Tag Archives: parenting

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 Is Pregnancy a Women’s Problem?

baby at laptopBy Joanie Connell

Babies are a part of life. We were all babies once. Most of us will have babies. And, whether or not we do, we need babies to continue our society. So, why is it that the burden of having babies has landed completely on women?

The recent HBR discussion on whether women are obligated to tell potential employers that they are pregnant when they interview is a great example of how women are blamed for having babies. The conundrum is: tell the potential employer and don’t get hired or don’t tell the potential employer and be called a liar. It’s a lose-lose situation for pregnant women looking for work.

Are men liars if they don’t tell their potential employers that they have medical conditions that might affect their work? It’s interesting that pregnancy is considered a medical condition that needs to be disclosed, even though people have fought hard to have the right to privacy over their medical issues. The disability act requires employers to find a way to deal with a disability, but why don’t employers have the same obligation to find a way to deal with pregnancy? Isn’t that gender biased?

In an ideal society, we’d all be honest with each other and give each other warning when things were about to change. But this is not an ideal society. Employers don’t do it and neither do employees. Why are women held to a higher standard?

More to the point, however, is that we all have to bear the cost of having babies and we all get to reap the benefits of having babies too. We think so often about how people who don’t have babies are saddled with the cost of other people (especially women) having babies. But, could it actually be the other way around? It could be argued that people who don’t have babies are free riders of a sort.

The problem with the blame game is that it blocks productivity. We’ve seen this on a large scale, for example, when Congress disagrees on the budget and when presidents are investigated. Our government comes to a standstill. People get so rooted into a position that they bring everyone down disagreeing. They’re fighting for win-lose but everyone loses.

Pregnant womanWe’re asking the wrong questions about pregnancy at work. We shouldn’t be thinking at the granular level of what he said/she said or if he/she should hire this person or that. The reason why women are losing out is that employers keep thinking at the level of “would this person be better for me over the next 3 months” rather than what is the best solution for the company over the long-term? This is a pennywise, pound foolish approach. Women are losing wages and opportunity and companies are losing access to a huge portion of the productive workforce.

Let’s turn pregnancy into a win-win proposition by asking ourselves to challenge our current assumptions and think in new and creative ways. Wouldn’t we all be more productive if we started implementing solutions rather than blaming and harping on problems of pregnancy at work—if we found ways to leverage the productivity of pregnant women and mothers, rather than write them off as being less worthy? Wouldn’t we all be better off if we found a way to collectively bring in the next generation of leaders and employees while supporting the current leaders and employees? Think of how much more we could get done!

Pregnancy is not a women’s problem. It is a part of life that can drain or regenerate our society, depending on how we handle it.

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.