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!”

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.

Helping Your Teen Deal with a Sports Injury

So, your teenager is injured and is out for the rest of the season. Of course, his or her initial reaction will be anger, sadness, self-pity, confusion. That is normal, since this is a form of grief – the loss of something beloved.

But after a few days of sulking and trying to come to grips with the loss, a young athlete has a choice to make. Will he or she make the very best of the situation, or not?

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3d rendered illustration of a painful shoulderWhen I was a high school freshman, I was a big shot quarterback, playing up with the older kids on the junior varsity team. In the first game of the year, I played well enough to lead the team to a win, but I broke my collarbone on one of the last plays of the game. That was it for the season. No more football until next year.

After a week of pain and anger at home, I was back at school, feeling better but not able to run, throw, or do anything athletically. It seemed totally pointless to go to practice or games, so I just stopped showing up. I would hang out after school for a little while, then get to my homework early.

After a few days, one of my coaches asked me when I would show up to practice and games. I was surprised. I said, “I wasn’t planning on it, since I can’t play for the rest of the season.”

Coach pushed back a little, “Well, you can come to the games at the very least and still be a part of the team, right?” Continue reading “Helping Your Teen Deal with a Sports Injury”

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”

The Nature Deficit

I go into nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in tune once more.”   –    John Burroughs

Image

I’m on vacation in Destin, Florida, and my extended family – all 14 of us – are spending each day building sandcastles, playing in the waves, cooking seafood, and sharing life’s problems. And I can’t believe how many teenagers (girls mostly) walk by with their smartphones in their face, oblivious to both the wonder of the ocean and the people with whom they walk.

The statistics say that kids spend over 40 hours per week in front of electronic screens, while they spend less than 40 minutes per week in nature.

Richard Louv is an author who understands this problem more than anyone, and he loves children enough to cry out for them, “Let the children play outdoors!”  His books and lectures are inspiring a national movement to leave no child inside.

Louv explains how this 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. Just look out the window and count the children; Continue reading “The Nature Deficit”

Raising Boys to be Real Men

Boys are misunderstood.  Too often, they are disciplined and shamed by their teachers, parents, or grandparents because it is falsely assumed that good boys should act just like good girls.

Raising boys is a topic of numerous books, but one that stands out is Raising Cain, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.  I had the privilege of hearing them speak at a conference, and their wisdom impressed me deeply.  Here are my notes and thoughts from two of their sessions.

Emotions.  Give boys permission to have an internal life. Give approval to their wide-ranging emotions, as long as they behave civilly. Their tendency will be to hide their emotions at every turn, but this is not healthy. Help them use words to express their feelings effectively, since it is not in their nature or in their culture to speak openly about their feelings. So, give respect to their inner life, and speak about your own inner life. Share your likes, dislikes, fears, sorrows, regrets, hopes, and weaknesses with each other.

Activity.  Accept the high activity level of boys as a healthy part of who they are. Give them a safe place to express their need for action. Embrace their physicality as natural, normal, and in need of channeling, rather than suppressing.  Boys need to learn to manage their physicality, but they do not need to be shamed for their exuberance.

Speak to them.  Talk to boys in their language – in a way that honors their pride and masculinity. Be direct with them. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  And when possible, use them as consultants and problem solvers. They will love feeling important to you. It is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and respect.

Re-define courage.  Teach boys that there is more to being a hero than physically defeating an enemy. Continue reading “Raising Boys to be Real Men”

Books for Boys

Finding a well-written, entertaining book for a boy who hates to read is always a challenge.

 

Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen, grabs your attention at the get-go. It opens, “One day, it seemed he was eleven and playing in the dirt around the cabin or helping with chores, and the next, he was thirteen, carrying a .40 caliber Pennsylvania flintlock rifle, wearing smoked-buckskin clothing and moccasins, moving through the woods like a knife though water while he tracked deer to bring home to the cabin for meat.”

This is a book for the reluctant male reader.  It is just 164 pages and moves quickly but with plenty of detail in the right places.  It has characters that you root for, conflicts that create tension, and plenty of interesting historical information about everyday life during the Revolutionary War.  Most importantly, the author makes the reader feel the struggle, the pain, and the chaos of the war, with an appropriate amount of detail (not too much for an eleven year old, but not too little for an adult.)  The reader witnesses death, destruction, and disease, as well as heroism that, against all odds, continues to fight for what is good.

Paulsen does not glamorize war.  He shines a light on war’s destructiveness, in which we see the very worst of man’s nature, as well as the very best.  It’s a tense story with a very real conflict that is deeply felt.  To the very end, it is not predictable.  In fact, at several points a long the way, Paulsen shocks the reader with something completely unforeseen yet entirely believable.

The main character, Samuel is an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy whose life is transformed in extraordinary ways. The publisher writes, “Gary Paulsen brings readers into the flesh-and-blood reality of one boy’s struggle in the long and savage war that changed people’s lives in infinite ways.”  It’s best to just read it, without reading the jacket cover or anything.  Is it a sad story? Yes.  Is it full of exciting action? Yes.  Is it deeply depressing and full of despair? No.  Similar to the birth of America, it is a tale of tragedy and triumph.  It is just the sort of book that boys (ages 10-14+) should be reading.  And the values taught within the tale will be tops on anyone’s list: loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice for others, resiliency, and resourcefulness.

Some other good books for boys, related to boys surviving difficult obstacles:

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Holes, by Jeff Sachar

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen

The King of Mulberry Street, by Donna Jo Napoli

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series) by Rick Riordan

The Secret Benedict Society (Series) by Trenton Lee Stewart

Eragon (Series) by Chris Paolini

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Series) by Andrew Peterson

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In addition to reading about outdoor adventures, our kids need to get outdoors. So, sign those kids up for summer camps that get them outdoors.  Have a campout in the backyard. Go fishing. Try a hike you’ve never been on but have heard good things about. Anything.

Here’s a slideshow from our little Outdoor Camp.

 

The Value of Pain

As I walk through the halls after school, there is a barrage of faces along my path.  Some I know well; some I don’t know at all.  Some are happy; some look very frustrated.  But all of these kids have stories inside.  Some of their stories are silly — full of joy from a life yet unblemished by heartache or tragedy.  And some have stories they keep to themselves because they are not the kind that they want to tell or others want to hear.  There are some broken kids out there, some of whom will mend well, and grow up to be good and strong.

As I walk briskly by them each day, I think about what stories I know.  Not enough, unfortunately.  But I know that boy; he’s has had serious struggles with perfectionism and an eating disorder in middle school and is now very healthy, athletic, and academically successful.  I know that girl, whose mother died of cancer when she was ten; her dad remarried a woman whose spouse also died of cancer.  Their blended family is an inspiration.  I also know the story of that girl, whose little brother has Down’s Syndrome and whose parents are on the brink of divorce; she’s serious, smart, and sometimes silly.  Actually, I just know bits and pieces of their stories, but it’s enough to see the depth in their eyes.  I know that they know pain.

Continue reading “The Value of Pain”

Back to School – Sleep Needed

Today was the first day of school for me and my new students.  It was a truly exciting and exhausting day.  Many of us did not sleep well last night, as our brains buzzed with so many random things to do, to remember, and to worry about.  And on top of a little sleep deprivation, we expend a lot of extra physical, emotional, and mental energy in these first days of school.  It’s a shock to the system, indeed.

More than ever we need to take care of ourselves by eating well, exercising, drinking lots of water, and setting a good sleep pattern.

The American Medical Association recommends that adolescents sleep approximately 9 hours a night. Yet, there is some research to suggest that biological sleep patterns change in adolescence. Melatonin, the chemical our brain secretes to help us sleep, is secreted in the teen brain from 11 pm to 8am. Thus, your teen may not FEEL sleepy earlier than 11. Nonetheless, there are some practical ways you can help your child get sleep.

•Avoid caffeine in the afternoon.

•Avoid computer games that can be arousing prior to bedtime.

•Avoid bright lights in the evening and sleeping with a TV or computer screen flickering in the bedroom.

• Allow your teen to sleep in 2 to 3 hours later than the usual on weekends. Allowing your teen to sleep more can disrupt his/her sleeping schedule.

•Make sure your teen has a healthy breakfast. Often, teens don’t take the time to eat in the morning – providing a high protein energy bar is a simple solution.

•Help your teen plan study times. Post a family calendar on the refrigerator with all family obligations, sports practices, church activities, etc. This allows your teen to plan blocks of time to complete homework. A teen’s ability to plan and organize is a later developing brain function; do not be afraid to provide structure, as needed.

•Homework is a learning tool that helps provide the student and teacher with information concerning skills/concepts that may or may not have been understood. If your student is struggling with an assignment, encourage your teen to make an appointment with his/her teacher.  Check homework for completion, not accuracy.

Get Out and Play!

Yesterday afternoon was a cold one – a great day to be inside with some hot chocolate.  The wind chill was in the single digits.  Four inches of snow and ice covered the ground.  Inside, we were perfectly warm and dry.

There were five of us (ages 7, 11, 19, 38, 39), standing around in the kitchen eating some chips, crab dip, and cookies for an after-school snack.  We were kicking around ideas of what to do for the next hour before dinner.

Option A:  Watch TV (The Muppet Show on dvd) or internet videos (Super Bowl commercials)

Option B:  Play a video game (Guitar Hero)

Option C:  Play a board game, cards, or BananaGrams

Option D:  Get all bundled up and go sledding.

Sledding seemed like the most fun but would require the most effort by far.  I didn’t really want to mess with finding five sets of hats, gloves, boots, snow pants, and jackets, and the cleanup is always a hassle too.  However, I thought that I really needed some exercise, so we went for it.

It was the best part of the day by far – full of danger, excitement, laughter, and fun exercise.  Yes, it required a lot of preparation, some patience, some fighting against the bitter wind, and some counseling of the 7 year old.  But what an experience!  The picture of three kids mashed together in a big plastic sled, about to shoot down the hill, is worth a hundred times more than any kind of picture of those kids sitting in front of the television.

We all need more of this.

“Life is about being out, and experiencing it!” Tiki Barber

Beyond Beauty and Athletics

Athletic talent is instant karma for the social status of any young man.  In modern American mythology, the quarterback is the hero.

It’s easy for the athletically-gifted boy to be well-respected and popular because he is always among the biggest, fastest, strongest, and most coordinated boys in his grade.  Anytime there is a physical contest, which is pretty much every hour of every day in a boy’s life, he succeeds.  He gets picked first – maybe second – every time.  And that is just the beginning of the fun.  Win or lose, his God-given talent is on stage for all of his peers to see, sometimes garnering instant applause.  Later, he will bask in the glory of hearing others review some great move or play he made.  His friends will enter his bedroom to see a wall full of trophies, ribbons, and medals.  In high school, he will see his name and picture in the local newspaper.  It’s “The Life” for a boy.

For the most elite athlete, he doesn’t feel the NEED to be a good student, have a witty personality, or have great social skills.  In some cases, he doesn’t even need to practice as hard as the others.  He just needs to put on his shoes and go play ball and success happens because he has IT – the gift of athleticism.  So, he gets self-esteem automatically, friends easily, and it can spoil him to the point where he is no longer developing in other important areas.  His peers allow him to coast – and not grow up well.

And so it is with the beautiful girl. Everybody knows who she is. From the earliest age, people stare at her, trying to figure out what makes her so pretty.  What’s her secret?  All of her pictures turn out well because she is naturally photogenic.  Her facial features are perfectly symmetrical with high cheekbones and bright eyes. Her skin is clear and bright. Her hair easily folds into the latest hairstyle, and her figure just gets better each year.  She is Venus, goddess of love and beauty, who needs no decoration or modification.  In modern mythology, the beautiful cheerleader is the goddess who captivates the hero.

She simply smiles politely, and everybody adores her.  She doesn’t have to speak intelligently, get good grades, or have a snappy sense of humor.  Her name is written on binders at school, and all eyes are on her in the halls.  Continue reading “Beyond Beauty and Athletics”

21st Century Beauty vs. Girls

Beauty is complicated.  I feel sorry for our girls who have to grow up in this modern American society which twists and enlarges the meaning of beauty at every turn, every day.  It’s a hostile environment for the self-image of young women.

Sometimes, it helps to go way back in time to find some truth.  How about two thousand years?  First Century Christians were taught this about beauty: “Let your beauty not be external – the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes – but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)  The world has changed, and always will, but truth has not.

External beauty is elusive, shallow, and fleeting.  It’s mere eye candy.  However, inner beauty is obtainable by all, deeply-satisfying, and eternally valuable – it’s just not as immediate, apparent, or exciting.  Our girls need to know this as soon as possible. We can help them see real beauty, but as usual, it’s going to take some direction and a lot of love.

Related Article: Sexy Too Soon

Avoiding Alcohol in Adolescence

The following is an excerpt from “A sobering time for parents” by SHEILA WAYMAN (printed in the Irish Times 9-01-09)

“Our approach to drinking in Ireland is not normal; we drink to get drunk,” says consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Bobby Smyth, who specialises in addiction. Every day, through his work at the Drug Treatment Centre’s offices in Dublin, he sees the collateral damage of that culture among teenagers.

“We know the younger the person starts drinking, the more likely they are to develop a dependency on alcohol in later life, the more likely they are to develop a drug problem.”

They are also much more likely to take part in risky behavior and suffer accidental injuries.  In addition, drunkenness is undoubtedly the gateway to other drugs.

The whole point of adolescence is to pick up the skills needed for an independent life. The last thing that’s needed at this stage is the “crutch” of some chemical substance.

“The longer kids avoid alcohol, the better for them” – both mentally and physically. It can cause irreversible damage to a still developing brain, not to mention the liver.

Continue reading “Avoiding Alcohol in Adolescence”

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