Interact Challenges Stereotypes in Teen Talk

By: Interact

Hello, parents!

Welcome back to another year of academia.  We at InterAct Youth Services are excited to educate our students, your children!  This month, we will be focusing on challenging stereotypes.  Questioning normative standards is an essential aspect of critical thinking, and high school is the perfect time to hone one’s skills.  By looking at gender norms, self-love, and the value in other people’s differences, we will open a dialogue for your children to discuss our culture.  We will then further analyze individual biases and how they impact personal relationships, as well.

This choice of content is largely in part due to October being bullying prevention awareness month, stating the goal of “…encourage[ing] communities to work together to stop bullying and cyberbullying by increasing awareness of the prevalence and impact of bullying on all children of all ages.”  Bullying can occur due to a variety of factors: age, gender, gender orientation, sex, race, ethnicity, class, and religion.  Constant bullying can have a powerfully detrimental effect on a child’s cognitive and social development, self-worth, and self-confidence; can increase stress, and can lead to substance abuse.  It is essential that we converse about loving one’s self, valuing others, and being accepting of other’s differences.  Everybody deserves to be accepted for who they are, and our goal is to promote this belief to create a healthier, more joyous world.

Our first meeting will consist of discussing normative standards, particularly gender stereotypes, to decrease stigma and increase understanding of differences.  We hope to mitigate bullying and propagate a culture of valuing differences through acceptance.  Our second week will look at our individual biases and how they impact our relationships directly.  This is all with the goal of enhancing your children’s critical thinking and promoting a culture of acceptance.

Outside of our class time, we urge you to have these conversations with your children.  If you suspect your child is being bullied or is bullying, please reach out and try to help.  When you hear your child make a gender-normative, racist, sexist, classist, or other oppressive statements that trivializes another’s experience, please do not let it go unchecked.  Together, we can create a culture of acceptance.  Together, we can strive to better the world.  For, as they say, it takes a village.

If you have any questions about any of the topics presented above, please feel free to contact us at [email protected] or call at (919) 828-7501.

Enhancing Wellness: Nurturing Your Coping Self

By: Vanessa Soleil

A warm welcome back from the staff at the Community Counseling, Education, and Research Center (CCERC). As we resume counseling services after summer break and launch into another school year of partnership with the WELL, we’re continuing to explore wellness for all in our community. Our belief at CCERC is that counseling can support growth and positive development for anyone, in any stage of life, and help families and individuals to live a full and meaningful life. Central to this approach to our counseling is the model of the Indivisible Self.  Last spring, we shared information with readers about 4 of the 5 components of this wellness model. Those were the social self (family, friendship, and romantic love), the essential self (your spirituality, cultural identity, and self-care), the physical self (exercise and eating well), the creative self (your thoughts, your emotions, what you do for work/study, and your sense of humor). Our final installment in this series focuses on the coping self (what you do in your leisure time, your stress management, and your self-worth).  Reach out and connect with a counselor at CCERC if you would like support in using this model to make positive changes in your life.

Coping relates to our ability to move through difficult emotions and events and to adopt beliefs and behaviors that reduce our levels of stress. Knowing our inherent value as a person and having a strong sense of self-worth is one aspect of the coping self that can go a long way in fostering positive mental health. While self-esteem is based on our accomplishments, activities, and external standards of beauty or success, self-worth is instead based on who we are, not what we do or what we look like. We don’t have to buy into the competitive culture of comparing our relationships, careers, vacations, or attractiveness to anyone else’s. Instead, we can develop our self-worth by knowing our values, acting in integrity with them, and practicing self-compassion by speaking to ourselves in a kind way. Often, we are our own biggest critic, while we see the best in others and are willing to forgive our friends’ flaws and mistakes. Learning to encourage and assure ourselves the way we would a friend, can help to soften the inner critic.

How we spend our down time is another piece of the coping self. Being able to experience pleasure and find flow while absorbed in leisure activities and hobbies can help lift us out of the day to day routines of work and domestic responsibilities, and bring out our creative, spiritual, or social dimensions. Research shows that participating in enjoyable leisure activities or hobbies is linked to a decrease in stress, and to favorable outcomes in physical health measures such as lower blood pressure.

Lastly, learning to manage stress means understanding what brings on stress in your life, knowing how it impacts you, and developing tools to prevent or overcome stress. Stress management is the skill of organizing our time and energy so that we don’t get burnt out or overextend ourselves.

Here are some specific ideas that may help you to build up your coping self:

  • Take a self-compassion break. Writer and therapist, Dr. Kristin Neff, offers this exercise for when we are facing a stressful or painful circumstance. We bring the situation to mind and tune into what we are feeling. We then say to ourselves: 1) “This is a moment of suffering.” Or, “This is stress.” 2) “Suffering is a part of life.” Or, “I am not alone.” 3) “May I give myself compassion.” Or, “May I learn to accept myself as I am.” Choose language that feels right to you. You can also imagine what a friend would say to you in a challenging moment, and say these words to yourself.
  • Set healthy boundaries. Part of managing our time and energy includes being able to say “no” to invitations or requests on our time and effort, as well as building in free time into our calendars to account for unexpected events and distractions. Some questions you can ask yourself before agreeing to take on another commitment are: “Does this line up with my core values?” “Does this bring out my strengths or work towards my goals?” and “Is this something I will easily be able to fit into my schedule?” Alexandra Franzen offers this advice on how to say “no” to someone when you are worried about hurting a relationship or are feeling obligated to say “yes,” but know you cannot comfortably add more into your schedule.
  • Practice 4-7-8 breathing. Intentional breathing with awareness can slower breathing, improve blood pressure, reduce stress and enhance wellness. Start by sitting up in a comfortable position, spine long, shoulders rolled back and body alert and relaxed. Touch the tip of your tongue to the ridge of your upper gums, behind your teeth. Slowly inhale through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for another count of 7. Open your mouth slightly, keeping your tongue in place, and exhale for 8 counts. Repeat this cycle 4 times.
  • Rediscover an interest or develop a new passion that helps you lose track of time. Getting absorbed in an activity and forgetting about all of life’s lists and labors is great for your health. I lose myself in music and making mixes for friends. Some of my clients feel flow in their yoga practice, boxing classes, poetry writing, comic book reading, baking, or painting. Is there a craft, sport, or field of knowledge you used to love that you lost track of as life got busy? Carve out some time to reconnect or explore new possibilities in your community. If you’re not sure where to start, flip through the Indy’s Fall Guide for inspiration and see if an event jumps out at you to join in, or explore classes that Wake County Parks and Recreation offers here.
  • Come in and speak with a counselor at CCERC. We will take the time to listen to you, discuss your goals, and together we can create a wellness plan that nurtures the coping self, as well as the physical, social, creative, and essential selves.

What Parents Should Know About Mental Health Awareness Month

By: Kathleen Shumaker, BSW – Youth Education Services Specialist, Interact

Hello WELL Parents!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and even thought the month is almost over, it’s important for parents to know how to best care for their children. Teens can suffer from the same mental illnesses that affect adults, but they may look much different in teenagers. Teens may also suffer from mental health disorders as a result of abusive relationships.

Break the Cycle, a national teen dating violence agency, estimates that 1 in 3 teens are in an abusive relationship. That is higher than the 1 in 4 adults who suffer from dating violence. Violent teenage relationships are very similar to adult relationships, and follow many of the same patterns. Often, verbal and emotional abuses are downplayed as ‘not as serious’ as physical or sexual abuse. Alternately, victims and friends may struggle to understand how emotional and verbal abuse is used to manipulate a victim. These types of abuse can leave a lasting impact on a victim’s mental health.

According to Break the Cycle, emotional abuse is a series of “non-physical behaviors” such as “constant monitoring, humiliation, intimidation, isolation or stalking.” Emotional abuse is really any tactic used to influence how a person thinks or feels, particularly about themselves. Emotional abuse takes many forms, such as the ‘silent treatment,’ using guilt, blaming the victim for problems, or constant and sudden mood swings. Healing from this type of abuse takes a long time.

Verbal abuse is also non-physical, and can include threats, insults, name-calling, and belittling. However, verbal abuse is not just what you say, but how you say it. Tone, word-choice, and volume can all be used to abuse a victim. Think of all the different ways you could say “I’ll see you later,” and all the different intentions they might imply.

Victims of abusive relationships are more likely to suffer from depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, and PTSD. For teens, lower self-esteem, cigarette, drug, and alcohol abuse, and depression are common. Break the Cycle also reported that teens may have persistent memories about particular events and general feelings of hopelessness.

So what can you do as a parent? Be supportive and non-judgmental. Telling your teen to “just get over it” or “suck it up” will not help, and could further deteriorate their mental health. Let them know you will always be there for them and are willing to help. Educate yourself about warning signs of mental health disorders and dating violence. Familiarize yourself with all the resources available. Above all, let them know that what happened to them is not their fault.

InterAct is located at 1012 Oberlin Road. Have questions about dating violence? Our crisis line is 919-828-7740 and is available 24/7. Break the cycle can be found online at or by texting “loveis” to 22522 to speak to a peer advocate.

5 Components of Wellbeing — The Creative Self

By: Vanessa Soleil (CCERC)

As the month of May comes to a close, the Community Counseling, Education, and Research Center (CCERC) prepares to take a break for the summer, bringing you the fourth piece in our ongoing series on the five components of well-being. In our previous articles on the Indivisible Self, we talked about the social self (family, friendship, and romantic love), the essential self (your spirituality, cultural identity, and self-care), and the physical self (exercise and eating well). This month we will focus on the creative self (your thoughts, your emotions, what you do for work/study, and your sense of humor), and return in August with the coping self (what you do in your leisure, your stress management, and your self-worth). The counselors at CCERC are passionate about wellness and working with our clients to harness their strengths to live their best lives. Reach out to talk to someone today if you would like support in using this model to make positive changes in your life.

Not everyone wants to be a painter or professional dancer, but we all have an innate creativity that comes through in our ability to learn, laugh, think outside of the box, and express our authentic selves and natural talents. Tapping into the creative self means realizing how unique we are and recognizing the strengths and gifts we bring to the world just by being ourselves. Nurturing this aspect means attending to our thinking—being mentally active and open-minded, willing to learn and bring curiosity to our lives and interactions—and our emotions—knowing how we are feeling, and expressing those feelings appropriately. The creative self also includes our satisfaction in a job or vocation that we feel uses our skills, a feeling of mastery and competence and a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at our mistakes. There is a lot of research that supports the benefits of positive thinking, emotional regulation, and laughter—reducing depression and anxiety, while strengthening the immune system. Read on to spark some ideas of how to connect to your creative self.

  • Engage in life-long learning. Take advantage of events and programming at your local public library, universities, or museums. Watch the 25 Most Popular TED talks of all time. Enroll in a free online class through Coursera, whether it is how to speak Korean, intro to philosophy, or how to do web design, there are so many fascinating topics to dive into and learn.
  • Understand the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Sometimes we believe that our goals cannot be reached or feel discouraged at a new challenge. Our thoughts are powerful and if we approach life with the idea that our abilities and knowledge are limited or “fixed,” then we are less likely to succeed or even risk the challenge of new opportunities. In a growth mindset, we know that with practice and effort we can learn new skills, adapt, and succeed. Catch yourself when you have thoughts like “I will fail,” or “I don’t have talent,” and turn it into: “Before people succeed, they often experience some failures along the way,” and “I may not be able to do it now, but with practice and effort, in time I can probably learn.”

Don’t Let Homework Hassles Ruin Your Appetite

This post comes to us from our amazing partner, Raleigh Tutoring, who has helped more than 1,500 Raleigh-area students of all ages improve their understanding—and their grades.

If you’re a parent of a school-aged child, you’re probably no stranger to homework drama. Some kids balk at having to pause play time to sit down for more school. Others are willing but need lots of help from Mom or Dad. Then there are the kids, usually older, who wait until the last minute to do homework only to find they don’t have the right materials or underestimated how much time they need.

While homework hassles vary according to a child’ s grade, temperament, and school, almost all affect the dinner hour in some way. Helping a kid with long division or running out to Target for posterboard can leave less time to prepare dinner. With older kids and teens, dinner may have to be scheduled around after-school activities and homework, resulting in some not very appetizing early or late meal times.

Here are some parent-tested, teacher-approved tips to help reduce homework-related stress in your home:

Plan ahead: Rejoice if your child is among the many elementary-age students who brings home all or most of their homework in a Monday folder filled with four days of assignments due by the end of the week. This way, if you know Emma has piano on Wednesday and Billy’s scout meeting is Thursday, you can make sure they get the week’s homework done by Tuesday.  Fortify your kids for these extra-long sessions by ensuring that they’ve had a light snack. For those of you with middle and high school kids, most teachers have websites where they post procedures, expectations, assignments, and grades. Bookmark these pages on your home computer, so they are easily accessible for you and your young adult. Teach your child to use a paper or smart calendar to plan ahead.


Hover, don’t help: The whole point of homework is to give children the opportunity to independently practice skills they learn in school. The urge to help our kids is strong, but try to resist it. Limit your involvement to answering quick questions about an assignment’s instructions and checking to make sure all the work gets done. If your child has to ask for help to handle the work, don’t step in and do it for them. Teachers need to know if students are not mastering material on their own. If struggling with homework becomes a pattern, check in with your child’s teacher and ask for support.  Homework shouldn’t be so hard that it requires a parent’s constant hand-holding.


Encourage routines: Designate a regular homework spot. Depending on your child’s age and level of independence, this could be the kitchen or dining room table, a desk in the family room or even a desk in their room. Working at the same place every afternoon or evening helps reinforce good study habits, as does sitting down to homework at roughly the same time every day. It doesn’t have to be right after school–some kids have extracurriculars or just need time to blow off steam. But unless your kids are in high school, homework should be done well before bedtime to minimize everyone’s stress.


Stock up: Nothing disrupts family harmony more than learning at 7 p.m. that you’re all out of glue sticks–and your kid needs one stat. Store school supplies in a cabinet in the homework area or in a portable caddy and go through them once a week–say before you do your weekend shopping–to note which supplies need replenishing. To help you keep track of what your child needs, keep the list their teacher supplied at the beginning of the year in or near your storage space.

Let’s face it: Kids may never find homework fun. But it needn’t be a dinner-spoiler, either.

How to talk to your student about sexual assault

This post comes to us from our amazing partner InterAct of Wake County, an organization that provides support to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For those of us here at InterAct, this is a busy month for us to connect with the community to support survivors and to stop sexual violence. As a parent, we know that it’s awkward to talk to children about healthy sexuality for a number of reasons. However, it’s vital that you open up that dialogue with your teen to educate them and keep them safe.

But what is sexual assault? According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), sexual assault is any sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms include:

rape – unwanted penetration of the victim’s body

attempted rape – unwanted sexual touching or fondling or forcing a victim to perform a sexual act. In speaking about sexual assault, it is important to remember that this is a violent crime. As such, it’s never the fault of the victim.

Woman and girls ages 14-19 are 4x more likely than the general population to be victims of actual or attempted sexual assault. RAINN also found that 82% of victims of sexual assault under 18 are female, while 90% of all victims over 18 are female. Sexual assaults are more common in colleges compared to other violent crimes, such as robbery.

Talking to your children about consent and healthy sexuality, without sounding like you’re condoning behavior you are uncomfortable with, can be a tricky conversation. However, being open and honest with your teen about what is and is not healthy sexual behavior will only serve to protect your child. Below, we have some Dos and Don’ts for talking with your child.

  • DO let your child know you will always be supportive and willing to listen. You want them to come to you if they’re in trouble.
  • DO stay away from rape myths. Rape myths are common, but untrue, stereotypes about rape. Common myths include men cannot be assaulted, women are asking for it because of how they dress or act, women often lie about being sexually assaulted, or rape and sexual assaults are “misunderstandings.” Sexual assaults are violent crimes.
  • DON’T blame the victim. No matter what, a victim of sexual assault is never ‘asking for it.’ No one deserves to be sexually assaulted.
  • DO hold your child accountable for their actions. If you hear victim blaming language, abusive or misogynistic language, or casual jokes about rape and sexual assault from your child, talk to them about it. Turn it into a teachable moment where you can help your child grow.
  • DON’T be vague with your language. Tell your child exactly what you mean. Don’t use euphemisms or indirect language when speaking to your child. Own your words. Tell them exactly what you will and won’t accept. Give them the knowledge to protect themselves and make good choices.

Join us this April to go beyond “no means no” and create a culture of consent. For more information, check out the following resources:,,, or

InterAct is always here as a resource for any victim of domestic or sexual violence. Our hours are M-F from 9-5. We are located at 1012 Oberlin Road, Raleigh NC 27605. We’re available 24/7 by calling 919-828-7740.

Caregiving and Teens

By: InterAct of Wake County

Happy March to all you caregivers out there!

Since you are reading this, we know that you have at least one teenager in your house, and boy, can they be surly. In between watching them roll their eyes at your “dated” jokes and refusing to let you look at their Instagram feed, you can’t help but wonder where your sweet little child went.

Well, that’s totally normal, both for you and your teen. Teens develop quickly and extensively between 12 and 17. Teens become much more independent during this time, and work to establish unique personalities, interests, and ideas. While parents and caregivers remain important sources of support and guidance, teens begin to look towards their peers more and more for social cues. Between the ages of

Between the ages of 12-14 you may see your teen: show more concern about body image, looks, and clothes, display moodiness and irritability, show more interest in and influence from peer group, and express less affection toward parents; sometimes they might seem rude or short-tempered. Teens during this period also become more concerned with their bodies and the changes that occur during puberty. This is the time when teens are most likely to have eating problems and develop eating disorders.

However, there is much you can connect with your teen on! During this time, teens develop a stronger sense of right and wrong, begin to understand and have more complex thoughts, and learn how to fully express their feelings and beliefs. As a parent, being honest and direct when discussing touchy subjects, such as alcohol consumption, sex, and drug use, is key. Encouraging healthy eating, sleeping, and lifestyle habits are important; but keep in mind and take an interest in your teens ideas and opinions. Get to know them as people: what do they like and dislike about school? Who are their friends? Being clear about expectations, but allowing your teen some input in how those expectations are met, will reduce conflict during this developmental stage.

As young teens become full-blown teenagers, they begin to fully develop their own personalities and interests. Most teens have completed puberty at this point, but may still have some issues with body shape and size. Eating disorders are especially common among this age, specifically in teen girls. You may see your teen: Have more interest in dating and intimacy, develop a deep capacity for caring and understanding in friendships and intimate relationships, show more independence, and pull further away from parents while spending more time with friends. I know this sounds bad, but there is often less conflict between parent and child at this stage.

As you see your child growing and maturing, you may see them become more “future-focused.” Teens often develop more serious work habits and show concern for their future, such as college and career plans. They will often be able to give you fully-fleshed out reasons for their choices, specifically about what is “right” and what is “wrong.” However, teens also have a tendency towards periods of sadness and depression. Being supportive and caring when speaking to teens about any behavior changes you notice can help guide teens. As scary as it sounds, asking directly about suicidal thoughts won’t “prompt” your teen to have those thoughts. Rather, it will show that you love and care for your teen’s well being.

As a parent, encourage your teen to get involved in his or her local community. Allow them the freedom to make their own choices, when appropriate. Respect their opinions, get to know their friends, and take an interest in their lives and hobbies. After all, you are their parent and they will always be your baby!

For more information on healthy childhood development and parenting, please refer to the CDC’s Child Development Website and Positive Parenting Tips. All information courtesy of the CDC.

Cultivating Wellness: Tending to the Physical Self

By: The Community Counseling, Education, and Research Clinic (CCERC)

This month, as we welcome spring, we continue our ongoing series on the five components of well-being. This month, we highlight the importance of tending to the physical self (exercise and eating well).

Nutrition and exercise are the two main aspects of the physical self. From a holistic view, we are less concerned with living up to the culture’s ideals of physical strength or beauty, and more interested in honoring our bodies, increasing vitality, and achieving optimal health for better quality of life. Rather than dieting to look thin or bulking up to look muscular, exercise and nutrition for well-being means eating foods that are nourishing, and engaging in activities that feel good, give you energy, and build a sense of appreciation for the body’s innate creativity, strength, and flexibility.

As humans, we are designed to move, yet many of us work in jobs where we sit or stand for long hours and we come home feeling exhausted. It is understandable that many days, we just want to sit down to rest and recover. Getting enough rest and relaxing is key to our overall health, but we also need to counter our modern lifestyle with pleasurable activities and exercise. High intensity exercise is a popular trend these days, but you don’t have to push yourself to extremes in order be fit and energetic. In fact, research like this article in Psychology Today shows that practices like Tai Chi, Qi Gong, yoga, Aikido, and NIA—all slow movement combined with awareness of bodily sensation—can have greater benefits compared to traditional exercise in reducing pain, increasing mobility, and decreasing depression and stress. Dancing improves brain function and reduces the risk of memory loss. Following a diet of whole and healthy meals rather than sugary, processed foods can improve mood and decrease depression, in addition to improving physical health.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started in your journey to wellness in the realm of the physical self. If you’d like to explore this or any of the parts of well-being a little more in depth, give us a call at CCERC or visit our website to set up an appointment.

  • Experiment with different movement. Take the time to explore group fitness or dance classes, online workout videos, or individual exercise like swimming or running, until you find a fitness routine that you enjoy and will feel motivated to keep up with. Locally, there are fitness classes through Parks and Recreation, fun dance-inspired options like Zumba and NIA. Or stay at home and do a free yoga class online at com or choose from one of these many free dance, stretching, or cardio videos.
  • Start your day with stretching. Take 5 minutes right when you get out of bed to slow down, notice your breathing and do some simple stretching. Instead of rushing into the day, pause and check in with your physical self. Make up your own movements or refer to this website for inspiration. Stretching can improve circulation and reduce stress.
  • Try healthy snacking. Find a healthier alternative for one of your favorite “bad” foods. When you crave the junk food option, experiment with substituting with the healthier version. Some ideas for sweet and savory snacks include frozen grapes, celery and peanut butter, Greek yogurt with honey, cinnamon sprinkled on apple, trail mix or nuts, carrots and hummus, baked sweet potato with cinnamon, balsamic vinegar drizzled on mozzarella and cherry tomatoes.
  • Practice Mindful Eating. Sometimes we eat out of boredom, sadness, or habit. This raisin, chip, and chocolate exercise can help us to pay attention to when and why we eat and to notice what our food really tastes like and whether we enjoy what we are eating.

Our Climate, Our Future

By: Alliance for Climate Education

We now offer an online climate education resource, Our Climate Our Future, which brings the dynamic, multimedia content of the ACE Assembly directly into your classroom or organization. Check out a trailer here.

Teachers, organizations, schools and more can check out this to get access to a host of exciting resources including:

  • Climate science, told through animation and aligned with Next Generation Science Standards
  • Stories from young people impacted by climate change from across the country
  • Innovative climate solutions
  • Opportunities for students to take action via trivia, texting and social media
  • Spanish and English subtitles
  • Teacher resources to use during and after Our Climate Our Future: interactive trivia, background reading materials, student worksheet, answer key and discussion guide, additional climate videos, readings and questions on climate science topics such as: ocean acidification, ice cores, El Niño and more

SPECIAL OFFER: Right now get free access to a one-year Our Climate Our Future subscription! To take advantage of this opportunity, choose “1-year” subscription from the menu on the subscription page (you need to create a login first) and on the next page enter “SHOWALLMYSTUDENTS” in the coupon code. You can use this coupon code up until June 1, 2017 to acquire your 1-year subscription.


Contact Briana Steele
Senior Program Manager
Alliance for Climate Education


What’s Next? Strategies for College-Bound Juniors and Sophomores

By: Raleigh Tutoring

For college-bound high school seniors, spring is a time of promise. With each college decision that arrives, they come one step closer to choosing where they’ll spend the next four years.

But for sophomores and juniors, the journey is really just beginning. Not only must they think about what colleges they want to apply to, they must also make critical decisions about the SAT, ACT or both. By March, most juniors have already taken either the PSAT, pre-ACT (formerly called PLAN), or both. Many have also taken the ACT, SAT, or both at least once, and wonder whether they should keep trying for a higher score. Still others have not yet gotten started on the testing process. Even sophomores should be thinking ahead: Many will take their first SAT or ACT in the fall of their junior year, and getting a jump on studying ensures they have ample time to get their highest possible score.

Here are some recommendations for parents of juniors and sophomores to help their teens make more informed decisions about the testing process:

1. Performance on the Pre-ACT and PSAT isn’t a great predictor of performance on the actual tests. Let’s face it: College isn’t even on the radar of kids barely into the fall of their sophomore year, which is when these preliminary versions of the ACT and SAT are given. Most go into these tests without ever studying. Plus, even though the math sections of both the pre-ACT and PSAT are designed for the average 10th grader, students who are on a slightly slower math track might struggle to comprehend problems that they’d have no trouble doing the following year.

So an average or even slightly below average score on either test doesn’t mean that a student won’t do very well on the full version of the test after another year of math and maturation. That said, students who score well below or above average can probably read more into their results and act accordingly. For instance, a student with a very low score might need more test prep than an average or high-scorer. Someone with an exceptional score on the PSAT might want to take the PSAT again in his or her junior year, which is when those who score in the 99th percentile become eligible for the National Merit Scholarship program.

2. Finish testing by September. Ideally, your teen should have an ACT/SAT score they’re satisfied with as their senior year begins. The application process is hard enough without testing hanging over their heads. If they got started late in their junior year or if they’re confident they can better a mediocre score, make sure they’re done by late September. Many schools have Oct. 15 application deadlines.

3. Colleges don’t prefer one test over the other. Of course, there are always exceptions, so research admissions criteria so your child isn’t blindsided by a college’s testing requirement. While colleges don’t care which test applicants take, some students have a definite preference for–and aptitude in–one test over the other. Learn about the differences between the two exams; for one thing, the ACT gives students less time to answer each question/problem than the SAT does. For another, the SAT math section includes about 20 problems that students can’t use a calculator to solve, while the ACT permits calculator use for the whole math section. We recommend that after a little trial and error, including practice tests and maybe one attempt at the exam, students pick either the ACT or SAT and stick with it.

4. Superscoring really is super. Most colleges practice superscoring, meaning they consider the highest section score a student achieves over multiple attempts. So if your child takes the SAT twice and makes a 550 on the math section the first time but a 610 the next attempt, they’ll ignore the lower score. Same goes for the ACT. Some students take either the SAT or ACT a third or fourth time just to get one section score higher, studying only for these section(s) because they’re already comfortable with the scores they made on other sections during previous attempts. Note: Most students don’t benefit from taking either test more than three or four times, thanks to the law of diminishing returns. We find that most students make the biggest gains between the first and second attempts on these exams, especially if they didn’t study prior to their first test.

5. The “optional” essay isn’t always optional. The last thing you want for your child is for them to discover that their “dream” school requires the optional SAT or ACT essay, which they decided not to do when they took the test twice as a junior. Now, just when they thought they’d be done with testing, they have to take one again in October of their senior year. Also, a school’s requirements could change from year to year, especially since the current version of the SAT just debuted in March 2016. Get a preliminary list of both aspirational and realistic colleges from your teen, and help them begin the process of collecting admissions requirements–including whether the SAT/ACT is required– for each one.

6. Use the summer to prepare. The summer before junior years is, for many students, an ideal time to begin preparing for the SAT and ACT. Free from hours of homework and other school-year commitments, many teens can devote a week or two to prepping for these tests, whether by taking a camp or class, studying on their own or with a friend using books or online study guides, or receiving individual tutoring. One caveat: Even with intense summer studying, most students will need to review prior to the exam. But at least they’ll be working from a solid foundation.