Insider’s Guide: Review of “The Sneaky Way Colleges Try To Sell Students Health Insurance”

This is a review from the article The Sneaky Way Colleges Try To Sell Students Health Insurance
by Ann Brenoff at the Huffington Post from October 10, 2017. Here are the Highlights:

  1. Students must have insurance to be in school. Not only do students need insurance, they need insurance that meets the school’s minimum coverage standards. This standard is different from school to school.
  2. College health plans are often already on the tuition bill. This is a classic aggressive marketing technique of forcing a customer to opt-out rather than opting in. Students must request a waiver if they have insurance that already meets the school’s requirements. A request is just an application, not a guarantee the student will be granted the waiver.
  3. Waiver’s must be requested every year. That’s right folks, not only do you have to opt-out from insurance, you have to opt-out each year.
  4. Premiums vary from campus to campus and can inflate the cost of going to college significantly. There is no standard for premiums. The average cost is $1,500 and $2,500 per year.
  5. There is often little choice. Schools often have one or very few health plans and often have health centers who do not accept anything other than the insurance they sell.
  6. Rules for waivers vary. Some schools want to see low in-network deductibles while others want to ensure there are adequate in-network providers in the school’s area.
  7. Students can take out loans (or use scholarship money) for insurance. Since insurance is a line item right next to tuition, loans and scholarships are fair game for paying for insurance.
  8. Big impact on students if the Affordable Healthcare Act changes. If the employer mandate or the coverage for kids 26 and younger is removed, the burden of insurance will pass from the large employers to the students and their families.

My opinion of the article and it’s focus is that students should definitely be mandated to have insurance while at school but there should be government oversight for what insurance is offered, how it’s disclosed to students and what provider options exist in the school’s area. Right now college insurance seems like the unregulated wild west and most families don’t even realize it. When we pay for something, we should have a right to know what we’re paying for and not be forced to opt-out. Often, this insurance payment is in addition to a ‘Health Fee’ which covers minor health and wellness interventions. For example, here at Indiana University’s counseling center (CAPS), there is a $30 fee for each session during each semester after the first two ‘free’ sessions. IU does not accept insurance and offers to provide an itemized invoice that can be sent to a student’s insurance company so the family can be reimbursed.

I recommend that if you have a kid that’s heading off to college next Fall and will likely need healthcare support for medical or mental health, do your homework to find out whether their health centers accept your insurance. Research how to complete the waiver and make sure you know how much out of pocket healthcare expenses could be.

Insider’s Guide: How to Choose and Use Parent Control Apps for Kid’s Phone

By the time kids turn 18, they average over 10 hrs of device time per day. While that represents a huge chunk of time, not all of it is necessarily wasted time. Technology is more social than you realize; more pervasive than you realize; bigger problem than you realize. Technology is not good or bad. It’s a tool that needs to be used, limited and controlled.

Parental Control. Apps that control devices, apps that control other apps, device control (remote and local), monitoring devices before something bad happens lets you kid know you are watching. Parental-control apps for mobile devices work best when they’re part of a comprehensive approach to teaching your kids about behaving responsibly online. That means talking to your kids about what they should and shouldn’t do with their mobile devices and clearly communicating how you expect them to act.

Tech solutions are great, but nothing can replace a relationship based on trust and boundaries. For that reason, I avoided apps that only run in stealth mode on your child’s phone. Products such as WebWatcher and mSpy both tout this capability. I also did not consider apps that offered the ability to record phone conversations, since state laws vary on the legality of recording someone without his or her consent.

Parent Control Apps

So your kids have somehow made it to adolescence. Now, it’s time to manage how they use devices. On the one hand, giving them free-reign over their swanky iPhone evokes the fear of God in you. But you also don’t have the time or interest in acting like the CIA/NSA and monitoring every bit of data that flows to and from their device.

The middleground is a reasonable parental control app or, at a minimum, parental controls within the settings of the device. While we are about a decade into the smartphone lifestyle, we are only a few years into parental controls that strike that balance between independence and oversight. Below, I’ve created a list of things to look for when researching parental control apps. New apps will come and old ones will disappear, but the list below of qualities to look for should stand the test of time. Here is a comprehensive list of what you’ll want to see in a good quality parental control app:

Installation. How easy is it to install and setup each app on a smartphone? How hard is it for your kid to uninstall?

App Management. Since most of the time spent on smartphones is within an app and not a browser, which program lets you review all the apps on a device and block or limit app usage? Does it control native apps (eg. iMessage for iPhones)?

Filtering. What tools does each app offer and how well did they do at restricting access to inappropriate content online?

Texting Management. With kids doing most of their communicating through texts these days, we looked at the features for monitoring messaging. Do the apps let you review the content of your child’s texts? Can you block a contact and be alerted when your child adds a new contact? Can you block messaging apps altogether?

Location tracking. Does the app keep a log of where your child has been — and more importantly — give you the ability to locate your child in an emergency?

Price. How much will the service cost annually? How many devices can you control? Does the app company upsell you later on?

Gaming. More social than you think, Needs to be limited (time), Needs to be viewed as privilege rather than right or default. Gaming, just like any other activity, should be limited. Gaming is definitely more addictive than sports or other socially acceptable interests. First of all, game designers hire psychologists and create a sticky environment – they make it really, really tough to walk away. Free gaming apps? Even worse since their business model is dependent upon eyeballs on ads and in-app purchases. Games for XBox have a different business model – give away (or sell cheaply) the game system and sell the expensive game. Then their are the in-game purchases. Secondary income stream.  

Social Media Monitoring/Control. Do the services allow users to monitor activity on social media. You either need to “root” a device – which is not recommended. It’s easier and healthier for your relationship to just have your child hand over his or her usernames and passwords.


Let’s get to the good stuff – the apps and services that you can use to oversee your kid’s tech usage. I’m sure that by the time this is published there will be a million other ones, but for now, here are some top rated monitoring apps:

Other Interesting Apps

Not all apps or tech need to be about Orwellian parenting. The apps I’ve listed below provide varying degrees of reward and consequence to modify screen time or limit use of certain apps. The theme here is promoting non-screen time.

Pocket Points. Pocket Points is an app that middle school, high school and college students can download onto their phone or iPad. Once students open the Pocket Points app and lock their phone, they start to accumulate points. The longer their phone stays locked, the more points they can get. Points are also awarded based on how many people are on the app at a time. The app is free and only works on a campus that’s identified by Pocket Points. Students can redeem their points for free or discounted items from local vendors.

Offtime. This app helps students unplug by blocking distracting apps like Instagram and games and filtering communications. It provides data on how much they use their device. A more customized mode like Work, Family, or Me Time can be turned on to ensure that they have access to the necessary things apps, but aren’t distracted by the junk.

Moment. Moment tracks student’s phone usage and allows them to set daily limits; the app notifies them if exceeded. They can even use a setting that “forces” them off the phone by flooding the screen with annoying alerts when trying to extend screen time (what a cruel app). Moment can easily be used for families, with the option to track device use from a parent’s phone.

BreakFree. BreakFree has a usage tracker found in similar apps, but it differs in that it breaks down the information into a super simple addict score (yikes, that’s pretty harsh). It shows kids how often they unlock their screens, and logs every bit of their usage for the day. This app is a great option for students who like to set goals and challenge themselves. Ironically (maybe, intentionally…) it can be addictive to try to see how low students can get their addict score. Oh, the humanity.

Flipd. Can’t app developers spell things normal? Flipd is the poorly-spelled and dialed-up aggressive app for your kid if they are not so easily encouraged to curb device time. Flipd allows you to lock a phone for a set period of time, and once you do, there’s no going back. Even restarting their phone won’t disable the app, so it’s impossible for them to find a work-around. Flipd can even be used to remotely “flip off” one user from another user’s device, which is helpful for teams that want to keep one another on point. I’m thinking it would be helpful for parents to have this app for kids that just can’t say no and grades are dropping.

AppDetox. Is your kid a gamer? Are they addicted to checking Instagram? AppDetox can help them get their fixation under control if apps are too addictive, but their not quite ready to give them up. You and your above-average kid can set your own parameters on an app-by-app basis providing access when it’s not a potential disruption. Every time your kiddo breaks one of his or her own rules, the app reminds you to put down your phone. Could be helpful for students that are well-intentioned and need that extra reminder occasionally.

Stay on Task. How’s that for a blunt name? Stay on Task helps your productivity in a gentler way compared to some of the other aggressive time overlords. The app provides a gentle prompt, asking if you’re still on task at random times during your day. If your college student is someone who easily gets distracted, this app can be a great way to redirect their focus when another post popped up and their mind is wandering.

How to Handle Kid’s Pot Use: 6 Tips for Parents

Of all the issues parents bring to me needing help with, one of the more challenging is what to do about a kid who’s smoking pot. There are legal issues, family’s values, and the impact on academics and social group. It’s tempting to be black and white by having a strict policy at home, but things can get complicated to the point that binary thinking does not work. Here are some thoughts I have parents consider which can inform how to handle specific situations as well as bigger family value decisions:

1. Determine Risk: A kid who is generally doing well in school and seems pretty solid generally poses less risk for potential problems than a kid with a family history of substance abuse, depression or in the middle of a family chaos. If your son falls in the high risk category, get professional help from a therapits/counselor. If your son/daughter is really falling off the cliff, work with a therapeutic placement consultant or education consultant to find a residential treatment program.

2. Provide Reasonable Consequences: If there is no family history of substance abuse issues and you are certain that your son/daughter is generally doing well at school, at home and with friends, focus on keeping the lines of communication open. If your kid is afraid of your reaction, it’s unlikely that s/he will continue to confide in you. Consequences may simply encourage him/her to become better at hiding any future use from you. Sometimes, though, there is a serious enough violation of family rules or trust and a consequence needs to be given. If you do administer a consequence, make it proportional to the violation. I go into more detail about effective consequences in this blog post.

3. Improve Communication: When we validated, understood and loved by someone our instinct is to share our thoughts and feelings, even if we feel uncomfortable about judgment. Thought kids often push us away, it’s essential to look for ways to keep connecting in authentic ways. The more they feel anchored to you, the less negative influence his/her friends will have. What if your kid says they really liked smoking pot? Don’t freak out – discuss why drugs and alcohol make people feel good (don’t preach). Explain the way the brain works (Google it if you don’t know), and the temporary impact these substances can have on lowering anxiety or improving our mood. Another angle is to ask if they would be open to listening to your concerns (again, no preaching…just your fears/concerns). Explain that while you understand “everyone” may be smoking weed or drinking (they are, trust me), the stress relief many experience can quickly become at least psychologically addicting, and that there are better ways of handling stress.

4. Role Model: Consider what your son/daughter sees you doing to relax at the end of the day, or when you socialize with your friends. If you have a glass of wine the minute you get home from work or immediately open a six-pack when friends show up, you teaching your kid that fun and/or relaxation cannot happen without some kind of substance. Show them you can enjoy life without leaning on something to help you chill out when life gets tough.

5. Keep Your Radar On: If you start to sense that their use has increased beyond normal stupid-teen-use, establish expectations that send them a clear message that it is not okay. As a teen, a kid’s brain is still in a vulnerable and formative stage. It’s the parent’s responsibility to help him/her make healthy choices. Some kids tell me they actually appreciate it when their parents tell them that they might start drug testing. It makes it way easier to say no to their friends, “I can’t… my parents are drug testing me.

6. Search and Seizure: Of all the messy things about drug use, the hardest one for me to cover with parents is looking through a kid’s phone, room, car and bags. On the one hand, we want kids to have a sense of autonomy and independence. We want them to have a safe place where they can let their guard down. On the other hand, if a kid is using drugs and bringing them home, parents need to know and set a boundary. Another complicating factor is that most kids are pretty good sneaks…they hide stuff well so even if you tear their room apart they’ll likely still have pot stashed somewhere (maybe even at a friend’s house). Pot in the house is like the dandelions in my backyard. I can pull each one of them up and be vigilent but until I’m able to a) destroy all the dandelions and their seeds in the entire neighborhood or b) build a huge bubble around our property, I will never conquer them. I need to either get to the source of the problem or do my best to keep them controlled so they don’t take over the yard. If you do find pot or paraphernalia, it’s fine to have a meeting/conversation with them and explain the rules about no pot use, no pot at home and no pot in the car. If any of those are violated, they’ll receive a consequence. If they appear to have a more severe issue, a professional will be contacted and possibly a higher level of care pursued.

Most kids have plenty of opportunity to use alcohol and pot. But while it’s likely that them will be offered the chance to try illegal drugs, it is not a good idea for parents to look the other way. Teens and college students still need parents to help them make good choices (even if they will not appreciate it or ask for it). Acting like it’s no big deal can send a confusing message to a kid who might not want to drink every weekend, but may not know how to handle the pressure to do so.

Mental Health Support on College Campuses: What Parents Need to Know

Most larger universities like Indiana University (close to where my office is located) have health programs called CAPS which stands for Counseling and Psychological Service. They are often staffed with licensed therapists/counselors and psychiatrists with a range of experience and expertise. Their primary goal is to act as a stabilizing resource for most mental/behavioral health or substance use issues. Many university CAPS typically offer individual, group and couples counseling along with occassional free workshops. Here’s the list from IU CAPS on what they typical help with:

  • Academic Concerns
  • Relationship Concerns
  • Stress Management
  • Power and Privilege
  • Time Management Help
  • Sleeping Issues
  • Adjusting to College Life
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance Use
  • Body Image, Eating, and Exercise Concerns
  • Sexual Assault or Abuse

They have the same confidentiality requirements as counselors like me off campus but are limited in many ways. CAPS limits the number of unpaid sessions (IU CAPS allows for two) and mandates that a student must be working with one of their counselors if they want to meet with a psychiatrist for medication management/evaluation. Here’s a breakdown of IU CAPS fees:

COUNSELING  With IU Health Fee  W/O IU Health Fee
First two sessions (per semester) No charge $55 per session
Additional full sessions $30 per session $55 per session
Additional half sessions $20 per half session $35 per half session
Additional group counseling $15 per 60 min. session

$17 per 90 min. session

$29 per 60 min. session

$35 per 90 min. session

First visit $55 $105
Follow-up visit $30 per visit $55 per visit

IU CAPS does not accept insurance but does provide a super detailed invoice to be submitted to a student’s insurance company for reimbursement.
Over the last few years, I’ve noticed many CAPS programs around the country have had a huge increase in demand for their services while also having budget cuts or mediocre increases that leave them without the full team of professionals they need for each semester. At IU CAPS, every one counselor is responsible for 2,110 students (yikes!). This is not a new problem at IU and not isolated to IU.

So what can a parent or student do? If CAPS doesn’t seem like a good option, look for a therapist/counselor convenient to campus who specializes in college students. Therapists should be flexible to accommodate busy course loads and social events. In my practice, I have extended evening and weekend hours since many students a slammed with class 9-4pm most days. It’s also important that the therapist be willing to talk with parents and provide updates and suggestions. Parents can sometimes feel like their kids are a million miles away. A good therapist can often act as a bridge and lower the anxiety associated with having kids at school.

Finally, talk with CAPS (or encourage your son or daughter to) the first week of school. It’s easier to cancel an appointment than to stand in line after all the students are back on campus. The intake process should be thorough and your kid shoul feel like the therapist/counselor will really understand their issues and help.

Insider’s Guide: How to Pay for Therapeutic Boarding School (2017 UPDATE)

Before we dive into understanding the options for paying for a Therapeutic Boarding School, let’s quickly review what they are.

The Rise of Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Image result for boarding schoolAs public schools across the country have slowly been pruned back by state legislatures, funding for behavioral, emotional and academic support within schools have nearly dried up while public money is increasingly being used for private charter schools. Therefore, it’s not surprising private institutions that offer therapeutic (or quasi-therapeutic) environments like boarding schools and private schools have exploded. One of the fastest growing kinds of boarding schools is what’s called a Therapeutic Boarding School. Therapeutic boarding schools maintain the advantages of traditional boarding schools such as intimate class sizes, individual attention, great academics, developing student self-reliance, and the fun of living with peers in a completely “child-friendly” environment.

Some therapeutic boarding schools specialize in helping teens overcome certain psychological problems such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Bipolar, Asperger’s and even Depression. Others have programs for overcoming substance abuse problems or achieving weight loss. Some specialize in helping students who lack motivation get a fresh start in a nurturing environment. Most have some sort of family or parent involvement piece to ensure a team approach (ie. Weekly family therapy via phone or Skype).

While this all may sound great, there are definitely some risks and downsides (beyond the financial cost) of sending a kiddo off to therapeutic boarding school. I address those issues in great detail in another blog post. For now, let’s revisit the financial aspects…

Expense or Investment?

Parents often find themselves in a desperate situation with a troubled teenager. Their daughter runs away from home again, gets caught with the dealer down the street, crashes another car, and has yet another arrest. Parents become afraid for their teen’s lives as their teen’s risk-taking and lifestyle keeps becoming more extreme as the parents’ ability to set boundaries and expectations seemingly erodes.

It’s hard to think clearly and find solutions at times like this. Therapeutic boarding schools and therapeutic wilderness programs can provide answers, but they come at a price, with some programs running upwards of $50,000 a year.

But cost doesn’t have to be an insurmountable obstacle in getting your teen the help they need. We have helped countless parents in similar situations come up with creative ways to finance therapeutic boarding school, knowing that their child desperately needs an intervention. Therapeutic boarding schools are no longer exclusively the domain of the wealthy.

Top 10 Ways to Pay for Therapeutic Boarding School

Image result for therapeutic boarding school

Here are 10 ways families just like yours found to finance their teen’s therapeutic program:

1.   Hire a Consultant: Say what? More money? Yes, but trust me, this really will have super high ROI. Also referred to as case managers, therapeutic placement consultants or educational consultants, a good one is worth their weight in gold (a bad one is expensive and makes bad treatment recommendations). Make sure they are UNAFFILIATED with any program and have the clinical expertise to help advise and guide your family through the whole process. Some clinical educational consultants that specialize are able to handle this. A great case manager will be able to create a treatment plan, explain the process for getting a comprehensive psychological evaluation, walk with you through the intake process, support you while your teen is in the therapeutic boarding school, and coordinate discharge planning to ensure a seamless transition back to home or college. The last piece is essential – making sure your teen has everything they need to succeed after they return. Great case managers also know how to secure reimbursement from insurance providers for teens that attend therapeutic boarding schools. There are definitely some tricks (eg. Hire a case manager that’s also a licensed professional counselor and much of their work could be paid for by insurance) and inside knowledge necessary to make this happen.

Typical cost: $95 – 350/hr (some charge a flat fee of several thousand). 

2. Find the Program’s Financial Aid Officer: The private school or wilderness program should have a financial aid officer who can advise you about how to finance your child’s education. You should ask this person what programs, loans, discounts, or financial aid the school offers. Find out exactly what is included in the tuition and board bills, and if there are additional expenses such as buying uniforms or paying special fees for sports.

Typical Cost: Nothing – programs provide this to try to entice you into signing up. Beware of anything that sounds too good to be true – verify any claims they make about coverage from insurance, student grants/scholarships or loans. 

3.  Public School Funding: You may qualify for a loan through a kindergarten through 12th grade educational loan program. These loans work the same way as college loans, in that you pay what you can while your child is enrolled in the private school, and pay the rest off later. The terms of some loans let you spread out payments over 10 or 20 years. Your credit history will be a factor in securing a loan. Your school’s financial aid officer should be able to help you find such a loan.

Typical Cost: Your sanity – they will drive you crazy with the bureaucracy and take loads of time during your work day since everything in public school shuts down by 3:30pm. 

4.  Discounts for Upfront Payment: Some schools offer discounts if you pay by the year, instead of by the month. The average student stays at a therapeutic boarding school for less than two years, and wilderness programs are even shorter. A good therapeutic placement consultant/educational consultant will save you thousands of dollars by negotiating these discounts.

Typical Cost: More money upfront but no other associated costs. 

5. Tap 529: Consider using your child’s college fund first. Think of the therapeutic program as a way to get your child back on the right path toward college. Without intervention, she won’t have the grades or motivation to get through college and use her fund.

Typical Cost: Make sure there are no withdrawal penalties for use for therapeutic boarding school. 

6. Put it On Plastic: When you enroll your child in these therapeutic programs, there will be upfront expenses such as processing fees and deposits. Some parents borrow these initial payments from credit cards, especially ones that offer “frequent flier” miles. This way their child is immediately enrolled. They use their free mileage for transportation to and from the school.

Typical Cost: Beware of high interest rates if you don’t pay off your balance in full. 

7. Angel Investing: Some parents borrow the necessary funds from employers or relatives, and pay them back after securing educational loans or home equity loans.

Typical Cost: If you go through a peer-to-peer or crowdfunding site like The Lending Club or Kickstarter, count on a 5% fee for total amount funded. 

8. Health Insurance Reimbursement: Your health insurance policy may cover part of the cost of a therapeutic program as a medical expense. When you hire a case manager, they will be able to tell you how to file the paperwork and what you need from the program to ensure a speedy reimbursement.

Typical Cost: Sanity… totally lost if your insurer are jerks that don’t reimburse when and how they should. You are attempting to pull money from their cold, dead hands. Expect a fight.

9. Consult Your CPA: Some expenses for therapeutic schools and wilderness programs can be deducted from your income tax return as medical expenses. If you own your own business, you likely have WAY more creative options for deducting medical expenses.

Typical Cost: $200/hr for a good CPA to walk you through if and how to deduct from taxes.

10. Tap Home Equity: Parents have taken out second mortgages or home equity loans and then deducted their interest payments on their income tax returns.

Typical Cost: Fees, closing costs total 2-6%. It also bumps the timeframe for paying off that home back several years.

11. Public School Funding: We lied – there turns out to be 11 ways to pay for therapeutic boarding school. Is your child enrolled in public special education classes because of problems like attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities? Does your child have an “Individual Education Plan” at a public school? Do you suspect your child has learning problems that the public school cannot address? In certain cases, public school districts have to reimburse parents for private school tuitions. The Supreme Court ruled on June 22, 2009, that an Oregon school district had to reimburse a family for private school costs because the child in question could not achieve a free and appropriate education within the district. The child had not been enrolled in special education classes but was diagnosed later with attention deficit disorder.

When it comes to what matters most parents are unstoppable in finding ways to get the services and support they need. Don’t let cost be the determining factor. If your teen needs help, speak with a case manager, your trusted CPA as well as a therapeutic boarding school you’re considering and work together to find a way to get your teen back on track.

How to Prepare Your College Student for the Semester

Holy moly, it’s almost August again and classes are just around the corner. Time to dust off the ‘how to’ guides for parents. Here are a few favorite tips from the last few years that parents have found helpful.

Image result for college

  1. Organization. Organization is a concept, not a tool. Identify tools they can and will use. Make sure they are using the calendar app on their phone. Have them figure out the best use of online tools the school provides. Many students need the help of a counselor they see 1-2x per month to help oversee their organization habits and tools. Get this all figured out before the car is packed.
  2. GPA. Talk about what, if any, expectations you have for overall as well as per-course GPA. It’s a bit late to tell them at Thanksgiving dinner you wanted to see a 3.75 GPA for the semester. Best to discuss this in July and August. Make it realistic but also challenging. They are not going on vacation. They are coming to school to earn a degree and have some fun (after the work is done).
  3. Appointments. What ever appointments need to happen leading up to or during the school year, have your little college kid get them setup and on the calendar now. It’s not too early to get the dentist appointment scheduled. If they take any type of medication, do not assume they can just have a walk-in appointment for a refill. Get this scheduled now (especially if they need to find and work with a psychiatrist for antidepressants or antianxiety meds).
  4. Contact. How long is too long before you start to worry? Make it clear that if you text/call them, you expect a response (even a lame one) within XX hours. Stick to it. We all know they will get busy (or sleepy or drunk or distracted) but having you worry day after day is unnecessary if they simply check in regularly.
  5. Scheduling. Kind of along the same line as appointments above, one of the most powerful sessions I have with students leading up to classes cranking is sitting down with their schedule and putting EVERY assignment, test, meeting, etc. into their calendar. Most professors post their syllabus on the school’s intranet and every student has access. Every syllabus is required to have all dates/times of classes as well as assignments and tests.
    But wait, there’s more!
    After we plug in all the items from the syllabus, we reverse-engineer. For example, if Mary has a test September 18 for Calc, we schedule back one week for studying (start September 11). For each day, we carve out 1 hour for studying (eg. Mon, Sept 11 3:00pm-4:00pm Review Calc). This makes it so each study session is a known, expected quantity with a specific day and time.For more insider tips, tricks and ways to support your college kid, contact me

Insider’s Guide: Creating and Maintaining Boundaries

The small college I graduated from had a working farm in a beautiful valley with a river flowing through the middle. Students worked on the farm 15-20 hours per week planting corn, fixing tractors, and cleaning out the pig stalls. Our farm had a herd of cows that loved to poop, eat grass, drink from the streams and get into trouble. The college hired a farm manager who decided our primary focus should be keeping the cows out of trouble by fixing existing fences and building new ones with high-tensile wire (electric fencing) with solar chargers.

After months of slow progress, the cows were fenced-in and safe from their naughty excursions. But they continued trying to bust out of the new fancy fences so the farm manager said out next job was to create a ‘salad bar’ in each pasture. We removed massive thistles, dug up weeds, and filled in mysterious holes. We planted clover, fescues and other plants cows love. After a full season of work, the cows no longer tried to bust out.

They had a) strong fences and b) healthy pasture. The perfect combination of keeping cattle happy and in a good spot.

Image result for cows

Humans can be like those cows, especially young humans (teens and young adults). If we don’t build boundaries around them, they wonder-off into the world. We don’t want the boundaries too tight or they suffocate and don’t learn how to handle freedom. If the boundaries are inconsistent and full of gaps, they don’t have structure to lean on when the world gets hostile. Boundaries, like fences, require maintenance. Talking about your limits and the consequences if they are unmet is maintenance. Telling your son or daughter you are appreciative they came home by curphew last night is maintenance. Keep the fence maintained and it will be easier than looking for cows at 2:00am (I’ve done that before).

It’s also important to create that healthy pasture for kids. Create positive experiences at home, provide healthy food and love and attention. Give opportunities for engagement, ownership and rebounding from screw-ups. This is the healthy pasture for kids. Pastures also need maintenance. Checking in with kids and revisiting what you are providing as a homebase is essential. What sort of place is your home? Safe and welcoming or something to be avoided? Talk this out, don’t make assumptions.

Healthy fencing plus healthy pasture equals healthy cows. A simple experience I had which holds true today for families I work with.


How to Pivot

I’ve been working on a project that just is not working. There are so many reasons, some of which are my fault, many of which are out of my control. But let’s move on. I need to pivot. It’s time to do something differently. Pivoting with this means to end that project, change the people involved, 10x my behavior with obsessive focus or something entirely different. There are probably a hundred other possibilities of ways to pivot out of the current trajectory. I am emotionally and financially in the middle of it so I can’t see all the options. I also don’t have an outside mentor or family member or consultant to provide that outsider perspective.

Everyone has stuff they get stuck in. Sometimes it’s really important to suck it up, dial-up your grit and just get through it. We are often pretty whiny and complain about how hard stuff is.
But when is it the right time to quit? When is it time to pivot? This is what I’ve been looking for since so many clients I work with (eg. parents, college kids, entrepreneurs) really struggle with this. I struggle with this.

Here are some observations. There are other times in life when pivoting is important, essential or just part of the game. People pivot playing basketball looking to pass or avoid defense. People pivot when mountain biking – an unexpected downed-tree or squirrel in the way dramatically changes things. People pivot when driving – I’m thinking of all the shredded truck tires I used to dodge when driving on I-40 around Raleigh-Durham. No time to think, just move or risk the car, bike or losing the ball.
What’s the take-home? In those instances, pivoting is reactive, requiring instinct rather than careful planning.

Pivoting in larger life issues maybe requires long-range thinking like how will this impact my family, finances, etc. I think it also requires an outside perspective (new information into the system). Pivot is moving in a different direction based off this new information (…or perspective or paradigm or assumption).

But, research is here to challenge the assumption we need to think through all big pivots.

Researchers, studying choices and life satisfaction found that people were often more satisfied and happier if they committed to making a big decision based on a coin flip.
Yes, a coin flip. A coin flip for quiting a job, ending a relationship, getting married, having kids, etc. Heads….or…..tails.

What? How the…? A coin flip takes the thinking, second-guessing, planning, sleepless nights and hands all of it over to chance. It becomes externalized, kind of like believing that God controls mudslides, getting a promotion, and whether a kid gets into Harvard. It’s no longer mine (internalized) and within my control. It’s up to something or someone else (coin or God).

So, if you need to make a hard decision, flip a coin.

If you need to pivot out of a messy situation or something complicated, get outside information from a counselor, consultant or super smart family friend.
Tomorrow – I’m finally meeting with someone to give me perspective on my pivot. Better late than never.