ll be motivated to be part of a happy family.

Joanna Nesbit is a Pacific Northwest freelance writer who writes about parenting, family, travel or any combination of these topics. Her articles and essays have appeared in parent, custom and online publications.

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The Cost of Addiction

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The financial impact of addiction is not limited to costs incurred while an addict is using. Recovery from substance abuse can carry a significant price tag as well. Personal finance authority Erica Sandberg recently featured Dr. Hyken in an article for the leading online consumer credit card news source on the cost of substance abuse rehabilitation and the options available to recovering addicts and their families.

The high cost of rehab: expensive, but attainable

Recovery from addiction requires help — at any cost

By Erica Sandberg

Not every recovering addict can afford a swank rehab clinic on the beach. However, if you’re struggling with substance abuse and want to get clean, there is a place and way for you to overcome your addiction, no matter what you own, earn or owe.

Know what you have to work with

Addictions are horrendously costly in a financial sense (see “The debilitating descent into drug-related debt.”) Recovery can be costly, too, so it’s essential to calculate what assets, if any are left, that an addict can tap to pay for it.

Substance abusers need help beyond in just kicking their addiction, says Russell Hyken, a St. Louis-based counselor specializing in interventions and treatment consulting. They need a third party’s sober assessment of their current financial situation, he says. Those deep in addiction aren’t in the right frame of mind to hammer out the numbers and make critical care decisions.

So with a trusted and capable spouse or loved one:

  • Determine your net worth. Take stock of what you have by subtracting your liabilities (all of your debts, including credit card balances and personal loans) from your assets (such as home equity, a paid-off car and cash in a retirement account). What remains is your net worth, and all or a portion may be used for your treatment.
  • Calculate your cash flow. If you or your partner is working, tally how much is coming in on a regular basis. Subtract the total from your necessary expenses. Again, you can pay for treatment with some of what is left over.
  • Review your insurance policy. “Insurance coverage is great, but everything costs more than you think,” says Hyken. Some rehab centers only accept cash or credit, and you might need to pick up the tab for the deductible, a portion of the bill and time spent after the coverage lapses

Recovery professionals, places and price tags

Treatment options and costs depend on a large number of factors as well as your needs. Hyken offers the following facts and ballpark figures:

Interventionist. Before you’ve acknowledged your chemical dependence as a problem, others around you have been taking note. They may hire a professional interventionist to get you to see the light and inspire you to accept treatment.

Average cost: $2,000 to $8,000, not covered by insurance.

Treatment consultant. Your family may also bring in a personal consultant to coordinate your care. This person will match a treatment center to your finances, personality and clinical needs. After you’re checked in, they will also track your progress and follow up with your treatment to make sure it goes smoothly.

Average cost: $3,000 up to $8,500, not covered by insurance.

Detox. If you need to medically detox, you can either go to a hospital or enter a private detox facility. Insurance typically covers the cost of a hospital, but you may have to wait for a bed. Private detox, on the other hand, is not covered by insurance but you can typically get in right away.

Detox can take up to a week and will set you back a few hundred dollars to $1,000 per day, depending on whether your insurance picks up all or part of the tab or if you head to a private facility that does not take insurance.

Private treatment centers that don’t accept insurance. If you have deep pockets, you might be headed for a luxurious facility. The level of care is high and usually includes detox, intensive individual psychiatry and maximum supervision such as one-on-one staffing. They offer everything to make getting sober attractive from well-balanced food prepared by noted chefs to massages, equine therapy and yoga.

Average cost: $10,000 to $40,000 for 30 days, with 45 to 60 days being common timeframes.

Private treatment centers that do accept insurance. While they don’t mimic four-star spas, treatment centers that accept most major insurance plans are very often just as effective as those catering to rock-star patients. As with those that don’t take insurance, you’ll have access to individual psychological care (though maybe not quite as often) and everything else necessary to get clean.

Average cost: $3,000 to $10,000 for 30 days, with 45 to 60 days being common timeframes.

Court appointed and county care. Some addicts get into legal trouble, and if so, might be ordered into treatment. You won’t have to pay (nor will you be presented with a bill) for these bare-bones Medicaid/Medicare facilities, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t any good. County care, also covered with government dollars, is available Just don’t expect immediate placement, plush surroundings or daily, personalized psychiatric sessions.

Step-down facility. Once out of the treatment center, you may need or want more help to ensure your newfound sobriety.

Cost: A live-in residential home may run $5,000 to $15,000 for 30 days, and is not covered by insurance. An outpatient facility where you check in for support is usually covered by insurance.

12-step program. Want more help to get and stay clean and sober? The 12-step program — as offered through both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous — is always there for you. Meetings are free, though you are encouraged to pay what you can for the space, and you can go as often as you like. The program is so effective that even entrenched addicts like David Parnell, from Martin, Tenn. who abused methamphetamine for 23 years have used it from start to finish.

Don’t let cost be a deterrent

William Oswald, founder and CEO of the ultra high-end addiction recovery center Summit Malibu, in Los Angeles, says that while the free and less expensive programs may not have the highly credentialed staffers that Summit does, don’t discount them. As long as you do your due dilligence and make sure it follows though on its advertising promises, not going anywhere is the deeper concern.

A great place to start your search is the treatment referral center, Outreach Services, especially if your short on cash. There is no charge for the service, and “they know the county programs,” says Oswald. “It’s not so easy to get free treatment but its possible.”

If you find a facility that feels perfect but is outside of your means, talk to the director anyway. You may be able to negotiate a lower price. “The larger ones have more beds and they want to fill them,” says Oswald. “So don’t be afraid to ask for less. The mark of a good place is that they won’t hang up the phone when you say you can’t afford them, but will find you a different place. It doesn’t hurt to call.”

How to pay: Consider ugly alternatives

In most cases, there will be at least some outlay from you (or your family or friends) to get you clean. When analyzing where the money will come from, explore all possibilities, including painful ones and those not usually advisable for sober people.

Besides income, look to selling assets, such as a car, and applying the proceeds to treatment. Think about borrowing from or cashing in a retirement plan. Yes, there will likely be tax and penalty consequences, but you’ll have to weigh that against your life. You may also consider borrowing from home equity or a life insurance policy.

Many of the treatment facilities offer internal financing to patients and others can help set you up with a loan from a finance company they work with. Ask about these plans during your research, and find out what the loan terms are. You may need a good credit score or a co-signer to qualify.

As for credit cards, Oswald doesn’t recommend them for long-term treatment. The available credit line will likely be inadequate, and you probably won’t be earning an income with which to make payments.

If you haven’t already borrowed from your friends and family members, you can do so now. The answer may be “no,” but if they agree, form a personal contract that outlines what the loan is for, how and when you’ll repay them, and what will happen if you don’t.

It’s only money. It’s your only life.

The ultimate takeaway message: Don’t allow monetary concerns be the reason you avoid seeking help for a substance abuse problem. Your commitment to sobriety is the most crucial factor, says Oswald. “If you’re ready, it almost doesn’t matter where you go.” Parnell agrees. His drug-devestated finances didn’t allow for a glitzy treatment center, and so he relied on faith and Narcotics Anonymous. “I did what I had to do. I got clean,” says Parnell. “It was a long, hard road because I started out with nothing. But it’s not as hard as being an addict was.”

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Summer Humdrums

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As we enter into the middle of another humid July, the excitement of being free from academic structure morphs into the dull days of summer. Kids often become bored and many parents become frustrated. Arguments escalate as parents tell their children to just ‘do something!’ The problem is that today’s youth don’t really understand how to enjoy their free time.

Toddlers enter daycare at a young age where they participate in highly organized activities. Without missing a day, students then graduate to a structured school schedule and spend their free time in adult-guided extracurricular activities such as sports, music lessons and homework clubs. However, there comes a time during the preteen years, many kids choose to simply ‘hang out,’ without really knowing how to entertain themselves.

Parents often need to teach their children how to embrace their leisure time. At some point, every child masters the video game or outgrows the Legos. This is a good thing because it motivates one to try something new like pick up a book, call an old friend, or attempt a challenging task.

The true trick to increasing your child’s leisure-time happiness is to help him find the balance between structure and free time. Creating a consistent schedule with regular sleeping hours is an important first step to a productive summer day. Kids should wake a little later but sleeping too much can cause a child to be lethargic, irritable and make it difficult to fall asleep at night. Most kids need about 10 hours of sleep.

Next, parents and children should collaboratively create a weekly schedule that includes specific events, as well as open times. It can be helpful to brainstorm a list of independent, timeoccupying tasks, but, as the week progresses, parents should let kids figure out how they fill the gaps in their day.

And of course, no article on summertime doldrums would be complete without a strategy to combat excessive computer usage. As much as most parents would like to ban screen time, creating expectations around tech-toy use is a better way to foster summer productivity. Limit when and how much kids can play video games. Mornings should be screen-free times because it forces kids to find something else to do. It also is possible that the alternative activity is so engaging that your child will forget about the computer, at least, temporarily. And make sure all devices are off an hour before bedtime to quiet the mind and allow for a good night’s sleep.

Lastly, your child’s favorite summer pastime might turn out to be harassing his little brother or sister. Many find this activity amusing, and it is often a sign that the sibs are spending too much time together. Structure some activities away from each other, but also consider letting the kids work it out. Discuss with your children how to solve their own problems. After all, if they can’t figure out what television show to watch, then no one will be watching TV. You may not be able to keep your kids from arguing, but a parent can influence their children to argue less.

All kids struggle with being bored, but they also can easily learn how to overcome these tedious times. Further – more, successfully mastering this emotion results in increased self-esteem and greater life enjoyment. Kids who don’t master this mood; however, often engage in risky and destructive behaviors. So spend some time with your kids this summer—but don’t go overboard. Guide your children toward independent activities and watch them flourish and mature.