Friday, September 16, 2011

Who’s Responsible For Your Kids’ Grades - You or Them?

The school year is in full swing for most of our kids. Some of us have kids just starting Pre-K; while others have kids who are just off to college. No matter how young or old they are, our children are the center of our lives and bring us joy – well, for the most part anyway.

The years of formal education are so critical. In some cultures, this process is so instrumental that as children are born, parents already begin to implement certain measures to ensure that they get into the best schools possible. What kids eventually become in life can generally be traced back to their childhood and the learning environment established in the home.

My daughter is now in the 8th grade. My son is just 13 months old so he has a way to go before he enters the formal education system. With my children, I try to be mindful that now they are young and are under my care. But before long – especially with my daughter – these young ones will no longer be young ones; they’ll be off to college and then on to their chosen vocations. At that point, I can only give my words of advice; I won’t have the day-to-day influence that I now have.

So the question I’d like to ask with this post is this: Who’s responsible for your kids’ grades – you or them? I ask this question for a variety of reasons. Having been a child, who has become an adult with children, I see the different ways of looking at this question.

In my opinion, our children’s grades are a shared responsibility. They are a reflection of the learning environment that has been established in the home – and it’s the adults who establish that environment.

I remember when I was a struggling college student just hoping to get by, sometimes I looked at my grades and thought about the fact that a grade is simply a letter on a paper. Sometimes there’s an A, sometimes B, C and so on. It’s just a letter on a paper, right? But the difference between that letter being an A and a C is vast. There are a series of factors that come into play for the grade to go from one extreme to the other.

As our kids enter the formal education system, for some of them, that’s their first time in a structured learning environment. But for others, their parents have been so proactive in helping them to learn that entering the formal education environment is simply a continuation of what has been established in the home.

Did you know that, according to psychologists, 90% of brain development occurs in the first 3 years of life? What do 3 year old kids know? More than we might think. What we teach them and expose them to in those formative years will guide them throughout their lives.

The natural progression is that our kids enter pre-K, then kindergarten, then elementary school, middle school, high school and then college. As time moves along, they grow in many ways – intellectually, socially and so on. Their level of responsibility grows as well. What we expect of them at age 8 is much different from what we expect at age 18. It’s a natural progression.

Here’s the key to this whole thing: the sooner our kids learn that they are responsible for their grades, the better it is for all involved. I remember as I went through school – all the way up through high school – when I got my report card, I looked at it and then brought it home to my parents for them to sign it before I took it back to school. Why was this done? Because the school officials wanted to know that my parents were aware of how I was doing in school.

But guess what? When I went off to study at the University of Texas at Austin, it was a different environment. I didn’t have to take my grades home for my parents to sign anything. I could get straight A’s or straight F’s and as far as the university was concerned, it was up to me to do what needed to be done to get through the process.

My parents still cared and were involved so they wanted to see the report card but the university was more “hands off” than I was used to. If I failed, there are 50,000 other students studying there so it wouldn’t be a big deal from their standpoint. As I began to realize this, my mindset began to change. I began taking my grades a bit more seriously. In other words, I took responsibility for them.

And guess what? The more responsibility I took for them, the less involved my parents needed to be. They didn’t need to see my report card anymore; I was in charge of my schooling. But you know what? That didn’t happen overnight. My dad was a school principal and my mom was a teacher so from the very beginning, they helped to create an environment in the home where my siblings and I could learn.

Now Dad and Mom are retired and doing just fine. My siblings and I have become adults. Our “report cards” are now if the form of paychecks or business contracts and other tangible ways of measuring success. Our parents aren’t involved in our day to day lives are they once were. Our success is our responsibility. But our success is a direct reflection on the environment in which we were raised.

I encourage and challenge you as a parent to give your kids everything they need to succeed. I always encourage you to help them to get to the point where they take responsibility for their grades. When they do their part and we as parents do our part, that makes for a winning formula.

I hope that this post has been enlightening and insightful to you. We need to remember that raising kids isn’t a walk in the park. But if we do the best for them, things will work out. As my wife and I raise our young ones, these lessons are what we try to live by. And I believe that we will see tangible results from our efforts. I hope the same for you and yours as well; that’s what parenting is about.

Do enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering 9/11/01 and the Families Affected

If I should ask you, "Where were you approximately 8:45 AM EST on Tuesday, September 11, 2001?" no doubt you could pinpoint your exact location and then tell of how you found out about the historic events of that day. What occurred on 9/11 lives on as one of those moments in time where everyone can reflect on their whereabouts when they heard the news.

Now, 13 years later, we pause and ponder the significance of the events of that day. Some reflect with tears; others reflect with pride in how the nation has bounced back. Regardless of what we recall, each of us knows that something significant happened on 9/11/01. The well-coordinated series of terrorist attacks then shook many of us to the core. We knew that our world wouldn’t be quite the same again.

At the time, I worked as an auditor with a large investment firm in Florida. A few months before the attacks, our company had acquired another investment firm – one that was based in one of the Twin Towers in New York - the South Tower to be exact. I recall watching the unfolding events with some co-workers in our downtown Fort Lauderdale office. We saw the first tower fall; and then the second. Many cried knowing not only that thousands of our fellow citizens would perish but also that several of our fellow employees would perish as well.

As it turned out, we did lose several dozens from our company in the tragedy. A week later, we held a memorial service at a church across the street from our Florida office. And because our New York office was destroyed in the attacks, most of the surviving employees were transferred to our office. I got to learn of many firsthand accounts of the events of that day. It became less of an event that I witnessed on TV; it was much closer to home as I learned of the day-to-day lives of some coworkers who lost their lives.

With this post, I’d like to think of all the families affected by the events of that day. Family is the primary institution at the core of the American experience – even more, the human experience. Each day, across the world, people wake up, leave their loved ones to go to work. And when work is done, they return home to those they love the most.

September 11, 2001 started out as just another day. As usual, thousands of people flocked to their daily work in Manhattan and Washington DC, leaving their families behind. Husbands and wives, fathers and mothers all left home to simply go to work. That morning, others headed to the airports to make cross-country trips. Some were business travelers while others were just traveling for personal reasons. It was just another ordinary day.

Then all of a sudden, without any warning, tragedy struck. First there was what many thought to be a freak accident with the crash of an airplane in one of the Twin Towers. Then many of us watched in horror as the second plane hit the second tower. Then a plane hit the Pentagon in Washington DC. Then another plane went down in a field in Pennsylvania. No doubt, we were under attack.

For the next several hours, thousands of frantic phone calls were made as family members and friends tried to see if their loved ones were ok. I can’t imagine the feeling of not being able to reach any family member at such a time, knowing they might have been victimized by the unfolding events. But for many, that was their reality. And sadly, for over 3,000 families, their loved ones were not ok; they were innocent casualties of these vicious attacks.

For the families left behind, they had to cope with the loss of their loved ones. Hope became despair; hearts were broken; tears were shed. How could this happen? How could such a series of coordinated attacks really happen here in the United States of America? Husbands and wives were lost. Fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers – all gone as a result of this senseless tragedy.

As the nation and the world mourned, it was the families of those who perished who felt it the most. They had to live with the daily reality of the death of their loved ones – all gone in an instant. No time to say goodbye; no time for anything. Their lives got turned upside down on 9/11 and they would never be the same again.

I cannot imagine the pain and suffering that each one has felt. But I do know that the pain has been very real. I have a particularly soft place in my heart for the children who lost parents that day. Sadly many of these children have little or no memory of “daddy” or “mommy” because they were so young at the time. They were forced to grow up fatherless and motherless – all because of the acts of terror.

Now, 10 years later, we pause and reflect on that day. Many, who thought that they wouldn’t make it, have made it. Many, who became so weak from the tears that they shed, have become so much stronger. The attacks that were meant to destroy a nation and to shake our psyche have made the nation stronger. Family members who were greatly wounded by their loss have healed from their hurt and have picked up the pieces and moved on.

Certainly tears are still shed, particularly as we reflect on this 13 year milestone. However, the collective resolve of the surviving family members to live victorious lives in the face of tragedy is something that millions have grown to admire.

The 9/11 Commission - that investigated the events that culminated on that fateful day – was formed as a result of the insistence by the families. And many of the recommendations of the Commission have been implemented, thus averting many similar plots. They lost loved one and have helped to ensure that others would not be lost in a similar way. In the face of tragedy, these families responded in ways that would have made their loved ones proud.

If you lost family, friends or other loved ones in the tragic events of that day, please know that they did not die in vain. They’re gone but not forgotten. Their lives continue to touch ours – even today.

Whether or not you were directly impacted by what occurred on September 11, 2001, do commit to loving your family members and friends more each day. And let them know how much they are cared for. Tomorrow is promised to no one – young or old. Live your life in such a way that your spouse, children and others know how much you care for them. That’s really what life is all about.

Let the unfortunate events that occurred 13 years ago cause each of us to continually embrace the gifts of live and family even more. That would be quite a fitting tribute to the families affected by 9/11.

Do enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad