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Earth Day: 6 Easy Tricks to Make A Big Impact

April 22, 2014

By Nikki Cecala

A group of teens cleans up a park and plants bushes for Earth Day.

Today is Earth Day, which is a wonderful day to celebrate, appreciate, and honor our planet. It’s a great opportunity to evaluate what your family is doing to help the Earth and learn some easy new tricks that everyone can practice.

  • Stop the water. Encourage everyone in your home to turn off running water that isn’t being used such as: while brushing their teeth, letting the shower run for more than a minute before getting in, and while washing dishes as the water continuously runs. To make this more fun, see who can take the fastest shower (and still get clean) or wash the dishes quickly.
  • Turn off the lights. This is so simple yet goes unnoticed most often. Turn off the lights, fans, television, computer, and any other electronics when not in use. For some family nights, opt for candles instead of turning on the lights. Turn it into a fun evening by telling stories, playing hide and seek, or just engaging in a good family discussion with no phones or television distractions.
  • Give to charity or donate. Donate or recycle toys, clothes, and other household items you're no longer using. Get together with your community and arrange a swap event where kids bring their childhood toys and books to trade.
  • Park the car. If you have a car, which most families do, consider walking, biking, or taking public transportation where possible. If you must drive, take shorter or fewer trips or opt for taking the train halfway if possible.
  • Go herbal. Getting children involved with gardening is such a great way to introduce nature, different plants, and growth cycles. When planting something, make it more exciting by keeping a journal of the process of the growth.
  • Bring your own bag. The U.S. uses over 100 billion plastic bags each year. Leave reusable shopping bags in the trunk of your car or by the front door of your home so you have them on hand when you shop.

As for recycling garbage at home, engage the family in a fun project by labeling different containers with markers and sticky notes and teach how to separate papers, plastics, metals, and glass. Encourage your child to be less wasteful with the materials he or she already uses, such as by drawing on both sides of the paper or by using the same cup throughout the day instead of a new one.

For additional recycling tips, visit Earth 911 or Recyclebank. There are many ways to protect the Earth throughout the year. Teaching your family about these small actions can make a big difference.

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Social Media Privacy Tips for Teens

April 21, 2014

By Jessica Vician

Older teens (14-17) are more likely to connect with people they have never met. 64% of teens who use Twitter have public accounts. 82% of teens post their birth date. 71% post the name of the city or twon where they live. 71% of teens post their school name.

Social media continues to infiltrate our lives and there are constantly new, popular platforms for teens to use. It’s okay for your teen to be on social media, but you need to make sure he or she is engaging in appropriate behavior and protecting his or her privacy to the general public. Today I’m going to take you through privacy settings for the big three platforms: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

It’s important to establish a policy for your teen on social media. There are two key things you can have your teen do with his or her social media accounts to both protect his or her privacy and ensure you’re seeing every one of your teen’s posts.

Make the account private.

Your teen’s Twitter and Instagram accounts can easily be made private. If the account is private, people will need to send your teen a request to have access to his or her posts or photos and the general public cannot see anything your teen shares.

On Twitter, click the settings icon and select “settings” in the drop-down menu. Then on the left side of the page, click “security and privacy.” Under the “privacy” section, select “protect my tweets.”

On Instagram, click the icon on the far right of the menu bar at the bottom of the app. Then click the “edit your profile” button near the top of the page. Scroll to the bottom of that page and select “posts are private.”

On Facebook, there are certain things you cannot make private, like your profile and cover photo. Make sure your teen selects respectful and appropriate photos for these features. From there, follow these directions with your teen to make the rest of his or her page private to the general public:

  • Once logged in, click the lock icon in the upper right corner of the page.
  • The lock icon will yield a drop-down menu. Click “see more settings.”
  • In this section, you can edit any of the settings to determine who can see posts or pictures your teen posts or is tagged in. You can also edit who can contact your teen through Facebook and who can search for his or her page. Go through each section together to determine who can see what on the page.

Ensure you have access to all posts.

Follow your teen on Twitter and Instagram so that you can see everything he or she posts. Friend your teen on Facebook and set frequent meetings with him or her to review the privacy settings on your teen’s page, making sure that you always have access to see each post.

By taking some time to go through the privacy settings on your teen’s social media platforms, you can ensure that he or she is both protected from the outside world and acting appropriately with friends.

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Teen Pregnancy: Prevention and Support

April 17, 2014

By Nely Bergsma

A pregnant teen holds her baby belly.

All stages of a child’s development have its challenges and the teen years are, by all means, no exception. By now, you have introduced life to your children, guided them as they explored and tried new things, and stood in support through the challenging times they faced. All in hopes that they will make good choices, be successful, and reach their life potential: Plan A. That is all a parent wants for his or her child.

Now that your child is a teenager, you continue to introduce, guide and support his or her growth. You talk about the importance of making good decisions. You’ve discussed topics such as drugs, alcohol, and sex. What about the topic of teen pregnancy?

How do you help prevent your teenager from becoming pregnant or getting someone pregnant? In my personal quest for direction, both as a mentor to teenage girls and a parent, I went straight to the source with these questions: teenagers themselves. The main theme in all of their responses was honesty. They want their parents to be honest with them. They don’t want to be lectured or threatened. They want realistic information. They welcome parents having ongoing conversations (examples below) with them about the challenges of parenting:

  • Becoming a teenage parent means you will be responsible for another human being for the rest of your life, even before yourself.
  • It means you may need to leave school, perhaps not go or hold off on going to college. You may have to delay or give up on the career you chose
  • You will need to find the means to financially support your child. What job can you get as a teenager that will allow you to do this?
  • You will need to decide where you want to live. Is the expectation to marry? Is the expectation to live with your parents?

So you’ve done everything you feel you could have to prepare your teenager. How will you, as a parent, address this issue, should it occur? Again, I asked. The overwhelming answer was again that they wouldn’t want to be lectured or threatened. They would want love, support, and understanding. They know they have disappointed you. They again welcome parents having conversations with them about Plan B:

  • Show him or her what a supportive parent you can be.
  • Help him or her to stay in school. Education is key to your child’s success.
  • Help your child create a budget to manage the care of his or her child. Can you help?
  • Help him or her determine where is the best place to live and where is the best place to raise a child. Can she or he remain at home until graduation?

While U.S. teen pregnancy rates are decreasing, teen pregnancy is a reality that parents need to consider. Just because you speak to your child about pregnancy does not mean that you are encouraging sexual activity. Your teenager may appear not to want to hear your perspective, but having ongoing conversations may prove successful in getting him or her to the finish line.

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The Value of a STEM Degree

April 16, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

Kids watch a teacher demonstrate a science experiment.

In recent years, schools have been developing programs around an area of education that has been underserved, can lead to high paying jobs for students, and is vital for the United States to innovate, grow, and prosper. This kind of education puts the focus on careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, and is known as STEM.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that there are over 50 different kinds of STEM occupations like electrical engineer, architect, and chemist. The Occupational Information Network has a complete listing of all occupations in STEM disciplines.

All of these jobs require a strong academic background in math and science, so the government has pushed through additional funding to create programs that develop these skills in students.

Supporting your child in pursuing an educational path focused on STEM can pay off, as there is a high demand for individuals who pursue careers in these disciplines. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that STEM occupations will grow by 17 percent from now until 2018, compared to 9.8 percent for non-STEM occupations. These jobs will also pay between 26 percent and 40 percent more than jobs in other fields. Check with your local school district to find out what STEM programs and activities are available for your child.

Parents and caregivers play an important role in exciting their children about STEM education. How can you pique your child’s interest in science? There are many ways:

  • Read science books and magazines. Magazines like National Geographic Kids have science experiments that kids can try at home, articles about animals, and attractive pictures. You can also check your local library’s science section and help your child find some age-appropriate books.
  • Enrichment programs. Programs that offer the chance to have fun while learning will increase your child’s interest in the subject matter at hand. Look for science-based camps in your city and enroll your child so he or she can make a connection between science, learning, and fun.
  • Science or Modeling Kits. Consider buying your child a science or modeling kit instead of a regular toy. These packages include all the necessary materials and a lot of ideas for your child to experiment at home. Consider buying a telescope, magnifying glass, or microscope to invite your child to explore the world around him or her.

You should never force your child to enroll in something he or she doesn’t like. But it’s always a good idea to expose your child to all kind of experiences when he or she is young, so when the time comes to choose a career, your child will be more confident about his or her abilities and passions.

If you think a liberal arts education is a better fit for your child, read our companion piece on the value of a liberal arts degree.

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My Story: Teaching Kids About Death

April 15, 2014

By Amanda Alpert Knight

A young boy stands with his mother at a cemetery, looking at a headstone.

Sitting at the wake of my best friend’s father-in-law, I spotted her 7-year-old son, Owen, across the room. Owen is my buddy. He and my son, Alex, were born exactly one year apart (minus two days) and are best friends. I hadn’t seen him since his grandfather died, whom he called Papou, which is the Greek word for grandfather. When I spotted him across the room playing on his iPad, I knew I needed to make my way over to him to talk.

Two weeks earlier I had lost my father to cancer, so loss and mourning was fresh in my mind and my heart. I had also recently dealt with the issue of talking to my 4 and 6-year-old children about sickness, death, and saying goodbye. It wasn’t easy and there were no good answers.

I knew Owen was going to be a tough customer. He’s an incredibly smart kid and is thoughtful and wise, so I prepared myself for rejection. This was our conversation:

“What’s up, O?”

“Nothing. Just playing my game.”

“You doing okay, bud?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, Owen. Owen.”

I finally got him to tear his eyes away from his game.

“You know I love you, right?”

“Yeah, I know.”

“You know why we are here?” I asked him.

“Yeah, I know why, we are here. I just don’t understand why. I mean why did it have to happen?”

I was stunned. From the mouth of a 7-year-old, I was being asked the question that young or old, we all wonder when faced with death: Why? There’s no good answer. I explained this to Owen. I told him I wish I had an answer for him. I wish I could explain it for him and for me. The most I could do was love him, share memories with him, help him understand how much his Papou loved him, and that he will always be with him.

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