Re-Purpose – Part 2

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I didn’t plan to think and write so much about purpose, but I keep coming across interesting related reading so I pick up the thread again…. (“Part 1” here)

An HBR article, You Don’t Find Your Purpose — You Build It, discussed 3 misconceptions about finding purpose in life and each one presents good reminders.  I liked the message that our lives will have multiple sources of purpose that will also provide multiple sources of meaning to our lives.

I read another article that lists 11 myths about finding your purpose.  The author posted a subsequent follow up article that lists 11 Ways to Know When You’ve Found Your Purpose.  I found this statement from the list somewhat encouraging,

And when you find your purpose, when you find the thing that you’ve been preparing for your whole life, you will look back and realize it wasn’t a waste of your time and effort at all.”

Maybe many people are doing “the work” of finding purpose without realizing and without any pressure or stress.  Do we dwell on it too much?  Is it “oversold”?  At what age do we start to worry about our life’s purpose? At what age should we?  How many different stages or repurposes are there in a lifetime?

I thought this was a good article for parents with teens and young adults, Adolescence and Repurposing One’s Life.  I hadn’t thought about stages of growth and independence in terms of a “repurposing” before.  From the article,

So, at both the outset and end of adolescence, interest, meaning, direction, and challenge may need to be altered to redefine and reinvigorate sense of purpose for the next leg of the journey through life.”

With recent news again of another mass shooting at a school, it leaves me with many questions about how an individual may come to believe that their purpose includes such violence.  Complicated and very sad.

I have noticed that the words meaning and purpose are often used interchangeably in regards to one’s life and choices.  I found this 11 min. video thought-provoking about the past and the future:  30000 Days – Living Life with Meaning & Purpose.

I welcome your thoughts on my questions, or links to other related reading on this topic.


Not in Kansas…

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I am extending a conversation started by Lisa Noble on her blog and a response by Doug Peterson on his blog.  Both posts have further comments and responses that extend this “not in Kansas anymore” theme.  I think the conversation is a good one in light of the many on-going discussions about “kids these days” and the concerns about their resilience, independence, and mental health.

Lisa, through her post, reflects on past experiences and travels away from family and compares them to the context of today with technology impacting those experiences and the connections made with others.  Her “not in Kansas anymore” experience (I will refer to it as NIKA from here on in) was a continent away from her family.  Doug’s “NIKA” experience was his time away at university.

I think many of us can recall our own “NIKA” moment:

From Lisa’s post,

That “out here on my own” thing we were all experiencing together, with no opportunity for helicopter parenting – no cell phones, no e-mail, no Skype or FaceTime. I sent a couple of postcards, but my parents were very far away – literally and metaphorically.”

Lisa’s questions:

What was that defining experience for you – when you knew that you weren’t in Kansas anymore, and that you were okay with that? Who were the people you shared it with? Are they still part of your world?”

And also,

Do those opportunities still exist for our students and our children in this ultra-connected world? Do we encourage our students and kids to take them, and then get out of the way? How might the technology that enriches our lives be getting in the way of this kind of adventure? How do we help our parent/teacher selves let go?”

Doug shared about two NIKA experiences in his post — away at university and later returning to his home that had changed.  This part made me giggle, but well said,

No matter how tired and tough the day was, we had to cook and clean or go without.  How can people live like this?  And raise kids?  My parents were saints.”

Doug answered the rest of Lisa’s questions on his post with references to current issues of travel and added this point about technology,

Why wouldn’t we use the available technology to ensure a certain level of safety or, in this day of the selfie, fully document the experience?”

It all got me reflecting on my past and now my children’s lives.  I will extend the discussion to a parent perspective as well.

I had a few school trips away from my parents:  3 nights in a cabin for outdoor education in Gr. 6, a trip to Toronto in Gr. 8, and a trip to BC for about a week in Gr. 11.  I have no idea what my parents worried about, but I am sure they did.  I don’t recall having much worry or apprehension about the trips and I only have memories of the fun.  Maybe such shorter trips also help parents prepare for even more natural separation that will occur as their children grow and mature.  I am trying to imagine what it would have been like for my parents — there would be no contact from me and if there was, it would be an emergency or for a serious reason.  As a parent now, I haven’t had to go through that with my own children.  They haven’t had that many trips away, but texting easily provided assurance and helped put worries aside for all.  But do we come to rely on that too much?

Like Doug, my own NIKA defining moment would have been going to a different city for university.  I don’t think I thanked my parents enough for driving 2 full days to drop off their youngest in a city they had never been to (not to mention their drive back to an empty nest).  I was eager and felt ready for the experience (did Gr. 13/being 19 help?), so I don’t recall too much sadness on my part.  My contact ahead with my parents would be letters in the mail and usually a phone call on Sunday nights (cheaper after 6 pm 🙂 )  I did get a landline in my residence room and my phone cord would stretch into my closet to get some privacy from my roommate.

And so, for Lisa’s question, I was okay with this defining experience — no regrets.  As for people who I shared it with, some connections have faded away.  Two close friends from my program travelled to my northern hometown for my wedding a few years after graduation.  Unfortunately, I have kept contact with only one of them over the years (Christmas cards, Facebook.)

Fast forward 30+ years to the experiences of my own grown children away for school in other cities.  We often have discussions about the impacts of communication technologies and the many differences of life experiences — then and now.  The capacity now to stay in touch is great, but it can also feel like “too much” at times.  It also sets us up in a way, as now when a check in or confirmation isn’t received by text, it can be easy to worry the worst.  The convenience of technology to stay in touch can ease worries and create them!

I believe that the some NIKA experiences can help independence, maturity, and confidence.  Families will “scaffold” supports in different ways for each child, with or without technology.  Ideally, I think it would be good to have a few NIKA experiences during a time when one knows that they can return to “Kansas” as they knew it.  Life and hometowns can change fast.  Similar to Doug, I recall how I struggled with my parents selling our family home while I was away for my 4th year of university.

I haven’t really come up with any definitive opinions about “today’s” NIKA experiences vs. the past, but I suppose there are many ways to nudge the independence of children, teens, and young adults.  The process will have its discomforts for parents as well, but the confidence building and letting go can go both ways.

Whenever I came to write a bit more on this topic, I would find myself humming the song by Melanie called Kansas.  I found a cool video created for the song.  As the description says, “Trippy little rocker…”.

“Digital Parenting”: Struggles and Solutions

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I recently read this interesting post, On Retreating from Social Media, by Sonja Burrows.  The author, also a parent, discusses what she believes are the three most significant reasons to retreat (step back) from social media:  (1) Emotional Well-Being; (2) Vulnerable Data; (3) Kids.  She makes a good case in each area and I thought her “Kids” section offered some good considerations for parents.

A few points that stood out for me:

The parent generation is collectively navigating completely new terrain, attempting to guide our children through experiences we ourselves never had as teenagers and young adults. We cannot therefore fall back on our own adolescent trials to instruct us in our child-raising practices around digital tools and social media.”


Many parents find ourselves conflicted. On the one hand, we may wish to prevent our children from participating in social media for as long as possible. On the other hand, we may also acknowledge that stunting our kids’ ability to engage socially in these spaces could have harmful effects, insofar as we would be removing them from interacting in ways that most likely every one of their peers already does.”

She offers this solution,

Social media has become a fact of life for the younger generation; therefore, I believe both parents and schools need to coach kids around safe usage of these spaces, rather than prohibit them altogether from participating. Part of educating youth in safe conduct on social media is first to raise their awareness about how platforms work as well as the consequences of different kinds of usage. We especially need to educate kids about the possible negative effects on emotional health and wellbeing, on the proliferation of cyberbullying, on the vulnerability of their data, as well as on social codes of conduct within these spaces. As always in guiding youth, parents and schools need to encourage kindness and empathy, and we need to establish trust so that kids involve us directly should they need hands-on support.”

I fall in the same category or “gap” that Sonja describes — parents who didn’t have mobile phones until after 30 🙂  While it is true that people becoming parents ahead will have had more direct experience with communication technologies, social media, etc., I wonder if there will always be new challenges.  I feel certain still that my “non-tech” teen experiences and stories that I shared with my children had value and nudged some reflection on their part in regards to their use of mobile phones.

I also enjoyed reading a couple of posts on this topic by Doug Belshaw, The Trials and Tribulations of Being a Digital Parent.  He makes a note in his post for readers that he was a teenager in the 1990’s. I appreciated his reflection in regards to that.  Some points/concerns that stood out for me:

The difficulty is that this generation of young parents are on the front line here. We’re the first ones to have to deal with screens everywhere. At the same time as we’re warned about the dangers, we’re also exhorted to prepare our offspring for jobs of the future.”

Another good point about conversations:

It’s difficult. I know that what we should be doing is sitting alongside our children, exploring the digital world together. But that’s just doesn’t seem possible sometimes. And, just as children tend to the question “what did you do at school today?” really tedious, so they don’t particularly want a conversation about what they’ve been up to on their tablets.”

I agree, this may not be discussed enough:

One thing that’s missed when dealing with digital parenting at a macro level is the issue of personality. I think there may also be gender differences too, but I’ve got too small a sample to be able to tell. Some people have more addictive personalities than others.”

I am glad to see more honest writing and discussions lately about the challenges of “digital parenting”.  I think these honest discussions are important.  Parents can have so many things to feel insecure and self-critical about.  Regardless of the age and experience of parents, supports will be needed to navigate technology and many other  things.  I hope shared stories from different perspectives continue to be a part of that support.  I would think even the most “tech-savvy” parent might still be caught off guard and frustrated by impacts on their own children.  The content coming through on phones and apps seems to be constantly changing, as are the features and privacy settings.  I appreciate Sonja’s message for schools and parents in her suggestion for this navigation.  How do schools create the spaces for support and collaboration, as well as encourage non-judgemental and honest discussion?  Do parents want this support?  What should it look like?  What would be most important and helpful?

**Thank you to Donna Miller Fry (@fryed) for her resources, questions and persistence with this topic.  Her questions and posts to Twitter prompted this post.


Some thoughts about “iGen”

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I recently saw a job ad with the following “skill” requirement listed:

“must have the ability to be off phone for more than 10 consecutive seconds”

I suppose that made a strong point to potential applicants, or maybe it was related to issues with past employees… It was a position that would require driving and moving stuff.

The ad made me think of a recent article, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?.  In spite of the alarmist title, I still read it.  The article was an adaptation from a new book by Dr. Jean Twenge.  Soon after that article was posted on The Atlantic, I saw a few responses and articles dismissing the claims made by the author/researcher.  As I thought more about this topic, I decided to listen to the 50 min. segment from the BBC:  “Are Smartphones Harming Teenagers?”.  I thought the panel discussion was quite good and it included Dr. Jean Twenge.  This is the list of the participants:

Dr. Jean Twenge – Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University

Amy Orben – College Lecturer in Experimental Psychology at The Queen’s College, Oxford University

Tanya Goodin – Founder of the digital detox consultancy Time to Log Off, and author of ‘Off’

There were also two teenagers participating in the discussion as well.

It took me a few “sittings” to get through it, but I made a few notes of points from the discussion that made me ponder and reflect.  Here are a few that I thought were key:

  • it is important to consider what is on the phone, not necessarily the phone itself
  • if teenagers are spending approx. 6 – 8 hours of leisure time on their phones/screens, what does that “crowd out” of their lives?
  • social media/online time is very diverse/complicated — important for research to consider the “3 C’s”:  content, context, and connection
  • software is designed to be “sticky”, so how do we moderate effectively?
  • suggestion that more evidence is needed, but research always lags behind real world experience
  • should we do nothing then? What is the downside of doing nothing at all? “Guinea pig” generation?
  • differentiate study of the different social media platforms?

It was good to hear the input and insights from the two teenagers.  I also noted that they both attended schools that did not allow cell phones in class.  They also both reported that their own phone/screen use was reasonable and manageable.  They also didn’t think it was necessary for younger children to have smartphones in response to the finding that the average age of having a phone in the UK was 9.

It is a complex area to study but I find it hard to dismiss the new data and possible trends.  It is difficult not to have concern about the possible impacts on independence and mental health. The decrease in sleep at night is enough to concern me.  There seems to be multiple sources of stress now in the lives of teens and young adults.  I think we need to care about how smartphone access and use adds to stress and anxiety.  Both youth and adults have a role in getting smarter about moderation.  I still see my 20+ year olds struggling at times with the use of their devices and screens in practical ways instead of excessive ways.  It takes work and self-discipline for sure.

Dr. Twenge’s research pointed to some positive trends for teens as well.  I am now following her on Twitter and keeping an open mind about this.  My kids are grown up, but it is an area that I still care about.  I also recently read the article, In Praise of Mediocre Kids.  I thought the article spoke to valid pressures in the lives of children as well.  It doesn’t mention smartphones or social media, but I think technology has increased how much parents compare the “successes” of their kids and families to others.  I am not sure “mediocre” was the best word for the title — what about just well-grounded kids, or kids just doing their thing…?  Where do things start to get off track?

My thoughts as an “old” parent…


Peers in Pockets

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I enjoyed spending some time reading this post by Daniel Willingham, “Give a kid a computer…what does it do to her social life?”.  He discussed a number of studies in this regard, some findings and the limitations of the data.  Please read his post for the further links and insights he provided.

In addition to his good points, I related to his concern he wrote about in the last paragraph:

My real concern about digital technology use in teens is hard to quantify. When I was a teen I, like most, probably assigned too much value to the opinions of my peers.  They necessarily stopped influencing me when I got off the school bus, and I was influenced mostly by my parents and two sisters. I don’t relish the thought of children taking their peer groups home with them in their pockets, influencing them 24/7, and diminishing the impact of their families.”

A book by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté, Hold on to Your Kids, came to my mind, but before I could add the comment, someone already had thought of their work and done so,

The comments you make in your final paragraph remind me very much of what Gordon Neufeld says of the rise in peer group influence and the correlative decline of parent/family influence in the lives of children and teens.”

I am not always sure what to make of some of the studies about the impacts of digital media on children, teens and family life, but I do think the impacts of social media and instant messaging/texting need to be examined separately.  They are often intertwined, but attention to each may vary (my most recent post about texting and relationships here).

I still feel relieved that my children didn’t have their “peers in their pockets” until their late teens.  Maybe the conversations in families are starting sooner now and the impacts may change.  New parents may be having very different conversations and decisions to make right from the start now: The ‘joy’s of digital media in new parenting.

If you wish, I thought this was a good review here of the Neufeld and Maté book and this link is about the book on Gabor Maté’s website.

**update (Sept. 28/17):  Adding this video of a talk by Gordon Neufeld.  At the start he mentions that the book had a revision to include a chapter about technology, since it was originally published before Facebook, etc.  The talk/Q&A is over an hour, but covers many good points.


Paths and Gaps: Part 3


I have written about about “gap” years a couple of times — in both the general and personal sense:

Graduation Caps and Gaps

Paths and Gaps: Part 2

My daughter who took a “gap year” before going away to another city for university was recently home on her study break or “reading week”.  It is also now that time of year in Ontario when many Grade 12 students are starting to receive and consider their acceptances to university and/or college.  My daughter is now in Year 2 at university and I asked her again if she was still glad she took a gap year.  She gave me permission to document her answers and thoughts on my blog:

I benefitted by the exposure to the “work world” that year.  It gave me a new perspective on ways to live life and be successful in different ways.  It helped me improve other qualities and skills other than just “book smartness”.”

I had time to find out a bunch of things I wasn’t … in order to be able to start finding out who I am.  This happened in both my gap year and also during my first year at university.”

I thought the gap year would give me time to figure out what I really wanted to study at the post-secondary level, but it was really about learning other things instead of discovering what I wanted to study.”

In the end, I realized I just needed to try something at university in order to find what I wanted to do.”

My daughter included the subjects she was passionate about in her first year of university.  I think that this is one advantage of a first year at university — she was expected to take courses in different faculties.  This worked well for her as she could include her love of science, math, art and women’s studies.  It was through this “sampling” that she was able to decide what she didn’t want to study in depth while also leading her to what she did want to focus on.  It was something she hadn’t thought of initially at all.

My other daughter didn’t take a gap year after high school.  We had discussed the option with her, but it just wasn’t something she found comfort in doing.  As it turned out, a gap year after university before a college program was more beneficial to her.  We are happy with their paths and choices and I am sure other decisions would have worked out fine too.  There will be bumps regardless of the path!

Given all my thinking and reflecting on this, People for Education’s report released this week about career and life planning in schools caught my attention.

The press release here.

Career and Life Planning in Schools full report here.

I still need to spend some more time with the report, but they have made some recommendations for improving student portfolios for career/pathway support, the community involvement requirements, guidance counselling, and more (for a quick look start at page 14).  “Multiple paths, multiple policies, multiple challenges” indeed.  I don’t recall the mandatory “career/life planning portfolios” that my daughters brought home here and there as being very useful at all, but their community volunteer hours proved quite valuable in different ways.  I will be curious about what changes ahead.  What do others think?  What are the areas that need to change the most… and when?


“They’re just texting…”


I have posted before in attempts to understand and discuss the impacts of texting and “instant” messaging on youth.  As parents, we attempt to monitor who are children are associating with — in person, via devices, and online. When children are younger, it may be easier to chat about the experiences and communications that they are having with friends – both positive and negative.  When they are older and relationships become “romantic”, it gets a bit more challenging.  Experiences and communication become more private from parents.  Parents may also try to give more “space” and privacy.  It can be a tough and delicate balance though.

I often hear the messages of “letting kids fail/fall/make mistakes”, etc.  I believe kids can learn from bad experiences and relationships just as much as good ones.  They have to navigate friendships and relationships and learn from that too.  The advice to parents may also be: “Let them figure it out for themselves”.  But does this serve well as support for their “instant connecting” worlds?  How do parents know when things go too far or become unhealthy given all that can be “unseen” with communication technologies?  How do they know when to intervene and how?  I am not sure there is enough discussion or clear advice available on this, especially when kids are in their late teens and in relationships.  Are there conversations that need to happen sooner?

This is my attempt to provide some support and useful reading.  I may add to the list over time ahead:

Know the Signs:  Spotlight on Nonstop and Excessive Texting

Text Messaging:  Effects on Romantic Relationships and Social Behavior

Obsessive 24/7 Texting From a Partner or Ex Isn’t Cute

In(ternet) Love: Have a Healthy Online Relationship (a lot of good resources for relationships on this site… do explore for other relevant topics)

12 Alarming Ways Texting Controls Modern Relationships

MediaSmarts recently posted a guide for post-secondary students.  I think it is excellent and practical, as well as useful for parents to read or have handy as a resource:

On The Loose: A Guide to Life Online For Post-Secondary Students

The Impact of Cell Phones on Romantic Relationships

Have you got other useful resources or articles? Please suggest!



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