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)”

Managing Social Media (Part 2)

Dealing With Annoying Social Media Posts (Part 2)

After writing my last post on how to respond to all those annoying tweets, pins, or Facebook posts, I quickly realized that I am a hypocrite in this area.

Therefore, I confess that I need to be more gracious online. Just ask my sisters. They get the brunt end of my sarcasm and general snarkiness constantly on Facebook. Sometimes it’s witty and funny, and sometimes notsomuch. I have a few other friends who hear it from me, and I’m probably guilty of being a jerk at times with them. 

So, I am adding another key to managing social media, and it is the way to make the virtual world a better place.

# 6 – Practice Grace.

Continue reading “Managing Social Media (Part 2)”

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”

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”

Raising Boys to be Real Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Believe in Encouragement

By Lauren Baum, in her senior English class at Westminster Christian Academy, St. Louis (Class of 2011).

Without any hesitation, he said, “I’d be better off dead.” Hearing those words come out of my best friend’s mouth tore my heart apart. He has repeated that phrase more than once, and my mind continually plays it over like a voice recording.

I met my best friend about three years ago. After knowing me for six months, he told me about his struggles with depression. Sadness was not the only emotion that came over me; I was shocked. He seemed so outgoing and happy all the time. I soon learned that he was physically and emotionally abused as a young child, prompting him to bottle up suicidal thoughts. I cannot begin to imagine the physical pain he has suffered during his lifetime.

He refuses to talk to others about his depression because he now distrusts adults, especially those in his family. Nevertheless, he feels as if I understand him and that I know the right words to speak. Consequently, when it comes to helping him, convenience is not in my vocabulary. It does not matter where I am or what I am doing, for he takes priority. Sometimes he just needs the assurance of my voice telling him that everything is going to be okay and that I will not let him down.

Many students at his school mock him when they notice the scars on his arms from cutting. As he sees it, other kids have every right to tease him and to look down on him. But no one holds such a right, so I encourage him to ignore the heartless kids who treat him less than human. When he feels the weight of judging eyes or hateful voices, I always remind him that I care about him unconditionally.  Just hearing me say I will always be his best friend seems to give him the security he needs to keep on going.

My best friend once told me that if he had not had me, he would not be alive. He said that my encouraging words convinced him not to take his life. I never took a bullet or rescued him from a burning fire, but, in his eyes, I saved his life. Our friendship has taught me that no matter the situation, a single kind word can impact someone’s life. With the fragility of life as it is, I believe in the necessity of encouragement.

Questions to Ask Kids

Kids want to be known, and not just by their parents (their #1 source of value).  They want their teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and neighbors to know their names, their interests, and their talents.  Granted, some kids seem to want to be left alone, but even the shy ones deeply desire to be known by others on some level.  It’s ingrained in all of us.  Nobody likes to called by the wrong name (sibling confusion is common).  Nobody enjoys being overlooked by the cool coach who loves to talk with the cool kids on the team.  And when it’s halfway through the year and the teacher still can’t remember your name, it hurts.

Some adults are natural-born kid-lovers.  They just know exactly how to talk to kids and make them laugh.  Somehow they get away with teasing them to no end, or the kids just flock to them because they feel safe and loved with them.  They make great youth leaders, mentors, and assistant coaches.  However, it’s not so easy for most adults to connect with kids, especially if they don’t think they have anything in common with them.

Fortunately, it’s not rocket surgery.  So, here are some easy conversation starters.  First and foremost, always call a kid by name every time you see him or her.  If you can’t remember his or her name, then find out (to avoid the same problem next time).

“Hey, Joel…

How’s it going today?  What’s up this morning / afternoon / evening?

What did you do this last weekend?  What was the best / worst part of it?

What are you doing this next weekend? Anything fun or unusual?

What are you doing for Christmas Break?  (Adapt to whatever break is upcoming)

What sport are you playing this season?  How’s that going?  What position do you play? What team?  Who is on that team that I might know?  Who’s your coach?  Where do you play?  Does your teams travel?  Is it your favorite sport?  Do you think you’ll play that in high school?

Continue reading “Questions to Ask Kids”

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”

Fandango: How boys make friends

fandango  |fanˈda ng gō|  noun
1. a lively Spanish dance.
2. a foolish or useless act or thing.

In May 1993, six young men on the cusp of college graduation, decided to forgo the prudent way to spend the final two days before final exams, in favor of driving south all night toward Mexico in a small Toyota pickup, in pursuit of an adventure worthy of a lifelong memory.  Inspired by the little-known movie, Fandango, they piled three in the cab, three in the bed, with nothing packed but a desire to do something truly memorable and perhaps meaningful.  It was their final act before each going their own way in life to sundry cities, careers, and spouses.  It would be a celebration of the privileges of youth. And it would be repeated many times later.  Only later it would be a celebration of something more meaningful – deep friendship amidst life’s struggles.

Ten years later, those men, returned to retrieve what was left behind: a makeshift time capsule buried a stone’s throw from Mexico, full of meaningful tokens, such as pictures, prophecies, jewelry, notes to self, and a pact of friendship that they wrote on the spot.

And ever since 2003, they reunite for another summer fandango (each year someplace new).  Fandango began as a silly 36-hour road trip, and it’s become a rich tradition for these men. I am privileged to be a part of that group that grows in friendship each year.

We have talked about writing a book about it, but we can’t seem to agree on exactly how to do it well. I believe that the adventures and the lessons need more time to percolate, and in time, it will make a good read.  In the meantime, we’ve dabbled with some small pieces of writing.  Last year, Yancey wrote a piece about our 2009 Fandango, and this year Jeff has written a bit about the 2010 Fandango on his blog. I think it deserves attention in this space, since it deals with how men form strong friendships.

Boys, 10-14 especially, need to learn how to make friends well, in order to grow up to be effective men.  So if this interests you, follow this link to Jeff’s article about how men make lifelong friendships.  Here’s a taste: “For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans, and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.”

I hope it helps you better understand how to help boys make friends, for they are a very different social animal than girls.

In short, find ways to give boys opportunities (within basic safety limits) to get together to…

  • be physical  (wrestle, tackle, flip, chase, body surf…)
  • be silly  (tell jokes, tease, perform skits, practical jokes…)
  • take risks  (compete to win, jump off the high dive, ride a roller coaster…)
  • go on an adventurous journey with a mission (road trip with dad, bike ride to grocery store, hunting with grandpa…)
  • play with stuff (build forts, make a bonfire with dad, Nerf, foam swords…)

Boys need to share these kinds of experiences with other boys in order to make friends.  It rarely happens any other way.

Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis

If you are growing old well, then you are likely to help a child grow up well.

40 is not old, but it’s certainly not young either.  It’s the start of mid-life, and it has a well-earned, dangerous reputation.  It’s when so many people have an inner crisis, even if life is sailing along smoothly on the outside.  At some point disappointment, boredom, or depression accompany the person who has a career, a family, a home, a community, and all the subsequent stress of being responsible for so much.  In addition, health problems of all kinds begin to flare up by 40, which remind us that we are decaying in far more ways than we are growing.

Many 40-somethings have established their career, have gotten married, have had a few kids, and have bought all the things they need and most of the things they want.  They have arrived at their life destination, and they wonder, “This is it?”

For others, they are still building the best  life they can, and they feel the crushing weight of pressure from what they have constructed.  There are too many things to do, too many people to care for, too many problems to solve – just too many responsibilities in every area of life.  They are caring for children, spouses, friends, employees, and even aging parents.  They get to a point where they simply cannot balance it all anymore; it’s all just too much.  In frustration they cry out, “There just isn’t enough me to go around!”

It’s a tough time of life, indeed, and for some it’s just too much, so they pull the ripcord of life.  They give up on something big, like their marriage, their kids, or their career.  Sometimes they chuck it all at once.  Or they just give up trying very hard at anything, settling into a comfortably complacent lifestyle.  They fall prey to the consumer-centered suburban lifestyle, and they go out to pasture.

So what’s a mid-lifer to do?  Well, after spending four days in Colorado with some of my favorite 40-ish guys, I’m ready to convey a few suggestions based on our conversations.  I’m sorry if any of this seems trite; I realize that all of these things are a lot easier said than done.  But hopefully, it will help in some way – for your sake, and for your kids.

  1. Focus. Identify your top four or five priorities in life and focus on them — to the detriment of all else.  Set your sights on just a few things that you are passionate about and that you have valued for a long time.  For me (at this point in my life) it’s family, faith, teaching, and writing.  If I can do those things well, then I am on the right track.  But that may mean that I am not going to keep up with all my friends very well.  It means that I am not going to be able to play golf, read a novel a month, or hone my guitar skills anytime soon.  I have to face facts: I can only do so much.  Trying to do it all is living in a fantasy world (see #4 below).  Learn to accept mediocrity in the less important areas of your life. Continue reading “Avoiding a Mid-Life Crisis”

Texting vs. Talking

There is no doubt that text messaging can be, in the right situations, the most efficient, convenient form of communication ever invented.  It’s genius.

However, there is a tremendous amount of doubt about whether, on the whole, it actually improves human communication, especially among young people.  Many people feel that it is stunting the development of a variety of communication skills in teens.  And it’s not just the naysayers who don’t understand the technology who are skeptical about the long-term effects of heavy texting.  It’s the early adopters, the ones who have been text messaging a lot for a long time who are concerned.

NPR put together a nice report which succinctly describes the situation.  While it doesn’t offer solutions, it does provide a clear snapshot of where we are with this mostly youth-driven phenomenom.

Listen here to the 4 minute mp3 file NPR report on Texting Teens.

Here’s a few thoughts on texting etiquette for adults and teens (click here).

Other ideas (not all good for every situation):

  • Don’t give your preteen a texting cell phone.  Wait as long as possible.
  • Have a cell phone docking station (basket or box on a shelf) in the kitchen where kids dock their phones for meal time, family time, bed time, and any time that you want some text-free time.
  • Have an “electronic sabbath” as a family, in which everybody stays unplugged for a certain number of hours.  Try a whole day sometime.  Read more at the blog post “Do You Need a Digital Sabbath.”
  • Try to avoid multi-tasking so much.  Research is proving that it doesn’t work well, even though you think it does.  Encourage kids to mono-task: do one thing at a time well.
  • Have kids pay their own cell phone bill.  Or compromise: they pay for texts and data service.
  • Use texting as a tool of encouragement.  Make it a ministry of love — for birthdays especially.
  • Use texting to encourage others to vote on election day or to pray for  or do something for someone in great need.
  • Make a rule that you cannot text someone in the same room or house.
  • LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU HAVE ANOTHER IDEA.

It’s a Wonderfully Difficult Life

 

It’s a Wonderful Life strikes a chord — several chords — deep in my soul, every time I watch it.  Most importantly, it makes me want to be a better man and to live my life as well as I can for my friends, family, and community. Deep down, I want to be counted in the ranks of the George Baileys of the world.  And if I can’t, then I want my son to get there upon my shoulders.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” should be required viewing for every young person growing up.  Anyone over the age of ten should see this movie with their parents, grandparents, or any adult who cares enough to explain what’s going on as the film rolls.  If you haven’t seen it in a few years, do so.  And bring a kid along for the ride.

This movie says it all about growing up well.  It does not hide the truth that life is hard, and it’s even harder for those who choose to serve others.  It teaches just about every character trait you would want to see in a young man or woman.  In no way is it an easy life — just ask George Bailey — but it’s worth it all.

Here’s a fun little trivia game for lovers of this movieClick here


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