Tools for Online Pursuits

As a mom, I feel it is my job to make sure my children know everything they need to know when I send them out into the world, but there are two problems with that. First, how could I possibly know all that they will need to know? And second, I can’t keep up with the ever-changing world to make sure my children are fully protected with an armor of knowledge. I can only give them tools they will need to build their own armor and change it as necessary. And the tools they will need are constantly evolving.

Take the recent situation of one of my students as an example. She did everything as she thought she should, yet she still got stuck in a situation that seemed a bit sketchy. Thankfully, she recognized enough signs of danger to seek advice.

I entered the situation as she was negotiating feelings of mounting unease around a potential job opportunity. She had responded to an interesting job posting she found on a professor’s course site, a seemingly legit opportunity because of where she found it. She applied, and—through communication completely via text message—was asked to attend an interview, which she did. But the interview situation was a bit off. First, the student was greeted by the father of a client (here is where age and experience are beneficial—those of us who have been in the real world for any amount of time know that a professional organization would never have a client greet a potential worker in the first interview.)

When the interviewer finally did show up, she was dressed in leggings and a t-shirt and made excuses about the work not being conducive to business attire. Both of these things caught my student off guard, and made her more attentive to her feelings about this job.

It wasn’t until the following week that she dug in her heels. The woman texted my student that she had scheduled an orientation session before the second interview—in fact, it was before she had officially been offered a job—and it would be that afternoon. The student was given an address and a time and told to bring her identification documents.

It seemed like an odd turn of events, and this is where I started asking questions: What is the name of the company? Where are they located? What will you be doing? When she could answer none of these questions, we sat down and did some research. We looked up the address that she had been given for her “orientation.” Google maps gave us a nondescript office building on which there was no company name. We Googled any and all information the student had, but we came up with no more answers than when we started. At that point, I advised her to forgo this particular job and look for something more certain.

A few days later, she and I sat with the Career Planning director to figure out where the job posting had originated and how best to deal with it. The director had the same advice that I had already given the student. Even if this was a legitimate job offer, the company was so unprofessional that she didn’t want to work there, anyway.

In truth, there is no way of knowing what might have happened if my student ignored her instincts and went to the orientation session. However, this situation got me to thinking about how best to guide my children as they navigate the tangled web of the “business” aspects of the online environment.

Teach your children—and any young people you are in contact with—to be aware of fraud and scams such as this may have been. Teach them to look for inconsistencies, to be alert to potential problems, and help them to determine when something is legitimate and when it is not. The fact that there was no searchable company information on this job posting was the first of many red flags.

Let your kids know that the rules of safety in social situations also apply to any other situation that is unknown—professional opportunities, buying/selling items off Internet sites, meet-up groups, etc. Bring a buddy, let others know where you are, check in, and meet in a neutral and public location.

If things don’t seem to add up, don’t pretend they do or dismiss any warning signs. It is easy to excuse one issue. Okay, the interviewer is dressed for comfort because the company works with children. However, when there are two things that don’t add up, three, or four, pay attention. The pieces don’t fit together because the situation may not be what it seems to be.

Encourage your teens/young adults to listen to their instincts. That “bad feeling” you have? It’s there to warn you. Too often, we encourage ourselves to deny our gut reactions to situations. Animals are equipped with instinct to protect them from harm. We, too, are animals, and if we pay attention to our instincts, they will help to guide and protect us.

Teach them to ask for help when they need it. If young people need advice about a situation, or they are feeling threatened, they shouldn’t hesitate to seek help—even if that means making some noise. And likewise, if you see a young person who seems to be struggling or needs some advice, step in and offer to help them out. So many young people are left to figure out the subtleties of life, of growing up, on their own, and they may welcome the guidance an older, more experienced adult.

The Process of Learning

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At dinner recently, my children mentioned the struggles some of their friends face with their parents. They recounted stories of friends who are grounded for having unacceptable grades when their parents check their Powerschool account.

Ugh, Powerschool. For those not familiar with academic technologies, Powerschool and other similar online grading tools can be valuable for checking on grades and making sure your child is on task, and also allowing them to adjust their studying and homework as necessary before grades close. But this type of technology can just as easily be abused as a micro-management tool.

When I was a student in high school (as with most parents of teenagers today), my parents saw my grades at the end of each quarter when I received my report card. Between report cards, I had the choice of what I would share with them and what I wouldn’t. If I chose not to share an “oops” grade, I had to be pretty certain that I could bring up my grade in that subject before the end of the marking period; and not sharing a bad test grade would give me extra drive and motivation to do so. Nowadays, parents can see grades along the way. Every day, if they’d like. Every. Single. Grade.

Here’s the thing. Learning is actually about growth, not grades. Learning is a process—one that we hone over time—that is sometimes successful, and sometimes not so much. The process of learning requires constant revision and self-evaluation.

Grades are part of the process of learning, and can help students with the self-assessment and re-evaluation necessary for improvement. Grades are not merely a product of the learning process, as people often think.

I work with college writers on a daily basis, and by the time students come to my office, they are already focused on the grade they will receive and not on the process of improving their writing. Very seldom does a day go by when I don’t say to one student or another, “Writing is a process.” Students want to focus on the product—the final, graded draft—and be done with it. But it is a rare writer (at any level) who can write a quality, finished essay the first time around and not have to go back and revise.

Overall, learning is a lot like writing. As students learn more challenging material [or learn a different subject matter … from a different teacher… in a different textbook or context], they have to put into practice what they know about learning, the subject at hand, and their past experiences, all while they constantly adjust their process to fit the situation. What worked last week for one bit of material might not work as well this week. A poor grade on a test or quiz will alert the self-aware student to what is not working, and will allow that student to re-evaluate and revise what he or she is doing.

Come to think of it, this is a lot like life. We are constantly editing and revising; we are examining our approach and making adjustments—fine-tuning, if you will. If we, as parents, don’t step back and offer our children some space to figure things out and some room to grow and examine their own performance, we are teaching them that learning is about the product, in this case, the grade. This parental approach to academics does a grave disservice to our children. Not only are we hijacking our children’s learning process to get the result we desire, we are teaching them that the grade is more important than fostering the innate intellectual curiosity and creativity that comes when they follow their learning in a direction that is of interest to them.

When children are conditioned to only look at the end result—the grade—the fear of failure can become paralyzing. And more than likely, children in this situation will learn not to take risks, but to take the “safe” path. Learning how to deal with failure, on the other hand—how to bounce back from a low essay grade or a bombed test—is a far more effective life lesson than learning to be afraid of failure. They also begin to realize that failure is an integral part of the process.

My son recently completed his first semester in college. For the first half of the semester, he struggled with one particular class—it was a subject he had never studied, and the professor had a well-earned reputation for being tough. In the end, my son received his lowest grade of the term in that course. However, I believe that grade was the one he was most proud of because he learned more about the process of learning, approaching the academic rigors of college, and self-advocacy from that class than he did from all of his other classes put together.

If I were to give advice to parents, I would say, step back. Give your children some room to fall while they still have you there to guide them and help them navigate the rough waters they encounter. Without a little room to figure things out on their own, not only will children have no motivation to get up when they fall, they will not learn how to get back up—to recover from setbacks and move forward.

Let your children stumble so they can assess and reassess and redirect. Help them to learn the important lessons that lead them toward resilience. Now, more than ever, our society is going to be looking for people who can not only face setbacks with grace, but can help others do so, as well.

Changing views

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Yesterday, I was having coffee with my boyfriend, and we were planning a future day-trip to Boston. Because of my daughter’s art and her interest in art supplies, I suggested to my parents that they give her a gift card to Blick Art, a place where she has never been but I have (and love!). The main point of our trip will be to visit this amazing artists’ supply store, an awesome excursion for both my daughter and myself. And my boyfriend—he’s a trouper for coming along with us!

We looked at dates and other possible activities, and I pulled up the bus schedule. Sometimes, we take the train into the city, and other times, we drive part way and take the T in. However, because it’s winter, we decided this time, we will take the bus. That way, we won’t have to worry about navigating the narrow, snow-clogged streets. Or parking. And we can relax on the journey.

We chatted and planned, and I began to reminisce about the times I traveled into Boston with my sister when I was a teenager. My parents would take us to the “bus station” in our small town (really, it was just a glorified bus stop) early in the morning, so we could catch the first bus. From my hometown, it is a 2½ hour bus ride into Boston. My sister and I—and sometimes a friend or two—would spend the better part of the day in the city, sightseeing, shopping, and grabbing a bite to eat. Then, we would catch the last bus home, arriving close to 11:00 pm.

In those days, there were no cell phones, and no way to keep in touch or check in. It is possible that we made a quick collect call home from a payphone just to say we had made it to the city, but the specific memories are foggy. I just remember I was in high school, and this was a great adventure.

As I reminisced, I thought about putting my own children on a bus for such a day trip. Would I be content to let them go? Were we more “worldly” than the children of today? My children have cell phones and would be able to check in with me on such a trip.

I looked up from the bus schedule and said, “Is the world really that different—,” and my boyfriend opened his mouth to answer. But I continued….

“—or are we?”

He paused and closed his mouth. He looked at me, and didn’t say anything for a moment. “You know,” he said, “I really don’t know. That last part… I don’t know.”

Perhaps we have been jaded by what the world has become. The constant deluge of media focuses on what is wrong with the world. It plays and replays and replays the same stories of violence, death, and destruction with graphic images and videos until we believe that we are doomed. At the same time, we have become accustomed to constant contact, not only with our children, but with our spouses and partners, our families, our friends, and even our acquaintances.

Maybe the world really hasn’t changed as much as we like to think. Maybe… just maybe… we—along with our views and expectations—are the things that have changed the most.

Alternate Reality

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I have gotten behind in my TV viewing. In fact, I have gotten VERY behind in my TV viewing.

First, let me clarify. By “TV viewing,” I mean the one show I once watched regularly, the very evening it aired: Grey’s Anatomy. It was a brief escape from reality, offering me one hour a week when I could be in an alternate reality. But as I mentioned, I am behind.

Today, I was folding laundry, a task I typically relegate to my children, but one was sick, one was out of the house at rehearsal, and one is away at college. So folding was my job today. And it was the perfect chance to watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

I became completely caught up in the show as I smoothed shirts and matched socks, stacking the clothes pants-shirts-underwear-socks by wearer. I was right back into the characters and the story line.

For the most part, I remembered to fast forward through the commercials (don’t you just love DVR technology?), but when a movie trailer came on, I watched it. It was for Joy, the movie with Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, about the woman who created the self-wringing mop. I saw the movie, and I have to say, it did not rank among my favorites.

And yet, here was an ad for the movie, and it seemed that they were planning to release it again. On Christmas Day. Did the movie really do well enough the first time for a re-release so soon?

But wait… After so long without watching TV, it didn’t take me long to cross the bridge and enter the television’s alternate reality. Remember I mentioned I am VERY behind on my TV viewing? Yep, I am watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy from LAST year!

Disposable

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Yesterday, I learned something because, as we all know, “You learn something new every day.” But what I learned yesterday is disturbing, at best, and indicates a new level of waste and laziness.

My kitchen light is on the blink—quite literally—since last week. I was sitting at the table working when it blinked off. But only halfway. Now, it has that annoying fluorescent strobe effect going. Or it would if I left the bulbs in it. I purchased new ones and then returned them when we deemed the problem to be the fixture.

My 14 year old examined the light and determined it needed a new ballast. He went online to find out where we could get one, and how much it would be. I still have to look in the local big box stores, but the proper part was located on Amazon for $40, which seems a bit steep to invest in an old, ugly light. Then again, I don’t have to invest in an electrician because I have a 14 year-old, but I digress.

When we went to the local home center to look at lumber (don’t ask), we stopped in the lighting department. I figure if I can get a fixture for not much more than a ballast, it might be a better option.

“No bulbs to replace,” my son read off the box of one of the lights as we strolled the aisle. “Oh, that’s not good.”

I turned and looked at the box. “Wait. So those are disposable fixtures?” I asked to no one in particular. “That can’t be right.” And yet, the majority of fixtures on the shelf were in similar boxes, all of which touted, “No bulbs to replace.” As if that is somehow a good thing.

I couldn’t believe what I was reading, so I opened one of the boxes and pulled out the light. In fact, there were no bulbs, and inside the light was a circuit board with several small square non-replaceable LED lights on it.

“Not only are there ‘no bulbs to replace,’” my son said, pointing to the LEDs. “Those are all going to go out at different times.” He smirked.

“Well that would stink,” I remarked, thinking of my own half illuminated kitchen light.

But really, I am still in disbelief. A “fixture” is supposed to be fixed, and yet, the fixtures we saw yesterday are disposable. When did it become so difficult to change a light bulb that it’s easier to remove the entire light and throw it away? And just how is that easier?

Either I’m on a steep learning curve, or I’m missing the purported benefits of no light bulbs.

Watch

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My son and I were shopping, checking items off his packing list for camp. So many things he needed this year, it seemed, perhaps because he was going to a different camp for a more intensive week of training.

I had brought a short shopping list that included a couple of items, but I knew there was one more. What was it? I couldn’t remember. Then we walked past the display of watches. “Oh! You’re supposed to have a watch,” I told him.

He looked at me and then at the watch display. “I hate watches. They’re so annoying,” he reported.

It’s kind of funny how some people wear watches every day and others do not. I started wearing a watch when I was in elementary school, but none of my own children have felt the need to wear one. I wonder sometimes if it has to do with the prevalence of cell phones—if kids have their cell phones, they always have the time.

And we had tried this before—buying a watch. Each of my children has had a watch at one point or another. But it was back when they were quite young, and time wasn’t an issue because I was the keeper of their schedules.

“It’s up to you,” I said. “Your packing list says you need one, but I’m sure some of the other boys won’t have one.”

He walked around the watch display, checking out his options. “This one’s kinda cool,” he said, picking one up and examining it. It had a couple of features beyond the basics. The coolest feature was the time zone feature. Plus, it was water resistant and had an alarm, both of which would be handy at camp.

“If you want it, you can get it,” I told him, knowing the coupon in my pocket would reduce the price. “I’m sure it will be handy to have at camp.” Especially since cell phones wouldn’t be prevalent because electronics were discouraged.

At home, he spent a little time learning the features of the new watch, so he would know how it worked before we left for camp in the morning. (Yes friends, it was a last-minute shopping trip…). The next day, he walked out the door actually wearing his new watch.

A week later, when I picked him up at camp, he was still wearing it. As we walked to the car with his gear, he talked about the experiences he’d had over the past week: the hiking, the cooking, the activities.

Then he smiled that crooked smile he gets when he’s about to say something funny. “You know,” he said. “It’s really convenient to have a watch. You never have to wonder what time it is.”

“Yes,” I replied, looking at my own watch. “It is convenient, isn’t it?”

Matches

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One of the skills that I have taught my children—perhaps the only one that will ever come in handy as they already use it fairly often—is the skill of searing the ends of rope, cord, ribbon, nylon, etc. I have taught them how to pass these ends and edges through a flame in order to “seal” them so they won’t fray. This is a skill I learned in an indoor/outdoor sewing class back in my high school days—one of the few useful skills I acquired in the six years spanning grades seven through 12.

The other day, C came into the kitchen with a length of black cord that was fraying. “I need the lighter,” he declared as he walked toward the crock where we keep it.

“Oh…” I hesitated. “We don’t have one that works. Your brother used it, and I meant to replace it.” I had put lighter on my shopping list countless times, but I never seemed to remember to actually buy one. The one we had was clearly empty and wouldn’t stay lit, but I hadn’t thrown it out. Somehow, I figured it would be useful (for what, I have no idea) until a new one appeared.

“So…?” he posed as a question, thinking I would fill in an answer for him. I continued typing on my laptop. “What am I supposed to do? I need to fix this.” He held out the cord for me to see, but I continued to work. By this point in my mothering career, I pretty much have eyes in the back of my head, the side of my head, the top of my head, and the bottom of my chin. I knew what he needed.

“We have matches,” I told him. He began searching the junk drawer in the kitchen, and he seemed to have found some because the next thing I knew, I heard him trying to light one. The first match didn’t stay lit long enough for him to sear all of his cord. The second one didn’t, either. He was on the third when I finally looked up from my work.

“How about if you light a candle?” I suggested. “Then you will have a constant flame, and you can work with that.”

Success! He was able to complete his task of searing the ends of three, maybe four, cords.

The next day, W walked into the kitchen with a length of paracord that he had wound into an impressive skein. “Nice!” I nodded my approval.

“I just need to seal these ends,” he said, holding them up for me to see.

“Um…. We don’t have a lighter that works,” I reported, feeling a strange sense of deja vu. “But we do have matches you can use.”

He dug through the drawer and pulled out the matches. He studied them for a minute. “How do these things work?” he asked, jokingly. As a Boy Scout, he has used matches once or twice.

“Hey, I can help you!” C said, coming to his brother’s rescue. “I’ve mastered this old-fashioned technology!”