Is Summer Camp Worth the Cost?

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Is Summer Camp Worth the Cost?

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The high cost of raising a child is indisputable, and my wife and I are somewhat in denial about how much we spend on our children’s extra-curricular activities. Sure, we know what it costs to sign up for hockey, and we know the fee for each tennis lesson. It is those incidentals and unexpected opportunities that are difficult to determine. And to be honest, my parental enjoyment of these activities might be diminished if I paid too much attention to these financial expenditures.

There is, however, no way to ignore summer camp costs. Furthermore, it does not matter if your child is going for a sleep-away experience or attending a local day program, tuition and expenses add up quickly. Parents should investigate a variety of options before pitching a tent because higher prices do not necessarily equate to a better experience.

The biggest factor that determines camp cost is that some are for-profit programs. These camps often offer specialized curriculums, professional instructors, premium facilities and unique off-campus excursions. Furthermore, many aim to not only provide a fun experience, but also to improve a particular skill. If you can afford these camps, and if you think your child will enjoy the experience, then this may be your best option.

There also are nonprofit programs, which are typically supported by an agency such as the YMCA or Scouts, and may or may not have a religious affiliation. Interestingly, about 75 percent of all overnight camps fall into this category. These programs cost less than their private counterparts but are just as capable of providing a ‘rich’ experience as their higher-priced competitors. Most also are geographically desirable, which allows your child to make new friends from the area.

Before making a decision about which camp is best, parents should engage in some pre-purchase research. Learn about the facility’s character, reputation, service and quality. Also ask your child what they would like to do. Just because you enjoyed canoeing and camping, it doesn’t mean that your daughter will have the same interest. Explore alternatives and collaboratively discuss what makes the most sense.

The decision is made, tuition is paid and the excitement is building. Unfortunately, there still are more costs to be incurred. Medical physicals, extra medications and completed doctor form fees can quickly add up. More expensive, however, are the trips to Dick’s Sporting Goods and REI for specialized gear and equipment. And then there is the price of travel and other unknown factors, which create further expenses.

If you feel like you need to take out a second mortgage to pay for your child’s summer time fun, you are not alone. Don’t despair. While camp itself does not typically provide any tax breaks, check with your accountant to determine deductions for related medical expenses or child care credits, especially for day camps. And to save money, inquire about discounts for referrals or sibling attendance. Also ask about volunteer opportunities as some programs provide price breaks in return for free labor.

Still cringing at the potential expense? Consider the huge personal value that camp offers to parents. Summer programs provide a safe, fun, and supervised environment: no need to worry about reliable babysitters and bored children spending mindless hours in front of a screen. Take advantage of a quieter house and enjoy a peaceful afternoon at home doing whatever you want!

Lastly, keep in mind that camp truly is an incredible investment with a great return. Kids learn independence and self-reliance as they become personally accountable for their own things. Camp also further develops a child’s interpersonal abilities as they navigate new relationships. But best of all, this personal development occurs while kids are having fun doing the things they enjoy.

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When Your Child Should See a Therapist

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My oldest child is 11 years old. And I believe that if you do something every day for 11 years, experience alone should make one proficient. However, parenting is more of an art than a science. What works one day may not work the next, and there are many factors that contribute to the ebb and flow of family functioning.

I have daily conversations with my wife about our kids. We continually strive to be appropriately involved without being overbearing. Our two boys seem truly happy, enjoy school and have engaging outside interests. Would it ever make sense to seek counseling when there are no apparent problems? And would seeing a therapist create an issue when one doesn’t exist?

The field of counseling is slowly changing. In past decades, only troubled individuals sought out mental health services. I have, however, noticed modern, well-functioning families are frequently reaching out for assistance to work through life’s regular challenges—study strategies, curfew conflicts, technology troubles and minor parent/child disagreements. These clients come with an agenda, set goals and collaboratively solve problems with their counselor.

For those families, therapy is a normal process like going to the doctor for an annual physical. They find no stigma with seeing a counselor and appreciate the professional perspective. Unfortunately, many parents feel conflicted about their child seeing a therapist and question the decision to do so. It truly can be worrisome to determine when additional assistance is needed.

Of course, there are obvious situations when a child needs therapeutic support. In some unfortunate instances, circumstances beyond a family’s control such as the death of a loved one, major illness or an unsettling life event causes undue stress. Other times, there are noticeable behavioral changes such as excessive crying, emotional withdrawal or inappropriate weight loss. And in some cases, a child’s teacher or family doctor highlights a concern that needs attention. Unfortunately, knowing when a child is struggling also can be very challenging.

Kids are constantly moving, growing and changing, making it difficult to determine the difference between normal developmental changes and truly turbulent times. Judging a child’s behavior in relation to their physical age is a great place to start. It is normal for a 5-year-old to constantly poke another child when they are supposed to be quiet, and it is normal for a teenager to have a major parental disagreement over a seemingly minor thing. When the frequency, intensity and/or the duration of the behavior seems disproportionate to the causing catalyst, it is time to seek professional help.

Regrettably, some parents avoid seeking a therapist because they worry that they may be the problem. In fact, the opposite is true: Seeking a counselor means you are an engaged and active individual trying to improve a life circumstance. Furthermore, a good therapist will view you as an ally toward healthier family functioning. If your ‘gut’ says help is needed, don’t let your own anxieties get in the way.

OK, you finally made the decision to take your child to a counselor. The nerves are setting in and you are worried that your daughter might refuse to attend. Start with an honest, age-appropriate conversation discussing why you want your child to participate. Emphasize it is important to you and simply request she attend a couple of sessions. When approached in this manner, most will go—not necessarily without complaining—but they will honor your feelings.

Therapy is about improving the self and one can’t argue with the desired outcome. While counseling can be long-term, it also can be only a few, as-needed sessions. Imagine having a trusted professional on your speed dial whose only agenda is to help you and your child. Develop a relationship with an understanding therapist. It is a great place to process not only major issues, but also life’s unusual challenges.

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College Drinking

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There is a difference between knowing that your teen is drinking alcohol at college and allowing your child to drink at home. Parents should never endorse alcohol use when their children are under the legal drinking age. In essence, when you say it is okay to use, you are also encouraging your son to break the law. Furthermore, if you allow drinking in your house, you are breaking the law and can be arrested for social hosting.

It is, however, reasonable to assume that your student is going to continue to engage in his social life, and parents should have a discussion about alcohol use. Choose a mutually agreeable time to engage in a conversation about summer expectations. Don’t ambush your teen, rather set a time and let him know you want to speak about drinking and your parental thoughts.

The most important rule is to make sure your college student knows it is never acceptable to drink and drive. Your child should understand that he can always call for a ride without parental judgment. Next, discuss summer work expectations. The best way to minimize alcohol use is to make sure your student has a busy summer schedule. This could include working, volunteering, or going to summer school. Lastly, discuss daily expectations including what time your teen should be home at night and what time he must rise in the morning.

Your son is maturing, and he should be open to discussing expectations. Listen to his perspective but also remember that you are the parent. Keep in mind that as the summer ends, the effects of excessive alcohol use can endure for many years. Lastly, if you feel your college student is drinking excessively, seek professional assistance.

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Moms with ADHD

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If you have a child with ADHD, there is a 60 percent chance that either you or your mate also has ADHD.

What is the difference between childhood ADHD and adult ADHD? Children with ADHD generally have problems paying attention or concentrating, can’t seem to follow directions and are easily frustrated with everyday tasks. Some will move constantly and act impulsively not stopping to think before they act. Adults with ADHD have some slightly different or additional symptoms which often include issues with time management, organizational skills, and goal setting.

Life is extra difficult when you’re a parent with ADHD. Being a mom, in general, is a hard job, whether you’re a stay-at-home parent or a busy professional trying to balance a career, kids and everything else. Yes, it is true that in recent years, men have been more hands-on with household and childcare responsibilities; the bulk of the work still, however, lands on the woman. Balancing a slew of commitments can get overwhelming for anyone, let alone a person with ADHD.

It can be difficult to identify adult ADHD because many women who have ADHD also have depression, anxiety or some other co-occurring condition often as a result of behaviors associated with their undiagnosed ADHD. You feel bad because you can’t focus or organize life. Further, when treating those other mood issues one does start to feel better, but the ADHD symptoms are still present.

ADHD must be addressed as a family issue when the mother has ADHD. Most mothers are so used to tending to the needs of others that they often overlook their own needs. It can be difficult for many women to admit that they can’t do it all. Accept your attention challenges and go with it.

Here are a few tips to manage your ADHD, but, in reality, they are good for any parent, not just attentionally challenged ones.

  1. Create Structure –Structure is the key for calming the sensation of being overwhelmed. Without it, inertia can set in, leading to even more stress over time. When creating a structured schedule, record everything you need to do each day and make sure to block free time, too.
  2. Take a Step BackReassess your situation and options. Can you switch your work schedule to better accommodate your life obligations? Do you need to hire some help…..a housekeeper, professional organizer, or baby sitter. Don’t think of this as a luxury; rather, as an accommodation so that you can manage your schedule without falling apart – which could really be expensive.
  3. Set Limitssay ‘no’ to the things that are not a good use of your time, or things that do not make you happy. Saying no can feel uncomfortable, especially if you’re a people-pleaser. Determine which activities provide energy and which drain you before agreeing to anything.
  4. Revise Your Expectations Avoid setting the bar too high by comparing yourself to others. Don’t expect your home to look like your neighbor’s or sister’s. Give yourself some slack. Create a happy environment not a perfect one.

Having ADHD doesn’t make you a bad mother! On the contrary, having ADHD gives you the ability to empathize with your children, come up with creative solutions for problems, and create a loving, nurturing and exciting home for you and your family. Learn to appreciate the gifts and minimize the weaknesses of ADHD.

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Do Grades Matter?

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When I was in elementary school, I distinctly remember earning ‘letter’ grades. In fact, I also remember the occasional—OK, frequent—parental lecture that went along with my C-quality work. To mom and dad, my ‘average’ marks signified that I was “not working to my fullest potential.”

Things have really changed in modern-day education. My elementary age kids do not earn traditional grades; rather, their school uses a standards-based approach, which consists of telling students that their skills are emerging, satisfactory or exceeding expectations. Interestingly, educators have long debated the merits of a standards-based evaluation system versus the traditional letter-grade approach.

Most professionals tend to prefer the newer, modern-day methodology because evaluation is based on a clearly defined set of standards, as opposed to a more subjective teacher-generated letter grade. Further, it has been validated that younger kids are not motivated to study harder when given a letter grade; rather, they look for easier assignments so they can score a better mark.

Parents typically are frustrated when their children do not meet expectations, and this new standard of evaluation can be confusing. Some students score low marks because they are disorganized, have difficulty communicating their knowledge, and/or need additional assistance. Others, however, may be on the verge of a light-bulb moment and about to master the content. Don’t panic; instead, consult with the classroom teacher for additional insight and strategies that can assist with building your student’s educational development. Furthermore, parents should make sure they truly understand the grading system because most schools provide different marks for mastery, attitude and behavior.

To ensure the best possible performance, speak with your kids in an age-appropriate manner about academics. Interestingly, younger kids often are mystified about how grades are determined—sometimes assuming they are based on luck or magic. Parents should communicate that good grades are a result of hard work without focusing too much on the actual outcome. When excessive emphasis is placed on a final score, younger children often develop premature anxiety about school performance.

As students enter middle school, the grading system changes to a more traditional ‘letter’ system. Kids also start to understand the importance of doing well as they wonder about what it takes to be successful. However, some question if middle school marks matter because colleges will not see them. While that is true, grades still are important because they impact what classes a student takes in high school. Additionally, a large number of St. Louis students attend private preparatory schools and an academic record review is part of the admission process.

If a family has not done so, middle school is the time to instill proper motivation. Create a family culture that values hard work by celebrating good grades received on papers or projects, not just high scores on report cards. This doesn’t mean buying the latest video game or paying for As, instead bake a special dessert or go out to a fun family dinner, making the hard-earned grade a celebratory event. Emphasize that you are just as proud of the process as you are of the high mark.

In high school, academic measurement becomes even more confusing with GPAs, weighted grades and AP curriculums. Furthermore, your child may actually work very hard at a difficult subject only to receive a low mark. Examine effort and attitude before criticizing a performance. Have a conversation about why your student is struggling, and ask what can be done differently to improve the situation. Being supportive can build confidence and teach students to understand both when and how to seek assistance. That lesson often is more valuable than a high test grade.

Good grades can have a rewarding effect on any student. Earning a C in trigonometry; however, does not doom one to a life of underachievement and minimum wage. Yes, grades do provide valuable insight into a student’s proficiency, but keeping scores in perspective is the key to creating a child who is a lifelong learner. To earn high marks as a parent, teach your children to celebrate successes, understand failures, and work to the best of their ability.

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When Play Dates Go Bad

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The headline for this column sounds like a dreadful (or possibly entertaining) reality television show. Unfortunately, it is something that every parent has experienced. In fact, many may say that you have not earned your parenting stripes until you have suffered the pain of a problematic play date.

In the days of my youth, I remember a classmate would phone, our parents quickly worked out the details, and I was dropped-off shortly thereafter. Today, however, many parents frequently find that they must navigate a complex social situation that consists of courting not only an unknown child, but also his mom or dad. In fact, just securing a social activity for your young offspring can cause significant parental stress.

Most outings truly do go well, but your initial interaction with the prospective pal’s parent may be an indication of what to expect. Some moms may view you as a babysitter, while others believe an invitation for their child also is an invite for them. And there are those who will disregard drop-off/pick-up times, or call at the last minute to see if junior can come over to play. Be politely firm with your expectations and ponder if future playdates with these families are worth the trouble.

A parent should avoid choosing friends; rather, mom should consult with her maturing child, asking whom he would like to have to the house. Request multiple names and mix up the initial invites, promoting a variety of playmates versus a particular pairing. Exposing your child to multiple personalities will require that your son uses different social skills as well as provide the opportunity to develop multiple friendships.

Finally, plans are set and the big day is here, and parents need to set the stage for a fun afternoon. Start by ‘cleaning’ the house and packing away special toys that your son or daughter—no matter what their age—may not want a friend to use. It is much easier to hide the new Lego Star Wars set, than it is to tell a guest that a particular toy is off-limits. Also, remove any valuables and/or breakables that may worry you. The best way to avoid an incident is to take proactive steps of prevention.

A child needs guidance on how to be a good host. Discuss sharing and etiquette so that conflict over turn-taking can be avoided. Parents also should teach that planning is an essential part of successful socializing. A combination of specific activities, along with some unstructured time, will help kids balance their desire to play video games with your hope that they engage in some old-school, outside fun.

It can be difficult to avoid hovering during those initial gatherings, but a parental presence can create a situation where the kids are interacting with you instead of each other. If you do overhear a disagreement, mediate by guiding to resolution rather than fixing the problem. In the rare instance that either child truly oversteps the boundaries of acceptable behavior, it is OK to end the playdate, explaining to the other parent what has occurred.

Lastly, process the playdate with your child. Did he enjoy it, was his friend easy to engage, or did his guest do something that made him feel uncomfortable? The goal of the conversation is to listen to your child’s concerns, provide strategies for social problem-solving, and discuss how to be good a friend. Plus, there is the added benefit of promoting an open dialogue for any future concerns.

For better or worse, being a modern-day parent means you must initiate activities if you want your child to have any type of social life. The days of neighborhood kids freely roaming the streets have been replaced by supervised gatherings. Yes, bad play dates do happen even to good kids. Fortunately, once a child understands the art of entertaining, not only do kids have fun; but, more important, parents get a break.

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Sibling Conflict

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A new University of Missouri research study shows that sibling conflict can lead to depression and anxiety. Now, this research is not saying the occasional argument or disagreement is a problem; rather, this study is highlighting that on-going, persistent fighting can have long lasting effects on an individual’s mental health.

It is also worth noting that conflict is different from sibling rivalry. Rivalry is about “one upping” the other sibling, which in some cases can actually be a positive motivating factor. Healthy competition can push kids to be better.

There are two main types of conflict that can have long lasting emotional impact. The effects can last into adolescence and adulthood.

  1. Violations of personal space and property can cause one to be overly anxious if these intrusions are consistent. This is the worry associated with somebody entering your room or using your personal things.
  2. Continual conflicts over issues of equality and fairness can also lead to depression. A child that feels like they are continually treated unfairly will often suffer low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.

Common sense tells us that continual conflict is detrimental; this study reports findings that most of us already know. The real implication or benefit of the research is studying how we should respond to these types of sibling disputes. It is a parent’s natural instinct to want to be the arbitrator of the argument. This is the wrong way to solve these dilemmas.

Tips to assist with avoiding conflict

  1. Set specific household rules—knock before entering a room, create chore calendars, have predetermined times for video games, etc. Parents should discuss among themselves the continual conflict triggers they see among their kids and create specific rules to avoid those problems.
  2. Don’t be a referee. Things will happen that are not covered by the household rules. When conflicts arise, tell your children they need to walk away from the situation and provide an immediate consequence such as no video games tonight, both go to your room. etc. Don’t buy into the conflict because it could force you to take sides.
  3. Defuse the jealousy. A child who feels like he is treated unfairly may often be jealous of the other sibling. Redirect your child’s jealousy concerns by acknowledging it is normal to occasionally be jealous but also highlight something they do well. This will make the child feel valued and can ultimately increase self-esteem.
  4. Model appropriate behavior. Parents are role models. Be supportive of your spouse, solve appropriate disagreements in front of your children so they learn how to resolve conflict.

The bottom line here is to pay attention to your kids. Rivalry, conflict, jealousy, etc. are part of normal family life. Your parental job is to help your children to manage their feelings and learn how to function. Send the message that we are family and we help each other. If the problem becomes too much to handle and the conflicts become overly intense, seek professional help to avoid long term consequences. Home should always be a safe place to work things out.

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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.