Category Archives: Parenting for the Workplace

Joanie Connell Interview

This blog is actually a vlog about my new book.  Spend 2 1/2 minutes watching this short video interview and help me come up with a new title for the book.

I’ll have more information on the book available soon.  If you have suggestions for a catchy title, I’d love your ideas.  The current working title is “Lessons from the Workplace: What Parents and Schools Are Missing.”

How We Are Disempowering Youth

By Joanie Connell

I drop my daughter off daily at middle school by driving into the parking lot, pulling up to the curb next to the school and popping the trunk. She hops out, goes around back, gets her backpack and closes the trunk. I drive off. It takes less than a minute.

school bus with kidsThis summer, my daughter is attending a camp at her school that is run by a different organization. We drove in the first day and were abruptly stopped by a hysterical person who was waving her arms and telling us we had to pull up into a lane behind other stopped cars. No problem. We pulled up and my daughter opened the door to get out. The person came running over, frantically, shouting at her to get back into the car. She informed us that we had to wait for a camp counselor to open the door for her. Kids weren’t allowed to open the car doors. Long story short, we waited for another 10 minutes for the lines of cars to pull up to the counselors (in an orderly fashion) and have a counselor open and close the door for each child.

Pick up was even slower. I asked (in as polite a way as I could possibly muster up) why they had crippled a perfectly functioning drop off and pick up system for the summer camp. The director of the drop off said it was because they had kids as young as second graders attending camp. “Of course,” I conceded. “It’s nobaby in carseatt only middle schoolers.” “But wait,” I thought, “second graders are 7-8 years old. Since when can 7- and 8-year-olds not open car doors?” Is this what our society has come to? If 7- and 8-year-olds can no longer open car doors on their own, haven’t we failed miserably as caregivers?

student waving goodbyeThe complete irony here is that this camp is for “academically talented” kids. Don’t get me wrong, I love the camp. It is a fantastic camp. And it’s not the only camp that is developmentally delaying children. My daughter went to a YMCA camp last year and had to hold onto a rope when she got out of the car. It was like preschool all over again. It seems that it’s not just “academically talented” kids who are incapable. At least, that’s what the adults think. The kids are actually very smart. You should see them trying not to hold onto the rope, being as sly as they can to make it look like they’re holding onto it for the counselors’ sake, but really not holding onto it for their own dignity’s sake. They know they don’t need to be treated this way. Why don’t we?

More importantly, who will our children turn out to be? How well will mother with daughtersthey be able to take care of themselves as adults? How much initiative will they take as employees? How many risks will they take as entrepreneurs? How strongly will they stand up in political negotiations as leaders of our nation? How well equipped will they be as caregivers of aging parents and their own children?

padlockWe think we are helping our kids by protecting them, but we are disempowering them in the process. You know what I mean; this is not just about opening car doors. The more we protect children, the less they are able to grow and take care of themselves. The more we instill fear and helplessness into our children, the more scared and helpless they become. Are those the qualities we want to instill in our future generation of leaders? Now that’s a scary thought!

Should You Spend Less on College?

money stackBy Joanie Connell

Parents and students beware! Don’t get suckered into taking out unaffordable college loans because you think you have to. You don’t.

The problem with financial models is they assume people make rational decisions. There’s nothing rational about overspending. People overspend for emotional and psychological reasons, not rational ones.

We overspend because…anxiety

  • We feel anxious: we need to keep up with the Joneses, we feel insecure about our abilities, looks, or status. (Salespeople prey on people’s anxieties to sell them things. See techniques used and a sales example.)
  • We want something really badly: we see a beautiful house and we have an overwhelming desire to own it. (Salespeople also create customer desire to sell. See techniques used and a sales example.)
  • We think we deserve it: we feel entitled to go to a good college because we are a member of a certain group or because we have worked hard to get good grades.
  • We invoke psychological defense mechanisms to believe we can afford what we are buying: we deny that interest rates will go up, we rationalize the luxury car is necessary to impress clients.

There are many more irrational reasons for overspending, but the point is we need to stop doing it.

OVERSPENDING ON COLLEGEgraduates

“Too many degrees are a waste of money. The return on higher education would be much better if college were cheaper.”

One of the biggest problems in our nation right now is that young people are overstretched with costly student loans and it’s limiting their ability to live independently. Financial analysts have shown that, for many people, the investment in college has a negative return. (See The Economist and The Wall Street Journal for recent articles). Why are people spending so much on college then?

“Four in 10 college graduates, according to a recent Gallup study, wind up in jobs that don’t require a college degree.”

Frankly, I think the biggest reason why young graduates are in great debt is because they thought they had to go to the college they chose to get a good job. This is driven by anxiety—the fear of not being attractive in a highly competitive job market. Evidence shows that expensive college degrees are not necessary for most jobs. Check out the College Planner for more on this and for advice.

“A study by the Harvard Business Review found that almost half of the top executives at Fortune 100 companies did not go to prestigious schools.”

Prestige is another driver for choosing a college. I think that parents are the main contributors to the prestige factor because it makes them feel more successful as parents to have their children go to more prestigious colleges. The Boston Globe reports on how parents are using Face Book as a bragging platform to boast about their children’s college acceptances.  Here is a great blog from the Huffington Post for all you parents out there who are doing this.

The Huffington Post provides a “ranking of the public colleges with the highest return on investment.”

Entitlement is another major factor. A high school student told me she wouldn’t consider going to the local state college, as she literally turned up her nose. I was confused because it was a good school at an even better price and her family had only modest means. She chose to go to a state college in a neighboring state and pay out-of-state fees instead. She also moved back home after graduating, burdened with large student loans.

These are all psychological reasons for choosing colleges that may turn an otherwise practical decision to an impractical one.

OVERSPENDING ON LIFESTYLEmoney roll

Student loans aren’t the only factor contributing to young people’s financial problems. The new grads feel entitled to a high standard of living right out of college. I have been surprised at how many 20-somethings I know who have lived in their own apartments, walking distance from the beach here in costly San Diego. Some of them have moved back home because they say the cost of living is too high for them to afford. Well, of course it is if you expect to have an apartment next to the beach! Seriously, who can afford that?

What are reasonable expectations for a standard of living for a recent college graduate? A used car, an apartment with roommates and mismatched, self-assembled furniture in a rundown part of town would seem like a start. It takes time to earn money and save up to buy furnishings, piece by piece, and eventually make enough money to rent a nicer apartment or get a nicer car (emphasis on “or”). It’s not reasonable to expect to have all this right out of college, especially if you have loans to pay. It’s also part of the experience and the fun of being young.

All of the issues here are affected by the economy and demographics as well as psychological factors. Yes, it is more competitive to get into college these days and there is higher unemployment than at some times in our history. The standard of living has also increased so we should expect to have a higher standard of living than at previous times in history. Yet, young people are still financially overstretched and they don’t have to be. We don’t have control over all of these factors.  Yet we can take control of the psychological factors if we are aware and deliberately make practical choices.

Be wise. Make a practical decision on where to go to college. You will be thankful later.

Empowering Millennials

 “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.” ― Adrienne Rich

helping handStructured mentoring is the rage right now. Millennials love it! Not only do they love it, but they expect it and they need it—at least they think they need it. They’ve been programmed to think they need it from years of coaching and personal tutoring. They’ve been taught to believe they don’t have the power within themselves to get the answers. I don’t believe that’s true.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the workplace it’s that effective people take responsibility for their own development. They don’t wait around for the company to hand them a mentor and a plan. Effective people take action to get things done. They don’t wait around for someone to help them. That’s not to say that effective people don’t ask for help; they do. They seek help when they need it and find a way to keep moving forward when it’s not available. That’s because effective people have personal power.

powerHaving personal power means feeling confident in your abilities and knowing you can access the resources you need to accomplish what you want to. It means having a level of control over yourself and the world around you. It is about knowing what you can and cannot control. It is about thinking for yourself and being true to yourself. Personal power enables you to get things done.

Managers regularly complain to me that the new generation of workers needs too much “hand holding.” “They aren’t independent enough.” “They need directions and feedback at every step of the way.” How do we empower the Millennials to be able to fend for themselves? Mentoring is a good thing. I don’t knock that. But we need to ask ourselves if we are truly empowering Millennials by setting up so many structured mentoring programs for them. Could we, in fact, be disempowering them in the process? Could we be “enabling” them to remain helpless and dependent on others? By cowing to their mentoring demands, aren’t we continuing to send them the message that they can’t do it on their own?

As a consultant, one of the first things that we are taught is what the client needs is often not what the client asks for. For example, a client might call up asking for a training program for their team. Upon further examination, we might find out that it’s really the leader who needs training on how to lead the team.

Millennials ask for mentoring. They also ask to have their parents come on their job interviews. Companies are meeting these demands by providing what is asked for. But these respobird flyingnses don’t address the root of the issue: Millennials need to become more independent and self-empowered (and their parents need to back off). If we’re going to mentor young people to be effective in the workplace, that’s the message we need to send.

Rearing Resilience

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

–Frederick Douglass

1st place ribbonI went to a youth music competition this weekend.  There were 12 musicians in the age category I watched.  They varied a great deal in their ability.  After an hour of performances, the judges announced the winners.  There were 2 First Place winners, 4 Second Place winners and 6 Third Place winners.  Everyone won.  I overheard one of the Third Place winners asking her parents if Third Place was really Last Place.  The parents looked at her, not knowing what to say as she took the medal off her chest and put it away.  She wasn’t fooled.

crying babyThere is a movement toward sparing the feelings of children when they lose, make a mistake, fail, or simply aren’t the best at something.  We raise our children in a culture where “everyone’s a winner.”  However, when they grow up and find out that only very few people get into the best colleges and very few end up in their dream jobs right out of school, they are dumbfounded and caught off guard, and they crumple in defeat.  We aren’t preparing our children to survive in a world where everyone really isn’t a winner.

Resilience is probably the most important quality for success at work and life. Being able to stay strong, even in the worst of times, is what leads to success. It is the rare individual who goes through life without adversity. In fact, it would be surprising if there were any such people. Some people face greater adversity than others and have to be strong to get through it. For example, think of cancer survivors, kids who have escaped from neighborhood gangs, Holocaust survivors, or the Lost Boys of Sudan. How did they endure? What kept them going? It was inner strength and optimism. They never gave up.

Hopefully, none of us will have to face such severe adversity, but it is important to be able to get through what adversity we do encounter. How do we develop the inner strength to stay strong? We train for it just like we do for everything else. We start out small with low levels of adversity, such as not getting the piece of candy we want, working out our differences with our school friends, and learning from a failing grade that we have to study for tests. We move onto bigger problems to get through, such as handling the pain of breaking an arm or getting stitches, denting the car and having to pay for it ourselves, and working through our first heartbreak. Then we move onto even bigger things, such as learning to live with a difficult roommate, turning down an evening out with friends to save for the rent, and sticking it out at a miserable summer job. These experiences prepare us for the critical ones that require us to draw from our strength to get through trying circumstances and forge optimistically ahead.

Successful people are resilient.

Why Have Good Character?

cheatBy Joanie Connell

One evening several years back, my husband, daughter and I were sitting around the kitchen table after dinner. My husband got up and went into the pantry and shut the door behind him. I heard a bunch of rustling noises, like plastic bags being handled. I couldn’t for the life of me think of why my husband would go into the pantry and shut the door, and what he could possibly be doing in there. Then all of a sudden I remembered that I had hidden all of the Halloween candy in there! He was eating it! What do you think I did? I covered for him in front of my daughter then I took a turn!

Yes, I still do feel guilty about it, 8 years later. It just doesn’t seem right to tell my daughter that she can’t eat candy but I can. But how many of us do this? How many parents hold their children to different standards than they hold themselves? It occurs in various forms.

  • The children should get all A’s even though the parents didn’t.
  • The children should cross at the crosswalk, even though the parents don’t.
  • The children should never lie, even though the parents do.
  • The children should not drink alcohol before the legal age, even though the parents did.
  • The children should perform community service, but the parents don’t.

Children learn character from their parents. They catch us in a lie. They ask why it is okay to tell Grandma that her cake was delicious even though we threw it away. They hear us yelling at other drivers from the car. They see whether we return the shopping cart, whether we come to a full stop at the intersection, whether we download music from iTunes or someone else’s computer.

But we shouldn’t just have good character for our kids. We should have it for ourselves first and foremost. And if we don’t have good character for ourselves or our kids, we should have it because society needs people of character for it to succeed. If we all let ourselves go, looking out for no one but ourselves, cheating the rules, and ignoring requests, we will all lose. Humans are social beings; we need each other to survive. Why not treat each other well in the process?

Bully Busting!

mean girlsBy Joanie Connell

A parent came to me not so long ago with a story about her 9-year-old daughter being bullied by “mean girls.” There was a small pack of them. They went around together and laughed at kids. One thing they did was to try to trick girls into feeling stupid then they all would laugh at them. For example, they’d come up to me and say “Where’s Joanie?” Naturally, I’d be confused. Then they’d all laugh at me. According to the parent, the “mean girls” picked on certain girls and recruited others to join their group.

We all know what bullying is and I’m sure we’ve all dealt with it at one point or another—whether at school, at work, or on the street. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, surveys indicate that as many as half of all children are bullied at some time during their school years, and at least 10% are bullied on a regular basis. Wikipedia says that 60-80% of children are bullied. Some of us may have even bullied others—a little sister or a weaker kid or someone at work.

But when we hear about bullying and, especially when it’s being done to our own precious little child, what do we want to do? I dare you to say that you haven’t wanted to help them out, call their parents, tell the teacher, or advocate putting a stop to bullying altogether. Of course, we want to help, but should we? The question is: what does a victim of bullying need to do to succeed? And what is succeeding? Is it stopping the bullying? Handling the bullying? Fighting back?

I would suggest that bullying is a fact of life. It has been going on since the beginning of time and it will continue going on until the end of time. It is a part of human nature and we are not going to be able to stop it. What we can do is figure out how to respond to it in a way that helps us come out ahead.

First of all, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to reduce bullying. Of course, that is a commendable goal. Having rules about it isn’t going to do the trick though. Bullies are expert at looking good in front of the enforcers. We’ve all seen the kid who mocks a child shamelessly as soon as the teacher steps out of the room and turns into an “angel” when the teacher walks back in. Rules only stop behavior as much as they are enforced.

It’s the culture that can squelch bullying, not rules. We would need to have a society that doesn’t reward bullies, that actually punishes them or banishes them from groups. Unfortunately, our society rewards bullies a great deal. Think about the leaders of our country, our corporations, and our role models in the entertainment business. A recent Boston Globe article has some great examples of bullies in the media.

So, what can we do? We can strengthen the victims of bullying. We can help them become stronger, more resilient, and powerful. We can teach them not to let bullies get under their skin. Wait—you probably think I am being much too callous, but hear me out. Don’t hit me for what I’m about to say! But, seriously, don’t you think that we’ve become softer from generation to generation? How many of you adults were protected from bullies when you were children? I know I wasn’t. I had to protect myself.

In fact, when I was four years old, I was continuously getting bullied by a four-year-old boy who lived next door. My parents kept telling me to stand up for myself and my dad even taught me how to punch. The boy’s parents agreed, but none of the parents resolved the situation for me. They waited for me to get fed up enough that one day I finally pushed the boy. I pushed him so hard that he fell to the floor—in front of all four parents! They applauded and he never bothered me again. We all learned something that day, and no one was hurt.

Okay, okay, I’m not suggesting that we should throw our children into a gladiator ring and watch them fight it out. However, there is something to letting kids work things out on their own. When parents jump in to the rescue and fight their kids’ battles for them, the kids not only miss learning opportunities, but they also become disempowered. They learn that they can’t fight their own battles. They become victims. Sometimes they feel so entirely helpless that they end up harming themselves or others as they try to dull the pain or lash out in frustration. Drugs, violence, cutting, eating disorders, and other harmful behaviors are more prevalent than ever before, especially in even younger populations than ever before.

We don’t want bullies, but more importantly, we don’t want victims. To fight bullies, we need to empower the victims to stand up to the bullies and to have the self confidence to let bullying roll off them. So what if someone says you’re stupid on the internet! So what if someone calls you a “nerd” in front of their friends! (Of course, if you end up with broken bones, that is a completely different story.) People need to be able to handle a little teasing, a little tumble, and some meanness. Believe me, it doesn’t get any nicer out in the real world. And, at some point, parents and principals won’t be there to jump in to the rescue.

As for the 9-year-olds, that was a disappointing story. It is no fun to hear that “mean girls” are as young as nine these days. I hope that our society decides that we can do better than that. In the meantime, the rest of us have to be strong and teach our children to be strong so that they can take care of themselves when bad things happen—because bad things will happen.