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”

Living on 1 Dollar Per Day

Young people in America need to know more about real poverty, and this video is possibly the best I have ever seen at getting kids to relate to abject poverty. It’s entertaining and educational. They pack a lot of information and experiences into just 28 minutes. Plus, it’s appropriate for kids age 11 and up, since there are no deeply disturbing images.

 

Discussion Questions for Kids

1. How would you describe these men and their lifestyle in America?

2. Why do you think they decided to set such strict rules for their time in Haiti?

3. Does this sort of adventure appeal to you in any way? In what ways?

4. What would worry you the most about living in a tent in Haiti for a month?

5. How tolerant are you of being hungry and eating only simple foods like rice and beans?

6. What is the longest you have ever been hungry? Describe that time.

7. Describe the most grueling physical work you have ever done. What was it? How long did you work? Did you get paid (or fed or anything) for your work?

8. What part of this 28 day experience do you find most intimidating or terrifying? Explain why.

 

The Distance Run

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

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

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

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

Parenting is a distance run, after all.

The Wolf

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

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

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

Families Should Be Tough

My wife is kind and compassionate, but she is one of the toughest people I have ever known. She does not have a mean bone in her body, but she is strong. She will tell you like it is and somehow make you feel like she is on your side. And when it comes to being a mom, nothing will stop her. She is tough for her children.

She is the kind of tough that can handle trials that makes most women wilt. Just ask anyone who knows her. And yet she is kind toward others and displays a genuinely positive attitude most of the time, even though her days are full of service to others and hard work.

Monica BelluciMy wife’s strength is a large part of her beauty. Mel Gibson once described his leading lady in The Passion, Monica Belluci, as someone who looked absolutely beautiful no matter how much grime that the makeup artists put on her. They kept trying to make her look like a beaten-down beleaguered Mother Mary, and they just couldn’t seem to get her to look bad enough. That’s my wife, metaphorically speaking.

She is an eternal optimist and can be an unstoppable force. You can slow her down. You can make her sick, you can make her cry, but you cannot ultimately stop her. You can put her child in the hospital for major surgery, and she will go toe-to-toe with any nurse, doctor, or therapist. You can take away her sleep and give her  a nasty sinus infection, but that won’t stop her. You can give her three days worth of work to do in one day and make her kids sick and whiney all day, but she will not give in. Day after day. You can knock her down, but you can’t knock her out. She is Rocky Balboa tough.

Beyond her ability to persevere, she is a protector of her children. She wants them to grow up strong, so she pushes them and is not afraid to let them struggle. She knows that strength comes from the struggle, so she passes that legacy along daily. Continue reading “Families Should Be Tough”

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”

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”

Building a Better Brain

  1. Snooze time
    It is essential that children get the proper amount of rest. Follow the recommendations of your pediatrician – at least eight hours per night. Not only will your kids be more alert and ready to learn, they will have much happier attitudes. Set a bed time for your child and stick to it.
  2. Exercise that brain
    Your child’s brain is like a sponge ready to soak up everything it comes across. Age appropriate games help to stimulate his mind and gain many varied skills. Board games, building blocks, puzzles, checkers and chess are just a few examples of games that also build smarts. Continue reading “Building a Better Brain”

The Race to Nowhere

The Race to Nowhere is a film that will make you think deeply about what a good education looks like.  It will challenge your beliefs about the nature of homework, AP classes, and college preparation.  You will re-think what a “successful kid” should do in middle school, high school, and college because, in many ways, what we as a society think about that fundamental question is dead wrong.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or administrator, this is a must-see documentary because it points out some very powerful flaws in our educational system and offers some good solutions.  Unlike other recent films about American schools, it does not demand more from students, parents, and teachers; in many ways it asks for less.  It will get you thinking and talking.

There are more screenings popping up around the country, and it will eventually be a DVD to purchase.  Check it out.

If this trailer resonates with you, and you’d like a greater sense of what this movie is all about, here is what the filmmakers suggest parents do in response to their film:

Continue reading “The Race to Nowhere”

Making Homework More Palatable

Cheri Lucas, a journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a writing aide at Corte Madera Middle School in Portola Valley, California.

After a sun-drenched summer of family trips and dips in the swimming pool, students may find themselves in a slump come September. Your child may not be motivated to undertake a new weekly schedule, especially one with homework each day. So how can he make the transition into a new school year? Here’s how:

  • Don’t Ditch the Fun. Making a big deal about going back to school – from shopping for supplies to buying new textbooks – implies that because summer is over, fun and freedom must come to an end. Try a different mentality: don’t make too-drastic changes in your child’s daily schedule. Allow her to continue to relax as she’s done in the summer – just limit her playtime a bit. Bottom line? You can’t – and shouldn’t – switch her abruptly into study mode simply because the seasons change.
  • Say Goodbye to “Homework.” “Eliminate the word homework from your vocabulary,” suggest authors Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller, who maintain www.uncommon-parenting.com.  Replace homework with the word “study,” for instance. Engage in “study time” instead of “homework time,” and work at a “study table” instead of a “homework table.” “This word change alone will go a long way towards eliminating the problem of your child saying, ‘I don’t have any homework.’ Study time is about studying, even if you don’t have any homework,” say Moorman and Haller.
  • Study Outside the Box. Create a quiet, comfortable homework space in an unusual location in the house. Sitting behind a desk may feel uninspiring — what about reading in a papasan chair on the patio, or plopping down on the floor in a cozy corner with a laptop tray, which doubles as a table? If your child is forced to sit upright like a stiff board, she won’t get comfortable when doing her work.

Continue reading “Making Homework More Palatable”

Failure’s Top Ten List

1.  Not Everybody Gets A Trophy

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

2.  Everyone Has Different Talents

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

3.  Have Class

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

4.  Learning From Mistakes

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

Continue reading “Failure’s Top Ten List”

Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes

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

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

Continue reading “Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes”

Kids Should Work Alongside Adults

Unfortunately, many of today’s teenagers make no meaningful contribution to their families.  They have nothing more to contribute to the family than reluctantly taking out the garbage or picking up their room after being told again and again. That’s not a contribution. At that point it is more like self-preservation.

Kids need to be given responsibilities in the family that they can claim and make happen without parental badgering. It builds a sense of value and belonging. If they don’t have time, adjust their schedule to make time. Kids who make no meaningful contribution to the family tend to grow up feeling entitled and self-absorbed, making them rotten spouses, parents, and citizens as well.” – Mark Gregston, The Family Citizen (5.28.2010)

It’s important to note that young kids, as well as teenagers, need to be given tasks that are helpful to the adults in the house or playing field or classroom.  It should be totally normal for our kids to to little, helpful tasks.  They should expect to hear us say, “Hey Joey, go get those cones for me at the far goal.  Thanks, man.”  It should not shock them to hear us say, “Kathy, grab those books and that globe on the way up to the library for me.  Thanks.”  And at home, the adults should not always be working harder than the kids.  Kids should be working with their parents, not watching TV while mom and dad do all the preparing and cleaning for dinner.

Kids working alongside adults is good for everybody!

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

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


Just Believe in Yourself

“Just believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything.”

“Pursue your dream, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”

“If you dream it, you can be it.”

Countless movies, songs, TV shows, and motivational speakers have preached this message.  And countless teachers, coaches, and counselors preach the same message.  Parents teach their children the same.

So, why would any young person ever doubt it?  Most believe it 100% — until they experience enough reality that they realize that it’s a lie that adults tell to make children (and themselves) feel good. It’s just like the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and the Tooth Fairy.  It’s something that feels good and right at the time, but eventually, life reveals that it’s just not true.

basketballHow many boys have spent hours each day playing basketball in the driveway because they knew that they could one day play in the NBA?  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of dunking?  I know I tried everything to dunk, only to find that I was just not able, no matter how much I believed, how much I practiced, or how much I learned.  I wasn’t good enough to play in college either.  I wish someone (or several people) had told me something a lot more truthful, such as, “Quit trying to dunk and spend more time shooting because your only chance at playing in college is as a shooting guard.  But don’t count on it, since the odds are extraordinarily stacked against it.  Studying is much better for you than playing so much basketball.”

How many girls have spent endless hours singing in order to make it in the music business.  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of getting the lead part in their high school musical?  How many high school musical leads get a recording contract?  How many girls will be the next Miley Cyrus or Beyonce?  What percentage of American Idol contestants succeed in getting fame?  For millions of girls, it just doesn’t happen — no matter how much they believe in themselves and practice and learn and believe some more.  It’s a fantasy.

It hinders kids to tell them that they can do whatever they put their mind to.  And that’s in addition to the fact that it is a lie.  It may be easy, feel-good advice, but it’s not true and it’s not helpful.

So what’s the solution?

Continue reading “Just Believe in Yourself”

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”

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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