Skip to main content

“Keep Pedaling through the Summer: Don’t Lose the Momentum Gained”

By Children, Executive Functioning

Do you remember the fun of riding bikes when you were a kid? Maybe you still ride as an adult? Bikers realize that one of the funnest experiences on two wheels is flying down a steep hill, picking up speed with little effort, while the wind blows in your face. Just enjoy the ride. However, this typically meant you had to pedal hard up the other side of the hill in order to reach the summit. As one approaches a steep hill it’s crucial to pedal quickly, get your speed up, and create momentum that will take you to the top. If you don’t pedal fast enough before the rise in the slope, the momentum stops and it becomes much more difficult to pedal, or you may even have to hop off the bike and walk it to the top of the hill. That’s just physics.

For well over a century, the K-12 school calendar in the United States has included a lengthy summer vacation. The reasons were complex and varied from state to state (following the agrarian calendar is a myth). But by the turn of the 20th century, a long summer break was the tradition and nobody wanted to interfere with everyone’s favorite time of the year. Unfortunately, this calendar format has its drawbacks, as it does not provide for optimal learning or healthy habit building. Teachers will admit that because of the 2+ month break each summer, that they will need to spend at least a full month, and possibly more, reviewing the material that their brains have forgotten over the summer hiatus. That’s just neuroscience.

In much the same way that bikers need to keep momentum to wheel up a steep hill, teenagers with executive function deficits must continue the positive momentum they achieved the past school year through the summer months.

Here are some tips for parents to implement with their teens over the summer:

    Get consistent sleep. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Yes, you have heard us preach this before. If there were 10 Commandments of executive function skill-building, this would be the 1st commandment.

    Keep a daily calendar. Work with your teen as they update their calendar each weekend, establish a color-code system, and have them share the calendar with you. This provides an easy opportunity to review what is going on with them daily and check in with them regarding progress. Even though it’s summer, be creative about how to fill up their time, since they do not have assignments and school projects to complete, unless they have summer school.

    Assign daily opportunities/chores. Integrate these home tasks into their weekly calendar by setting times for them to be accomplished. And be sure to reward them for successful completion. We recommend just set the expectation, and don’t get caught up into a philosophical lecture about the value of hard work or how much easier they have it than you did or their grandparents did.

    Read. Many schools provide summer reading lists, or you could simply Google search “summer reading list for teenagers” to discover dozens of good lists to choose from. Teens should read at least 3 books over the summer. During and after completing each book, ask them questions about the storyline, characters, and generally how they liked it. Often in high school, the English department will have required reading to complete before school starts again too. If that is the case with your student, that helps round out the list.

    Plan and prepare a family meal once in a while. Meal preparation utilizes numerous executive function skills and can be more fun than many other duties around the house. Depending on their age, have your teenager figure out the ingredients and items needed, shop if necessary, follow a recipe, cook, and serve the family at a set time. Maybe let them choose a movie for the family to watch together as well, and they will have planned a fun evening that required organization, task initiation, planning ahead, time management, and chunking down the dinner project into manageable steps.

There are many other possible options for parents who want their kids to keep up momentum during the summer. And you know your children better than anyone. Use some or all of these ideas, or come up with your own. Our encouragement to you is don’t allow your teenager’s brain to atrophy over the summer because of a lack of structured days, too little responsibility, and too much entertainment. Summer is certainly a time to relax, but maintain a healthy balance.

We realize many parents are busy with work and other life responsibilities. If you want your teen to keep momentum over the summer, but your schedule can’t fit daily and weekly check-ins, our executive function coaches can keep them moving forward in their skill development over the vacation months. Don’t stop pedaling over the summer, but keep it going! And please let us know what we can do to be part of that process with your family.

Have a great summer!

The End of the School Year Coming Soon: the Rocky Mountains are Behind Us!

By Adolescents/Teens, Children, Executive Functioning, Parenting

When school starts each fall, teens with executive skill deficits often look at the academic calendar and become overwhelmed with the endless number of months ahead, the work expected to be completed, the projects, the tests, the essays, the novels, the science labs, the SATs, and on and on. They are now in a new grade level and embarked on a journey with bigger obstacles than the year before. It seems insurmountable.

This can be likened to the enormous difficulty Lewis and Clark faced when the Rocky Mountains came into view in 1805. They had traveled from the eastern United States, only known the Appalachian Mountains, which are much smaller, and had never seen mountains as massive as the Rockies. The President had commissioned Lewis and Clark to lead an expedition to reach the Pacific Ocean. But once the Rockies were in view, they realized that there was no way to avoid them. They must find a path over the mountain range, which meant there were problems to solve, careful planning, and strategies to put into place, in order to achieve their mission.

    How does this apply to your teenager? Now that we’re in the spring, and the end of the school year is in sight, here are a couple of ways to coach your middle school or high school student:

    Pull out the 2021-22 school calendar. Review how many months have passed since the beginning of the year, and visually show them how little time is left.

    Review the many projects, assignments, tests, and other tasks that they have completed. Then go through the list of items remaining. That list is much smaller and the mountain should look more like the Appalachians, rather than the Rockies. Parents, help them chunk down their tasks into manageable daily and weekly steps.

    Encourage. There are not 175 school days left, but only about 30. Don’t dwell on any failures of the previous 145 days, but focus upon finishing strong. Often, teens do not start tasks, or a list of tasks because its appears so daunting. But school is almost done! Get started now, it’s never too late!

    Set short-term and goal-oriented rewards. What can they accomplish in the final weeks? Focus on improvement over this short stretch. Even if the final result for this school year does not reach the bar you would like, this may well establish habits and practices which could launch them into a solid start of school in the fall.

Once Lewis and Clark made it down the western slopes of the Rockies, they reached flat land, with better weather, and the path to the Pacific Ocean was much easier. They knew the long journey was almost over and were proud of the accomplishment. Lewis himself wrote in his journal regarding, “the pleasure I now felt having triumphed over the Rocky Mountains and descending once more to a level and fertile country”. He knew they would now successfully reach the waves of the Pacific. That’s exactly where our teens are as they draw close to the end of the school year. It’s not a 9-10 month journey rife with impossible tasks. It’s April and they are coming down the back slope of the school year. Most of this hard trek is behind them and only a little bit remains. Be proud of what has been accomplished, forget what didn’t work, and focus on the next 6-8 weeks. The land is now flat, and even the weather is getting better, and the Pacific Ocean is in sight. The waves of the Pacific, also known as the last day of school!

Photo by Matt Bowden on Unsplash

Parents of Teens with Executive Function Deficiencies: How to Find Balance

By Adolescents/Teens, Executive Functioning

Parenting is a roller coaster ride for anyone, but especially if you parent a child or teenager with executive function deficiencies. There are days with the thrill of victory and days with the agony of defeat, and many days with a bit of both. Every parent desperately wants to succeed, and to guide their children toward success too. Often, the result becomes trying too hard, which seems counter-intuitive.

In her work, The Disintegrating Student: Super Smart and Falling Apart, psychologist Jeannine Jannot, cites several categories of “parental influences,” where parents have good intentions, but which can backfire when applied too intensely in the life of the family. Here are some of them:

1. Too Much Praise

Kids understand when they receive lavish, unearned, overused, or inappropriate praise. This can have a negative impact on their performance as the value of the praise becomes watered-down because kids know it has diminished value. Kids understand when they have received a participation trophy, when they didn’t do anything all that special. Rather, encourage effort and determination in tackling difficult tasks, as this will foster self-confidence as challenges will be seen as fun and exciting rather than frustrating and threatening.

2.Protect, Shield, and Shelter

Parents who rush to their child’s defense every time something goes wrong in their life, don’t allow them learn to stand up for themselves and solve their own problems. Plus, it can create a sense of entitlement and dependency on other people to intercede for them. When a negative situation arises in your child’s life, whenever possible, sleep on it, talk to a trusted friend, or write your thoughts down in a journal, in order to get your emotions centered.

3. Alleviate Stress

Many parents cannot handle it emotionally when their children are stressed or uncomfortable, even in minor ways. A common response is for the adult to alleviate the stress for their teenager, because that is what a loving parent does, as the rationalization goes.

But stress is a natural part of life and designed to aid in survival, when properly managed. From a biological perspective, the body’s stress response is quite complex. The brain and adrenal glands release the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and epinephrine, which gives a burst of energy. The liver delivers sugar and fat into the bloodstream, then non-essential systems such as digestion and the immune system slow down, and smaller blood vessels constrict to limit blood flow in case of an injury. These are natural and healthy responses in the animal kingdom and with humankind as well.

Parents who are tempted to alleviate stress, even when the kids don’t need it or want it, can hinder their child’s physical and emotional development. They can even unintentionally sow seeds of doubt about their own abilities to handle hard situations.

4. Indulge

Parents should provide children with the things they need, such as food, shelter, clothing, and education. And they ought to try and provide children with things they want up to a reasonable point. But children who are given everything do not appreciate the amount of hard work their parents exert to achieve success in life. When something is given and not earned, there will likely be skewed expectations and disappointments as they get older.

Parents have a duty to say “no” to their child once in a while. And in the context of the family, when the kids become prioritized over everything else in life, something loses out. It might be one’s job, marriage, or even one’s own mental and emotional health.

5. Responsibilities and Expectations

If kids and teenagers don’t have chores and responsibilities around the house, then assign them. It doesn’t need to be done with a parental lecture on the philosophy of hard work attached, but just an expectation moving forward. The good habits will form quickly.

Teenagers and young adults who have little to no household responsibility may have a difficult time transitioning to living outside their parents’ home. No one wants to be the roommate of someone who refuses to take out the trash.

In her summary conclusion with regard to parental influences and styles, Dr. Jannot writes, “Decades of research support the finding that the best outcomes for our children are associated with being raised by authoritative parents who offer unconditional love” (Disintegrating, p. 98). Love isn’t base on performance, especially comparing performance to others. Nor is love without boundaries and expectations. Finding the right balance in these areas listed above is different from child to child, and will require never-ending reflection and wisdom as we raise our kids and teenagers the best we know how.

From the perspective of how our executive function coaches work with teenagers, keep the focus upon improvement, rather than perfection; reaching one’s own potential, rather than comparison toward others. And one day, hopefully, our children have grown to become independent, confident adults, content with who they are and who they are not.

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

Screens, Teens, and Automobiles

By Adolescents/Teens, Executive Functioning

The explosion of cutting-edge technology has exponentially increased in the power of computer processing, software, and phone apps, and over the past several decades has improved life overall.  But these powerful tools must be handled with caution.  
 
Compare the technological advancement of computers and phones to the automobile.  The invention of the automobile was a revolutionary technological advancement, but placed in the hands of teenagers, an automobile can be a deadly weapon.  Statistical analysis shows that an inordinate amount of car accidents, injuries and deaths are attributed to drivers between the ages of 16 and 25 years old.  You can’t even rent a car until you are 25!  No one would throw the keys to the car at their 16-year old without specific training and licensing.  Kids and teenagers using cutting-edge technology requires similar protocol as driving an automobile; students need to be taught how to use technology responsibly so they are not hampered academically, emotionally, socially, and physically.
 
Here are some examples of the collateral damage related to the overuse of screens by teens and their effects upon the executive functioning of the brain:
 
1.     Wasted time.  Students who get lost into a gaming world, watching videos, or just reading comments on Instagram lose track of time and can waste hours in a single day.  Time management, initiating tasks, and understanding how much time is needed to finish a project are a few executive function skills with which every teenager naturally struggles.  
 
2.     Sleep problems.  According to research conducted by the Harvard Medical School, the blue light emitted from screens such as smartphones and TV monitors can interfere with natural sleep patterns because it suppresses the secretion of the hormone melatonin.  Sleep deprivation leads to a myriad of executive function problems.
 
3.     Short-term memory loss.  This is directly connected to sleep deprivation, as deep REM sleep is crucial for brain development, and for processing and storing information, even from the day before.  Focus, concentration, staying on task, and recalling important information are executive function areas that are affected here.
 
4.     Lack of exercise.  The allure of screens, which often involves sitting for long periods of time is one major factor that can cause the bodies of teenagers to atrophy, leading to obesity and other side-effects such as diabetes.  Students need exercise to keep their metabolism up, maintain strong muscles, and to relieve stress.  It is highly recommended that students take periodic breaks from studying, but then get a quick burst of exercise; even a short, brisk walk can settle and refocus the mind.
 
5.     Addiction.  Viewing screens can be highly addictive.  Numerous university studies have determined that the brain interacting with a smartphone is similar to a brain on cocaine.  In both cases we get a “high” every time a notification pops up or we get likes on our last Instagram post.  Physiologically, it’s the dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical in our brains that is released whenever we experience something enjoyable.  This is primarily connected to “time wasted” above.  But in this case, students haven’t lost track of time, rather they intentionally choose not to transition to homework or other responsibility not as “fun” as screen time.
 
For teenagers who already struggle with executive function skills, the distraction from the screens on their phones and other devices can be crippling to the more important tasks they need to accomplish on a daily basis.  Screens can be a serious obstacle to motivation, organization, time management, initiating tasks, concentration, short-term memory, and other executive function skills that kids and teenagers must sharpen in order to become successful adults.  The Dayspring Executive Function coaches will work with parents to help equip and monitor this aspect of a student’s daily life.  Managing this powerful tool successfully can be a pathway to help each student reach his or her full potential.