Quit Asking the Usual Question

Have you been in an exchange with someone recently that goes something like this:

You: “How are you?”

Other Person: “Good, and you?”

You: “I’m good, thanks.”

We ask the “How are you?” question with such regularity and little thought and answer the question from a standard set of responses. We’re either busy, fine, okay or good.

Most of us ask this question out of habit, but also because it’s the polite thing to do. We usually ask it as a greeting and not necessarily with the intent of actually acquiring information about the other person.

These days we are asking the, “How are you?”, question even more in our exchanges with others as we all live through the current COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, we really DO want to know how the other person is doing.

During this time of social isolation and distancing, I hope you are reaching out and checking in with your students, parents, team members and others you love and care about. But, what alternative questions can you ask that shows you are genuinely asking about their life and well-being, leads to new information and builds a stronger relationship with them?

There are five alternative questions below that are positive, seek information and can spark a conversation. Best of all, the five questions can’t be answered with a one-word response like yes, no, busy or fine!

Here they are:

#1. What was the best part about your day? or What are you most looking forward to about your day?

#2: What work is most exciting you this week?

#3: What activities or projects are giving you energy lately?

#4: Tell me one thing you’ve learned or read recently that inspired you.

#5: What is one thing you could do right now to make the day even better?

These five questions can be asked by parents of their kids, supervisors of their team members, teachers or youth workers of their students, spouses or partners of each other and you with your loved ones.

These days I think we could all benefit from positive energy, conversation, information and inspiration. One way you and I can help with this is to quit asking the usual “How are you?” question and instead ask questions that invite sincere engagement and show genuine care.

So, tell me. What is one thing you’ve learned or read recently that inspired you? Email me your response at kathleen@knslearningsolutions.com. I plan to share your inspiration in a future blog that will reach thousands of others around the world who might need a positive message or vibe in their life right now.

Take care. Stay in. Stay healthy. Stay positive.

Are You Feeling Nostalgic These Days?

How are you?

How are things in your corner of the world?

I hope that wherever you are and whoever you are with you are healthy and doing what you can to care for yourself.

After all the turbulence last week related to the coronavirus outbreak, I was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted when the weekend arrived. On Saturday and Sunday, I found myself craving breakfast for every meal and watching lots of classic TV shows. In two days, I binge watched two seasons of “The Waltons” and ate my share of fried eggs and bacon. By Sunday evening, I actually felt more calm, content and a few pounds heavier!

On Monday morning I went into my office, refreshed and focused, and ready to start a new day and a new week. I opened my email and, as I expected, my Inbox was full of messages waiting for me. One message immediately grabbed my attention. The subject line of the email read: “Are You Feeling Nostalgic These Days?”

I was struck by the question. So, I opened the message…and read it…and by the end of the message…I had an “Ah Ha!” moment. I realized that I HAVE been feeling nostalgic these days. I was nostalgic all weekend. Every time I fried eggs and bacon and watched another episode of “The Waltons” I was feeling nostalgic.

Nostalgia is that warm, fuzzy feeling you have when you think about fond memories from your past.

Sometimes the trigger for nostalgia can be a song, photo, scent, story or person. For me, the smell of fried eggs and bacon takes me back to my childhood and waking up in the morning to the aroma of breakfast being cooked by my mother. The smell reminds me of a time in my past when life was carefree and simple.

“The Waltons” was one of the few shows we watched as a family on one of the few television stations we could get living on the farm. Watching the show this past weekend not only reminded me of the similarities between the Walton family and my family, but also of the values I was raised on, the hard work ethic I was taught and the “we’re in this together” mindset we lived by.

Little did I know, until my “Ah Ha!” moment on Monday morning, that my body, soul and spirit was in dire need of nostalgia this past weekend.

We are living in a time of change and instability right now. Nostalgia can actually be a stabilizing force for us. Studies have shown that people with a greater propensity for nostalgia are better able to cope with adversity and are more likely to seek emotional support, advice and practical help from others. It’s shown to boost a person’s mood, reduce stress, increase feelings of social connectedness to others and offer optimism about the future. Research shows nostalgia makes people feel loved and valued and increases perceptions of social support when people are lonely.

Falling back on our store of happy memories can be one of the best things we can do for ourselves right now. It’s one way to endure the change that is happening and create hope for the future. It may be just the thing to give us all a welcomed fresh perspective on our current situation.

There are many ways you can use nostalgia to keep you motivated, uplifted, connected and hopeful. Here are some things you can consider doing:

1. Let your past recharge you. Recall personal milestones and past achievements in order to reinvigorate your energy and stay focused on achieving your current goals. Dig out your medals, trophies, diplomas, news clippings or other memorabilia to remind yourself that you are a capable and talented individual.

2. Make nostalgia a group activity. Asking others to share their nostalgic memories with you is likely to give you all a psychological boost. You might be surprised what you learn about your friends or family members. Ask open-ended questions to initiate sharing, such as, “What kinds of clothes, hobbies or slang terms were popular when you were a teenager? What was your favorite thing about school? Who was your favorite teacher? What was your favorite book or movie when you were young?”

3. Get in touch with loved ones from all stages of your life. Reaching out and connecting with friends can bring back fond memories and ignite fun (and maybe embarrassing) storytelling!

4. Spend time looking at old photos or home movies. Have story time with your family using photos. Do you have idle time? Create a photo scrapbook. Or, turn off the TV and watch home movies instead!

5. Let music stir up happy feelings. Turn on your favorite music from the past and have a dance party with yourself or others!

6. Create a scent that takes you back to the past. Are you craving the smell of your Grandma’s baked cookies? Then, bake them! Spend time in the kitchen preparing recipes you enjoyed from past family traditions.

7. Play board or card games you enjoyed when you were younger. Many classic games can be purchased online. Looking for a list of games to help jog your memory? Click here for a list of some of the most popular games! (By the way, playing the card game, UNO, with my competitive and ornery grandmother, and all the laughter that would go with it is something I always re-live when I still play the game today!)

8. Watch your favorite TV show from your childhood. Was there a TV show you couldn’t miss watching? Was it a show that brought you together with friends or family? Click here for a list of the most popular TV shows from 1950-1990! Browse Netflix, YouTube or other streaming sites and find your favorite show(s). Make some popcorn, grab your favorite beverage, settle into something comfortable and enjoy!

9. Create new memories by making deposits into the nostalgia bank today that you can draw on when you need a boost in the future. What happens today will become the memories you hold onto forever. What can you do today that will create positive, lasting nostalgic memories for you or your family? Be creative and imaginative.

If you find yourself feeling nostalgic these days and wishing you could recapture a moment and feeling from your past, give in. It may give you the boost you need to deal with your current challenges or to simply feel better — not just about your past or present, but also about your future.

Take care of yourself. You are important. You are needed.

Shake Up

We’re living through a very difficult time right now. Anxiety, stress, isolation and fear of the unknown seems to have invaded many of our lives in a short period of time. The coronavirus has shaken up our lives. It has shaken up our routines. It has shaken up our jobs. It has shaken up our investments and bank accounts. It has shaken up our social calendar. It has shaken up our families. It has shaken up our relationships and connection with others.

I’m going to be honest. I worry about what this “shake up” means in my life and those I love. But, I worry even more about what it means in the lives of kids.

Kids’ familiar daily routines have been disrupted with the closing of schools. The in-person classroom environment and the support of an afterschool program to help kids achieve academically doesn’t exist right now. In-school mental health services and other programs to meet kids’ social and emotional needs aren’t available. Extracurricular activities kids enjoy participating in outside of the school day have been canceled. The personal relationships kids depend on daily for support, guidance, encouragement and affirmation are on hiatus as everyone is encouraged to stay home.

For the last six weeks I’ve been writing about the most effective strategies research recommends to delay the onset of risky behaviors with middle school students. I’ve written about four of the five strategies – idealism, normative beliefs, personal commitment and parent/adult attention. In this week’s blog I was planning to write about the fifth and final prevention strategy. With all that’s been happening in our world this past week, especially with kids, it’s a very timely and important strategy to talk about.

The prevention strategy is “bonding.” Research shows the importance of every child having positive relationships with peers and adults.

Kids who have friends with prosocial values, opinions and common interests are more likely to influence each other in positive ways and increase the likelihood they won’t engage in risky behaviors.

Kids also need at least one positive adult in their life to decrease the likelihood they will participate in negative behaviors. For most kids, this adult is a parent. For other kids, the adult may be a grandparent, aunt or uncle, teacher, coach or even YOU. Every child needs that one adult who will coach, cheer, guide, support, monitor and care for them.

Many of your students have friends and adults in their life who are influencing them in positive ways. But, there are also students who do not have positive friends or who have no friends at all. There are also students who believe they don’t have any adult in their life who cares about them or who they can talk to about things important or concerning to them.

Research recommends our prevention efforts include the strategy of bonding – affirming and building long term, positive peer and adult relationships with students. I know what you might be thinking…It’s easier said than done. I agree. But, it’s so important.

With the shake up going on in the world and in the lives of kids right now, affirming and building positive relationships is more important than ever. Many of our kids are lacking routine and structure, getting less adult supervision and monitoring and having more idle time. If you couple all of this with also having friends whose influence is negative, the risk to engage in negative behaviors increases even more.

The relationships we have in our life right now and the people we stay connected with will make a difference in how we all make it through this challenging time – including your kids. Think about the students you work with who don’t have positive peer or adult influences in their life right now. What can you do to let them know you care? It might be as simple as a phone conversation, text message or Facetime call to simply say, “I’ve been thinking about you. How are you?” You never know how this one action, if done regularly, could have a huge and positive impact in the lives of your students right now.

Our world may be shaken up right now, but we will get through it. Practice patience. Show grace. Relax. Focus on what and who is important. Stay connected. You might be surprised how current relationships are strengthened, old relationships are renewed and new relationships are created – even with your students.

Stay in. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

Step Up and Step In

The middle school years can be just as challenging of a time for parents as it is for their kids.

We go from being one of the most admired, loved and smartest people in our kids’ lives during the elementary years to someone who doesn’t know anything anymore. We play “second fiddle” to our kids’ friends. Our rules and expectations are being questioned and challenged. Conversations that came easy with our child are now limited and difficult to initiate.

If you’ve been or are a middle school parent, you understand. The middle school years can be tough.

At a time when parents need to step up and step in even more with their parenting practices, parents may feel the tendency to step back and pull away during the middle school years. Many give up and give in to the other influences they believe is overriding their influence.

A recent study asked kids, aged 11 through 17, “Who has a very important influence on you?” The kids’ responses were:

  • Parents (86%)
  • Grandparents (56%)
  • Place of worship (55%)
  • Teachers (50%)
  • Peers (41%)
  • Community (23%)
  • Television, movies and music (22%)

Studies consistently indicate that parents are the single most important influence on kids’ decisions to smoke, drink or use other drugs. It’s also important to recognize the influence non-parental adults – grandparents, teachers and YOU – can play in kids’ lives. Yet, many parents and adults do not fully understand the extent of their influence.

If you see a drop off in parental involvement and engagement during the middle school years in your school or youth program, don’t conclude that it’s because your parents don’t care or aren’t interested. Instead, believe they care even MORE. The problem their facing is they don’t know what to do with their child right now. The parenting practices that came so naturally or easily to do during the elementary years are harder to do now. Sometimes the harder it gets, the easier it can be to give up and give in. This is the last thing we want parents to do.


We need parents to step up and step in even more during the middle school years.

Research shows that increased parent/adult attention is very important and has identified six important things for a parent or another important adult to delay the onset of risky behaviors with a middle school child. They are…

  • Nurture a loving and caring relationship.
  • Use positive discipline.
  • Encourage and support positive friendships and activities.
  • Supervise and monitor the child’s whereabouts, activities and friends.
  • Set, state and enforce rules and expectations about risky behaviors.
  • Be a positive example.

In future blog posts, I will break down each of these strategies and offer practical and proven ways your parents can use them with their middle school child.

For now, just know and believe that a majority of your middle school parents really do care. They just need to be reminded they still can and do influence their child. Their opinion and actions really do matter and it’s important to stay, “in the trenches” during these critical years. Empower them to step up and step in! Support, love and care for your middle school parents. They need it just as much as their kids do.

Making a Commitment is Better than Having No Commitment

Have you ever made a commitment to someone or to something and then later you regretted making it? You probably had all kinds of reasons or excuses running through your head as to why you couldn’t keep the commitment. (Trust me! You’re not alone. This has happened to me many times over!)

But, surprisingly, you found yourself still following through with the commitment anyway. Maybe you followed through because you didn’t want to let yourself or the other person down. Maybe you followed through because you wanted to be known as someone who does what they say they are going to do. Or, you followed through because you realized the commitment you made really was important to you.

Research shows that when we make a commitment to someone or something we are more likely to follow through with it than if we made no commitment at all. Commitments guide and influence our behaviors.

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In other words, making a commitment is better than having no commitment.

The problem is that as kids move through the middle school years their commitments to not drinking, smoking or using other drugs begin to weaken or erode. Risky behaviors they were “never, never” going to do when they were in elementary school are now something they might “do someday” or “when they get older” or have already done.

This is why commitment-making is one of the most effective prevention strategies you can use to influence the attitudes and behaviors of your middle and high school students if you want to delay the onset of risky behaviors with them. It’s important for you to affirm commitments that are still strong, strengthen commitments that have weakened or make commitments where commitments no longer exist.

As we all know too well, it’s easy to make a commitment, but it’s a lot harder to keep it. So, you need to think about what it’s going to take to increase the likelihood the commitments your kids make for themselves are kept.

Here’s what research tells us…

If you want commitments made to be kept then you need to make commitments voluntarily. You are more likely to keep a commitment YOU wanted to make compared to making a commitment someone told you to make. Encourage your kids to make commitments they want to make for themselves even if they aren’t the commitments you want them to make.

The second condition important in helping commitments made to be kept is making sure they are personal. YOU need to write your commitments in your own words and say it the way you want to say it. This means that giving all kids the same drug-free pledge or commitments, written by someone else, don’t work. This “one size fits all” mentality assumes that one set of commitments works for all. Research shows this isn’t the case. Instead, let each of your students write their own personal commitments.

The last and third condition important for you to keep your commitments is ensuring they are public. Once YOU make a commitment it’s important to share it with others who can support, remind and help you. Otherwise, it’s like the New Year’s resolutions we make to ourselves. It’s easy to not keep them if no one else knows we made them. This is why you need to make sure that when your kids make commitments they share them with others who are important to them and who can help and support them in keeping them.

Do these three conditions make sense to you in how they can help you keep a commitment you make? Can you think of a time in your life when you made a commitment and followed through with it because one or more of these conditions were met? I know I can.

The saying that “commitments are made to be broken” just isn’t true. Commitments are made to help us do what we want or need to do. It’s true that commitments can be challenged and can be broken. But, when this happens, it’s not the end of the world. Sometimes this is when we learn some of life’s most important lessons and can re-commit with even more intention and determination.

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So, don’t be afraid to ask your kids to make commitments for themselves when it comes to not engaging in risky behaviors in the future. It’s one of the best things you can do to help them do what THEY want to do.

What Everyone is Really Doing

“Everybody’s doing it. I’m the only one who isn’t!” I’m sure you have heard your students or maybe your own kids say this to you more than once. They think they are the only one who isn’t wearing the latest fashions, staying out late, having a cell phone, accessing social media or going to a party.

The question is, “Are your kids right? Is everyone their age really doing these things?”

It is somewhat true.

When it comes to drinking, smoking and other risky behaviors there are more kids who begin to experiment with alcohol, tobacco and other risky behaviors in the middle and high school years. If we look for kids who are participating in these behaviors we will always find them. So will your students.

For example, what would catch your students’ attention most – four kids their age vaping or thirty kids who aren’t? What would grab your attention – those who are or those who aren’t?

Your students will very likely pay more attention to the kids who are vaping than those who aren’t and will generalize, from just a few, that lots of kids their age vape. Perhaps you would do the same.

Research has shown that our perceptions drive our behaviors. What we perceive as being normal or common behavior influences what we do. When you couple this along with your students’ increasing need to fit in and be accepted by their peers, the pressure to do what they think everyone else is doing also increases. So, if your students perceive “everyone” or a lot of kids their age are vaping, smoking, drinking or doing other risky things the more likely they will do the same.

One of the most effective research strategies you can use with middle and high school students to influence their attitudes and behaviors is called, “normative beliefs.” Normative beliefs is about two perceptions your students have: 1) The perception of prevalence or how many peers their age they think engage in risky behaviors and 2) The perception of acceptability or how acceptable it is by their peers to engage in risky behaviors.

Let’s focus on the first perception – their perception of prevalence.

The blue line on the graph below shows alcohol usage rates nationally among students in grades 6-12. As you can see, usage does increase over the years. More and more kids are using alcohol.

The red line in the graph shows what students’ perceptions are of alcohol use. As you can see, as kids grow older and move through middle school and into high school they begin to perceive more kids their age are drinking alcohol than what really are.

Why is this a problem?

Remember, perceptions drive behaviors. So, the sooner your students perceive more of their peers are drinking alcohol than what really are the sooner they are likely going to drink alcohol, too.

The research challenges you to correct your students’ “normative beliefs” if you want to prevent them from using. You need your students to see and perceive that a majority of kids their age DO NOT drink alcohol, vape, smoke or use other drugs.

Here’s one way you could begin correcting your students’ normative beliefs…

The 2019 Monitoring the Future national survey asked 8th, 10th and 12th graders if they consumed alcohol in the last 30 days. This chart shows the percentage of students who said, “yes”, to the question or who reported using alcohol in the last 30 days.

But, here are the results from the same survey question asked, but instead looking at the percentage of students who said, “no”, to the question. Or, in other words, DID NOT use alcohol in the last 30 days.

What would it look like if we compared the percentage of students who said, “yes”, to the question of drinking alcohol in the last 30 days to those who said, “no”, as I do below? When you look at it this way, what are a majority of middle and high school students doing when it comes to drinking alcohol regularly?

Is “everyone” drinking alcohol or not drinking alcohol?

You are right. Through middle and high school a majority or almost “everybody” is NOT drinking alcohol. This is the perception we need your students to have because it is the reality and the truth.

Kids who perceive a majority of their peers DO NOT engage in risky behaviors are more likely NOT to engage in the behaviors themselves.

Remember, our perceptions drive our behaviors.

Take a look at the results of any survey done locally or in your state of adolescent use of substances. Don’t look at just the statistic of those who reported using. Look also at the statistic that lies within the same survey of those who reported not using. For every number of students reporting they used there is another number of students who reported not using.

The good news is that the number of those who are NOT will almost always be greater than those who are! Your job is to help your students see, believe and perceive this!

So, I have to ask…Is this what you would perceive or believe about kids in your community? Do you believe most of your students are or aren’t engaging in risky behaviors? If your perception is that most are or will, then maybe your perception needs to be corrected, along with your students.

YOU need to believe that a majority of your students are NOT drinking, smoking, vaping and doing other risky things or will in their future if you are going to be effective at helping your students believe it, too.

So, the next time a student says, “Everyone else is!”, don’t believe or agree with them so quickly. Look around. Ask questions. Talk to other students. Chances are the student is already doing what “everyone” else is doing – the right thing. Don’t expect anything different or less.

P.S. A prevention approach using the “normative beliefs” strategy has proven to not only be effective with middle and high school students, but even more effective with college-aged students. Many studies have shown that changing college students’ perceptions of drinking norms can lower the proportion of students who engage in binge drinking.

A Story of How a BIG Dream Influenced a Young Man’s Behaviors and Future

I first met Craig Shelburne when he was a high school student and I was organizing alcohol and drug-free youth groups in schools around the state of Nebraska. Craig was active in his local drug-free group. His desire to achieve a big dream in his future gave him the strength, tenacity and focus to do what he needed to do to make it happen and stay away from the people and things that would get in the way of it, including alcohol and other drugs. His story is a real life example of how “idealism” can give a young person their own personal reasons to not use alcohol and other drugs when they want something so much in their future. Craig is now a grown adult living in Nashville, TN. I recently interviewed Craig about his journey to achieving his dream job and his decision to not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs along the way.

Kathleen: You made the decision to not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs when you were in high school. When you look back at that time, what do you think were the driving reasons for you to not engage in these behaviors?

For me, I knew it would get me in trouble at home and I knew that it wouldn’t really work as a way to get popular. As a non-athletic teacher’s kid who was interested in listening to music and reading books, I spent a lot of time solo in a very small town in Nebraska. Looking back I see a low-maintenance teenager who was just biding his time until college. Also, I never liked the smell of smoke and I wouldn’t have known how to find (or even use) drugs. As far as drinking alcohol, if I’d been taking part in that scene, I knew that word would get around because there are no secrets in a small town.

Kathleen: Even though the college years are a high-risk for using alcohol and other drugs, I know you also continued to not use. What was influencing your behaviors during this time of your life?

That’s true, I stayed sober all through college. That first year, I went to a college in Lincoln, Nebraska, and my roommate wasn’t a drinker either. That made a difference because I didn’t feel the need to party or cut loose just for the sake of doing it. My main extracurricular activity that year was writing for the college newspaper. I had taken some journalism classes and realized that I could see myself as a writer. So the next year I moved to Nashville to study journalism at Belmont University. I figured if I was going to be a journalist, I might as well write about something I loved, which was country music. So, what better place to go?

Also, sometimes it sounds like a punchline when I say it, but I didn’t want to drink while I was studying in Nashville because I didn’t want to get kicked out and have to go back to Nebraska.

Kathleen: Did you have to take any risks to pursue your vision of the future?

I didn’t see it as a risk at the time, but I came to Nashville in 1994 without knowing anybody and enrolling in a college that my family really couldn’t afford. If it didn’t work out, I’d have to acknowledge that it was all a costly mistake. I had to pretty much focus on studying and working to stay afloat. As far as socializing, I would go to free, all-ages concerts around town or go to movies. But what I remember most about college is the constant work – some formative, music industry-related internships that were invaluable to me, and then picking up kids after school for a family I was working for, sometimes helping them with homework, but mostly taking them to soccer games.

I don’t have any wild and crazy “Can you believe we did that?!” moments from college. But without a doubt, going to Belmont was the best decision I’ve ever made. Even though I was scraping by, I was living a dream of just being in Nashville. I still feel this way sometimes.

Kathleen: Were there people in your life who were your cheerleaders and supporters or who thought your future vision was impossible or “too big” for you to achieve? What impact, if any, did these people have on you and your vision?

The first time someone outwardly supported me beyond the general “Good luck!” was my college professor, Thom Storey. When I made my first campus visit to Belmont, he showed me around. I told him that I wanted to write for music magazines and he said something like, “OK, we can help you with that.” He didn’t emphasize to me that there are a lot of people who were trying to do that, or who are better writers, or who have connections that I didn’t have, etc. He was a working journalist, in addition to being a professor, so maybe there was a deeper understanding of that calling that comes with journalism. (This was before the ominous term “media.”) It felt like a noble profession, and to be honest, it often does today.

I never did get the “Go for it!” pep talk from anyone in my family, although my mom did buy me a plane ticket for that first visit. For my parents I think it was more like, “We’ll see what happens.” But I knew I could do it. I think it was such a shock to my family and friends in Nebraska that I wanted to give this a real shot. In Nebraska, you are taught from birth that it’s the best place to live and raise a family. Or, at least, that was my experience. Then at some point I thought, “You know, people raise families everywhere and they seem to be doing just fine, so….” Off I went, and arrived in Nashville on August 20, 1994.

Kathleen: Sometimes pursuing our dreams and visions for the future isn’t always easy. At times, we can do everything we need to do to get it and still not achieve it. Did you face any challenges or roadblocks as you pursued your vision?

The hardest part of the career path came during those first five years after graduating from Belmont. Right away I landed a job at what I considered the best country music magazine at the time. When that closed, I tried to make a living in Austin (because I liked going out to hear music once I was old enough to get into venues), but that didn’t work at all. I came back to Nashville totally broke and I remember buying a newspaper with my last 50 cents. One of my friends let me stay at her apartment while I sorted things out.

Around this time, the internet was still catching on and all kinds of music websites were popping up. I was willing to take free tickets (for concert reviews), always had an opinion (handy for album reviews), and never got nervous about interviewing people (even Waylon Jennings, which I will never forget). Outlets were paying reasonable wages to writers and there were quite a few outlets — with funny names like CDNow.com — so I got published a lot back then. And I made sure people knew I was available.

I held up my end of the bargain, too. If the outlet needed a story first thing in the morning, I’d stay up. If they needed me in the office (like my writing gig at the Tennessean), I’d show up twice a week and write on their antiquated machinery. For a year, I was writing for a site called CitySearch, covering music and nightlife, but even then I don’t recall being a big drinker. I was still striving for the big goal. That finally happened when I landed a writing job full-time at CMT (Country Music Television) in 2002 which made my mother cry in relief.

Kathleen: Catch us up! What are you doing today? Are you living out your dream?

It’s been 25 years now and that dream worked out. With the ever-changing media world, I’m adjusting to the “work from home” life, but fortunately the work is there. (Not always the case in this career field.) These days I am the managing editor of The Bluegrass Situation, which covers roots music better than any other site in my opinion, and then contributing two stories a day for CMT.com, plus assorted other projects for the Academy of Country Music and more. I spent a few years writing a biography about the legendary country star, Don Gibson, so that’s on the horizon to be published too.

Over the years, Craig has interviewed hundreds of country music stars as a journalist in Nashville, TN!

Kathleen: The big question is…did you ever drink alcohol?

I never did until the night before I graduated from college. Then, I had a beer on the front step with one of my college friends.

Kathleen: What advice would you give parents, teachers or other adults today when it comes to building “idealism” with kids – giving them a vision of their futures and helping them see that risky behaviors can get in the way of it?

I’ve trained myself to be a long-term thinker. When faced with a difficult decision, I might think, “How will this impact me five years from now?” Or, “Is this going to put me on the course to where I want to be?” It took me many years to understand the old saying, “A stitch in time saves nine.” But now I remind myself of it nearly every week. If you can prevent or stop a situation before it gets unruly, it’s a whole lot easier to fix it.

As for advice, maybe parents and teachers can think of these conversations from the role of an interviewer or journalist, asking “Why is that?” or saying things like, “Tell me more about that.” Or that skillful pause where the interview subject will feel the need to keep talking. I think it’s a fair question to ask, “What are some of the things that can get in the way of achieving your dream?” Your kids might even surprise you with the answer. It’s remarkable how much we can learn when we listen to each other and how much we can achieve when someone believes in us.

Thank you, Craig, for sharing your story of “idealism.”


P.S. I would love to hear your personal story about a time when you may have chosen to not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs because you wanted to achieve something much more important to you in your future! Share it in the Comments section below or send me an email at kathleen@knslearningsolutions.com!

The Importance of Giving Your Kids 20/20 Vision of Their Future

Have you ever had the opportunity in your past to do something that you knew, at the time, was illegal, unsafe or would break some rule and you didn’t do it because you knew that if you did you would risk losing something that was more important to you than what you had the opportunity to do?

Can you think of a time when this was true for you?

If so, then you had “Idealism!”

Idealism is having a vision for yourself and your future and believing that risky behaviors will get in the way of what you want in your future.

Research has found that kids who have idealism are more likely to NOT participate in risky behaviors. Idealism is one of the five most effective prevention strategies you can use to influence the attitudes of middle and high school students if you don’t want them to drink alcohol, use tobacco or illicit drugs, fight or engage in early sexual activity.

The important question to ask yourself is…Do ALL of my students have idealism?

If you were to ask your middle school students what they would like to be, do, have or achieve in their future, would ALL of them have ideas to share with you?

There’s no doubt that some of your students will have ideas for their future. But, unfortunately, others won’t. Not every student in middle or even high school have an idea of what they want in their future. For these students, their answer to your question might be…

“I don’t know!”

In contrast, if you were to ask your elementary-age students what they want to be or do when they grow up almost all of them will have quick and definite answers. They have hope and optimism for their future.

What happens with students between the elementary and middle school years?

During the middle school years a sense of hopelessness, apathy and discouragement can set in with some students. The 20/20 vision they once had of their future is now blurry or completely gone. Research shows that students who have lost sight of what they want in their future are more likely to participate in risky behaviors. From their perspective, there’s nothing on the line for them to lose – no matter what they do.

So, if I’m one of your students today who says, “I don’t know what I want in my future!”, and I have the opportunity to drink alcohol tonight, I’m more likely going to do it because there isn’t anything important enough to me to risk losing tomorrow.

This is why research has found that kids who have “idealism” – who have something they want in their future so much and that is so important to them are more likely to NOT do anything to risk losing it – including risky behaviors!

Are there any of your students that come to mind as having idealism? Can you think of a student who you know had the opportunity to engage in risky behaviors, but didn’t, because there was something more important that they wanted in their future and they didn’t want to risk losing it?

If so, this student has idealism!

I love idealism for so many reasons. Most of all, I love how it challenges the attitudes towards risky behaviors that begin to erode in the middle school years.

One of those attitudes is, “Nothing bad will ever happen to me.” Middle school student believe bad things will only happen to others who drink, smoke or use other drugs. Idealism challenges this sense of invincibility. You can talk and talk and talk to kids about the consequences of using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, but the consequences that really matter to kids are personal consequences – the things that are most important to them. Idealism helps kids see what the personal consequences could be to them if they do engage in risky behaviors.

Idealism also takes on attitudes of hopelessness. Students who say, “I don’t know what I want in my future” or “I can’t see anything in my future” can feel a lack of hope for the future. Idealism takes on this “I don’t care” attitude by giving students the opportunity to dream about and imagine their future in ways they may never have before. Idealism gives kids a glimmer of hope for the future when they most need it.

Idealism also challenges the developmental characteristics of middle school students that can be roadblocks in our prevention work. Middle school students are more likely to think and act “in the moment”. Thinking and planning ahead isn’t something they can or will naturally do on their own. Idealism pushes kids into future thinking and planning and understanding the “cause and effect” of their actions.

I had the pleasure of being a guest on this week’s Win This Year podcast, hosted by NotMyKid, where we talked about the importance of kids having a clear vision of their future. The episode is full of tips and ideas on how you can build idealism with kids – whether they be your own or those you work with. Take some time in the next couple of days to listen to it. Download it for your own future reference or to share with others. (By the way, it’s a great resource to share with parents!)

You and I can’t take away the opportunities your students will have to engage in risky behaviors. But, what we can give them, is their own personal reasons to walk away from the opportunities. Just like you possibly have done in your past. Your job and my job is to help them figure out what those reasons are and it starts by having a 20/20 vision of the future.

Go forth and imagine, dream and vision with your kids!

P.S. Interested in training for yourself or your staff on activities that build idealism with middle or high school students? I’ve got tons of proven ideas to share with you! Give me a call or shoot me an email. We can do this TOGETHER!

How To Get Back 66 Million Hours of Instruction Time

I know I said I would share with you in this week’s blog the most effective prevention strategies you can use to work on the attitudes your middle school students have about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. However, I’m not. But, I promise I will – next week.


I want you to think about something else that is impacting approximately 2.8 million students or about 6 percent of our U.S. public school student population. It’s something that is impacting students in every school and community – even yours.

What is it?

Out-of-school suspensions.

Did you know that in the 2015-2016 school year alone, students lost more than 11 million school days to out-of-school suspensions?

You read that correctly. Broken down further, that amounts to:

  • 66 million hours of instruction time lost in one school year
  • 63,000+ school years’ worth of learning

Out-of-school suspensions leave kids at home unsupervised and able to cause more problems. They also do nothing to teach appropriate alternative behavior nor address underlying issues that may be causing the bad behavior.

Students suspended from school lose important instructional time, are less likely to graduate on time, are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school and become involved in the juvenile justice system.

No matter if you work with students in school or out of school, the long-term impact out-of-school suspensions can have on your kids’ futures, their families and your community is concerning.

Finding a more successful solution to dealing with problem student behavior than out-of-school suspension is something I have found many schools struggle with. Administrators, classroom teachers and even parents know another alternative is important and needed.

But, what?

That’s the big question. And for years, when I was asked for my opinion, I didn’t know what the answer was either.


I met Bill Michener of The Lighthouse in Lincoln, Nebraska.

The Lighthouse

In all of my 34 years of working with schools and community-based youth organizations around the country, I have NEVER heard about an alternative suspension program like the one at The Lighthouse.

This program has all the components needed to make it one of the most successful alternatives to suspension:

A collaborative relationship between the school district and a well-established and respected community-based youth program

  • The cooperation of school administrators and classroom teachers district-wide
  • Parent/Guardian involvement
  • Adequate and shared funding
  • Skilled and dedicated staff
  • Outcome evaluation measures

The alternative suspension program at The Lighthouse is so unique and the results it has seen in just three years has caught the attention of other school districts, community-based youth organizations and me!

There is no way I could do justice describing the program in a blog to you. The best and only way to capture what this innovative, proven alternative suspension program is doing is to have Bill Michener, the Executive Director of The Lighthouse, tell you himself.

I recently sat down with Bill to have a recorded conversation about how the idea of this alternative suspension program came to be, how the partnership between The Lighthouse and the Lincoln Public School district was formed, what the program challenges and successes have been, how the program has grown to what it is today and how you can replicate the program in your school or community.

After the conversation I was convinced even more that this program is unlike anything else I’ve ever seen or heard of and I’m pretty sure it will be for you, too!

And, that is why I’m sharing my conversation with Bill with you this week!

If you’re concerned about the number of single and/or repeat out-of-school suspensions in your school and the number of students falling behind academically or dropping out because of it, you definitely want to hear how The Lighthouse – a community-based youth program – was able to turn those same concerns into solutions and give students the opportunity to achieve success in their future!

So, grab a cup of coffee, sit back and relax and listen to my conversation with Bill and hear how you can reduce out-of-school suspensions with your students!​

How an Attitude Adjustment Saved My Life

In the later stages of pregnancy with my son I developed preeclampsia. My blood pressure got dangerously high and an emergency c-section was performed for fear his life was in danger, as well as mine. He was born a very healthy baby boy while I, on the other hand, was not in a good state. I was immediately put on high blood pressure medication and placed in intensive care. Consequently, I couldn’t have my new baby son in the room with me. I couldn’t have any visitors or phone calls. The room needed to stay dark and quiet at all times. The slightest stimulation would elevate my blood pressure.

Time would tell if my blood pressure would naturally go down as my body returned to its non-pregnant state or if the pregnancy had pushed my body over the threshold for a lifetime of high blood pressure. Nonetheless, I was told I had to take high blood pressure medication every day until further advised.

I realize the medication was to save my life, but I was not happy about taking it. If you know anything about me, you would know that I don’t even like taking Tylenol for a headache. So, the idea of taking a prescription pill indefinitely upset me. I complained about it to my husband. I complained about it to my doctor. I complained about it often.

At the same time, whenever I would come across an article or brochure about how to manage blood pressure I would read it. I was the most knowledgeable person when it came to preventing high blood pressure. The advice was always consistent. Exercise regularly. Manage my weight. Limit my sodium intake. Reduce my stress. Get adequate sleep.

Really? How is a first-time mother with a newborn baby suppose to find time to exercise, sleep, cook healthy and not have stress? Impossible!

Fast forward two years later… my son is now a toddler and I am still taking blood pressure medication every day and still complaining about it to my doctor and husband. Both would say to me, “You know what you can do to manage your blood pressure besides medication. Just do it.”

It’s not what I wanted to hear. Sometimes the truth hurts. But, they were right. I knew everything I needed to know and do to manage my blood pressure. I just wasn’t doing it.


One summer day I decided to take my two-year-old son to the swimming pool. I put my swimsuit on and looked at myself in the mirror. I had done this before, but something was different this time. When I looked at myself in the mirror on that day I saw how unhealthy I was.

During my pregnancy I had gained a lot of extra weight and two years later I was still carrying much of it. The mirror didn’t lie that day. I was overweight and unfit. In that moment, something changed. The change was with me. The change was in me.

What changed that day in front of the mirror?


I had an attitude adjustment!

That day was the beginning of new habits for me. I started an exercise regimen, ate healthier, practiced yoga and got as much sleep as possible with a 2-year-old. Over time, my weight went down and so did my blood pressure.

The day finally came when my doctor told me I could go off of blood pressure medicine! But, he reminded me that I needed to keep doing what I was doing if I wanted to stay off of it.

This was 28 years ago. Since then I have been on and off of blood pressure medication. My habits of exercise and diet have gotten off track at times and when they do, my weight goes up and so does my blood pressure. My habits get off track when my attitude and motivation gets off track. There is a direct link between these two.

My story is a reminder that to get any desired behavior you need three things – the knowledge to know what to do, the skills to know how to do it and the attitude and motivation to want to do it!

You can teach your students all the alcohol, tobacco and drug information they need, but knowledge alone will not keep them from using alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. So, if you are using an information only approach in your prevention work with kids you may be disappointed in what you get as an outcome.

You can also teach your students the skills they need to not use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, but they alone, or even when coupled with good information, won’t do the trick. For example, I have always had good skills, such as decision making, goal setting and resistance skills. The problem was how I used the skills. When it came to my decision making skills I made the decision to eat the potato chips, rather than to not eat the chips. As for my resistance skills to say “no”, I wanted to say “yes” to eating the potato chips! The bottom line is…Skills are utilized best when they are aligned with the right attitude.

Your kids’ attitudes can override all the information they know and the skills they have. They might know all they need to know. They can have all the skills to do what they need to do. But, if their attitude doesn’t support the behavior they are needing to change or adopt, nothing else matters.

Your kids’ attitudes about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs begin to erode as they move out of elementary and into and through middle school. They begin to question the information. They think they know more than you. They know everything. They begin to think they are invincible and can do whatever they want and nothing bad will happen to them.

In fact, the research says that one of the biggest changes with kids in middle school is their attitudes. What do your middle school students need more than knowledge and skills? They need an attitude adjustment!

The most effective prevention approach you can use with your middle school students is one that targets their attitudes about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. In the coming weeks I will share some of the most effective strategies you can use to work on the attitudes of your middle school students.

In the meantime, is there a behavior you have been wanting to change or adopt, but your attitude and motivation is getting in the way of making it happen? Then, you, too, might need an attitude adjustment!

With my son 29 years later!