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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

Mean Moms

Someday when my children are old enough to understand the logic that motivates a parent, I will tell them, as my Mean Mom told me:
I loved you enough to ask where you were going, with whom, and what time you would be home.
I loved you enough to be silent and let you discover that your new best friend was a creep.
I loved you enough to stand over you for two hours while you cleaned your room, a job that should have taken 15 minutes.
I loved you enough to let you see anger, disappointment, and tears in my eyes. Children must learn that their parents aren’t perfect.
I loved you enough to let you assume the responsibility for your actions even when the penalties were so harsh they almost broke my heart.
But most of all, I loved you enough to say NO when I knew you would hate me for it.
Those were the most difficult battles of all. I’m glad I won them, because in the end you won, too.
And someday when your children are old enough to
understand the logic that motivates parents, you will tell them.
Was your Mom mean?
I know mine was.
I had the meanest mother in the whole world!
While other kids ate candy for breakfast, I had to have cereal, eggs, and toast.
When others had a Pepsi and a Twinkie for lunch, I had to eat sandwiches.
And you can guess my mother fixed me a dinner that was
different from what other kids had, too.
Mother insisted on knowing where I was at all times.
You’d think I was a convict in a prison.
She had to know who my friends were and what I was doing with them.
She insisted that if I said I would be gone for an hour, I would be gone for an hour or less.
I was ashamed to admit it, but she had the nerve to break
the Child Labor Laws by making me work.
I had to wash the dishes, make the beds, learn to cook, vacuum the floor, do laundry, empty the trash and all sorts of cruel jobs. I think she would lie awake at night thinking of more things for me to do.
She always insisted on me telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
By the time I was a teenager, she could read my mind
and had eyes in the back of her head. Then, life was really tough!
Mother wouldn’t let my friends just honk the horn when they drove up. They had to come up to the door so she could meet them.
While everyone else could date when they were 12 or 13,
I had to wait until I was 16.
Because of my mother I missed out on lots of things other kids experienced.
I have never been caught shoplifting, vandalizing other’s property or been arrested for any crime. It was all her fault.
Now that I have left home, I am an educated, honest adult.
And…I am doing my best to be a mean mom just like my Mom was.
I think that is what’s wrong with the world today. It just doesn’t have enough mean moms!

(Author unknown)

Delayed Gratification

Very few things anymore take a long time to happen.  Nearly everything is available in an instant.  Instant messaging.  Movies on demand.  Cell phones with internet access.  Instant winners.  Ultra-fast food.  Five-minute total-body workouts.  You name it, and America can make it faster, so we can fit more into our days.

A major component of growing up is learning to deal with long waits and unexpected delays of all kinds. Mature adults learn that many of the best things in life take a long time to develop.  A great education takes twenty years.  A rock-solid, happy marriage takes a good decade to develop.  A garden is made over the course of many months, with daily tending.  Hunting or fishing takes tremendous patience and skill developed over years of practice.  Many of us are awaiting Spring flowers already.  These are some of the greatest joys of living, and some people just flat-out miss out.  They’d prefer a TV dinner to a slow-roasted turkey.

Abigail Van Buren once wrote, “Maturity is: The ability to stick with a job until it’s finished; The ability to do a job without being supervised; The ability to carry money without spending it; and The ability to bear an injustice without wanting to get even.

Continue reading “Delayed Gratification”

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”

Teenage Media Addiction

Children of the Screen

As much as I like FaceBook and text messaging, I know that it needs to be limited a great deal in my life.  Like so many things, I have learned over the years to balance good things like FB and texting so that they don’t take up all my time and energy.  In fact, for most adults, we know our limits, whether it’s ice cream, television, shopping, or wine.  We may blow it now and then, but we learn to balance, or else it consumes us and we suffer in the long-run.

Unfortunately, teens and preteens are not very good at balancing the good things in their lives. I remember coming home from high school football practice and eating an entire large bag of Doritos and a couple bottles of Yoo-Hoo as a snack.  I remember watching three movies in a row on summer nights.  I remember playing video games for five hours straight.  And this was not at all unusual for me or for my friends.  Kids, by nature, are much more impulsive, much less logical, and much less educated about the consequences of their behavior.  They do because they can, and they don’t truly believe that there can be too much of a good thing.

cell girl

Here is an article which describes the addiction of texting and Facebook in the lives of so many teens.  It’s worth reading.  Click here

This is where we, the adults, need to get involved and discuss the consequences of electronic addictions.  We need to provide leadership.

First, we need to understand the power of teenage addictions – that teens are far more prone to addictive behavior, and their brains record those good feelings intensely and permanently.  It sets the default buttons in the brain, so that when the child grows older, those addictions come back again and again.  In other words, a teen who is addicted to something will feel that pull toward that particular addiction throughout his or her life.

Continue reading “Teenage Media Addiction”

Training Up Independent Kids

Embracing Mistakes; Developing Problem-Solvers

Thomas Edison believed that failure was not a bad thing; it merely directed him closer to success.  He embraced his mistakes as opportunities to learn, and he ultimately succeeded as the greatest inventor of all time.

The truth is that you want your children (or students) to learn from their mistakes, which means that you are going to have to be okay with them making mistakes.  You want them to learn that they are capable of creating solutions to their own problems.  You want them to struggle with fixing their own troubles.  And you want them to know that their parents, teachers, and coaches are sources of wisdom and help along the way.

“So at the heart of good parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy
.” (Silk 51)  In fact, mistakes are often the greatest teachers.

Continue reading “Training Up Independent Kids”

The Power of Choice

Children lack power.  They can control very little in their lives, until they get a license to drive and the keys to the car.  So, when they don’t get choices, they seek power; they just find ways to push our buttons, in the hope that perhaps we will give them choices.  You can’t blame them for wanting to have a little control over their lives.  They are human (most of the time ☺), and humans by nature want freedom, even if it’s just a bit here and there.  But when humans are backed into a corner and have no choices, they rebel. They find a way – any way – to get a little power, a little control, a little something that makes life more enjoyable for them.

“Children, quite naturally, find out that parents are defenseless against disrespect.  Thus parents are terrified by it…So we need a way to manage ourselves so these guys will have no success in pushing our buttons, no matter which way they poke and prod our psyche…” (Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk p.101)gripe out

Before you can give a child a choice, whether it’s in the classroom or in the car, you have to be in control of yourself.  You cannot, must not, give children choices (power) because you are sick of hearing them whine and complain.  Instead, you have to get yourself into neutral gear, not frazzled, fried, or frustrated.  That’s easy to say, but what do you do when your child (or student) is angry and you are losing patience?  You have to downshift.  Decelerate.

“When your child wants to argue with you, these one-line phrases are your best friend.  They are your sanity.  They are a way for you to kick your brain into neutral while the other person is trying to drive you into the Crazy Ditch.  They help you become sort of like a cloud, something that doesn’t react – something that cannot be controlled.  When your kid is throwing a fit, it is absolutely the worst time to have a reasonable conversation with that person.  Your child is absolutely emotionally wasted.  Your child is not looking for solutions at this time; he or she is looking for victims. This is a good time to just be a cloud.  Say, “I know.  I’m sorry.”  You are telling your child, ‘I am going to manage me while you struggle with you.’” (104-105)

To decelerate an argument, you have to stop lecturing and start giving very short responses to your child’s complaining, whining, worrying, and begging.

Continue reading “The Power of Choice”

Don’t Baby Them

BENEFITS OF STRUGGLING

“A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily.

But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened!

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were God’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life.  If God allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. And we could never fly.”

chrysalis

I got this in an email forward, years ago.  It’s simple, yet profoundly important in relation to helping 10-14 year olds in their struggle in the chrysalis of adolescence.

Too often adults expect too little of the kids in their care.  Adults can cripple kids by solving every problem for them or by removing every painful thorn in their path.  It’s best not to baby them too much.  They need to stretch and writhe in solving their own problems in order to grow up strong enough to solve much bigger problems later in life.

Continue reading “Don’t Baby Them”

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