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

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

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

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

It is no different in America today. The typical American is a muggle. Isn’t it the norm to seek comfort and conformity? Isn’t it normal for us to be a little bit foolish, a little petty, and sometimes mean? Doesn’t social media illustrate these things pretty clearly? We are muggles, more often than not.  If we are honest and will peer around our blinds spots for a moment, we can see the muggle inside us and all around us. Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)”

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”

Fear Less, Parents

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

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

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

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Family protectionFamily Fears

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

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

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

Reasonable Fears

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

The Peril of Productionism

 

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

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

In stressful, busy situations, productionists follow these mantras:

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

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

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

Ten Ways to Help Someone in Personal Crisis

Our family has been going through rough waters related to some serious medical issues, and we have only been making it with the help from family and friends. People keep asking what they can do to help us. They want to help, but they don’t know exactly how. We have been very specific with them, which they appreciate.

Certainly, every situation is different, but here are some tried and true ways to help others in great need. 

1. Write notes, emails, texts, Facebook posts, or tweets of encouragement.

2. Gifts – flowers, fruit, ice cream, coffee, magazines, books, movies…

3. Gift cards to nearby restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, movie theater…

4. Do Errands – groceries, library, dry cleaners, or whatever they need.

5. Do Laundry. This can be a huge help for a family.

6. Housecleaning or yard work.

7. Child care, pet-sitting, or house-sitting.

8. Visit, according to their best day, time, length of visit, etc. Just ask what they prefer ahead of time.

9. Listen to them vent about their problems, if that is what they want to do. Be the listener, not the advisor. See note below about the ring theory.

10. Bring humor. It’s good medicine. Share funny stories. Bring a light heart, not your own set of first-world problems that you want to gripe about.

Just remember that every family is different and every crisis is different. Do your best to customize your support for their specific situation. Ask what they prefer, and ask them to be specific. Sometimes the giver must drag the information out of the receiver. Be persistent in finding out how you can bless them in the most helpful way possible.

NOTE: An important aspect of caring for someone in need is the language that we use with them. My copy editor and new friend, Meghan Pinson, sent me this outstanding article about how to communicate with people in any sort of crisis. It’s the ring theory, and it is such a brilliant concept that you must read it. CLICK HERE for the article.

 

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”

Social Development and Kids’ Activities

Social life. Social skills. Social anxiety. Social media. Social Security. She’s so social!

When we think of the “social development” of children, what are we talking about and what is the goal? It is a confusing issue for many. For example, as an educator, I have heard a lot of people talk about how home school children need to go to school at some point for socialization. Conversely, I have heard a home school parent say, “Have you seen those kids? I don’t want my children socialized by kids who are rude, lazy, out of control, and self-centered.”

What is socialization? For some parents, it means that children need to belong to a diverse group of peers for the sake of learning how to deal with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of situations. For others, it means that children need to be a part of a homogenous group where a certain worldview and certain social norms will be taught to and required of the child. Those are two different views of socialization, and those two types of schools will look and feel quite different. One has the goal of conformity and discipline of behavior and thought (think military boarding school), while the other has the goal of independence and creativity in behavior and thought (think large urban public school). Those are two very different forms of socialization. Continue reading “Social Development and Kids’ Activities”

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

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

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

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

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)”

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