5 Things To Discuss Before Your Teen Heads Off To College

talking-with-momCommunication between college students and parents is key. Here are five important things to talk about before your teen leaves home:

The Budget

One of the biggest potential sources of family conflict is the college student budget. Whether you are funding your child’s education, or expecting him to come up with the money himself, your child will need to be on the same page. If your financial assistance will be limited, it’s important to explain what help you can provide and how it will be distributed. Plan to deposit five hundred dollars a month to help out? Say so. Don’t expect your child to intuit your financial plan.

Parents often promise to pay for college in full, but may not define their expectations clearly. Maybe you have been saving since your child was a toddler, but how to you plan to disperse the funds? What if the savings won’t be enough to cover living expenses all four years? Paying for college extends well beyond tuition.

Points to consider:

·      Who will pay living expenses? Will those be paid directly by parents, or will money be deposited in an account for the student to use to pay bills him/herself?

·      How will food, transportation, and clothing be paid for?

·      What about the cell phone?

·      Will parents pay for health care?

·      Who will pay for extras?

The Timeline

College isn’t always four years of coursework. Some students extend time in college because their programs last five or more years. Some change majors. Others take it slowly for the first couple of years.

If your plan is to fund college for your child, does your strategy take these things in to account? Is there a time limit to your financial support? How about your patience? Are you prepared to pull the plug if your child is on the seven-year plan? If so, maybe she needs to hear your thoughts ahead of time, so she can find a part time job or pick up the pace.

Crisis Situations

Medical or mental health crisis: Record numbers of college students are seeking mental health support according to recently published studies. Common mental health related causes for leaving college include: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, excessive drinking, and drug use. Are there medical or psychiatric issues that might prevent your college student from completing school uninterrupted? If so, under what circumstances might you need to bring him home? Does he know when to ask for your help?

Academic Crisis: Do you have a plan for failing college grades? Most paying parents won’t want to continue writing checks unless kids are producing passing grades. Have you discussed your views with your soon to be college student?

Breaks From School

Some parents express frustration when kids arrive back home during college breaks, dump their laundry next to the washing machine, and flop down into bed for the duration of the school break. If your son or daughter is home on break, do you expect him or her to help around the house? Work a summer job? Be up and at ‘em by nine every morning and in bed before midnight? Whatever your expectations, be certain to spell them out before the first academic break begins.

Plan B

Recent statistics estimate that almost half of college enrollees drop out before completing a degree. No parent sends a kid to college hoping she’ll drop out, but with estimated dropout rates so high, all parents and new college students should discuss alternative strategies in case college doesn’t work out.


Dr. Melissa Deuter is a psychiatrist in San Antonio, TX who specializes in the care of emerging adults. www.MelissaDeuter.com; @MStenDeut


Could Your Child Be a Cyberbully? Warning Signs and Prevention Tactics

“No, my child would never do that.” Would this be your response if your child were accused of being a cyberbully? If so, you’re not alone. For one thing, no parent wants to believe that his or her child is capable of teasing or harassing other youngsters. For another, cyberbullying is, by its very nature, a relatively easy behavior for youngsters to keep under wraps: With the click of a mouse or the swipe of a finger, the evidence disappears. And most concerning of all, it’s easy for kids to get caught up in this destructive behavior without initially realizing how dangerous and hurtful it is.

“Like it or not, the rapidly expanding digital landscape has allowed bullying to spread beyond playgrounds and school hallways to computer screens, smartphones, and more,” says Amy Lupold Bair, author of Raising Digital Families For Dummies® . “Since this is a pressing issue that can affect any family, it’s crucial for parents to be able to recognize the signs that their children may be cyberbullies, and to know how to handle and prevent this behavior.”

Specifically, Lupold Bair says, tweens and teens (and in some instances, even younger kids) who are engaged in cyberbullying often exhibit behavior changes, just as victims do. Watch for the following signs:

• Your child may stop using the computer when you come into the room or quickly change screens or tabs.

• Your child may sharply increase time spent on the computer or on a smartphone.

• Your child may appear stressed or secretive when using these devices, and may become anxious, upset, or excessively angry when you limit or take away access.

• Your child may be spending more time with a new group of friends, or might no longer interact publicly with a long-time friend.

“Regardless of whether your child’s behavior fits into any of these categories, it’s a good idea to proactively bring up the topic of cyberbullying,” Lupold Bair says. “Make sure your kids know what cyberbullying is, why it’s harmful, and what your expectations are for their online conduct. By keeping an ongoing dialog going, you’ll not only gain insight into the digital world in which your kids live, but you may also discover warning signs that your child’s online group is participating in these types of activities.”

Specifically, Lupold Bair recommends discussing the following topics with your children:

• Joking vs. harassment. The line between harmless joking and mean, harassing behaviors can often be a fine one, and younger children especially may have trouble recognizing when they’ve crossed it. Explain to your kids that any online behavior that makes another person feel upset, threatened, hurt, mocked, etc. can be considered bullying. If your child knows that one of his peers is uncomfortable with a specific online interaction—or if a particular online behavior would make your child feel upset if the shoe were on the other foot—it’s best not to participate.

• Appropriate online communication. While it may seem obvious to many adults, kids frequently don’t understand that what they write or share in a digital format can often be forwarded, saved, or accessed by others. On a continuous basis, talk to your kids about what is appropriate to share online and what is not. Put a special emphasis on why it’s important to keep friends’ secrets and personal communications private and where it is and isn’t safe to discuss these things.

• Standing up to bullies. Teach your children how to stand up to their friends to discourage bullying behaviors online, if they’re comfortable doing so. Make sure they understand the importance of not standing by while others are being bullied and help them find the words to tell their friends that they refuse to participate in these bullying actions.

• Limiting contact with bullies. Cyberbullying is often a group occurrence with more than one child playing a role and different participants contributing varying levels of bullying behaviors. Make sure your children know that they can often use blocking features on social media and chat sites to avoid online contact with bullies. Explain why being associated with a cyberbullying incident can have serious consequences, even if your child wasn’t the ringleader or even an active participant.

• Informing adults. Encourage your kids to talk to teachers, coaches, and friends’ parents if they don’t feel comfortable coming to you with concerns about their own online behavior, which may have potentially crossed the line into cyberbullying. Also, encourage them to inform authority figures if they know another child is the victim of cyberbullying. Tell your kids that if they’re uncomfortable coming forward because they don’t want to attract the bully’s attention themselves, an anonymous note left on a coach’s or teacher’s desk, for example, can still be a tremendous help.

“Don’t just assume that your child’s online activities are harmless, even if she’s generally a ‘good kid,’” Lupold Bair concludes. “Be proactive about discussing why cyberbullying is a major issue and how you expect your child to behave on all digital platforms.

“In fact, I recommend creating and having your kids sign a document called a Digital Family Policy,” she adds. “It should include rules and expectations for all technology use. Be sure to include information regarding how you define cyberbullying and what the consequences will be if your child crosses that line.”

Defining Cyberbullying: A Parent’s Guide

From Raising Digital Families For Dummies®
by Amy Lupold Bair

teen-phoneWhen most of today’s parents were growing up, bullying was largely limited to in-person interactions. For that reason, it can be difficult to intuitively and fully understand what our children are facing as they navigate the digital landscape.

In essence, cyberbullying comprises any digital communication, typically from one minor to another minor, with the purpose of frightening, threatening, embarrassing, or harassing a person. The most common form of cyberbullying is sharing a private text message, e-mail, or instant message (IM) with someone else or through a public posting. Cyberbullies’ tools are computers and smartphones and they plague victims via text, e-mail, IM, chat rooms, social media, and blogs.

Examples of cyberbullying behaviors include:

• Using websites to rank or rate peers according to criteria such as looks and popularity

• Publicly blocking someone’s participation in an online group

• Tricking someone into sharing embarrassing information with the purpose of sharing it digitally with others

• Creating a website with the purpose of harassing someone

• Creating a fake social media account to pose as another person and post untrue things about that person

• Sending threatening or mean e-mails, text messages, and IMs in chat rooms

• Posting embarrassing pictures of someone on a social media website

The effects of cyberbullying can be far more devastating for victims than traditional bullying because:

• Cyberbullies often remain anonymous, making victims unsure of how to protect themselves and whom to trust

• Victims often receive bullying messages via their home computer, taking away their feeling of safety within their own home

• Victims may be affected both at school and online, taking away two primary locations where teens socialize and interact

• Cyberbullies can reach a large number of people easily and instantly, making it possible for the entire world to see the behaviors and shared information about the victim

• Because cyberbullies don’t face their victims, the bullying behaviors are often more extreme than traditional bullying

• Cyberbullies can attack their victims frequently on multiple technology platforms

Many states have laws regarding cyberbullying, but current laws vary by state. To see where your state stands regarding cyberbullying legislation, visit www.cyberbullying.us/Bullying_and_Cyberbullying_Laws.pdf.

Summer Safety for Teen Travel

Make Sure Your Teen Travels Safely

travel safetyWhether you are sending your child to a traditional overnight camp, on a school field trip or half way around the world, safety is always paramount in a parent’s mind.  For 20 years a Chicago-based service adventure travel company called The Road Less Traveled has been providing teens and young adults the chance to embark upon unique, life-changing experiences in some of the world’s most incredible locations. Whether participants are hiking the Andes Mountains in Ecuador or scuba diving and replanting underwater reefs in the Florida Keys, the programs’ first priority is always safety.

To ensure the best and safest journey possible, here are some safety tips for teens and parents from the staff of The Road Less Traveled:

For Parents…

Choose A Credible Company: With so many teen tours, adventure trips and service-focused programs available to teens these days it can be hard to know which one to go with.  Select a program that has a great track record and an established reputation.  Don’t be afraid to ask for references or testimonials from previous participants.  Another consideration is to choose a program that is accredited by the American Camp Association (ACA).

Check The State Department’s Website: http://travel.state.gov Here you can find the most up-to-date information on country-specific travel warnings.

Check Your Family’s Overseas Medical Insurance Coverage: Make sure your policy applies to overseas and will cover emergency transportation expenses. If it doesn’t, you want to consider supplementary coverage for your child.

Check to see what minimum first aid certification level the leaders are required to have
. If your child will ever be more than 2 hours away from a hospital, the best training is Wilderness First Responder (WFR). Standard first aid, and wilderness first aid are not sufficient certifications in remote settings.

Talk to the directors of the program
. If they are inaccessible when you are making a decision, they will be inaccessible during the summer. Talk to the directors, learn about what their mission is as well what are the values they embrace as a program and their mission. Make sure it aligns with your own personal values.

For Teens…

Leave a Detailed Itinerary & Duplicate Documents At Home: Before leaving, make copies of your itinerary, passport and credit cards and leave them with your parents. Make sure the itinerary includes addresses, phone numbers and any other relevant information about where you will be traveling.

For those traveling in another country, register your trip on Smart Travelers Enrollment Program (STEP). The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country.  STEP allows you to enter information about your upcoming trip abroad so that the Department of State can better assist you in an emergency.

Locate the American Embassy in the country you are traveling to. Take their phone number and address with you and keep it in a safe place. Should an emergency arise, you may well need to contact them for help.

Stick Together: Avoid walking around alone, especially at night.  Stay away from isolated areas and always take a friend or staff member with you if you need to venture away from the group.

Know The Laws of Your Travel Destination: While in a foreign country you are subject to its laws.  Be aware of local conditions and cognizant of respecting the local culture.

About The Road Less Traveled:
The Road Less Traveled offers unparalleled service and adventure trips for teens and young adults to some of the world’s most incredible locations including Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Spain, Tanzania, India, Nepal and Norway, in addition to the United States and Canada.  Each summer, The Road Less Traveled introduces hundreds of teens to some of the most fascinating places, cultures and experiences while simultaneously helping them develop their sense of self and transforming their outlook on the world.  The majority of programs offered by The Road Less Traveled programs feature a service-focused component in which kids have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture and broaden their horizons while making a meaningful societal contribution.  The Road Less Traveled was founded by Jim and Donna Stein in 1991 and is headquartered at 2331 N. Elston Ave. in Chicago, IL. For more information, please visit www.theroadlesstraveled.com or call 1.800.939.983

Teens Texting With Grandparents

Texting: The New Best Way for Teens to Keep In Touch with Grandparents

grandparents textingDon’t be fooled by age, a recent survey by the leading mobile social messaging app, textPlus, reveals that a whopping 81% of respondents’ grandparents are indeed ‘mobile’ (i.e., they own a cell phone).

textPlus surveyed a segment of its users (age 13-17) about texting with their grandparents. It turns out that grandparents are texting more than we think – and their grandkids think it’s pretty cool:

  • 24% of respondents prefer to text with their grandparents
  • 40% of grandchildren would like to use text to communicate with their grandparents
  • Grandchildren stay in touch with grandparents more through texting (27%) than they do through sending a letter or card (12%)
  • 54% of respondents consider grandparents who text to be cool; 34% consider them practical

textPlus’s resident “textpert,” Drew Olanoff, is available to discuss these findings, and talk about the evolution of how grandparents and grandchildren communicate today.  Drew can also offer findings related to texting behavior and prom, the classroom, work, dating and more.

Tips for Making College Visits

Tips for Making College Visits With Your Teen

Top 10 Tips for Your Spring Break College Road Trip

Strategies for Parents Taking Their High School Juniors on the Road for Campus Visits

christian teen parenting college visits 101 planning for campus tours

Parents of high school juniors everywhere are gearing up to hit the road over spring break to visit colleges of interest to their teenagers.  While families can get a tremendous amount of valuable college information online, even in today’s Internet age, there’s no substitute for an in-person visit to get a true feel for an institution, its campus and its students.

Organizing a college tour road trip can be a daunting task for parents. Which schools should be visited? How many schools?  How do you make the most out of a campus tour?  Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D., senior vice president of education outreach for Sylvan Learning, “schools” parents and high school students in his “College Visits 101,” top ten tips for organizing a spring break college road trip that parents and students alike will give an A for information-gathering and fun.


1. Start by Casting a Wide Net – If you and your teenager haven’t already done so, start by putting together a big list of potential schools of interest – up to 20 schools – for further investigation and research.  Carefully consider a wide range of selection criteria, such as, geographic location, rural/suburban/urban campus setting, size of student enrollment, religious affiliation, academic strengths and offerings, and athletic programs, among others. Include a range of “dream,” “target” (strong odds of acceptance based on your teen’s test scores, GPA, etc.) and “safety” schools. 

2. Finalize Your Target Tour List Once you have your initial pool of possible school targets, narrow that list to a more realistic number of schools to visit – schools that meet the criteria for your teen and your family.  Fine tuning your list can largely be done by visiting schools’ Web sites, reviewing college guides from the library or bookstore and, of course, by working with your teen’s school guidance counselor.  Other students, friends and family members can also offer invaluable insights.

3. Get SAT/ACT Test Prep Support – If you take a school off of your teen’s final target list because his or her SAT or ACT test scores aren’t in that school’s typical accepted student range – or you’re afraid they won’t be – consider obtaining SAT/ACT test prep support from your local Sylvan Learning (http://tutoring.sylvanlearning.com/SAT_ACT_test_prep_programs.cfm ).

With student application submissions hitting record highs – and acceptance rates at historic lows at many schools around the country – competition to get into the “top” colleges is more difficult than ever before.  Sylvan’s college prep experts will tailor a personalized plan that builds the skills, habits and attitudes to your teenager’s needs in order to score higher on test day and apply to college with confidence.  Sylvan’s highly personalized and targeted approach focuses on the exact skills needed to successfully answer test questions. For many students, skills can be mastered to raise test scores in as little as five to twelve weeks.

4. Visit While College is in Session Every family’s final “visit” list of schools is different; some travel to 12 or more campuses while others only a handful.  Based on the geography of your target tour list, you may in fact wind up making a few road trips – perhaps one over spring break and then one or two long weekend treks.  Regardless of how many campuses you visit, make sure to schedule your visits while college is in session and students are attending classes.  Don’t visit during midterms or finals and avoid weekend visits if at all possible, since classes are seldom held then. Be sure to call ahead and check on tour times, dates offices are closed, and visit/interview policies.   If spring proves problematic because your target schools have spring break the same week your teen does, fall of senior year is also an ideal time to visit.

5. Remember the 2/2/2 Rule Two schools a day. Don’t try to visit more than two schools a day, especially if the schools aren’t close together.  Any more than that and you’ll never have enough time to really get a fair sense of the school, which after all, is the entire point of taking the road trip. 

Two question limit.  Given that most teens find their parents embarrassing under any circumstances, they are especially sensitive to mom or dad asking numerous questions on the campus tour.  Try to limit your questions to two vital topics.  For example, focus on safety and financial aid.

Speak with at least two professors or students from your teen’s intended major. Now is your -and your teenager’s – time to determine if this learning environment is right for your family.  Ask a student, “What is the quality of faculty advising? Which outstanding professors or courses does he/she recommend for that specific major?”  Speak to a professor about general education requirements, which classes are most popular and fill up quickly, and which classes should be completed in the first year.

6. Schedule Smart Be sure to make long trips efficient by planning several visits along the route. Figure out driving distances between schools so you and your teenager can determine which schools to visit on the same day.  When you have a tentative itinerary, you and your child can begin calling colleges to schedule the visits. Be sure to reserve in advance for official campus tours, and/or interviews with the admissions office, coaches, or professors.  Make your appointment calls at least two weeks in advance of your target visit date.

7. Ask Questions to Make the Most of Your Visit Encourage your teen to ask as many questions as possible – and ask different people the same questions to see if you get different answers.  In addition to the official tour guide, speak with students, professors, librarians, or other representatives based on topics of interest to your student.

8. Go Beyond the Official Campus Tour to Get the “Inside Skinny” – Official campus tours are almost always 30-60 minute student-led affairs that give a good overview of the college, its facilities, academic offerings and student life.  They’re a good place to start, but by doing a little advanced homework, your family can round out your visit with other campus experiences that can help you and your teen get the “inside skinny” on the school.  If any family members, friends, or recent graduates of your teen’s school are enrolled, have coffee or meet with him or her. If your teen is an athlete, musician, artist, or has another special interest, call in advance to arrange a meeting with the coach or other relevant faculty members. 

9. Eat on Campus – What teenager doesn’t place a high priority on food?  Most schools allow visitors to eat on campus; so eat in the dining hall or other on-campus eating establishments to give your teen a firsthand “taste” of the school’s food while also saving money.  Likewise, if you need overnight lodging, consider allowing your teenager to stay in a dorm.  Even if you don’t know a student with whom your child can stay, many schools will arrange for your teen to stay overnight with a current student – if you call in advance.  Parents will save money by only paying for one hotel room (or booking a smaller room) and the prospective student will gain an invaluable chance to experience dorm life.

10. Create a Photo Diary – Believe it or not, once your family arrives home from your college tour road trip, all those campuses may start to blur together – especially if you visit numerous schools.  Use your digital camera to take a lot of photos -even videos – during your visits to create a record of each school.  Your first photo of each school should show the college name on a sign or building to ensure you remember which school you visited.  You and your teen can create an online folder for each school or print out the photos and keep them in folders with the other informational material you’ll pick up on your visits.

For additional assistance in helping your teenager prepare for college, attend a free, interactive seminar – “Test Stress: A Parent’s Real Guide to College Test Prep” – to obtain advice from leading college admissions experts that will help you develop action plans to ensure your student is college ready.  Visit www.SylvanLearning.com for seminar details.

Teens Take BIG Risks Online

Teens Take BIG Risks Online, New Study Says

“The Secret Online Lives of Teens” Reveals Dangerous Behaviors and Online Trends

Teens Risks Online

A shocking new report released called “The Secret Online Lives of Teens” is a revealing peek at just how much our kids risk when they interact online, and one expert believes it’s more than just a wake-up call.

The study, conducted by Harris Interactive for McAfee, asked 955 American teens (including 593 aged 13-15 and 362 aged 16-17) about their attitudes on Internet privacy. The results are troubling for any parents of teenagers.

  • 69 percent of teens freely divulged their physical location
  • 28 percent chatted with strangers

Of those who chatted with strangers, defined as people they do not know in the offline world:

  • 43 percent shared their first name
  • 24 percent shared their email address
  • 18 percent posted photos of themselves
  • 12 percent posted their cell phone number

What’s more, girls make themselves targets more often than boys: 32% of the girl respondents indicated they chat with strangers online vs. 24% of boy respondents, according to the survey.

Mary Kay Hoal, a concerned mom and global media expert who addressed her Internet safety issues by creating a social network exclusively for kids and teens – www.yoursphere.com – believes that this is more than just a wake-up call for parents and teens.

“This study is Pearl Harbor in the war against Internet predators,” she said. “While the headline always changes from cyber bullies to privacy issues, what remains constant, and will continue to, is the risky behavior teens can participate in. If you don’t want your kids participating in certain behaviors offline, why would you permit them online? If you tell them not to talk to strangers at the mall, why allow it on the Internet? Parents need to take notice now, and they need to teach their kids about the dangers of predators. It’s very real.”

Hoal has been studying this issue for more than 4 years, having created Yoursphere as a response to her own daughter establishing profiles behind her back on social networking sites. Her goal is to create a positive place for kids and teens that offers all the best the Internet has to offer, without the dangers of predators, bullies and others who seek to use the anonymity of the Internet to victimize children.

“As parents, we need to do three things right now,” she said. “We need to learn about the online dangers for kids and teach our kids about them, just as we’d talk to them about drugs, sex, learning to drive a car or ride a bike safely. Next, we need to show our kids how to protect their online and offline privacy, so the predators and bullies are less capable of taking advantage of them. Finally, we need to set up a set of rules for our kids for their online lives that match their rules for their offline lives. The most effective litmus test is this: If the activity or behavior in question is inappropriate offline, then it is inappropriate online, as well. The combination of anonymity and technology that exists online can create a wide variety of hazards for teens, getting in the way of all the good things that exist for them on the Internet. We need to be able to use basic, common sense safety guidelines to help clear that path.”

About Mary Kay Hoal

A proud wife and mother of five children (both biological and adopted, ranging in age from 6 – 19 years old), Mary Kay faces the same challenges every parent does. After researching the disturbing landscape of social networking sites — including endless inappropriate content and thousands of predators targeting youth — Mary Kay conceived and founded Yoursphere.com, a free and positive place for kids and teens online as well as YoursphereForParents.com, where parents can find tools and information to create a safety-first experience for their families.