On kids living life out loud

Casey forwarded this Seth Godin podcast to me in which Godin shares some interesting advice about raising kids in the Internet age where, through social media and the ability to both connect and share, kids grow up “living a life out loud.”

It’s not unusual for a teenager to have connections with hundreds, even thousands of people online. Those connections aren’t necessarily personal, but anyone who puts up a YouTube video, or posts a picture of themselves, or writes a blog, tweet, or social media post—all of those things can be viewed and shared by other people. And that’s a much different universe than the one parents lived in before the Internet arrived on the scene, when youthful indiscretions and teenage bad judgment had a much shorter shelf life.

While some kids brazenly share their life online with no thought of potential consequences, others are using it as a chance to contribute, organize, help people, share technical innovations, or find other ways to leave a mark. By embracing the Internet as an opportunity to leave behind things that make them proud, those kids are getting into a good habit.

And here’s Godin’s take on the parent’s role in guiding your kids through the new universe:

“As parents we’re often pushed to make this choice. And the choice is to keep your kids out of the connection world and isolate them and make sure they’re ‘safe.’ Or, put your kids into the world and all hell will break loose. Those are the things that they talk about at the PTA meetings. And I don’t think that’s the choice. I think the choice is—everyone is in the world now. Everyone is connected. You cannot keep your 12-year-old from hearing profanity. Get over it. But given that they’re in the world, what trail are they going to leave? What mark are they leaving? Are they doing it just to get into college, or are they doing it because they understand that their role as a contributor to society starts now when they’re 10, not when they’re 24, and that the trail they leave behind starts the minute someone snaps their picture? And if we can teach children that there isn’t this bright line between off duty and on duty, but that life is life and you should live it like people are looking at you because they are, then we trust them. And we trust them to be bigger than they could be because they choose to be bigger. And it’s that teaching, I think, that is so difficult to do as a parent because what you really want to do is protect them and lock them up until it’s time. But the bravest thing to do is have these free range kids who are exploring the edges of the universe, but doing it in a way that they’re proud of, not hiding from.”

“The teacher doesn’t like me.”

For many students, their explanation for why they’re struggling in a particular class is some version of, “The teacher doesn’t like me.”

If that’s your reason, you’re facing one of two realities:

1. It’s true.
2. It’s not true and you’re either imagining the conflict or just inventing it as an excuse.

Either way, if you want your situation to change, you’ll need to make some changes yourself.

First, think about the type of student a teacher would enjoy having in class. To get you started, here are some things teachers notice about students. Are you doing all of those things? Every day? If not, get started and I’ll bet your situation changes quickly.

But if you really are doing your best and you genuinely believe that you’ve earned a seemingly permanent spot on your teacher’s bad side, ask if you can chat privately after class. Take responsibility for what you perceive is a conflict, and ask for advice about what you can do to make it better.

“I get the feeling that I haven’t been the kind of student that you enjoy having in your class. If that’s true, I’m really sorry. I was wondering if you have any advice about what I can do to make things better?”

That’s a mature student taking ownership of the problem and responsibility for the solution.

On storytelling

Patti from our Los Angeles office shares this article from the New York times on why storytelling is a skill job-seekers must have in their arsenal these days. We read it with interest because we’ve spent 15 years advising our Collegewise students to do exactly the same thing in their college applications. If you’re working on your stories, here are two past posts, here and here, that might help.

First progress, then perfection

Most days, I’m able to write just one blog entry. But when I’m preparing for a vacation, I’m always able to write 7-10 posts ahead of time and queue them to post daily while I’m gone. Why does an impending vacation make me more productive? The rest of the work I have to do and the time I have to do it stays constant (in fact, there’s usually more on my plate to wrap up before I leave). The only thing that changes is the deadline.

Seniors, if you’re still working on your college applications, if your progress is slow and you’ve got writer’s block and you just can’t seem to get through what you need to do, change your deadline. Pretend you need to have everything submitted by Monday. Then work like your hair is on fire to meet that deadline.

You don’t necessarily have to submit what you complete by Monday, and I wouldn’t advise that you trade a quick application for a well-completed one. But before you can find perfection, you’ve got to make progress. And sometimes the best way to do that is to change your deadline.

Plenty of time

When I was a freshman in high school, I sat next to a senior in my Spanish class, a football player who looked like he was about 28. Four weeks into the class, he got transferred out because he’d gotten F’s on our first four exams. He seemed like a nice guy. But by college admissions standards, it’s not a good sign when you’re (a) a senior taking classes with freshmen, and (b) failing those classes. It would have been easy to write that kid off as going nowhere fast in the future.

Two days ago, I saw this former Spanish washout on television. He’s a chef now, he has his own TV series, and he teaches cooking classes that fill up weeks in advance.

What you do in high school matters, and I would never tell a student or parent that failing out of classes isn’t cause for concern. But I mention this story here as a reminder that as long as kids stay away from things covered in the criminal code, it’s hard to make a mistake in high school that will permanently mar your life in the future.

Families, as your student progresses through high school and all its tribulations, keep things in perspective and remember that there is plenty of post-high school life left to live. But also know that working hard and learning how to succeed now will give your student a nice head start.

Only one “you”

Before he wrote seven best-selling books on business, work, and behavior, and before he gave his TED Talk on motivation that has since been viewed 11 million times, Dan Pink spent three years as the chief speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore. He’s got a simple but powerful presentation tip in this article that I think applies to more than just public speaking.

Pink’s advice is to sound like yourself. And the best way to do that when preparing a talk is to sit with a friend or loved one, turn on a tape recorder, and have your partner ask you questions about the topic. Now instead of presenting, you’re just talking. You’ll be more natural. Your enthusiasm for the topic will be more evident. And you can use the recording as the building block for creating an entire presentation that sounds like you.

When we talk with our Collegewise students about potential stories they could share in their essays, one of the most effective things we can do is to say, “Forget the topic. It’s just you and me talkin’ right now.” The way a student talks about being in the marching band or growing up with a single mom or restoring a classic car with their father is exactly how they should write about it.

This works in virtually all types of communication, whether or not you’re in high school. If you write the company newsletter, or present to your sales team, or craft the verbiage for your website, why would you want to sound like someone else?  Even worse, why would you want to sound like everyone else?

There are plenty of them, but only one you.

Learn through non-loaded questions

I run Collegewise with my friend and mentor, Paul. I’ve written before that one of the best contributions he brings to any discussion is his exceptionally good listening. He works to understand someone’s point, usually by asking good questions and listening very carefully to the responses. He’s initially more interested in understanding than he is in staking a position of his own.

But I’ve also noticed that he learns by asking non-loaded questions at the right times.

A loaded question has more weight than meets the ear, often putting the listener on the defensive. Asking someone, “Don’t you think people will hate the shorter format you’re proposing?” is a loaded question because it can be interpreted as not a question at all, but a way of expressing your disapproval of the idea.

You can make the language more neutral by doing two things:

1. Seek to understand the other person’s point of view even if you don’t initially agree with it.
2. Make it clear in your question that you don’t yet know the answer (this won’t work without #1).

So the loaded question above might be rephrased:

“Do you think people will like the shortened format, or will they miss having the information? I’m asking because I don’t know the answer.”

Now the responder is being invited to engage in a conversation rather than defend her position in an argument.

Paul has even used this to generate thoughtful discussion about an idea that he’s proposing. When pitching a new way of doing something recently, he asked us, “Does my idea make sense, or is it unreasonable? I’m asking because I don’t know.”

When you can listen well and show that you’re genuinely interested in others’ points of view, you’re a welcome addition to any discussion. And people will be a lot more likely to listen in return.