Reducing Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Every human experiences anxiety. It is 100% normal, natural, and essential to life.

Anxiety is a natural force that protects human life. We are hard-wired to sense threats to our wellbeing and to protect ourselves when threatened. Anxiety rises highest when we cannot control something that is a real and present danger to our body, mind, or social standing. Anxiety serves a very good purpose often. It helps us to focus intently on something very important. Some stress is good for us. It motivates us to do what needs to be done to survive or to thrive.

Unfortunately, an unhealthy level of anxiety is on the rise in many ways. The news is making us more anxious than ever about the world in general. Fear captivates our attention and changes our perceptions. Smartphones and social media have increased the amount and intensity of anxiety. Public embarrassment can be swift and practically permanent online. And the stories that we consume on TV often make us all the more anxious, as we perceive that the whole world has gone mad. An anxious culture, anxious families, and even anxious individuals can foster more anxiety among otherwise healthy people. 

Anxiety turns into a ‘disorder’ (a disruption to normal functioning) when anxiety and its sensations and symptoms interfere with a normal lifestyle. There are many anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Panic Disorder, and phobias. 

Approximately 40 million American adults — roughly 18% of the population — have an anxiety disorder (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). Some estimates put this number higher – approximately 30 percent – as many people don’t seek help, are misdiagnosed, or don’t know they have it. Continue reading “Reducing Anxiety”

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 3 of 3)

The trends are not looking good for the mental and emotional health of young people, across all demographics. For instance, most people think of college as one of the happier times in a person’s whole life. However, according to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, 52 percent of college students reported feeling hopeless, while 39 percent suffered from severe depression during the previous year. Those are some staggering numbers. Apparently, the freedom and excitement of college life offers little relief for the inner troubles of young people. As we discussed in part 1 and part 2 of this series, the current culture is toxic for families and for young people.

What can we do about it? Clearly, we can’t change the culture right away, so what is a person to do?

Benjamin Franklin famously penned, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Does this apply to avoiding anxiety, depression, and addiction. Absolutely!

No young person intends to get addicted to anything. Generally, an addiction begins small and benign, then grows like a cancer undetected, until it’s a serious problem. For this blog post, we will focus on that intermediate stage of growth, when it is neither too soon to detect nor too late to treat effectively.

The most common concern of parents regarding dependency is related to electronics, and it goes something like this: “We struggle constantly with our kids over screen time” or “I know my kids use screens a lot, but the screens are literally everywhere. What can be done?” Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 3 of 3)”

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)

Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)

In the previous post, we looked at how young people today are growing up in a culture which encourages extreme individuality. This individualistic lifestyle discourages healthy family life and social life, and it ultimately generates deep-down detachment and loneliness. This eventually creates chronic anxiety and / or depression. In response, the culture encourages the use of coping behaviors that help the individual feel better immediately but ultimately just yields more anxiety and depression. The cycle fulfills itself. The lonely get lonelier, in spite of all the attempts to cope. Because this cycle is self-consumptive, we neglect each other, which weakens our communities further. Eventually, the social norms devolve into creating a generation of young narcissists who can only demand instant gratification. In time, the whole culture, including the elders, becomes self-absorbed, addicted, and sick. It is a sad story. But it is not hopeless.

While the culture is toxic, our young people are not slaves. They can rise up against their oppressors and live a free life. But they will need some help. Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 2)”

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.  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. Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)”

Why Technology Worries Us So Much

Since 2010, human behavior has changed. In these last 7 years, we have experienced the complete integration of smartphones, the holy grail of gadgetry, into our everyday lifestyle. In that same time frame, we have experienced the proliferation of tablets among children at play, students at school, and even in the daily life of older adults who quickly took over Facebook. The teenagers quickly fled to other forms of social media, namely Instagram and Snapchat, both of which have become youth culture phenomena. So much has changed in just 7 years, as we have all come to realize that for almost everything “there is an app for that.

We use our devices so much because they work so well at so many things, and they make life more fun, more efficient, and more… everything. Both the allure and the utility are undeniable. Just look around at all the people in any public space. At any given time, most of them are on their phones, which is a truly remarkable fact. What else garners that much attention?

There is no question about our reliance on our glowing rectangles: small, medium, and large. In fact, a reasonable argument can be made that many of us are now, at least to some extent, cyborgs. Continue reading “Why Technology Worries Us So Much”

Your Family. Your Culture.

The most common theme among parents of young teens lately is that they want to live differently than the culture. Most parents do not want their kids to ingest the current culture of materialism, comparison, busyness, and anxiety. They don’t like what the culture is teaching and demanding.

Most parents want to be connected with their community, but they don’t want to live just like everyone else (too busy and too anxious). And they certainly don’t want the values of the pop culture to become the values of their children. On the other hand, they don’t want their kids to be social freaks, always on the outside looking in. It’s an everyday dilemma.

Without a doubt, it is difficult to grow up well when immersed in today’s youth culture, which is filled with empty entertainment, rampant consumerism, unhealthy body imagery, and every type of narcissism. It consumes them and then uses them as consumers.

It is so rare to get wisdom from youth pop culture today that it actually makes the news. Recently, Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays Ironman in the Avenger movie series, said at the MTV Movie Awards“I advise you to dream big, work hard, keep your noses clean, be of service, and because you can, define your generation.” This was a shocking statement because it is so countercultural in the Hollywood / MTV world. The cultural norm is the opposite: have fun, be sexy, and take everything you can from this life.

But it’s not just youth pop culture that is toxic; it’s everywhere. It’s in the cafeteria, on Instagram, in the classroom, and in other families’ homes. The culture is teaching our kids to always look good, have all the right gadgets, and be the best at everything, in order to keep up with everybody else. It’s a culture of discontentment, comparison, and competition that is making our kids more anxious and less happy than ever. It’s never enough. It’s an insatiable more.

As a concerned parent, the question is, “How do you create a family life that is what you want?”  Continue reading “Your Family. Your Culture.”

Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 10.06.39 AM
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”

Take Your Kids Outdoors

Kids spend well over 40 HOURS per week in front of electronic screens, but less than 40 MINUTES per week in nature. Screens are ruling teens.

Delayed Gratification

A major component of growing up is learning to deal with long waits and unexpected delays, yet nearly everything is now available in an instant. If we are going to prepare our kids for the best things in life, we need to teach them to wait and reward them for being patient. Kids need opportunities to practice patience that are followed by rewards for sticking with it to the end—whether it’s a 500-piece puzzle or a friendship with a neighbor that takes a long time to develop.

Once again, the push-button culture is working against kids. They are constantly given immediate, customized, positive feedback from their cell phones, iPods, video games, YouTube, and Facebook. These are places where they can hit pause, fast-forward, or reset any time they like with no consequences. But in real life, and especially in the natural world, there are no fast-forward or reset buttons. In order to experience a sunset, you have to watch for a while. A computer cannot simulate that experience.

The Need for Nature

boy fishingRichard Louv, author of the best-selling book Last Child in the Woods, understands this problem more than anyone, and loves children enough to cry out for them, “Let the children play outdoors!” His books and lectures have inspired a national movement that wants to leave no child inside. He encourages all families to embrace the nature that is in their local community. “For children,” he writes, “nature comes in many forms. A pet that lives and dies; a worn path through the woods; a fort nested in stinging nettles—whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Nature offers healing for a child.”1

Louv explains how our children’s generation is suffering from what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” a preventable ailment of the body, mind, and soul. Kids just don’t go outdoors anymore. Continue reading “Take Your Kids Outdoors”

Play Well This Summer!

Summer School.

Summer Job.

Summer Reading.

Yes, parents need to keep kids mentally active and productive in the summer. Growing up well requires hard work and intellectual development year round.

However, parents also need to help kids enjoy life fully, and that absolutely requires fun — the sort of fun that is a little dangerous and a whole lot dirty, wet, and sweaty.

The best kind of play requires kids to focus every ounce of their mental, emotional, and physical energy into that activity, and it should not include a digital screen. Video games are fine, but that’s not the best sort of play. It should look something like this.

So, this summer, consider what your family can do that is outside-the-theme-park fun. What can you get your kids to do that is requires movement, creativity, mental focus, and courage. What fun activities require all the senses? Here are a few ideas.

Continue reading “Play Well This Summer!”

Fear Less, Parents

With the tragic news of the abduction and murder of ten-year-old Hailey Owens this week, many parents are afraid that the same thing may happen to their children. And many are wondering if they should be doing more to protect their children. Those are legitimate concerns and questions, and there is not a simple sound-bite response. Instead, I will offer two articles that I hope will help.

1. I highly recommend this article about Patti Fitzgerald‘s advice for parents of young children. It is an excellent explanation of why children should not fear all strangers, only certain types of strangers. Click Here

2. In addition, I wrote a chapter about parental fear in my book, Critical Connection. Here is an excerpt from that chapter. I hope it helps clarify that often we are most afraid of the wrong things. We tend to be afraid of the most emotionally terrifying things, but we should rather focus our attention on less scary but far more dangerous things.

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Family protectionFamily Fears

In their best-selling book, Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore the fears that control parents (and grandparents, teachers, coaches, and so on):

No one is more susceptible to an expert’s fear-mongering than a parent. A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature’s life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. The problem is that they are often scared of the wrong things. Separating facts from rumors is always hard work, especially for a busy parent. The facts they do manage to glean (from experts and other parents) have been varnished or exaggerated or otherwise taken out of context to serve an agenda that isn’t their own.1

Rumors and sensational stories rule the day, making us afraid of letting our kids near everything from tap water to corn syrup. New parents fear that their infants will die in their sleep. Parents of toddlers fear sharp edges on furniture. Parents of preschoolers fear that their children won’t know how to read before kindergarten. In fact, there seems to be a new set of fears for every stage of development, many of them introduced by marketers of child-safety products and fueled by the media’s fascinating and often terrifying stories.

Reasonable Fears

Some fear is healthy; only adolescents think “NO FEAR!” is a great motto for life. That may make sense in the video-game world where you can hit the reset button at any moment, but it’s a ridiculous notion in the real world. A little fear is a very good thing. Reasonable fears motivate us to wear seatbelts, drive within the speed limits, and avoid texting while driving. Continue reading “Fear Less, Parents”

The Peril of Productionism

 

Busy MomMy wife and I struggle with what I call productionism. It is a variation of perfectionism. It is the belief that a man’s value comes from his ability to accomplish or produce something, or that a woman’s worth is found in the amount that she can get done in a day. In other words, a good man is productive every day, while a lazy man is a lousy man. A good day for a good woman is measured in the amount of to do’s accomplished before her head hits the pillow at night.

Productionism is a little different than perfectionism because things don’t have to be done perfectly, they just need to be done efficiently. A productionist is practical and efficient, always trying to accomplish a lot in a little time.

In stressful, busy situations, productionists follow these mantras:

  • When the going gets tough, the tough gets to work.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, just do the next thing. You can do that much.
  • If you can’t do a big thing, just do a few small things. You will feel better then.

Appointments - list of day's appointments written on a spiral paProductionists brag to others about how much they accomplish. They make lists, check them off, and congratulate themselves. Some will even keep as trophies their old lists with all the crossed out tasks.

Being a productionist is not all bad, of course, but it’s a major problem when tasks overwhelm the ability to love others and enjoy life along the way. When tasks are more important than people, we are way off track. Unfortunately, the productionist will often choose the tasks over people, since there is more control and more pride in doing than in being. Continue reading “The Peril of Productionism”

Connect With Your Young Teen

First Connect, Then Guide

celebrateThe best parents are the ones who are deeply connected with their children and offer support and guidance all along the path of life. They’re the ones who care enough to say, “No, you can’t do that, because I love you too much to let you settle for that.” And their children know that they mean it.

Good parenting is about being confident that you have a far higher calling than to just be a friend or dish out punishment. It is about being an authority who loves always and takes the time to guide and train a child to grow into an independent person. Continue reading “Connect With Your Young Teen”

Prepare for Happiness

Lately, I have been pondering the question, “What are some things that I can do to put myself in a better position to be more happy?”

The following is an outline summary of the things that seem to work for most people. It comes from a variety of sources and is not specific to any religion. It is not a formula for happiness. It is simply a set of good practices to get positioned for some more happiness.

  1. Command Your Body – Be the benevolent dictator of your body. Don’t give in to its desires. Guide it toward optimal health.
    1. Sleep regularly
    2. Eat a balanced diet
    3. Drink a lot of water
    4. Exercise regularly
    5. Stretch often
    6. Breathe deeply
  2. Feed Your Soul – Counter the noisy, busy, competitive culture. Refuse to be too busy. Make space for joy.
    1. Meditation / Prayer
    2. Solitude
    3. Music
    4. Nature
    5. Sabbath from work
    6. Enjoyable activity
    7. Gratitude
  3. Stimulate Your Mind – Keep growing mentally. Exercise and feed your brain with new input.
    1. Read for pleasure
    2. Read for learning / wisdom
    3. Learn new skills
    4. Converse with interesting people
  4. Connect with People – Take time to build honest, meaningful relationships. Give and take within your social circles. Avoid toxic people as much as possible.
    1. Family intimacy
    2. Friends who bring out your best
    3. Colleagues and neighbors
    4. Community (religious, municipal, social…)

When we practice these things — and not all of them are needed at all times — we are more likely to be more happy more often. And when we practice these things, we become a role model for our children, and they will follow in our healthy, happy footsteps. It might be the most important part of raising healthy, happy kids.

Storm Preparation

A Creeping Crisis

Some crises develop gradually. Some are excruciatingly slow.

Perhaps it is the approaching death of a parent with terminal cancer. Or it is the military dad/son/husband who will be deployed to an overseas conflict. Or it may be a huge financial crisis, which will likely take away the family’s savings and home.

In these situations, the anticipation of the looming crisis is a danger in itself, for anxiety can take deep root early, and that can be paralyzing.

At some point a person facing a slow-moving crisis makes decisions (conscious and subconscious), to deal with it or ignore it. Psychologist call it the “fight or flight” response. We can run from our problems or fight them head on. Of course, we often do both. We fight something for a bit, then flee it for a while. I suppose, that is not a bad strategy, actually, as long as the general attitude is to win, not just avoid. So, we can fight. Regroup. Then, fight again. Continue reading “Storm Preparation”

Parenting Digital Kids

Life Beyond the Screens

If you ask most teens what item is their most prized, important possession, they will say it’s their smartphone. In fact, I’ve heard teens say that if they could only take one thing on a deserted island it would be their smartphone, in spite of the fact that it would be useless once the battery dies. A lot of kids use their phones constantly and are addicted to the internet. They sleep with them and answer text messages in the middle of the night. They absolutely panic when they can’t find it or when someone takes it from them for even a second. They are quite open about it too; they admit that it’s a vital part of their existence.

 

The concern about technology’s impact upon the social, emotional, and spiritual development of our boys and girls is growing. “The average amount of time a preteen spends in front of a “screen” (including TV, DVD, video player, pre-recorded programming, video game, computer, etc.) is approximately 37 hours per week. This reality is in sharp contrast to the 7-14 hours per week recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.” (tweenparent.com)

Continue reading “Parenting Digital Kids”

Introducing Kids to Nature

How to Turn Kids On To Nature

I can’t tell you how many times one of my middle school students has melted down because he or she could not find his or her cell phone. They just come unglued.

Most kids are hooked on their screens. In fact, many of them are better named “screenagers,” addicted to digital images and text. They bounce from their cell phone screen to their television screen to their computer screen to their iPad screen, and in many cases their screens are all on at the same time. It’s quite an exciting existence to the average teenager. They can’t think of anything more interesting than laying on a comfortable couch in front of a satellite-connected high-definition TV, with their smartphone and X-Box controller on the coffee table, their iPad on the lap, and the computer nearby (just in case). If you think I am exaggerating, just ask a teenager if they think that sounds like a nice way to spend a summer day.

These screens are more like screen-doors or screen-windows than windows to the real world. You can see and hear things to some extent, but the clarity and depth perception is inferior. You are not fully in the world, even though you can hear and see and maybe even feel some of what’s happening out there. These digital doorways are virtual experiences at best.

The best way we can unhook them is not to take away all their screen time and tell them to go read a book. The answer is to get them hooked on something even more interactive and real than what’s on their screen. And what better antidote for digital addiction than fishing, hiking, or hunting?

Jake Hindman, an agent with the Missouri Conservation Department and a true outdoorsman, speaks to adults around the state about how to get kids interested in the outdoors. Here is a summary of his 3-point sermon: Continue reading “Introducing Kids to Nature”

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

Anne Lamott says that in her experience the two most powerful prayers are “Help me, help me, help me.” and “Thank you, thank, you, thank you.”

We are so grateful for our recent trip to Laguna Beach, California.  The Dream Factory granted our family a first-class vacation that would suit the special needs and wishes of our daughter, Kathryn.  They paid for and arranged all the details of a trip that we unanimously hail as the best family vacation we have ever had. Thank you, Bene Messmer and all the volunteers and donors at The Dream Factory!

Continue reading “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!”

Video Games

I grew up with the Atari 2600 video game system.  It was the cultural phenomenon of 1978, right along with Star Wars (I was a nut for both).  To go from the old Pong game system to Space Invaders, Pac Man, Pitfall, and Asteroids seemed like a giant leap for all mankind.  I had such fun playing those games, saving up my money to buy another cartridge, and swapping stories and games with my friends.  Perhaps I wasted some hours of life along the way, especially in the long days of summer, but all in all, it was good clean fun.

Flash forward 33 summers later.  My son just turned 12, and like all boys, loves to play video games on his X-Box.  As a matter of fact, right now he is playing a video hockey game with a friend.  They just finished playing soccer and wiffle ball outside, so it’s a great way to cool down indoors on this steamy July afternoon.

This is what I love about video games.  It can be a very social activity for boys and girls to play in between more active, creative activities. Sometimes, my son and I will play a game when we are wiped out from the other activities of the day, and we just want to chill out and have some fun.  We tease each other and laugh a lot, as we play a game that keeps us acting and reacting to each others’ onscreen moves.  Mostly, he wins, which makes him feel great, but most importantly, we enjoy the free-spirited competition —  the laughs, the taunts, the punches — much more than the game itself.

As with every good thing, there can be too much of it.  Here’s one of many articles about the negative effects of too much gaming. Certainly, moderation is paramount with video games. Continue reading “Video Games”

Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis

If you are growing old well, then you are likely to help a child grow up well.

40 is not old, but it’s certainly not young either.  It’s the start of mid-life, and it has a well-earned, dangerous reputation.  It’s when so many people have an inner crisis, even if life is sailing along smoothly on the outside.  At some point disappointment, boredom, or depression accompany the person who has a career, a family, a home, a community, and all the subsequent stress of being responsible for so much.  In addition, health problems of all kinds begin to flare up by 40, which remind us that we are decaying in far more ways than we are growing.

Many 40-somethings have established their career, have gotten married, have had a few kids, and have bought all the things they need and most of the things they want.  They have arrived at their life destination, and they wonder, “This is it?”

For others, they are still building the best  life they can, and they feel the crushing weight of pressure from what they have constructed.  There are too many things to do, too many people to care for, too many problems to solve – just too many responsibilities in every area of life.  They are caring for children, spouses, friends, employees, and even aging parents.  They get to a point where they simply cannot balance it all anymore; it’s all just too much.  In frustration they cry out, “There just isn’t enough me to go around!”

It’s a tough time of life, indeed, and for some it’s just too much, so they pull the ripcord of life.  They give up on something big, like their marriage, their kids, or their career.  Sometimes they chuck it all at once.  Or they just give up trying very hard at anything, settling into a comfortably complacent lifestyle.  They fall prey to the consumer-centered suburban lifestyle, and they go out to pasture.

So what’s a mid-lifer to do?  Well, after spending four days in Colorado with some of my favorite 40-ish guys, I’m ready to convey a few suggestions based on our conversations.  I’m sorry if any of this seems trite; I realize that all of these things are a lot easier said than done.  But hopefully, it will help in some way – for your sake, and for your kids.

  1. Focus. Identify your top four or five priorities in life and focus on them — to the detriment of all else.  Set your sights on just a few things that you are passionate about and that you have valued for a long time.  For me (at this point in my life) it’s family, faith, teaching, and writing.  If I can do those things well, then I am on the right track.  But that may mean that I am not going to keep up with all my friends very well.  It means that I am not going to be able to play golf, read a novel a month, or hone my guitar skills anytime soon.  I have to face facts: I can only do so much.  Trying to do it all is living in a fantasy world (see #4 below).  Learn to accept mediocrity in the less important areas of your life. Continue reading “Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis”

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