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)”

Character Matters Sooner Than Later

Teenagers may think that the middle and high school years don’t matter much, and that having fun is paramount. Or they might think that making good grades, making the team, or being popular is what matters most. Those are common viewpoints held by teens and by the culture at large.

Everybody has their value system, but here is a different way of looking at the teen years. We’ve all heard that the teens are building character, one mistake and life lesson at a time. Let me put it a different way: Teens are building a reputation right now, and that reputation will follow them, unfair as that may be.

If I could speak to every 7th grader in the world, I would say something like this:

“Kids, listen up. Who you are right now in school does matter, and here’s why. Who are you are now is how others will remember you 20, 30, even 60 years from now. It’s a snapshot etched in their memory. It may not be fair, but it’s a fact. People will remember what kind of person you were, and it’s that lens that they will see you through, until you are able to replace that lens, which takes a lot of time. Continue reading “Character Matters Sooner Than Later”

The Holidays Are a Magnifier

The Holidays — the six weeks of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years — are a magnifier. In general, happy people get happier, sad people get sadder, lonely people get lonelier, etc. This is true for children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly.

For some, life is going pretty well, and the holidays are the most wonderful time of year, chock full of sentimental decorations, music, food, smells, and traditions that celebrate love, peace, family, friendship, and all that is good in life. The holidays are the icing on a good cake. Bring it on. All of it.

For others, the holidays are not so happy. Instead, it is a time full of the most painful reminders of what is not present in their lives.  Continue reading “The Holidays Are a Magnifier”

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.

Perpetual Parenting

It’s likely that you are being a great parent even when you aren’t thinking about it. You may be doing a heck of a job of training your children without even trying to do so. Unaware, you can parent well. Unfortunately, that door swings both ways. You can be a terrible parent without thinking about it (most lousy parents never think about it).

Whether you are directly or indirectly parenting, it is perpetual. This is the good news and the bad news. You are a role model all day every day. It never ends. Even after your child has left the home and has a family of his or her own. Children will always look to their parents.

sonParenting is tacit. Sometimes you are totally oblivious to the fact that you are parenting intensely. In fact, the most powerful moments as a parent are often when you least expect it. You are imprinting yourself — your values, your beliefs, your actions, your attitudes — deeply into the impressionable clay that is your growing child. And yet, it may not feel like you are molding anything. You are just living with your kids. You are tired. It’s just every day life. And yet, your child is soaking up everything you say and is reading your body language very carefully. Continue reading “Perpetual Parenting”

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”

Ordinary Parenting

Parenting is messy. It’s often a blender full of emotions, tasks, and conflicts. That why we so often feel pureed by our family life.

Parenting is mundane. It requires incessant planning, cleaning, cooking, driving, laundry, arguing, more driving, phone calls, filling in forms, more driving, more cleaning, on and on.

But parenting is also a “glorious ordinary.” It is a beautiful mess.

This video illustrates this well.

Do you look for beauty in your messy everyday life? It’s there, but you have to look for it. Slow down, look around, and ponder the mundane elements in your home. Find some everyday wonders.

Look at your dog. Really look at him. He may need a bath, and he causes problems, but what a loyal companion he is, putting up with your inconsistent love.

Look at your messy kitchen. It looks better when clean, but a clean kitchen is not alive. A dirty kitchen exhibits nourishment. It’s the scene of the best aromas of life and some of your greatest meltdowns. The kitchen is the heart of the home, where real drama plays out and real food feeds the weary. Continue reading “Ordinary Parenting”

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.

Teach Your Children Compassion

No matter the age, our children need to be trained to be compassionate. It does not come naturally. Kids are egocentric, but they can and should be taught to consider the needs of others, as much as they consider their own. Some of those needs are invisible, so we need to become sensitive.

Our job as parents, teachers, and coaches is to show, tell, and explain to our children the needs of others around us.

This video reveals what is so true, not just in hospitals, but in every arena of life. We all have pain and joy, and every person has a different set of trials and triumphs everyday.

Show this to your children and talk about it. Or email it to them. 🙂

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”

The Sacred Honor of Being a Parent

A Unique Relationship

Parenting is a unique relationship, wherein the parent is authorized by law and by God to protect, provide, nurture, and discipline. Ultimately, the parent must somehow control self and child enough to train for independent success.

Parenting is a special relationship, one in which the parent is fully responsible for the children in the early years and only a little less responsible as the children grow older. It requires enormous sums of time, energy, and money. It requires tough love, tender affection, as well as the shades of grey in the middle.

Parenting is so challenging because every situation is complicated and varies from past situations. What works today may not work tomorrow. And the stakes are high for the parent because the “success” or “failure” of the child directly reflects upon the good or bad reputation of the parents.

What other relationship comes close to that kind of responsibility and intimacy?

Parents Are Heroes to their Kids

Thanks to Family Share for the video. Super Work!

It’s Never Too Late to Reconnect With Your Child

I could tell that things weren’t right with me and my boy. He was avoiding me. I was annoyed with him. We weren’t having fun, even when we were playing ping pong or shopping for soccer shoes. I didn’t know what to do. He was acting like a sulking 14 year old boy, and I was acting like a clueless 41 year old man. Too much time passed by, and it slowly was turning ugly. I was losing my boy. So, we had a family pow-wow.

Out of respect for him, I’ll leave out the details, but I have to say that it was not a pleasant conversation. It was just a conversation. Nobody yelled, but there were some tears. But eventually, after sharing a slew of thoughts and feelings, we reconnected. And boy did that feel good.

It’s never too late to sit down with your kid and just talk it out. Just don’t let things fester. Communicate. It may begin awkwardly, but it can end beautifully.

In a related blog post, Hands Free Mama writes about her renewing experience with her daughter. It’s a must read. Click here to read it.  Big thanks to her!

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”

Mister Rogers

I’m a huge Fred Rogers fan, so I was skeptical when I heard about the video remix recently done about him. I expected something satirical and mean-spirited, so I watched with my guard up. Instead, we have this.

There are so many things to learn about in this world and so many people who can help us learn.” – Fred Rogers

Thank you, John D. Boswell, for making this video. And thank you, Fred Rogers, for being a great man, a great teacher, and for leaving behind a great body of work for children throughout the world. Rest in peace, Mister Rogers.

Protecting Kids From the Inside Out

Unlike consumer products, parenting comes without instructions or guarantees. We all want our children to grow up happy, healthy, successful, and involved with positive-minded family and friends. However, our children live in a broken world, and it has a way of breaking young people, sooner or later, one way or another. But there is real hope because some young people do indeed grow up well. So, what’s a parent to do, in the face of the sinful human nature and a toxic popular culture, to raise a truly healthy young adult?

We tend to focus on what we can implement to protect our kids by setting appropriate boundaries, establishing positive activities, and providing safe environments in which our kids can grow. While those are all important aspects of raising “good kids,” they are not enough.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things of man. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Apparently, God is more interested in the inner life than the outer life, therefore we should be concerned primarily with the inner life of our children. Unfortunately, most parents focus primarily on the behavior of their kids – the outer life. Parents often react to symptoms, rather than causes. But outward behavior is not isolated from the heart of the child. Behavior is a reflection of the inner reality. Therefore, it is not possible to fix outward behavior permanently without dealing with the problems of the heart.

There is no formula for fixing problem behaviors in children, but an inside-out approach will be more effective than behavior management.

Growing Up Too Fast

A major source of the problem is that kids are growing up too fast. Continue reading “Protecting Kids From the Inside Out”

Disappointing Birth Brings Hope

By Julie Kerckhoff

Mary and Joseph had just survived an untimely, government-mandated trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Mary “great with child.” Mary, who was chosen by God to have His son, had undergone six months of ridicule for being an unfaithful fiancé. By Jewish law, Joseph could have stoned her or at least dismissed her as his upcoming bride. Joseph had nine months of jeering and questionable looks for why he would marry such a loose, unfaithful woman and not shame her as a Jewish example. His carpentry business went way down as well, because no good Jew would support such abhorrent behavior.

Exhausted, they finally made it into Bethlehem only to find out they were too late. Their slow pace, possibly because Joseph was being considerate of Mary’s pregnancy, allowed every other traveler first dibs on the rooms. God had not even saved them a decent place to rest. God, their heavenly Father, who miraculously conceived the child in Mary’s womb to be their Messiah, had not provided a place for them? Really? Was God really in control? Continue reading “Disappointing Birth Brings Hope”

Stop, Look, Listen

Our kids, no matter the age, need us to be with them, explaining what makes one thing beautiful and another ugly, why one thing is important and the other trivial, and why this is quite right and that is all wrong. A relationship such as this is what makes the world a better place, one person at a time.

I am reading a book about finding life’s great truths in the humblest of places.  The Power of the Powerless is about the lessons learned in a family that cares for a child that has no abilities.  The book affirms life in a profound way. What at first seems like a horrible family situation is revealed to be a wonderful place to grow up.  Here is an excerpt.

“The more a parent points out things to their children, the more the children will take it upon themselves to select, identify, listen to, see, embrace.

“I was brought up in a house where the extraordinary was always discovered in the ordinary. I learned to appreciate the sound of water slapping against itself because my father, each Spring, took an iron rake and walked to the small stream that divided our property in two. Each Spring he pulled sticks, rotting leaves, and stones up from the water that broke free the flow of the stream. ‘Christopher, listen to the water rushing.’ So I listened.

Life imitates life. Children do what adults do. If parents are readers, there is a good chance that their children will grow into the reading habit. If parents embrace the enchantments of the heart, there is a good chance their children, too, will laugh.”

Christopher de Vinck, The Power of the Powerless

Loving Grandpa

One of my favorite 7th grade essays ever is this memoir about a grandfather. Ashley Aucker, is now a 25 year old, wife, mother, singer, and songwriter. She was a sweet, quiet little 12 year old in my 7th grade English class many years ago when she wrote this essay. It blew me away then, and it still moves me now. It’s a tribute to the power of a loving grandparent and the deep the inner lives of children.

The first thing I saw upon waking up were tears streaming down my mom’s face. My eyes were still groggy, but I could tell she has been crying a lot. She told me to get up and get dressed as quickly as possible. The one thing about mornings is that it is the most confusing time of day. Therefore, asking no questions, I got up and did as my mom told me. I threw on a shirt and jeans, brushed my teeth and hair, and ran out to the car.

“We are going to see Grandpa,” she finally told me on the way over to my grandparent’s house. I soon understood what was going on. Grandpa had had cancer for about two years, and this day he was struggling greatly, and I knew that this day he would breathe his last breath. Continue reading “Loving Grandpa”

Hard Times

Life has a way of kicking you down, then kicking you when you are down.  It’s happened to me more than a few times, and I’ve learned that if I can just keep my faith in a loving God who has reasons for the madness in my life, then I can get through to the other side of the pain.  And once I get through, I can be thankful and move forward with a renewed sense of purpose.

Alison Krauss sings a beautiful song about this.  The lyrics are here, but the video is on YouTube, so go ahead and read the lyrics first, then skip on over to view the video.  It’s worth it.

There is a Reason

Written by Ron Block; Performed by Alison Krauss & Union Station

I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There isn’t any wonder that I fall
Why do we suffer, crossing off the years
There must be a reason for it all

I’ve trusted in You, Jesus, to save me from my sin
Heaven is the place I call my home
But I keep on getting caught up in this world I’m living in
And Your voice it sometimes fades before I know

Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, crying with my need
Depending on Your love to carry me
The love that shed His blood for all the world to see
This must be the reason for it all

Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, a fortress in the storm
When what I wrap my heart around is gone
I give my heart so easily to the ruler of this world
When the one who loves me most will give me all

In all the things that cause me pain You give me eyes to see
I do believe but help my unbelief
I’ve seen hard times and I’ve been told
There is a reason for it all

CLICK HERE TO VIEW VIDEO

Middle School: Top Ten Things to Know

The following is an open letter from my boss, Steve Hall, Head of Middle School at Westminster Christian Academy, to our parents. It’s one of my favorite pieces about teaching and parenting young teens.

——————————————————————————————————-

Dear Parents,

The middle school years are a unique time of life.  It is crazy, wonderful, exciting and baffling. As a public service, I’d like to share with you some basic truths about the middle school student living in your home. In the style of the late night shows, I’d like to share with you the Top Ten Things You Should Know About Your Middle School Student

:

10.  Each student has one compelling mission each day: avoid embarrassment! It is true that most students believe everyone is watching them at all times. Each student believes a misplaced word, a stumble in the hallway or a failure to meet the unwritten rules of middle school culture — though, in reality, unknown to all — will be seen and remembered forever by all classmates. Parents, don’t take it personally if they don’t want to hug in public anymore.

9.  Although all outward evidence suggests otherwise, you are a very important person to your child, and your child feels more secure and valued when you care enough to talk with them about anything and everything. Don’t let the rolling eyes or mock disdain deter you. It’s one of those unwritten rules they have to follow as teenagers.

8.  You will require a haz-mat suit and gas mask to handle the unique aromas coming from young teenagers. You have never, ever encountered anything quite like a classroom containing the smells of sweat, an overabundance of body spray and perfume, wet socks and hot, breathing children following PE class. The truth is that kids are self-conscious about the changes that create these issues. It’s a time of a great deal of change in height, weight and appearance. Your child needs a proper diet, plenty of sleep and good hygiene. Be courageous as parents and talk about these changes. The more you talk about them, the easier the discussions will become. Continue reading “Middle School: Top Ten Things to Know”

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”

Powerful Blessings

There are countless ways that an adult can bless a young person.  In Trent & Smalley’s book, The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance, dozens of specific examples are given by people who were greatly blessed by their parents.  Here are a few of those testimonies.  Surely there is something here which can inspire you to better express your love for the young people in your life.

  • My parents would take the time to really listen to me when I talked to them by looking directly into my eyes.
  • We were often spontaneously getting hugged, even apart from a task or chore.
  • They would let me explain my side of the story.
  • My father would put his arm around me at church and let me lay my head on his shoulder.
  • They were willing to admit when they were wrong and say, “I’m sorry.” Continue reading “Powerful Blessings”

Family Matters

Imagine two American families, living on the same street, both successful in pursuing the American dream. Their Christmas cards are equally impressive. All their kids are college-bound. Their marriages are stable, and they are in the midst of meeting their career and material goals.  There are no skeletons hiding in their closets; what you see is what you get with them. But there is a difference that only their very closest friends and family might recognize.

Let’s first meet the Johnson family. Jim is an engineer, who loves to fish and go to his kids’ ball games as much as he can. He is a Boy Scout leader, a bible study leader, and a really nice guy, by all accounts.  His wife Sue works part-time as a nurse at the local children’s hospital, in addition to raising three teenagers. Jack (16) plays three competitive sports and gets mostly A’s. He plays guitar in a garage band and loves to ride his dirt bike. Sally (14) is an average student but a truly outstanding gymnast who travels a lot for competitions. When home, she likes to go to the mall or the movie theater as much as possible. Jimmy (12) is interested in everything; he has dozens of hobbies, plays select soccer, is a Boy Scout, and still manages good grades. All in all, the Johnson’s are active, productive, and very busy. They seem content with life and get along well with all kinds of people. They are good neighbors, but they aren’t home much.

Now, meet the Landry family next door. Lou is also an engineer, and Donna works part-time at the elementary school where their three teenage kids attended. The three kids are Josh (17), Bill (15), and Claire (13). They are above-average students, but do not excel in sports or the arts. Except for a few minor incidents, the kids stay out of trouble. After dinner, they like to watch movies together, so they just built a family theater and a “ping pong arena” in the basement. Whenever possible, they get away to Grandpa’s cabin on a lake, where they do a lot of fishing, waterskiing, swimming, cliff jumping, and reading (since there’s no TV at the cabin). Lately, at night, they’ve been playing some very animated games of Texas Hold-em; Mom is actually the best bluffer of the bunch. Their neighbors miss them when they are gone at the cabin because they are a fun-loving family.

So what’s the difference? It’s subtle but powerful.

 

It’s all about WITH. One family lives WITH each other, while the other does not.  The Landry’s play with each other, hang out with each other, and eat with each other. The Johnson’s, however, are not with each other much, except in the car, en route to somebody’s activity. Most people would never see the difference, but it’s a big one. One family is a team, while the other is a bunch of individuals. Yes, the Johnson’s appear to be a tight family, but they are not.  They each have their individual lives, full of their own favorite activities; they freely pursue their own happiness, free from the inconveniences of the family bond.

Continue reading “Family Matters”

Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask

Here are some of the big questions kids (10-14) have, although they will rarely, if ever, vocalize them.  Understanding the questions is half the battle; having all the answers is not necessary, even if it were possible.

Who are my real friends?  Who really likes me?  In which group do I belong?

Who am I?  How am I like and different from others my age?

What will I do with my life?  Will I be important?

What sort of career and family will I have?

What will I look and act like when I am a grown up?

Am I cool?

Am I respected?

Continue reading “Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask”

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”

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