Tag Archives: teens

Building (and Affording)

January 16, 2015 by and

Many of the financial aspects of parenting can be scary. Diapers, day care, tuition, sports, clubs, lessons, field trips… the list of expenses involved in raising a child from crib to college can be daunting. Recent estimates have middle-income parents spending $245,000 from birth to graduation on babies born last year. And that’s before college expenses begin.

Since my oldest is a son, I’ve heard years of horror stories about how one day adding him to our auto insurance policy will cause our rates to skyrocket. “Whatever you once spent on daycare, will now go to pay car insurance,” I was once told. The factors that insurance companies consider: age, gender, marital and/or student status—all work against new 16-year-old male drivers.

Well, frankly? It’s all true. But be assured, there are many, many things that you, as the parent of a pre-teen driver, can be doing right now to significantly reduce the sticker shock the day your oldest gets his license. I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan for this. Otherwise, you will be like the families who walk out of their insurance agent’s office absolutely stunned with an annual auto insurance bill that just vaulted well over $2,000. That’s not a one-time payment, friends. That’s every single year until their son turns 25 or otherwise leaves their policy.

Here are a few things that you can do that will not only help you reduce your insurance costs, but also, hopefully, hand the keys to the safest, most responsible driver you can.

  1. Contact your car insurance agent when your oldest is approaching time to get a driving permit (usually at age 15 in Nebraska). Find out what kind of discounts your insurer offers for safe teen drivers. Most major insurers have a number of incentives to give new drivers a great start.
  2. Monitor your child’s grades. Boys with good grades can have their rates cut as much as 25%, simply for showing that their last report card was solid, generally a B-average. The reduction isn’t as high for girls.
  3. Look into teen driving courses. The National Safety Council of Nebraska offers an excellent training program with requirements both in the classroom and behind the wheel. Classes are offered all over Omaha, all during the year. There is a one-time fee. You can learn more at www.safenebraska.org. Earning that certificate can slice another 20 percent off your child’s insurance.
  4. Meet your insurer’s teen driver requirements. Most major insurers have their own teen driver programs, and once completed, those can shave yet another 15 percent off your rates. In our case, the program reinforced what our son was learning in his driving training, plus instilled defensive 
  5. awareness skills I don’t think he would have picked up as quickly elsewhere.
  6. Consider combining policies. Insurers give credit to those customers who have multiple lines of insurance with them. Not just multiple vehicles, but other lines as well, like home insurance. If the current drivers in the home have good driving histories, that will also bode well for new drivers coming onto the policy.
  7. Choose your child’s vehicle carefully. There’s a huge, huge difference between insuring a new sports car with your teenager as the principle driver and insuring an older, less flashy vehicle for him to drive. Check with your agent before you buy something new. I promise you will be glad you did. We did, and it changed our buying decision.

By doing all of these things, we were able to reduce our insurance costs significantly. Rather than paying thousands extra each year, we pay about $100 more per month to insure our son as a driver. As I’ve stressed to him, it really is up to him now to maintain that “safe driver” status. While he might not appreciate it much now, he will when he is one day making those payments.

Finally, something else to consider. I insisted on a pre-license conversation between my son and our wise insurance agent. It cost nothing but time, but might have had more impact than anything else we did. Jim talked to my son, in a very positive way, about his responsibility as a driver, not only for his own safety, but for everyone else on the road. The great take-away from that meeting was this: “Son, this is the first time in your life that the State of Nebraska can come after you. If you are careless, reckless, or irresponsible, mom and dad will not be able to swoop in and fix it. It will be you, on your own, talking to the police or sheriff. Make sure you understand that.”

That was many months ago, and so far so good. I hope some of these suggestions will help you find great success in creating a safe and affordable teen driver. Let’s keep looking out for each other.

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Young Heroes

July 23, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s good exercise. You get to help people. You get to wear cool boots. And maybe best of all: You get to hang out with horses all day.

But there’s one other advantage to volunteering at the Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy: Even teen volunteers are critical to the operation.

“At some volunteer jobs we didn’t always feel useful or needed,” says Sarah Kopsa, 18, the eldest of three teens in the Kopsa family who volunteer at HETRA. However, she says, when the three arrive at the stables, there’s always something for them to do. “We know that if we are on the schedule we better show up because they really will have a problem providing the therapy without us,” Sarah adds.

And so it is, every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. that the Kopsas participate in a variety of activities including mucking stalls, sweeping, grooming, setting up the ring for students, laying out toys, and more. “During the lesson I’m really busy resetting the rings and toys for the next student. It’s good for me to wear boots because it gets dusty in there,” Maria shares.

HETRA’s mission is to improve the quality of life—both physically and emotionally —for adults and children with disabilities using equine-assisted activities. Those with special needs go the HETRA facilities in either Valley or Omaha each week for lessons to help them improve their core strength and balance.

Arriving just after school on Wednesdays, the Kopsa children immediately set out to groom and care for the horses. As kids begin arriving for their sessions, the Kopsas are there to not only welcome them, but also to help get everyone ready to ride, working with anywhere from three to five children each session. “The horses are mild-mannered, but we still have to be at their side at all times, holding the reins and spotting the rider” Sarah says. “The activities, like throwing balls through a hoop or reaching out to take a stuffed toy off a post, may seem simple to us, but to our riders it is challenging.”

While volunteering at the facility may not be forever, it has done plenty to inspire plans for the future among all three Kopsa children. Sarah, who has worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant in an assisted living facility, plans on studying nursing and credits her experiences at HETRA and in assisted living for showing her how to support and interact with others. Maria is considering teaching as a career path “so I’ll be able to better help kids with special needs.”

And James? He hopes to go into accounting and eventually, law. “HETRA is strengthening my desire to serve others in need,” he says. “I think I will always be more sensitive people who are disabled, to the parents of disabled kids and to organizations like HETRA. I don’t know how accounting and law will play into that, but it seems like there could be a good fit someday.”

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The Big Shifts

August 16, 2013 by

Moving up a grade is one thing. Moving up to the next tier is entirely another.

The next tier, of course, is the shift between elementary school and middle school. Then, the jump from middle school to high school. Whole new worlds, whole new levels of responsibility for your child.

And the challenge for you, as the parent, is to keep up and know how to help your child navigate.

It’s bittersweet when that youngest child finishes their last year in elementary school. After all, it’s a small pond that your life has been built around for at least the last six years, perhaps longer. You know the teachers, where the classrooms are, which parents are the hardcore volunteers. You can plan ahead on how many bags of candy you’ll need to donate for Halloween. And what kinds of cupcakes pass the “no-peanuts” test.

Things change in middle school.

Generally, most Omaha-area kids make the shift after fifth grade. Some districts wait until sixth, but the changes are similar. The biggest one? Your student will have more than one or two teachers. They’ll have different teachers for every subject, plus the responsibility to move between classes quickly and efficiently.

They’ll probably have a locker for the first time—with a combination they’ll need to memorize. They’ll have to plan ahead for which books they’ll need for which class—because in some districts, children are no longer allowed to carry their backpacks during the day due to safety concerns. They’ll need to use their assignment books faithfully to keep track of what is due and when. They’ll have semester projects and far more opportunities for extracurricular activities. They’ll have their first school dance.

And getting involved as a parent isn’t quite the same. Middle-school teachers don’t rely on parent volunteers quite like elementary-school teachers do. Honestly, your 12-year-old probably doesn’t want you hanging around all the time anyway. Try not to take it personally. You’ll need to seek out those volunteer opportunities, but they are there. Most schools have some kind of parent-advisory team, and there are regular shout-outs during the school year for parents to help take tickets or chaperone events.

You’ll have to work a little harder to get to know your child’s teachers. After all, middle-school teachers have six or seven classes of students, not just one or two. But it really does matter that you show up for parent-teacher conferences and any other chance to support your student and get to know who is guiding your child’s education and social development. Teachers notice. And they may not admit it, but your child does, too. Middle school is hard. (Who would want to go back?) It’s when kids can start being really mean to each other—cliques form, bullying begins. It’s more important than ever for you to be supportive and accessible to your child.

Brace yourself. If middle school is a big change, high school is the Wild, Wild West.

But truthfully, by the time you reach high school, you are also parenting a teenager. While it might seem scary and a bit overwhelming when your children are small, when you actually get there, it falls into a natural progression. What the kids learn in middle school about time management, planning efficiency, and personal responsibility all come to bear when you start working out a high-school schedule.

In middle school, your kids will have a few electives they pick from. High school offers a whole smörgåsbord of options. In the Omaha area especially, students have a huge variety of choices on how to pursue their high-school education. Most kids will follow their middle-school friends to their district high school, but your family is not limited to that option. For example, Millard students who are interested in becoming teachers or accountants can apply for one of the special “academies” offering a career preparatory trajectory. Hundreds of teenagers attend parochial or private schools. A number of high schools offer the prestigious International Baccalaureate program. It really depends on your child and where his or her interests lie.

Once you’ve decided where your child is going to pursue his diploma, it continues to be important to keep open lines of communication with your student and his teachers. Make conferences a priority, keep an eye on your student’s workload and grades, and stay in touch with teachers and coaches as needed. Most schools list all staff contact information on their websites, and many teachers will tell you that’s the easiest way to reach them. Between games, concerts, and meetings, your student will likely have a lot going on, and it will be a challenge to keep up, but it is also exciting. You will start seeing glimpses of the adult that your child will one day become.

The hardest part for a parent? That stretch between the first day of kindergarten and the first day of high school feels like a blink of an eye. Relish every second. You can’t say “I’m proud of you, and I love you” too many times. And you can’t take too many pictures.

Youth Priorities

June 20, 2013 by

Back in my day, all the cool kids wore alligators on their shirts.

It was an essential indicator of class status. You simply had to have the little Izod Lacoste symbol. No other animal would do. Every kid knew they needed at least one “alligator shirt” to even be on the fringes of fashion acceptance. I remember kids saving their allowances just to have that one, precious shirt. And scoffing at anyone who wore a fake. Really.

The ’80s were all about wealth and status. What you had, what you owned, where you lived—it all defined pecking order in the Teendom. There was even a popular movie, Wall Street, where the main character’s key line was “Greed is good.”

It was so accepted back then, but I think many teens today would be horrified at how much emphasis society once placed on the accumulation of “stuff.” While there will always be some level of status related to wealth, today’s teens see things much differently than we once did.

For them, it’s all about experiences. Experiences they can talk about and share on their social networks.

Marketers know this. Archrival, based in Lincoln, is a leader in youth marketing. Their clients include Red Bull®, Zappos®, and Adidas®. When they build campaigns geared toward teens and young adults, they know that, to be successful, they need to create an opportunity for an experience—hopefully interactive, fun, and visual. And most importantly? Something the participant can share online.

This generation grew up with the entire world at their fingertips. In just a few clicks, they see what all of their friends are doing, but they also learn about the needs in their communities. They can download an app that lets them donate $5 to help hungry children in another part of the world. You will not find a more hard-working group of volunteers than a group of young adults passionate about a cause. Many are introduced to volunteer work through community service requirements, where they can develop a lifelong interest in philanthropy—in time, talent, and finances.

Many young people want to do things that make a difference, especially in helping others. They want to be part of the solution. They want to share pictures and talk about it on their social networks. And, quite frankly, it benefits their online identity, which is extremely important to this group—especially those aware that college recruiters and employers will be looking at their profiles.

It’s easy for parents to forget how committed their children can be. But it can change how we connect with our teens. My own teen expert, my 15-year-old son, agrees. “People want to have interesting stuff to share online,” he says. “That’s what they want to spend their money on, too.” Yeah, it’s nice to have the branded shirt, but it’s also okay to shop at the thrift store if it means more money to spend toward a great trip or even just a fun night out with friends.

Good parenting information to have tucked away if you are trying to “market” something to your teen. Sell them on the experience and the great photos they can share on their Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit accounts. And hey, maybe they’ll let you come along, too.

It’s All Fun and Games

“It was just a joke.” “We didn’t think it was going to go this far.” “It was only supposed to be between us.” As many say, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”

Spiking is the act of adding drugs or alcohol to someone’s food or drink without consent. Drugs such as alcohol, GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyric acid), Rohypnol, and Ketamine are the most common spiking drugs. The intent is to take advantage of another person, resulting in assault, kidnapping, robbery, or just sheer amusement. The victim typically has no clue that they are being sabotaged, and when they begin to feel the effects of the drug(s), it’s most likely too late to efficiently protect themselves. These effects include dizziness, lack of coordination, nausea, vomiting, and blackouts. The most devastating effects last for a lifetime, especially with the presence of social media, which can make any victim the center of literally thousands of viewers overnight.

Talking with our children about the risks of spiking (both from the viewpoints of the spiker and the victim) accomplishes two things. First, it gives us the opportunity to provide them with upfront wisdom and the chance to move beyond barriers of communication. Second, it provides us with the opportunity to equip our children with a skill to defend themselves or keep themselves from getting into trouble.

Think about it. There are so many things that we cannot control, but what if something of this magnitude happened, and your child was involved in it one way or the other? Nothing about the conversation makes a child or adult feel comfortable, but I would rather feel uncomfortable than choose not to discuss the topic at all. It means so much more if you are able to say, “We crossed that bridge when we, as parents, communicated our concern with this issue.” Equipping your child (and yourself) protects your home and the dignity that can so easily become crushed in a matter of moments.

Spending time with your children and their friends presents another opportunity to discuss spiking. Their friends can be essential in protecting them and may even act as an inhibitor to a problem on the horizon. As an Airman of the Nebraska National Guard, we use the term “wing buddy” (this is the person who has my back and holds me accountable for their back as well). By getting your children and their wing buddies together with you to communicate, you can double your defenses. Perhaps while having dinner, remind your children and their friends to never leave their food or drink unattended in group settings or to always have a trusted individual keep an eye on it if they leave.

Create the scenario and explain the process of being accountable while asking them their thoughts throughout the conversation. What they say in response can be key in connecting the missing pieces to the reality of this danger. As always, it’s a conversation worth having.

Jarell Roach is a motivational speaker with He That Has An Ear Presentations in Omaha.