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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Close of another school year ends; another summer begins

Several of my friends suggested topics for this week, and while a number of them were certainly worthy of being written about, I settled on reminding all of us that the arrival of spring brings with it, in a month or so, the end of the school year.

Personally, this means my daughters being asked to prom for the first time (although this is my last year of reprieve as neither are 16 yet). With mixed emotions, this summer marks the girls’ first college classes and our realization we are only three years from an empty nest. For many parents this marks a time of fervent activity in the form of summer sports and family activities. To our communities, this means another batch of teenagers driving to parties and prom nights, and another class of seniors preparing to move on to higher education or enter the workforce.

These realities force upon us, both as individual parents and as a community, the responsibility to have some earnest conversations with our high school students. The first conversation should concern our expectations of behavior as it relates to driving. While not the only item on the agenda of the driving conversation, drinking must be at the top of the list. Letting your teen know that drinking and driving, or getting in a vehicle with someone that has been drinking, is never acceptable and can lead to their death or the death of someone else.

I can hear some of you now, admonishing me, that teens know that handy tidbit of information and they are either going to heed it or they won’t, and therefore, it is unnecessary for parents to have that uncomfortable conversation. In response, I point to any number of studies, some of which were completed by the alcohol industry, that show teens who are reminded repeatedly, long before they can drive, are far less likely to drink and drive, especially if the parent models the desired behavior. This general idea works for any number of teen pitfalls, drinking, reckless driving, sex, drug use, to name a few.

Sitting your teen down to deliver a lecture isn’t nearly as effective as taking advantage of the topic popping up in conversation during a family dinner. Of course, this means in order to have the necessary, potentially lifesaving, conversations, your family will need to sit down to a meal together several times a week.

I suggest a family requirement of four nights a week. If your teen balks due to a schedule that would do the President proud, make it more palatable by allowing them to invite a friend. For the price of an additional place setting, you get valuable intelligence on who your teen is hanging around and both teens are more likely to let their guard down.

With kids being off school during the summer and presumably the parents still going to a normal work schedule, teens have more time on their hands. The old adage, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop” certainly comes to mind. Keeping your teen busy with some kind of summer school, or a part time job can be helpful.

A curfew is another parental tool that should be used. Anyone out after midnight is much more likely to be killed than someone home by the witching hour and for teens the statistics are even clearer. The community can play a role by checking IDs before selling alcohol, and calling law enforcement to escort unruly teens, or those who are out too late, home to worried parents.

Summer is a wonderful time of the year, especially for a teen, more so for those about to embark on the next phase of life. Parents and the community at large, have a compelling interest to partner together to make sure the transition is a flawless one.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Parents, Get in the Game!

I have recently written in this column about how pleased I am about being a coach for my daughters’ flag football team. Nothing has changed and I do love sharing this time and activity with my daughters, but I am still a bit piqued. Why, you might ask? I’m glad you did; allow me to share.

If you go to almost any organization, especially one involving children, you will find that 10 to 20% of the people do 90% of the work, and a sizeable portion of parents use the organization as a babysitting service. I cannot ascribe motive, largely because I am not privy to what goes on inside the head of another, and sometimes I’m not so sure what goes on in my own head.

But here are a few guesses: maybe parents feel they have nothing to contribute in comparison to the many talented and giving people who do step up to volunteer. Perhaps they convince themselves they have less time than those who take on volunteer roles. I hope the parent’s reasoning is they would like their kids to do an activity without a parent hovering nearby.

Whatever the reason, when parents fail to volunteer, attend activities such as games or even awards ceremonies, parents tell their kids where they fall in the pecking order of family life and children are often embarrassed. When parents fail to pick kids up on time from an event, organization leaders feel compelled, in the interest of safety if nothing else, to wait until parents do show up.

School based and extra-curricular activities are essential to the well-rounded development of a child and I encourage parents to enroll their children in as many of them as the family can while maintaining a healthy family/life/work balance. However, I also encourage as much parental participation as possible, and if there is a reason you can’t help out, such as you want some parent child separation, make sure the adult volunteers know this and make yourself available in other ways. Go out of your way to be helpful and pleasant, and always pick your child up on time.

I allow that single parents, those folks in financial difficulty and grandparents who find themselves parents again, have a more difficult time being involved in team or group their children are in, but surely everyone can help one of those organizations in some way. At a minimum, stay in communication with the adult volunteers and coaches; give them your support as they have a difficult job, and in the vast majority of cases, they do it out of passion and compassion for kids. If you find yourself unable to help financially or with your time, at least make sure you are at events, supporting your child and showing them you value both your child and the role the organization plays in your child’s life.

As our nation moved away from an agrarian, largely rural society, these organizations became more important, both to individual kids and to society’s youth. Providing activities for eager minds, physical fitness for growing bodies, and ethical and moral education to augment the messages parents are trying to push through the static is a difficult job. Youth volunteers are one of our nation’s greatest assets and deserve your appreciation and help. Even better is that you should become one of them.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

You are History (and you will be one day too)

Last weekend my Dad, my youngest son, and me spent the day repairing our kitchen table and making a primitive weapon called an atlatl. Our day was full of one generation passing practical information and funny family stories to the next and of course making more special memories. My parents are not particularly old, and hopefully we will have many more years with them. But at some point, they, like the rest of us, will no longer be here.

The stories my Dad tells of growing up in rural East Texas and those of my mother’s youth in Southern California are worth recording, to keep something of them alive after they are gone. I am sure that each of you have someone, or hopefully several people, whom you would like to record their story. For that matter, it is very likely there are several people who would like to record your story.

There are a number of things you will want to consider before you start; the first is to obtain the permission and cooperation of the people you wish to interview. The next is to consider using a video camera or voice recorder. This alleviates the need for taking notes and allows a more natural flow of the interview. The interview usually forgets they are being recorded in short order.

Find a place you can be comfortable and will not be interrupted; remember to turn off your cell phone! Develop a set of interview questions, putting them on flash cards is very convenient. Taking a photo of the person and any relevant memorabilia they have can be helpful.

Start your questions by recording the date of the interview and the name of the person you are interviewing. Next, obtain their personal details such as date and place of birth, their parents and grandparents’ names and the occupations they have held over the course of their life. Asking questions about everyday life, impressions of newsworthy events as they happened, and reflections of the person they were and have become, will all be of great interest to your audience. My father told us of his memory of Elvis playing a concert at the old high school in the early 1950’s and the town’s reaction to the concert.

Follow your interest when asking questions but remember to be respectful of the person you are interviewing. Bringing up painful memories can be cathartic or harmful; so unless you are trained to know the difference, and even if you are trained, be kind and patient. Remember to be gentle and nonjudgmental, it’s unlikely you know how you would have behaved under similar circumstances, and even if you think you know, do you want to be held accountable to your mistakes years later?

The recording of these stories is very easy and there are a number of websites to help you. A simple search on an Internet search engine will provide lists of questions and other helpful hints to be successful, such as thoughts on how to present the finished product. You may also find help at your local university history department.

I hope you will get started on this project soon, before death, illness or just faulty memory rob your family of something precious you can’t replace. Your loved ones’ rich, wonderful and unique stories.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is the author of Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb. He can be reached at

Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Hey Coach!"

I am told, “No good deed ever goes unpunished.” While this thought may seem true from time to time, I am very pleased to have volunteered to coach my daughters’ flag football team. I have had the pleasure of coaching my boys’ football and soccer teams, even being an adult leader in their scout troops. My wife had the pleasure of coaching our girls, but I have never had an opportunity to share the love of sport and competition with my girls.
The boys and I share many funny stories and a common experience from the intersection of our relationships as parent/ child and coach/ player. The girls and I are looking forward to deepening our relationships through playing flag football and I am especially happy both the girls will be on the same team.
The NFL has partnered with local school districts in Alaska, California, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas. The idea of this partnership is to provide another opportunity for girls to develop leadership skills, and to play a sport in which female participation has been limited until now.
The NFL grant of 2008/9 agrees to pilot flag football programs in any community desiring such a program. So, if you wish to bring flag football to your school you can go to the NFL youth football website and apply for the grant the NFL has set up to provide footballs, flags, rulebooks and other support to get leagues started. Florida already has a state championship, Texas is investigating one and talk has begun as to developing some kind of national tournament. The upside for the NFL is they are expanding the numbers of female fans, both now and in the future.
While these opportunities on the horizon excite the girls, the thought of playing a “boy’s sport”, and breaking those barriers and stereotypes, holds as much attraction for my girls and their teammates, but biggest attractor is the sport itself. Several of the girls on my team are cheerleaders for their school, cheering for the boy’s football and basketball teams. Interestingly, high schools that have had girl’s flag football for a few years report that boys come out to cheer on the girls; demonstrating, either boys are willing to be fair-minded about their sports, or boys will go where girls are even if the girls are cutting fish bait.
The girls play seven on seven, and as they do not wear tackle football pads, the rules are modified to ensure the girls’ safety. The pace of the game seems to be faster than tackle football and the ball is smaller to accommodate the girl’s smaller hands. I have however been pleasantly surprised by how quickly the girls have begun to master their new sport.
I am very interested to see the differences in levels of competitiveness, if there is any, both inside our team between individual girls, and between boys and girls in general. Far more important than satisfying my considerable intellectual curiosities however, is the opportunity to play a sport with my girls that all three of us love.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

Thursday, April 2, 2009

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

“Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.” – Edward R. Murrow
Virtually everyone comes upon difficult periods in their lives, usually several times over the course of a lifetime. In fact, many authors would argue these difficult periods, and instances of failure, are necessary to an overall lifetime of success. On the main, history bears out their argument, with Bell, Edison, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, being the first four examples I can rattle off the top of my head.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest any of us enjoy these periods of painful instruction, I am suggesting we have two options when faced with such obstacles. The first option is to give up. In our nation, we typically look upon such people with scorn while shaking our heads sadly. Instead, I argue every goal has a price and we should always evaluate the personal and societal costs against the personal and societal benefits. We should reevaluate why we are pursuing a particular goal when the costs begin drastically outweighing the benefits.
The second option is to take a step back, and a deep breath or two; then evaluate the goals in our lives, make corrections and move forward with renewed vigor. This second option has the virtue of allowing us to learn from our mistakes; however, with either option we should move forward only when we can do so with purpose.
After you have decided to take an opportunity to reevaluate where you are, doing so in a systemic way, writing down the results for further reflection and as a “compass check” in the future, is usually of invaluable aid. Figuring out in broad or philosophical terms what is most important to you and then developing goals that fit into that framework is a huge step forward. Take care not to believe you have carved these goals into stone; you can, and probably will change your goals from time to time as life circumstances change. The important part is to have some kind of plan, imperfect, incomplete, and changing as it may be.
Try to group your goals under the following headings: spiritual, service, family, physical fitness, career/financial, education/self improvement, and battery charging or fun goals. These are the basic areas of life for most people and allow for a balanced, healthy view of life. Writing down the goals provides a method for deeper planning to accomplish the goals, keeping track of them, and making it possible to check off the goals when they are achieved.
Reviewing the list frequently can help keep you on task and allows loved ones to help us as needed. In addition, being able to see a goal checked off the list can be a powerful feeling, providing a dose of resilience during difficult times.
I suggest this as a powerful tool in what may be the worst economic environment our nation has faced since the Depression. Not only will the tool help you directly but can help your family discover their common purpose, and remind them of it during trying times. I leave you with the thoughts of William James, “The greatest discovery in our generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

Mark Altman has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He is the author of the book Leadership For All the Mountains You Climb, is available for speaking or consulting and can be reached at