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Rothstein: Keep the books on the shelf upright by listening, learning, leading | COMMENTARY

Recently, I spoke with high school students about life’s curveballs and working through them. I’d like to share those thoughts with a wider young adult audience.

Life throws us curveballs; however, life is not just full of curveballs; if it were, that would be easy, as we’d anticipate and learn to hit the ball out of the park every time. However, there are fastballs, sliders, knuckleballs, an occasional spitball, and even a changeup. How do you prepare for all these different types of pitches? I’d like to share some personal reflections.

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It may be difficult for children to think beyond school. With limited life experiences, most challenges students face feel like life or death situations. Parents and teachers hovering, homework and scholarship applications stressing them out daily, peer pressure combined with a lack of sleep make challenges seem worse and solutions hard to find.

Think about a student’s volatile environment today: COVID-19 virus affecting all things school, friends and family, losing all sense of consistency and normalcy. All the while pondering life after high school: including important choices such as college, trade school, workforce, money, social networks, sports, family obligations, drugs, alcohol and sex.

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In high school, instead of the pandemic, we had the Cold War; others had 9/11 and the global war on terrorism. Bottom line — we’ve all lived through volatile environments, but sometimes it’s hard to empathize with our kids and we fail to recognize that the impacts of today’s curveballs are very similar to ours.

I like to compare life to books on a bookshelf with bookends. On the left you start with the books upright by making good/healthy decisions. That’s called wellness (examples: sleep, diet, homework, social activities, being active in class, questionings, asking for help when you need it, not procrastinating, etc.), with many life choices made every day.

Some books are going to slip, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t doing well. For example, my daughter riding in a horse show has 100 things being judged, but the fact is, if she does 70 of them, she gets the blue ribbon. Parents should not expect perfection. I share that with my kids, it is OK to fail; you’re not a failure. Trust me when I say, I have failed plenty in my life.

Sometimes life itself gets in the way — the proverbial curveball and the books on the bookshelf start falling ... sometimes falling on our own and sometimes from outside forces. Regardless, the questions are the same. How are we proactive beforehand, how are we active during, and how do we react to re-straighten the books? The latter is called resiliency.

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Whether it’s a crazy pitch down the plate or books falling on the bookshelf, how can parents help themselves and their children?

Three important action words: listen, learn and lead. By Listening to you, Learning from you, and then Leading together with you, we find solutions focused on the problems.

I am so proud of both my children, but it sure was a journey getting to where we are today. For instance, my youngest child is now a 21-year-old, 6-foot-4, 265-pound (little!) man playing football, wrestling, and throwing on the track team at college. Middle school years were tough for sure. I was deployed during many of these years but when I was home, I was not really listening to Sam, especially when there were behavioral, mental, and emotional issues. Some of his books falling: disorganization, feeling overwhelmed, not eating well and staying healthy, homesickness –missing me, not resolving relationship issues, poor grades/not studying or reading enough, poor sleep habits, and others.

Fortunately, I married ten levels up and my wife noticed changes in him. So, we worked together and practiced a lot of active listening and engagement. After listening to his challenges, truly understanding them without judgment, we sought the right support and helped him navigate through those difficult times.

We then led together by establishing obtainable goals and objectives. Bottom line, it took all of us communicating and working together to straighten those books.

To close this out, listen, learn and lead are important. Parents, teachers and children all need to listen, learn and lead together. Also, perfection often is the enemy of good enough. It is difficult and exhausting to try and obtain perfection, especially when reality throws a lot of curveballs — we should really be ecstatic with an 80% solution.

Ed Rothstein (COL, Ret.) is a Carroll County commissioner representing District 5. Reach him at erothstein@carrollcountymd.gov.

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