Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Mindful Social Media for College Admission

Many high school students think a key component to their college admittance success involves hiding their Facebook and Instagram accounts with pseudonyms that mimic their true name. According to Josh Ochs who wrote Light, Bright and Polite: How to Use Social Media to Impress Colleges and FutureEmployers, this is not true. Ochs speaks to students and parents around the country about the best way to leverage social media to boost one’s college resume and application. Josh Ochs’ YouTube videos and blog entries can be found at his website Safe, Smart, and Social.

In Light, Bright and Polite, Ochs encourages teens to mindfully use their social media networks to their advantage. In a 6 minute YouTube “Use Instagram to Impress Colleges,” summarizes some of his key tips and points. A positive digital footprint with one’s real name fares much better with colleges than a missing one. College applicants are encouraged to shift their perspective. Rather than avoiding a negative digital footprint students are encouraged to intentionally create a positive one.

In his book Ochs claims, “When you are on established social media networks, you have a lot of places to post content that casts you in the best light. Use this place to showcase your talents, interests and abilities so that colleges can see you as an engaged and intelligent student who would make a great addition to their institution.”

So what does this mean for today’s teens? It means that they can begin preparing their college resume, as soon as they begin to use social media. Some key rules are:

1. Protect your online reputation
2. Think before you share.
3. Treat others as you would like to be treated.
4. Consider whether you want your profiles to be public or private.

In some ways, this highlights the importance of community service and service learning. It's not only what they do for their community but how they document the service. As students participate in different volunteer opportunities, including community service trips, they can intentionally showcase their contributions to society. Real life activities impress colleges. Some volunteer opportunities to consider:

1. Dog Shelters
2. Senior Citizen Center or Assisted Living
3. Overseas volunteer work
4. Habitat for Humanity
5. Red Cross of other blood donation facilities
6. Hospitals
7. Fundraising for non-political or overly dramatic causes.

And some more specific examples when posting photos and comments. 

1. Rather than posting a selfie with your lips puckered up, post a picture of a day volunteering with friends at one of the local charity events going on in your town.
2. Rather than posting a selfie with your best friends at a late night party, post a photo with your family, including your dog after a family hike.
3. Rather than criticizing the school coach who cut you from the team, congratulate those who made the team.

Some of these may seem forced, but this is what colleges are looking for when they check applicants' social media. They are looking for students who will represent their college in the college's best light, and these posts reflect on who one is and what type of students they will be at their college. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

Can We "Hook" Teen Athletes on Mindfulness?

I spoke to a group of parents at Belmont Hill on Technology and Mindfulness in February, with this blurb in their parent newsletter:

Technology and Mindfulness Roundtable
With Guest Moderator, Susan Reynolds

Come learn about the ways technology contributes to your teens' quality of life, as both a useful tool and a mindless distraction. As Digital Immigrants parenting Digital Natives, we are the first generation forging this new territory. We need our own set of guidelines, our own Parenting Toolbox. In this interactive workshop, you will learn about the intricacies of the problems teens face, but also solutions including nuts and bolts suggestions for screen times, age appropriate boundaries, and family detox. The broader issues of mindfulness and role modeling will be woven into the discussion

The waiting list for the February date was so long, that they asked me to speak again this month, but I cannot claim any responsibility for this interest. I am not a known entity. I have not written a book, yet, like other speakers who have come to BH. The topic is hot, and it's not just about technology. I was surprised and excited about the group's interest in not only how to parent these digital natives, but how to introduce them to mindfulness. This has been my question as well. How do we "hook" the teens who need mindfulness more than ever, for so many reasons. Many teens know they are stressed, but they fear learning to meditate and be mindful is just going to be one more thing on their "To Do" list. Their desire to meditate and learn mindfulness practices has to be something they feel the "want" to do, not "should" do. In my last entry I questioned whether we needed Mindful SAT and ACT Test Prep.

At Belmont Hill, an all boys school, sports are an important part of the school culture. So how do sports contribute to the Technology Toolbox? One of the best ways sports deters the overuse of technology is because mobile phones are almost impossible to use on the athletic field, in the gym, on the dance stage or in the pool, and I said almost impossible. Then when I talked briefly about the research on the impact of meditation and yoga on athletic skill and performance, the audience wanted more information. I thought, "Perhaps I've found a hook." Parents can be role models for balanced technology use as well as mindfulness practices, but what about coaches and athletes? How can we encourage them to add mindfulness training to the skills and practices athletes are taught in high school? One of the best ways sports deters the overuse of technology is because mobile phones are almost impossible to use on the athletic field, in the gym, on the dance stage or in the pool, and I said

The first step is with the research and examples of famous coaches and players. Kobe Bryant has become a spokesperson for the value of mindfulness, and Phil Jackson says it helps the team focus on the breath and calm the mind, builds focus and attention. "When players practice what is known as mindfulness - simply paying attention to what's actually happening -not only do they play better and wine more, they also become more attuned with each other."  It helps them deal with difficulties and stressful situations not only during athletic feats, but in life. Sports themselves can provide the endorphin rush and physical outlet for this stress, but the mindfulness can to, as well as boost performance and enjoyment of the sport.

Chuck Person praises Phil Jackson when he says, “He teaches you how to find your way in the maze, in the chaos. You can always go back and find yourself with that breath. I’ve learned during anxious moments, since I have been here with the Lakers, that breath is very important to take to center yourself."

Peak flow experiences are a common goal in many types of performances, musical, athletic, and artistic. In the article, "Mindfulness for Athletes: The Secret to Better Performance?" the authors states, "While some degree of stress is normal in athletics, we need a way to moderate that stress. We also need to be able to resist internal and external distractions — anxiety, fear, a loud crowd, or even a distracting teammate — so that we can make good decisions in the moment."

Research on mindfulness and athletics is an emerging field that will continue to grow, just as other research on mindfulness has grown exponentially in the last few years. But research isn't enough to entice teen athletes to learn mindfulness, it most likely is going to need to come from coaches and captains of teams, and it doesn't need to require a lot of time. "They say that in sports, 90 percent of performance is mental." Isn't it time we devote some of this 90% to mindfulness? It could be 5 minutes before practices and games, as the effect is cumulative.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What about Mindful SAT and ACT Test Prep?

Attention. Focus. Comprehension. These are skills and traits of a successful student. Daniel Goleman, the author of the national bestseller Emotional Intelligence and newest book Focus, claims attention and focus are the number one predictors of success, yet our digital world is rapidly creating conditions that make it much more difficult to focus each year. In the world of pings, notifications, emails, texts and likes, our attention is pulled from the very tasks we attempt to complete. Have any of you had a plan, sat down to do something at your computer or at your desk to complete a singular task, and all of a sudden minutes, hopefully not hours later, found yourself on a social media site or playing candy crush on your phone instead? I have. Why? Technology is addictive. As we use this technology our neural pathways are formulated to begin to crave this activity, so without awareness we can find ourselves some place online we did not intend to be.

Daniel Goleman himself talks about writing a blog entry, switching to the Internet to check a source, and 15 minutes later finding himself reading the about Congress on a news feed. What are we to do? In his book Focus, Goleman talks about three modes of attention. One is when people "daydream, waste hours cruising the Web or YouTube, and do the bare minimum required." This type of disengagement is typical of rote or undemanding tasks. Others find their attention in a "state neurobiologists call 'frazzle,'" where stress causes the amygdala in the brain to be stimulated which send the frazzled into fight, flight or freeze with an overdose of cortisol and adrenaline. In this state the pre-frontal cortext is overloaded causing one difficulty in accessing memory and abstract thinking. The ideal state is one of "full focus which creates a doorway into flow" but this state requires mindfulness training.

When we look at what we ask middle and high school students to do, some may begin to understand why they are stressed, distracted, or up until midnight completing homework. When we learn to attend, we can intentionally direct our thoughts and focus, but it's more than that. It isn't just when we meditate or are mindful in the moment. With consistent meditation we've actually changed our brains so that the neuro pathways are different.

If we think about the major tasks of junior year, it is not only academic, sports and extra curricular activities in school, they also include preparing for and taking the college boards, and many take both the SAT and the ACT to see which scores better represent their capabilities. When was the last time we, as adults, studied for these types of tests. Maybe some of us have had a mid-switch career and so took the GREs or LSATs, but I venture to guess most of us have not. It is grueling. The SAT is 4 hours long, and the preparation for it requires many different skills and tasks, tapping into different parts of the brain and different aptitudes.

Many students take test prep courses or hire private tutors to learn the ins and out of these tests, but I question how many students are trained for the focus and attention that is required during those 4 hours. When students are not in a position to check their phones for a text, take a break to watch a YouTube video or play a 3 minute game, there is research to support the fact that they may experience the anxiety of nomophobia. In addition, many students are very stressed about their performance on the test, fearful that they may not be able to go to the college of their choice if they do not achieve a certain score. This test requires mental skills that many are not taught, nor required to practice.

In a study at UCSB, post docs found that after 2 weeks of intense mindfulness training, GRE scores increased 16%. Even the researchers were surprised by these results. They are conducting further experiments. This has all types of implications for SAT and ACT Preparation. Many parents spend money on SAT and ACT prep, but how many parents pay for SAT and ACT Mindfulness Prep? Should we be?

I say yes, and it is why I'm beginning to offer Mindful Test Prep which is not meant to replace current prep but to augment it. After talking with Travis Minor of Open Door Tutoring and Test Prep, we agreed that Mindful Test Prep would help many students, especially those who find it difficult to focus when they are completing both their practice homework and attending during the actual tests. In addition mindfulness helps with text anxiety and distraction.

Please visit the Programs section on my website: abclegacy.com to learn about the options for these programs. You may schedule an initial consultation to determine if this is right for your son or daughter. I am offering individual and small group sessions. After a mindful test prep session, students may spend time in "The Space" studying in a phone free environment. If there is enough interest, I will schedule a class during April vacation for students in town over April break.