Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)

In the late 1990s, author J.K. Rowling invented the term “muggle” as a derogative term for the normal people of modern Britain. Muggles are all the ordinary human beings in Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter book series. Muggles do not have any magical powers or awareness of anything magical. They live for comfort, they conform to society, and they have petty concerns. They are boring and bland, at best – miserable and mean, at worst.

In the context of this very ordinary world of muggles, Rowling created a parallel universe of magic. At the center is Hogwarts, the school for youngsters who wish to pursue magic, a better way of life. Rowling knew that children wanted more than what the modern world was giving them and that they would identify with the struggle against muggles, scoundrels, monsters, and villains.

Young readers happily entered the Harry Potter universe in droves. Reading among adolescents exploded worldwide, as hundreds of millions of children read 600-page book after 600-page book. Even adults joined in. Rowling struck a chord. People want more magic, less muggle. And a whole generation, now known as the millennials, identifies with the Harry Potter, the boy who struggles to live with more magic and less muggle.

It is no different in America today. The typical American is a muggle. Isn’t it the norm to seek comfort and conformity? Isn’t it normal for us to be a little bit foolish, a little petty, and sometimes mean? Doesn’t social media illustrate these things pretty clearly? We are muggles, more often than not. However, if we are honest, none of us thinks of ourselves as muggles. Nobody wants to admit it. And yet, if we are honest and will peer around our blinds spots for a moment, we can see the muggle inside us and all around us.

Turn on the TV. Look at social media. Read the news. Just look around the very place you are sitting in at this very moment. Or go to a truly beautiful place, like a beach, and look all around. Don’t just look at the Instagram-worthy viewpoint, but look all around. It won’t take long to find something ugly, dangerous, or sad, like the kids glued to their smartphones for hours, rather than playing in the waves or building with sand. We live in a world that is both beautiful and broken, magical and messy, terrific and toxic. It is good to see things clearly within us and within the places and people around us.

The real world is not like Hogwarts where powerful forces of good win out over powerful forces of evil in fantastic displays of drama and special effects. The real world is not like Instagram, where everything is a happy highlight with stylish filter effects. Our children need to learn that life is imperfect, and that we are all imperfect. While some parents choose to protect their children from these truths, it is best for these truths to be explained very early in life. Our children can handle us walking them through the realities of life, with all the muggles and the magic, as long as we make sure they feel deeply loved and well protected within the family.

Facing the real world is what makes us healthy. It is when children face the world alone that they are vulnerable. And this is where society gets it all wrong. Children are taught to be individuals and to spend their energy on expressing themselves and seeking whatever makes them happy.

Western culture now values the self above all things: self-actualization, self-satisfaction, and self-justification. This sounds good and feels good, but unfortunately it does not deliver on its promises. Unchecked self-focus leads directly to loneliness, which can lead to very dark places, like depression and anxiety. It can lead to personality disorders, like narcissism.

Loneliness is a defining feature of America in 2018. Families are disconnected. Communities are disconnected. Sure, we are more connected than ever electronically, but we somehow feel less connected than ever to friends and family. It is normal for children to grow up without a sense of attachment to family or friends. They don’t know exactly where they belong or who they are. This is where things have gotten sideways with regard to mental and emotional health. This is why so many young people relate so strongly to Harry Potter, a lonely orphan who was neglected and mistreated by his adoptive aunt and uncle. Our kids feel lost and lonely in a world of muggles.

Psychologists know that a lack of deep emotional attachment to at least one caregiver, combined with a temporary sense of loneliness, creates emotional pain, most often in the form of depression and anxiety. In a formula: Lack of Attachment + Loneliness = Anxiety + Depression. For more information about the importance of attachment, click here.

America is sick with epidemic levels of anxiety and depression. 1 in 5 Americans has a diagnosed anxiety disorder, while many are undiagnosed and untreated. 1 in 6 will experience clinical depression in their lifetime. But the real story is the rise of anxiety and depression among young people now. An estimated 25% of teenagers have already experienced depression in their lifetime. Ask any counselor or school teacher if they think that anxiety or depression is increasing, and they will affirm the sad trend. A recent nationwide survey found something surprising about loneliness in the younger generation. “Our survey found that the younger generation was lonelier than the older generations,” says Dr. Douglas Nemecek, the chief medical officer for behavioral health at Cigna. Read this article for more information.

In order to relieve the sharp uneasiness of anxiety and the dull pain of depression, Americans cope by consuming substances that are highly effective at making a person feel better immediately. We have an insatiable appetite for what is easy and comforting to get more or what is easy and comforting to get more of what is easy and comforting… in order to avoid the difficulties within us and all around us.

We consume loads of junk food, alcohol, drugs, video games, social media, streaming video, pornography, and material goods – anything to help us feel better immediately. We feed the senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, and imagination in order to distract the mind, avoid family problems, avoid existential questions, avoid difficult friends, distract from negative emotions, and gain a little sense of control and comfort. Neil Postman wrote famously in 1985 that we are amusing ourselves to death with television. That was long before the internet and smartphones. Where are we now?

Unfortunately, our coping mechanisms are not powerful enough to overcome our mental health problems. Instead, we are caught up in self-destructive cycles, and we are addicted to our coping mechanisms. Some addictions are more harmful than others, of course, but none of them are good if they are helping a person avoid their problems day after day, year after year. If we do not face our fears and problems, then we are not growing. If we deny, distract, and desensitize too much, then we lose our mental health and are prone to addiction. And addiction is a slow form of death.

The good news is that we do not have to live as a muggle in the United States of Addiction. We can choose a better way of life. But that better way must be countercultural because the culture is toxic to mental health. The culture is toxic to the soul.

It is good news is that our children and teens do not have to settle for the so-called “good life” of being momentarily happy all the time. There are better ways of living. Coping is not the answer. There are ways to thrive, not just survive. Our kids can learn to be more magician than muggle!

 

* Part 2 in this series will examine how to think about addictive behaviors in light of what society tells young people. Part 3 will focus on the practical aspects of teaching young people to live free from addictions.

 

Parenting is Regulating

Every parent should regulate their children’s behavior until they are ready to regulate their own. It will likely be a 20-year process, which starts with full regulatory control of the infant and ends with total release of all control at adulthood.

What does it mean “to regulate?” In grammatical terms, it is a transitive verb, meaning that a subject rules or governs another object by adjusting the time, amount, degree, or rate of something upon the object.

Let’s take food, for example. An infant has no idea how to handle his hunger pains, can’t make decisions about food, and can’t feed himself. It is the parent’s job to fully control the diet of the child. The twenty-year old, on the other hand, should have mature eating habits within his full control: when to eat, what to eat, how much, how to shop, how to cook, how to balance his nutrition with exercise, etc. Continue reading “Parenting is Regulating”

Advice for Middle School Kids

Recently, I asked my Facebook friends to give me advice for my 7th graders. Here’s what my friends have learned in their 30 years of growing up since 7th grade.

  • Be cool to everyone because there’s a good chance you will either marry, work with, or work for one of them one day.
  • “It’s not about the shoes, it’s about what you can do in them.” – Michael Jordan
  • The stuff you are worried about is probably the wrong stuff.
  • Everywhere you go, leave it better than you found it.
  • Sometimes it’s best to just take the butt whoopin’ you deserve and move on.
  • The prettiest girls are the ones you don’t notice right away.
  • The measure of success you hold now won’t be the same in 20 years. Be good to everyone. Many who aren’t “successful” now will be very successful in 20 years.
  • If you want to know what you are like, look around at the people you hang with.
  • You can pick you friends, you can pick your nose, but don’t ever ever pick your friend’s nose.
  • The person who chooses not to read is no better off than the person who can’t read.
  • Manners matter! Always.
  • How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
  • Some days you are the dog, and some days you are the fire hydrant. That’s life.
  • There is no such thing as normal…it is only a setting on the dryer.
  • Never miss a good chance to shut up.
  • “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Leave the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Discover. Dream.” ~ Mark Twain
  • Those who hate you don’t win, unless you hate them back.
  • Sometimes you just have to accept that “It is what it is” and sometimes you should fight it. Pray for the wisdom to know the difference.
  • “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Tips for Motivating Young Teens

It takes more than a poster to motivate kids. Ask any schoolteacher. Early in their careers, young teachers will spend their own hard-earned cash on motivational posters for their classrooms, and soon thereafter they realize that those stylish platitudes are only good for the companies that sell motivational posters.

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Motivating kids, especially teenagers, is a perilous endeavor. There is no easy way, and there is no formula. What works once may not work again. And it’s a fine line between motivating and discouraging.

Nevertheless, there are some principles that should help you be a better motivator without being a manipulator. Ready to strategize?

First Things First: What to Think About Before You Say Anything

  1. Remember back to when you were that age? Envision yourself, not as a littler adult, but as the actual you back then. Remember the one that made all sorts of mistakes and knew very little about anything? Remember that your child is not a little adult; he or she has a lot to learn, and that’s normal. Your job is to teach and train.
  1. Don’t compare your best days with your child’s worst days. Keep in mind that kids will have really bad days when they forget everything, feel lousy, and make all sorts of mental and physical mistakes. Give them those days. Consider the average days instead.
  1. Be honest, positively honest. Prepare to give some tough love in a positive way. Think about the great aspects of your child’s behavior and counterbalance all those good things in your mind before you confront your child. Have a positive attitude about your motivation from start to finish.

How to Confront for a Change Continue reading “Tips for Motivating Young Teens”

Motivate. Don’t Manipulate Your Kids.

lonely boy2Once again, his room isn’t clean, not by any standard. Her backpack, jacket, and shoes are scattered about the floor of the hall, again. His grades are sub-par in math, again. She is making the family late to school, again. He seems to be nonchalant about his music audition this weekend. She isn’t running enough to prepare for soccer tryouts next week.

How do you approach the lack of motivation: carrot or stick?

What’s the best approach: direct confrontation, positive affirmation, a new system of consequences? Push hard or back off? Constructive criticism?

Who knows? It’s a minefield, to say the least.

It’s a thin line between motivating your child and provoking him or her to rebellion. Motivating a child, especially a teenager, is not an easy road. There will be resistance, mistakes and regrets, and that is if you are doing it right.

Continue reading “Motivate. Don’t Manipulate Your Kids.”

Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things

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7 year-old has been using tools since 3.

A friend recently posted on Facebook a picture of her three young children helping their dad build a deck. The seven year-old boy was using a power drill to sink a deck screw.

Another woman posts a picture of her two kids 6 feet high up in the branches of an old oak tree. One is climbing with a garden hose in her hand, while another is hanging upside down.

You’ve all seen pics on social media that make you think, “Isn’t that dangerous for a little kid? Is he old enough for that? Is that safe?”

Those are excellent questions for every parent to ask about every activity. We should always be concerned about the safety of our children, but the real question is in how you respond to those questions.

Do you always choose the safest option?

In my opinion, always erring on the side of safety is a mistake. It seems like the safest way to raise kids, but it’s not. Failing to give young kids experiences with dangerous things will only increase their chances of being hurt later in life.

Continue reading “Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things”

Raising Resilient Children

Rubber Band with white backgroundResilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and return to well-being. Paul Tough, in his book How Children Succeed, explains that even kids who grow up in the most difficult situations of poverty, abuse, neglect, and stress can rise up from the ashes. It may not be the norm for kids of adversity, but with help, they can do it. “The teenage years are difficult for almost every child, and for the children growing up in adversity, adolescence can often mark a terrible turning point, the moment when wounds produce bad decisions. But teenagers also have the ability—or at least the potential—to rethink and remake their lives in a way that the younger children do not.”

Young teenagers who are supported by family and adults who empower them will face life’s challenges with more guts and stamina than those who fly solo. Those who have a strong sense of belonging, hope, and purpose will hold up better in the face of obstacles. Good parenting can transform a child into a happy, healthy, successful young person.

Resilience is not callousness. It is toughness. I think of certain people in my life who exhibit toughness when it is necessary and sweet sensitivity when it is called for. I call it “kind strength.” Continue reading “Raising Resilient Children”