You win some; you lose some

Life is unfair – extraordinarily unfair. Sometimes the good guys lose, while the bad guys revel in their victory.  Sometimes, evil dictators prevail for decades, while innocent children starve and suffering saints are martyred.  Is this too much for kids to handle?  Dare we tell them the truth?

I think the truth sets kids free.  In fact, I think we do our kids a disservice by shielding them for too long from the fact that life is not fair.  Unfortunately, some kids never learn the lesson, and they are ill-prepared for the world.

Somewhere around eight years old is when kids need to be taught that “Yes, life is unfair.  Sometimes you get the raw end of the deal.”  That is a fact of life – everyday life.

And yet, kids also need to hear that sometimes you get the unfairly good deal.  Sometimes you win, when you shouldn’t have won.  Sometimes you find a twenty dollar bill on the street.  Sometimes you get way more than you deserve.  And yet, you don’t whine and complain about how unfair it is that you were unfairly rewarded.

And kids need to be reminded that they have gift, talents, and blessings that far surpass most kids in the world.  They enjoy so many wonderful things that others will never get to enjoy, for the world is full of underprivileged children: the poor, the disabled, the abused, the uneducated, and the weak.

Our kids need to see the truth about the inherent unfairness of life.

You win some, and you lose some, and it’s not necessarily fair.

Now, some people will take this truth and apply it to God.  They see the unfairness of life, and they think that it must also apply to the Creator of Life.  In other words, since life is difficult and unfair, then God must be difficult and unfair.

Philip Yancey wrote in his book Disappointment With God, “We tend to think that life should be fair because God is fair. But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life – by expecting constant good health, for example – then I set myself up for a crashing disappointment… The cross of Christ overcame evil, but it did not overcome unfairness in this life.”

Pastor Todd Wagner (of Watermark Church in Dallas) recently posted on Twitter, “God does not promise to give us whatever our heart desires. He promises that He is what our heart desires.”  It’s the good news of an unfair life.  Life is hard, but God is good – all the time.  Kids deserve to know this.

 

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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”

Books for Boys

Finding a well-written, entertaining book for a boy who hates to read is always a challenge.

 

Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen, grabs your attention at the get-go. It opens, “One day, it seemed he was eleven and playing in the dirt around the cabin or helping with chores, and the next, he was thirteen, carrying a .40 caliber Pennsylvania flintlock rifle, wearing smoked-buckskin clothing and moccasins, moving through the woods like a knife though water while he tracked deer to bring home to the cabin for meat.”

This is a book for the reluctant male reader.  It is just 164 pages and moves quickly but with plenty of detail in the right places.  It has characters that you root for, conflicts that create tension, and plenty of interesting historical information about everyday life during the Revolutionary War.  Most importantly, the author makes the reader feel the struggle, the pain, and the chaos of the war, with an appropriate amount of detail (not too much for an eleven year old, but not too little for an adult.)  The reader witnesses death, destruction, and disease, as well as heroism that, against all odds, continues to fight for what is good.

Paulsen does not glamorize war.  He shines a light on war’s destructiveness, in which we see the very worst of man’s nature, as well as the very best.  It’s a tense story with a very real conflict that is deeply felt.  To the very end, it is not predictable.  In fact, at several points a long the way, Paulsen shocks the reader with something completely unforeseen yet entirely believable.

The main character, Samuel is an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy whose life is transformed in extraordinary ways. The publisher writes, “Gary Paulsen brings readers into the flesh-and-blood reality of one boy’s struggle in the long and savage war that changed people’s lives in infinite ways.”  It’s best to just read it, without reading the jacket cover or anything.  Is it a sad story? Yes.  Is it full of exciting action? Yes.  Is it deeply depressing and full of despair? No.  Similar to the birth of America, it is a tale of tragedy and triumph.  It is just the sort of book that boys (ages 10-14+) should be reading.  And the values taught within the tale will be tops on anyone’s list: loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice for others, resiliency, and resourcefulness.

Some other good books for boys, related to boys surviving difficult obstacles:

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Holes, by Jeff Sachar

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen

The King of Mulberry Street, by Donna Jo Napoli

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series) by Rick Riordan

The Secret Benedict Society (Series) by Trenton Lee Stewart

Eragon (Series) by Chris Paolini

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Series) by Andrew Peterson

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In addition to reading about outdoor adventures, our kids need to get outdoors. So, sign those kids up for summer camps that get them outdoors.  Have a campout in the backyard. Go fishing. Try a hike you’ve never been on but have heard good things about. Anything.

Here’s a slideshow from our little Outdoor Camp.

 

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”

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”

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!

Chess Builds Brains

Chess is one of the best educational games of all time.  Even the most casual player will admit that the game forces you to think critically —  just to stay alive and not look like a fool.  There is no way to simply stroll through even a single move in chess.  You must think creatively and carefully before each move.  And while some may say that kids today are not capable of sitting still for an hour to play a game that has no electric power source, there are millions of kids today proving that assumption wrong.  Kids who play chess will tell you that it’s fun and challenging and they wish more kids would join in with them.

Now, there are other games which require similar thinking skills, but there may not be a better game for sheer educational value.  The number of thoughts per minute is staggering.  Offensive options, defensive trouble-shooting, cause-effect relationships, spatial awareness, calculating numbers, imagination, and creative thinking are just a few of the thought processes that are involved in every move.

Continue reading “Chess Builds Brains”

Helicopter Parents

D.H. Lawrence, the literary giant, advised parents and teachers a century ago: “How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.”

At first glance this seems to be the worst parenting advice in the history of written words.  And to support that further, Lawrence had no children. However, there are situations in which this radical advice should be heeded: Helicopter parents. Paranoid teachers. Paralyzed administrators.

TIME magazine’s cover story (11-20-09) is a lengthy editorial, worth every bit of the 15 minutes it takes to read, especially if you are a hard-working, highly-committed parent or teacher under the age of fifty.  You may not be a hovering, smothering parent or teacher; however, you still might benefit from a good dose of reality about how we — sometimes in subtle ways — over-protect, over-nurture, over-schedule, and over-stimulate the kids in our care.

Sometimes, less IS more, when raising kids to be significant, successful adults.

Give it a read, and please feel free to leave a comment about it below (anonymous comments are welcome).  I’ll start it with my own comment.

The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting, by Nancy Gibbs, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009

Kids Need Community

No man is an island,” said John Donne, in reference to the ripple effect of the death of one man in a community.  Indeed, we are made for community; we are not meant to live alone.  By living and working with others, we enjoy many benefits.  By choosing to go it alone, whatever the endeavor, we give up countless blessings.  While mavericks make great movie characters, real loners miss out on so much. Unfortunately, there are more and more loners in our modern world.

A large social study in 2006 at Duke University illustrated “a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties — once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits — are shrinking or nonexistent.”  Click here for the article We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com and e-mail 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”

teen in hall alone

It’s nothing new to learn that many people find it extremely difficult to live with others.  They find themselves in all kinds of trouble when they have to work with others at length.  They hurt people’s feelings, and they get hurt.  They annoy and they get annoyed.  They both get jealous and cause jealousy.  So, they do the logical thing; they take the path of least resistance and withdraw from others.  They become independent, vowing to avoid the problems that people cause in their lives.

After all, it is much easier, in the short run, to look out for yourself and take care of your own business, steering clear of other people’s business.  But easy is not always good, especially when it comes to relationships.

Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of Bowling Alone, wrote his famous book about the same problem – increasing social isolation in the United States.  He believes that people must make deliberate steps to join and remain in small communities; otherwise, they will suffer great long-term consequences.

Continue reading “Kids Need Community”

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