Tips for College Freshmen

istock_000004524452small-520x487It’s that time of the year again when students of all ages are headed back to class, but for college freshmen, this time of year can be full of excitement and loads of anxiety that can send them packing back home or spinning into a dangerous cycle of poor choices.

A few of the high school clients I worked with last year are feeling this same since of angst so I wanted to share some of what I have shared with them about creating an environment for success their freshmen year of college.

Live Like a Broke College Student

Sometimes when students go off to college they forget that they may not have the constant source of income they had while they were home, and yet there is more things that they want to do that cost more money.

College is expensive. Take advantages of free things, there are usually a lot of free things on campus from food to clothing.

Students have to learn how to live with less funds which means learning how to budget, given up some of their favorite meals or even activities. They will have to learn how to survive with less, which is a challenge, but it can be fun and creative. College student are notorious for coming up with inexpensive and free ways to have fun and that is something that should be embraced if you don’t want the lack of finances to be an added source of stress.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Anything, Especially Help

A lot of times college is the first time young people are given total responsibility over themselves and many don’t know how to handle it. They think being an adult means you don’t have to ask for help, but that is where they get into trouble.

In college, you are treated like an adult. No one is going to remind you to read assignments, or to work on your paper, or to study. It’s up to you, so students need to learn to ask for help by being proactive in their relationships with their professors and not just thinking that the professor will let them know if they are not doing well in a particular course.

Building a support system is also crucial so that you have people you can turn to for advice, support and encouragement. A good support network should include upperclassmen, a professor they trust and look up to, as well as any administrators they feel they can turn to for advice or guidance.

Also, being part of a support group is extra helpful for students who need extra support or counseling, which is generally free on most college campuses. Asking for help is not about appearing weak, it’s about preparing for success.

Get Involved

When I speak to the college freshmen who are having the most difficult times adjusting, nearly all of them have done nothing to actually get involved or to get engaged on campus. It’s important to be open minded to both new experiences and people. Making real connections is one of the best ways to feel like you are apart of the college environment.

Many of the young people I work with who are college freshman come from the inner-city and sometimes feel out of place on college campuses where the majority of the student body doesn’t look like them. I always encourage them to join multicultural clubs and student support services in order to help them adjust and begin to engage with the entire student body.

At the same time, I let them know that it’s okay to take time to adjust and for them to not feel so overwhelmed if after a week or two they still don’t feel quite comfortable. The thing is, I want them to avoid feeling lonely which can lead to numerous issues including isolation, depression, poor grades and even dropping out of school.

Time Management

It’s good for college students to have some routine and a schedule that they can follow, but not a schedule that is so rigid that it doesn’t leave room for fun and other activities. Having a schedule such as when to study, when to workout, etc., can bring some order to a time that may appear chaotic.

This includes making time to take classes that they can manage and also allowing themseves to take a couple of fun classes like yoga or basketball, after all, it may be the last time they can take fun classes before they get into the really heavy stuff.

The first year of college is filled with lots of sometimes contradicting emotions, but being prepared to face those challenges will make it that much more exciting and fulfilling as well as prepared to accomplish all of their personal, social and academic goals.

How Early Is Too Early To Implant Self-Consciousness Into A Child?

istock_000014209545xsmallThis morning as I watched Good Morning America I saw an interview with “Teen Mom” star, Farrah Abraham, talking about how she waxes her three year old daughter’s (Sophia) uni-brow.

On her blog, sulia.com, Farrah, who is 20 years wrote:

“Recently I could not ignore it, like I know I’ve seen madonna’s duaghter have a stand out uni brow, I remember when I was little I had a unibrow, but I couldn’t remember if there was an age limit, a rule!”

“So here I am faced with a standout historical moment in motherhood when I can confirm to myself that my little, adorable,most cuddle-able cutie, baby girl has a Unibrow 😦 , I felt bad for her, and I started asking friends…. is this hair just going to fall out… is it just hormones at this age?, well the hair didn’t go away and others started saying it was here to stay.”

In an interview, Farrah said that she was also worried about her three year old daughter being teased about her uni-brow, so she talked to her daughter about waxing it, and even waxed her own eyebrows to show her daughter how it’s done.

“So I tryed to wax her, the second a dab hit the Uni, she touch it with the towel she had in her hand, UHHH so now, wax was in the towel, and I yanked it back ASAP, but fuzz was not stuck to the wax stuck to her Uni, OMG moment, So now sophia was freaking out, so I had to act like it was a cool science project to get the wax off,” Abraham said.

Once Sophia fell asleep, Farrah says she used tweezers to remove the rest.

“The next morning I showed her and told her how well she did and she didn’t even know, She was more intrigued now to be ok with upkeeping her non-unibrow. I could tell she was proud,”.

Farrah says she felt like a good mom afterwards, but some of her fans were shocked and appalled at her post.

As I heard about this story, I wish I could say I felt shocked, but I didn’t. It felt more like deja vu. Like I had heard this story, or something similar to it before.

And then of course I thought about the New Jersey mom who took her five year old daughter to a tanning booth, and the Georgia mom who allowed her ten year old son to get a tattoo.

In almost all of these and similar cases, the mothers seemed to be either clearly unstable, ignorant, uneducated or superficial.

Farrah Abraham, not to pick on her, but she doesn’t come across to me as the most educated and profound person.

At 20 years old, she is in many ways still a child herself. According to Good Morning America, she recently had a breast augmentation, a chin implant and rhinoplasty, which not only implies to me that she is superficial, but that she is also very self-conscious and may be passing this on to her daughter.

I seriously doubt that any three, four or five year old will tease her daughter over a uni-brow, but it’s much more likely that Farrah is self-conscious about it herself and is more worried about what her friends, other people or the media will say about her daughter’s uni-brow than Sophia’s peers.

What does waxing your daughters eyebrows when she is 3 years old say to her anyway? How does that affect her self-esteem and self-consciousness now and in the future?

Teaching your toddler that you should change the way you look to avoid being teased doesn’t sound like a great recipe for a healthy self-esteem and stable personality in the future.

Teaching them to love and accept themselves for who they are does. She can always do whatever makes her feel comfortable once she is old enough to understand what she is doing and why.

Many people may see nothing wrong with this story, or getting their 3 year old’s eyebrows waxed, a five year old tanned or a 10 year old tattooed.

Some comments I have read online say that it’s no big deal and that helping Sophia wax her eyebrows at 3 years old will help her get used to it and help her avoid getting teased in later years.

I don’t think this is the right approach. We all know that kids can be cruel and will tease each other about any and everything.

If they start teasing about her teeth, her hair, the way she walks, the way she talks, should she alter those things as well?

The reality of the situation is to each his own, but every decision has a consequence, positive or negative and even when you think you are doing what is in the best interest of your child, you may be implanting something in them you didn’t expect.

Is It Okay To Use Different Academic Standards Based on a Students Race?

I was honestly shocked the other day when on the local news I saw a report that the Florida Board of Education, just passed a new race-based standards of academic acceptance which will affect all of the 2.6 million students that are in the state’s public school system.

I was shocked because I don’t remember hearing about this, and yet it has passed. Apparently there was no vote on this from the public and I was even more shocked to hear what the standards are.

The new academic standard says that by 2018, 90% of Asian students, 88% of white students, 81% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students are to be reading at or above grade level.

It also states that 92% of Asian students, 86% of white students, 80% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students will be at or above their math grade level.

Really?

Now some people will say that this is a part of Affirmative Action, but I’d like to argue against that. This is part of goals required from Florida’s waiver of No Child Left Behind. State officials say that these new standards take into account the performance numbers of current students of color.

I say that this is a way the state can take the blame away from where it really should be, and that is on failing schools, inequality of schools and teachers in different communities, poor teachers, bad parenting and failing community services and supports.

It is unconscionable to me that we would expect less of a child based on his or her race/ethnicity. All kids have the ability to learn regardless of race or ethnicity.

It is true that often things such as socio-economic status and parental educational background have a lot to do with a child’s academic performance, exposure and experiences, but to dumb down the expectations of a child based on their race/ethnicity is really backwards.

And where is Florida getting this idea from? Virginia! No offense to Virginians, but Florida is following in Virginia’s footsteps when it comes to educating their students. Some say it’s so that black and Hispanic children won’t feel bad when they don’t perform as well as their white and Asian counterparts. Really?

When I was in high school I had to pass a competency exam to graduate, my race/ethnicity played no part in this. I was expected to get the same passing score as everyone. They same went for the exit exams I took in undergrad and graduate school.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush even said that this would send a “devastating message” that Hispanic and black students aren’t as capable as other students.

Palm Beach County School Board Vice-Chair Debra Robinson said she’s “somewhere between complete and utter disgust and anger and disappointment with humanity” because of this.

We do a disservice to our kids when we are basing academic standards on race/ethnicity. We will be placing a black mark on the high school diplomas of every black and Hispanic child.

It would be better to track students individually and not group them by race/ethnicity, but that would cost the state too much, so it’s easier to just make generalized, in my opinion, racist academic standards of achievement.

A long time ago I read a book called The Bell Curve and thought it was the most racist piece of garbage I had ever read. It was largely about whites intellectual superiority over blacks. This isn’t much different.

How can black and Hispanic children feel good about their academic achievements if they are held to a lesser standard, especially in elementary, middle and high school where these poor standards are setting them up for future failure?

In elementary school I always made the honor role until one day I got a “C” and cried. My teacher consoled me by saying “C’s are good for a boy”. After that day, I never made the honor role again until the 11th grade. I was happy with “C’s” and it was only until the end of my sophomore year in high school that I started making all A’s and B’s again.

What changed? I did, not the academic standards, or even the school or teachers, but me.

I learned that “A” stood for excellent, “B” for good, “C” for average, “D” for poor and “F” for failure. I told myself I was above average and aimed to never get below a “B” and from that point on in high school, through undergrad and graduate school, I didn’t.

With Affirmative Action, yes it helps minority students get into college with lower exam scores than whites and Asians, but once in college they are expected to keep up or get out. There’s a difference between that and this.

If we tell our kids it’s okay to be below average because of your race/ethnicity, I think it will have the same affects. Kids won’t try harder, they will accept poor performance as “good for my race/ethnicity”.

Those black/Hispanic kids that are high achievers, will never feel the pride they should feel.

We already have a problem with black/Hispanic kids being stereotyped as “not as good as” whites and Asians, but this is almost like making it official.

We all learn differently and EXPOSURE and EXPECTATION go a long way to defining a child’s self-efficacy. This is not the way of solving a problem, but creating one we all will have to deal with in the future.

Politicians are always saying that they want our nation to be at the top when it comes to math and science, but I guess that doesn’t apply if you are black/Hispanic. We should be encouraging, educating and encouraging all students, regardless of race/ethnicity, to do their absolute best, and not a percentage of what is considered the absolute best.

edit: My 16 year old niece, who is black and attends a predominately black school, just got accepted into the National Honor Society for having a grade point average of or above a 3.5. Imagine if the criteria for the National Honor Society was lowered for her just because she was black. I doubt she would have the same sense of pride and accomplishment she has today. 

Political Bullying: What Are We Modeling to Our Children?

As the political season heats up, I can’t help but to notice that the ads seem to get nastier and more personal, so much so that it takes me back to some of the countless meditations I’ve done with high school students and initially I couldn’t understand why, but then it hit me, these campaign ads are reminding me of bullying.

Just like a lot of the bullying that goes on around school campuses across the nation (and now across the internet via sites like Facebook and Twitter), these politicians are often attacking each others characters, credibility and other qualities.

Unlike the bullying I see on school campuses, this type of bullying is different, and yet similar. It’s different in that it is much more of a sophisticated type of bullying, but it’s similar in it’s purpose and even worse, it is bullying that is played out across the nation, on television screens several times a day for millions to see, often during the times our young and impressionable children are watching.

These kids may not care about either candidate, and they may not even realize what they are witnessing, yet they are being exposed, often several times a day,  to a form of bullying that they may subconsciously model, especially in situations where they want to make themselves look better than someone else, rather in their social circle, sports or even in running for high school level campaigns.

Two adults bullying each other may sound ridiculous, but that is exactly what politicians do all the time. John Mica, who won the Republican primary House District 7 acknowledged that during a brutal campaign, he was severely affected by the mean spirited ads and statements made not only about him, but his family and integrity.

Although many political analyst believe that negative campaigns are necessary as they tend to get more voters attention than positive campaigns (what does that say about our Nation), at the end of the day I am concerned about how much of that negativity and mean spirited attention truly affects us.

As the campaign season continues to play out and ads are likely to get even more cruel, don’t just turn a blind eye to your child sitting there as it interrupts their television show. You may want to change the channel, or better yet, use it as a teaching and bonding opportunity to discuss with your child anything from bullying, the state of the Nation, the economy, to your political views. After all, they are likely getting all that anyway from watching the campaign ads, just that the information they are getting is likely tainted and smeared in figure pointing and character bashing.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, A Brief Primer Part 1: Automatic Thoughts, Assumptions and Personal Schemas

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one of the most popular forms of therapy used in the Western world. The premise behind CBT is that stressful states such as depression, anxiety and anger are often maintain or exacerbated by exaggerated or biased ways of thinking. The role of the therapist is to help the patient recognize his or her idiosyncratic style of thinking and modify it through the application of evidence and logic.

One of the key components of CBT is getting the person to start recognizing their automatic thoughts which usually serve to maintain their undesired state.

Automatic thoughts come spontaneously, so much so that we often give no thought to them, and they appear to be true even when distorted, which often lead to problematic behaviors and disturbing emotions.

Some forms of automatic thoughts include fortune tellingdichotomous (all or nothing thinking), catastrophizing, personalizing, mind-reading and labeling.

Automatic thoughts could be true or false. For example, someone may have the mind-reading thought that “My boss doesn’t like me” and that could be true. However, the problem is that without sufficient evidence, we usually believe our automatic thoughts to be totally accurate, even when they aren’t. Combine this with the other underlying assumptions and rules that we all have, which tend to be rigid, over-inclusive, almost impossible to attain and ascribe vulnerability into the future, and we have a recipe for repeated disappointment, anger, depression, anxiety and a host of other unhealthy feelings and thoughts (Leah, 2003).

For example, if the person who has the automatic thought “My boss doesn’t like me”, also has the underlying rule that “Everyone must like me or I am a bad person”, will be deeply upset over the thought that his/her boss doesn’t like them. The same is true with rejection which partially explains why some people do not take rejection as well as others. One person can ask someone out on a date and if that person politely says “no”, that person goes on with their day, giving little thought to the rejection. But if another person has the rule and automatic thought “If she rejects me, that means I am undesirable to all women and will spend the rest of my life alone”, they will handle the rejection totally differently.

Underlying assumptions are deeply linked to personal schemas. Personal schemas are basically the core beliefs of what we belief about ourselves. We all have personal schemas, some positive and some negative, which influence the way we interpret information filtered through our automatic thoughts.

Back to our example. If someone has the personal schemas, “I am undesirable”, “I am worthless”, “I am unattractive”, they will have selective attention and memory as they look to validate their core beliefs about themselves and thus their automatic thoughts will also work to validate their core beliefs. So if the person already has the personal schema “I am undesirable”, and the automatic thought “this person will probably reject me” (mind reading), if they get rejected it will validate their personal schema and thus send them into a tail spin of self-pity, depression and anxiety, building on the strength of their erroneous thinking, assumptions, and schema.

(The ego always wants to be in balance with you and wants to make you happy. “The ego’s mission is to take the beliefs of the self and turn them into the experiences of the self.” – Falco, 2010)

This person, like many people with depression or anxiety, will filter out any information that contradicts their negative personal schemas and assumptions. For example, they may not notice the cute guy that flirts with them, but will fall to pieces at the person who makes a disapproving comment about her hair or her dress.

The goal of a CBT therapist would be to get the person to start recognizing all of these erroneous patterns of thinking, unravel them and replace them with more accurate forms of thinking.

We will discuss in a later post how thoughts create feelings.