Taking Control of Your Digital Life

Part 3 in the series on becoming “tech-wise”

The first two posts in this series laid down a philosophical framework for why we need to take control of our digital devices. Now, let’s dig into the nitty-gritty details. The following is a list of strategies, tools, and thoughts to consider as you use your electronic devices. Try some of these things this week and see what works for you. Then try some more.

Physical Environment

  1. Reduce the number of devices that you use daily and have a philosophy of use for each one. Put certain apps on each device, and intentionally delete (or at least hide) all the extras.
  2. Don’t keep your phone on your body all day long. Give yourself some physical space for extended periods of time.
  3. Reduce the number of TVs and computers in your places, and don’t make them the focal point of any room where you spend a lot of time. Hide the screens as much as you can.
  4. Use paper and pen more. A paperless life is not an ideal life.
  5. Make sure you have tech-free zones and times in your home, in your office, and in your car.
  6. Put your tech to bed early. Put your phone, tablet, laptop in the kitchen every night for charging. Don’t bring it into the bedroom. Parents may need to keep children’s devices in their bedroom, since some kids will sneak their phone at night.
  7. Practice sabbaths from technology use: weekly, daily, hourly. Give your brain a break from the screens regularly. There should be a rhythm to our interaction with technology. There should be a rhythm of work, rest, and play to each day, week, and year.

Continue reading “Taking Control of Your Digital Life”

Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use

Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use (Part 2 in series)

Technology continues to improve, but is our use of technology improving? Not if we use all our high-tech devices and apps with their default settings. Not if we use them in whatever way feels right at the moment. Not if we go along with what everyone else is doing. Nothing will improve unless we personally change the ways we use technology during our days.

As parents, teachers, and coaches of young people, we see the current struggles that they are having with technology, and we would like to do something about it. But we have little idea about what to do to be helpful.

The answer begins with us. We need to attempt to gain control of our own digital lives, as we also try to help young people gain control of their digital lives. We should put high-tech tools to use in their proper places, and that includes putting them away at times. We need to become tech-wise, not just tech-savvy. We need to lead by example, and teach from our experiences.

Continue reading “Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use”

3 Skills + 1 Passion

For young people to achieve success in their career, it is no longer enough to have a college degree. New college graduates feel like a successful, satisfying, and sustainable career is out of their reach. But there is good news for them that is not dependent on the whims of the labor market or the stock market.

The answer to this problem can be found in a simple equation: 3 + 1.

“3 Skills + 1 Passion” is an idea I am recycling from Tim Ferris’s new book Tools of Titans. In it, Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert, explained what he calls the “double or triple threat.”

Continue reading “3 Skills + 1 Passion”

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”

The Power of Kindness

Josh was a normal teenager whose father died. His mother moved them from their home in the country to the city, with the hope that a fresh start would improve their lives.

But Josh was ridiculed in his new school for no good reason. In fact, he was ridiculed for a horrible reason.

Instead of responding with hatred or melting into melancholy, Josh chose to be kind. To everyone. Simply kind. And his world changed.

Josh’s kind strength is what our boys and girls should imitate in their own ways.

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

The Distance Run

CSC_0569I coach middle school cross country, which is not a glamorous job, but it is uniquely rewarding. For young distance runners, the hardest part is embracing the pain that creates stronger legs and faster times. I try to make practices and meets fun, but there is no way of getting around the fact that running really fast for 15-20 minutes is going to be painful, especially for growing little bodies.

Most of the kids who run cross country learn that without a healthy dose of pain every day they will not improve. No pain, no gain. Convincing kids of this is no easy task, but over time the sport tends to naturally reward those who fight through physical pain and emotional weakness.

When a young person develops some mental and physical toughness, they are growing up well. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the progress that these kids make over a season.

Some of my fellow coaches, Doug and Jennifer Meyer, use a fairy tale metaphor when explaining the need to persevere over a long distance. It also applies to many of life’s challenges that require stamina.

Parenting is a distance run, after all.

The Wolf

Somewhere in the middle of the race, there is a big bad wolf lurking around the corner. He will try to get you to slow down.

He sneaks up next to you and says things like, “Slow down. You’re hurting yourself. This is crazy. What’s the point of this? It’s not like you can win the race. You’re not very fast. Doesn’t this hurt? Just take it easy. No one will notice.”

The wolf doesn’t want you to work hard to achieve your goals. Continue reading “The Distance Run”

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.

motivationdemotivator

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

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”

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”

The Connected Family

2014 is the first year in American history in which everybody has a mobile device. We are at the saturation point with smartphones, tablets, laptops, and TVs. They are in our pockets, purses, cars, backpacks, and bedrooms. We all have screens with us throughout our days, and some of us are never without a screen.

Now we are considering how to live well with the screens. Most of us are not yet comfortable with where and when and how to use our devices in a healthy way.

Digital family

Today, I received an email from AT&T about how to become better connected. This is their vision of the ideal family connection.

At first glance, it looks great. Happy parents. Kids sitting content nearby. Well dressed. Clean home. No worries.

But on further review, how ideal is this? Continue reading “The Connected Family”

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.

Living in Crisis

 

Our family is in crisis. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

Three weeks ago, our severely disabled 13-year-old daughter, Kathryn, had a full spinal fusion surgery. According to the “pain team” of anesthesiologists and neurologists, it is the second most painful surgery to recover from. (It’s second only to a certain kind of chest surgery.) So, we have been dealing with a lot of crying, screaming, tears, flailing arms, beeping machines, doctors, nurses, specialists, sleepless nights, and hospital meals – just to list a few of the trials of the last month. It’s been a hell of a month.

Depressed manTo add to the complications, both my wife and I have been dealing with health problems of our own that manifested in the week before the big surgery. Julie earned herself a hernia in her abdomen, which was surgically removed three days before our daughter’s surgery. She is not allowed to lift anything for several weeks, which is pretty challenging for the mother of a disabled girl. In addition, I earned myself an ailment called Meniere’s Disease, which landed me flat on my back on two occasions with two-hours of nasty vertigo – both episodes were during the week of Kathryn’s surgery.

Fortunately, we have a good support system made of our family, friends, and medical community. Continue reading “Living in Crisis”

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”

Preparing for the Storm

If you have ever sat with a weather radio in a dark basement or closet during a tornado warning, or if you have ever hastily prepared for an oncoming hurricane, you know the anxiety that an approaching storm can bring. As a native Midwesterner with friends and relatives scattered about “tornado alley” and with a father who lives on the coast in Florida, I know a little about these times of uncertain anticipation of imminent danger.

Dark, Ominous Clouds Promise Rain and poor Weather.

The storms-of-life metaphor is an ancient archetype, as powerful today as it was thousands of years ago. Storms are used in nearly every movie, book, and play to create the setting for trouble, the mood of tension, and the dramatic dance between eerily-quiet darkness and the jolting of cracks of thunder, lightning, wind, and hail. And in many cases, heroes are made in storms. The Bible is full of stories of storms that radically alter and often ruin people’s lives. Storms are used by God in the Old and New Testament to judge the wicked, test the faithful, and reveal life’s harshness and God’s goodness in both justice and mercy. Through the ages, countless poems and songs have alluded to storms as a way to communicate the universal fear of destruction that moves every man, woman, and child to fears and tears.

The distant storm is a unique sort of crisis. At times, we face a slow-approaching storm in our life, one that we can see steadily advancing toward us for days, weeks, or even months. Continue reading “Preparing for the Storm”

What Does it Mean to Grow Up?

This is the time of year when I start to see some signs of maturity in my 7th grade students. Many of them are growing up, and I’m actually starting to see it, much like the first shoots of daffodils this time of year.

In my English class we read a few coming-of-age novels. Recently, we read The House on Mango Street, and we discussed what it means to grow up. As a way to kick off the discussion, I gave them two definitions that I found from unlikely sources.

The first is just a comment on a blog by someone named Sarge927 who says, “A person “grows up” when he/she learns to take responsibility for his/her own actions and stops behaving as if the world revolves around him/her. Many people never truly grow up because they constantly blame others for everything “bad” that has happened in their lives or they expect everyone and everything in their world to conform to their point of view. People who are grown up will suck it up and pay the price if they get caught breaking the law, even if it’s just a speeding ticket, while those who are not grown up will try to find any and every way to weasel out of it. People who are grown up will give and don’t always expect to get, those who are not grown up will always ask “What’s in it for me?”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

And then there is this classic from  a “Dear Abby” column, in which she defined growing up in the following ways:

Maturity is the ability to do a job whether you are supervised or not; finish a job once it is started; carry money without spending it and be able to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.

Maturity is the ability to control anger and settle differences without violence.

Maturity is patience. It is the willingness to postpone immediate gratification in favor of the long-term gain.

Maturity is perseverance, the ability to sweat out a project or a situation in spite of heavy opposition and discouraging setbacks.

Maturity means dependability, keeping one’s word, coming through in a crisis. The immature are masters of the alibi. They are confused and disorganized. Their lives are a maze of broken promises, former friends, unfinished business and good intentions that somehow never materialized.

Well said.

So, we all have some growing up to do, don’t we?

 

A Scholastic Tuneup

Many teachers will tell you that it’s the middle of the school year when most learning takes place. So, let’s take a quick look at some old and some new ideas for helping young students get the most of their education right now in the heart of the school year.

Some Basics

Rest: Get 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  The more consistent, the better.

Eat a large healthy breakfast, like oatmeal and eggs. Don’t skip a meal. And don’t eat high-sugar foods during the day.

Focus: Use any spare class time to work on homework, rather than socializing. If needed, ask to sit away from a friend who can’t stop talking.

Friends: Use recess, passing times, lunch, and before/after school time for socializing.

Drink water throughout the day. Take a water bottle to class.

Move. Don’t skip recess or PE. Exercise helps academic concentration.

Homework: Setup a spot in the home that is quiet and supplied for schoolwork.

Time: Set aside time every night for homework and have an adult available to help if needed. A little exercise right after school is helpful.

Daily Planner: Use a planner to keep track of assignments, tests, quizzes, and project due dates.  Use it in every class, everyday.

Locker: Keep it organized and tidy. Organized students learn more and get better grades.

Something New

Young people will tell you that they think best when they have music on and when they can access their friends with their digital devices. Continue reading “A Scholastic Tuneup”

Growing Up Too Fast

Our culture tends to throw kids in the deep-end of the pool without teaching them how to swim. Kids are given adult freedoms and privileges, without the responsibilities and training to help them handle it.  Now more than ever, it’s essential to give kids age-appropriate responsibilities, privileges, and freedoms.

Knowing exactly what is and is not age-appropriate is no simple task.  The unpredictable nature of adolescence makes it especially difficult. Every day I am amazed at how 13-year-olds are both incredibly immature and mature.  With any group of seventh graders, there will be some kids with tremendous maturity and some with absolutely none.  Even more amazing is how a single student can seem so mature one moment and so utterly immature the next moment.  It’s a paradox that makes my job as a father, teacher, and coach constantly interesting and challenging.

This is not a new phenomenon, but I think it has grown from a simple stage of development to a societal problem.  The problem is that many children are growing up too fast without developing properly.  Kids are growing up fast but not well; they are not ready to handle the adult things that they are getting in to so young.

David Elkind wrote The Hurried Child in 1981 and has updated it several times since, in response to the fast-changing world of media and technology in which kids live.  He discusses the effects of television on kids in great detail.

Continue reading “Growing Up Too Fast”

I Wish You Failure

Once again, I offer an article from NPR’s This I Believe.  Jon Carroll started at the San Francisco Chronicle editing the crossword puzzle and writing TV listings. He has been a columnist for the paper since 1982.

Last week, my granddaughter started kindergarten, and, as is conventional, I wished her success. I was lying. What I actually wish for her is failure. I believe in the power of failure.

Success is boring. Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly the first time, which can often be a problematical victory. First-time success is usually a fluke. First-time failure, by contrast, is expected; it is the natural order of things.

Failure is how we learn. Continue reading “I Wish You Failure”

The Power of No (Part 3)

Young teenagers often “cross the line.” It’s inevitable, so it should not surprise us. Yet, we should not just acquiesce to the lowest common denominator: “Boys will be boys.”

It’s our job as adults to help young boys and girls to live well and to move towards becoming young men and women. Adolescence should be a growth process, not a static state of being, or worse yet, a window of time in which to act like a dumb animal. Saying to kids, “No, you won’t do that,” is vital to a civil society.

Young men and women need adults to speak up, but it’s scary sometimes to be the bad guy.  For example, it can be intimidating for even a grown man to tell a teenage boy to pull his pants up, for goodness sake (click here for that story).

Being the bad guy is easier said than done, and as a parent, teacher, and coach, I often fail to hold kids to account. Continue reading “The Power of No (Part 3)”

The Power of No (Part 2)

Sometimes a bad example is as motivating as a good one. I had just such an experience last Saturday:

Electric guitarGuitar Center is now my son’s “candy store.”  There are so many flavors to sample: Stratocaster, Telecaster, Les Paul, and Gretsch to name a very few.  Saturdays are the worst day to shop there because there are so many customers trying out electric guitars that it’s sheer dissonance. It’s a cacophony of mostly teenage boys trying to impress nobody in particular with their imitations of classic rock guitar heroes.

One particular 14 year old boy surprised me with his guitar skills, but it was his behavior that was truly shocking. In the thirty minutes that we were there, this boy must have picked up and played twenty guitars through a dozen different amplifiers, using every effect imaginable. He played at near-ear-splitting volume so that other customers could not hear themselves. Eventually, he sat down right next to my son and started wailing away and jammering on about the awesomeness of Marshall amps. Just as I was about to ask him to turn it down, his dad showed up and asked his son to leave. Continue reading “The Power of No (Part 2)”

How to Negotiate with Children

In a recent panel discussion about parenting on National Public Radio, “When No Means No” (11 minutes of audio), some moms and a family therapist were debating the extent to which parents should negotiate with their children.  It is an interesting discussion about how children need to learn to negotiate at home so that they can learn to negotiate the waters of the river of life.  There was no debate among the panel members that negotiation is a vital life skill, and all agreed  that parents need to teach children how to do it well.  The big question is:  How do you allow children to negotiate with adults, without allowing them to become obnoxious little princes and princesses who feel the kingdom is entitled to them?

The power struggle between children and parents is a primary issue in every household, in every culture, in every era of history.  It should be.  How much power should a child have over his or her life?  And how much power should a parent exercise on behalf of the child?

As in all things, the extremes get the most attention.  The parents who have total authority over their children make the news with their abusive behavior, and the parents who have no authority in their household make the news with their negligence.  The children of these extremists invariably suffer from a wide variety of unhealthy mental and emotional problems.  Some work it out, in spite of their parents’ grave mistakes, while most do not successfully grow up well.  But most of us don’t fall in the extreme cases.

Most parents learn that very young children need lots of boundaries and very little freedom.  And we learn that, as time goes by, they should get increasingly more freedoms and responsibilities, until one day they are independent and can handle living alone at college.

But the real question for most of us is something like, “What do I do with my 8 year old who questions and begs and tries to negotiate with me all the time?”

Continue reading “How to Negotiate with Children”

Failure’s Top Ten List

1.  Not Everybody Gets A Trophy

Somewhere along the line we became a society that preached instant gratification. Like a giant carnival, our slogan became “everybody wins all the time.” We know it’s not true. It’s also a terrible example to set. Losing is every bit as important in human growth as winning. Rewarding your child for doing nothing will teach him just that. Nothing.

2.  Everyone Has Different Talents

Maybe your daughter wants to be the next Carrie Underwood. Then you hear her sing. Your son wants to be Evan Longoria. He can’t hit the ball off a tee. There are just some things we aren’t cut out for. It’s best to learn that at an early age. The good news is that they are a champion at something. Guide them towards where their gifts lie.

3.  Have Class

What is one of the most flattering descriptions a person can hear? “He sure has a lot of class.” “She sure was a great sport about it.” Are you teaching your children how to fail with dignity? How a person accepts failure is an easy indicator of the character within. It also almost guarantees future success. Respect is gained outwardly and inwardly. Coach Dungy is prime example of “class.”

4.  Learning From Mistakes

“I think and think for months. For years. Ninety-nine times the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” Who said that? Albert Einstein. Mistakes humble. They can hurt. Yet without them, we are stagnant. Every mistake we make is an educational experience. Every success is built upon a foundation of errors and corrections.

Continue reading “Failure’s Top Ten List”

Prepare Them for Life

Protection and provision are not enough.

“Here’s the paradox: If we protect our children too absolutely, we actually end up exposing them to other risks.  And leave them without the skills, experiences, and minor life lessons that they’ll need to handle the big challenges as they grow up.” (Perri Klass, M.D.)

When children are very young, they must be protected and nurtured in absolutely every way.  An infant is helpless and needy at all times.  He must be fed, clothed, changed, transported, and even cajoled into sleep – or else he will get sick and die.  Babies are totally unprepared for life.  Now flash forward 18 years, and that same human, now full-grown, had better not be helpless or needy, or else something very wrong has taken place in the meantime.  That 18 year old should be a strong, self-sufficient young man, able to learn on his own at school, have a variety of healthy relationships, and be able to do the jobs that other adults require of them, in order to have any success in his adult life.  After all, he is a legal adult with all the rights and privileges that come with: working, paying taxes, continuing education, voting, getting married, having children, and even fighting in a war.  He should be ready to fly on his own – maybe not soar yet, but fly enough to survive.

In a recent article about “helicopter parenting” we get a glimpse of the problem from the eyes of a college professor.  “Kathleen Crowley, a professor of psychology says parents’ eagerness to overdirect their children’s lives has led to young adults who are less independent and creative than the generation before. Twenty years ago, Crowley announced an upcoming test in her college classes and that was the end of the discussion. Now, she says she’s expected to provide students with a study guide so they know exactly how to prepare, and she’s had these same young adults come to her in tears because they’d earned their first B and didn’t know how to cope. Because of this “extended adolescence,” when these students graduate and enter their careers, they’re now offered workplace mentoring and on-the-job training just to ensure their success.” (Jennifer Gish)

So why are so many 18-28 year old men and women still in adolescence?  Why are so many having nervous breakdowns in the midst of their inability to deal with the trials of life?  Why are so many young men and women crippled (socially and emotionally) in the adult world?

The answer may be simple, but the solution is complex.  The young man’s parents, teachers, and coaches may have done a fine job of protecting and providing, but they did not prepare the child for adulthood.  The solution is not so simple.  HOW do you prepare a child to succeed on his or her own?  (The following is not a comprehensive list)

Continue reading “Prepare Them for Life”

Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes

I’m grading papers on the second to last day of the school year.  I’m grading fast, trying to finish ASAP, so I can go run some errands.  I am more than a little ready to get out from behind my desk and browse around the hardware store, before heading home.  Teaching in May is exhausting.  And in walks Ian, who is in a very happy mood.

Ian is a junior (a senior in just 24 hours) who was an English student of mine five years ago when he was in seventh grade.  Back then, he was a trainwreck academically (he’s the first to admit that).  In spite of his positive attitude and a love for books and acting, he was a woeful writer.  He routinely earned D’s and F’s on his papers, especially on essays of any length.  He could talk your ear off, and he was terrific in dramatic performance, but writing was a source of constant frustration.  Truly, his spelling, handwriting, and syntax were awful.  Trust me.  It was scary.

Continue reading “Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes”

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