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”

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”

Your Family. Your Culture.

The most common theme among parents of young teens lately is that they want to live differently than the culture. Most parents do not want their kids to ingest the current culture of materialism, comparison, busyness, and anxiety. They don’t like what the culture is teaching and demanding.

Most parents want to be connected with their community, but they don’t want to live just like everyone else (too busy and too anxious). And they certainly don’t want the values of the pop culture to become the values of their children. On the other hand, they don’t want their kids to be social freaks, always on the outside looking in. It’s an everyday dilemma.

Without a doubt, it is difficult to grow up well when immersed in today’s youth culture, which is filled with empty entertainment, rampant consumerism, unhealthy body imagery, and every type of narcissism. It consumes them and then uses them as consumers.

It is so rare to get wisdom from youth pop culture today that it actually makes the news. Recently, Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays Ironman in the Avenger movie series, said at the MTV Movie Awards“I advise you to dream big, work hard, keep your noses clean, be of service, and because you can, define your generation.” This was a shocking statement because it is so countercultural in the Hollywood / MTV world. The cultural norm is the opposite: have fun, be sexy, and take everything you can from this life.

But it’s not just youth pop culture that is toxic; it’s everywhere. It’s in the cafeteria, on Instagram, in the classroom, and in other families’ homes. The culture is teaching our kids to always look good, have all the right gadgets, and be the best at everything, in order to keep up with everybody else. It’s a culture of discontentment, comparison, and competition that is making our kids more anxious and less happy than ever. It’s never enough. It’s an insatiable more.

As a concerned parent, the question is, “How do you create a family life that is what you want?”  Continue reading “Your Family. Your Culture.”

Motivate. Don’t Manipulate Your Kids.

lonely boy2Once again, his room isn’t clean, not by any standard. Her backpack, jacket, and shoes are scattered about the floor of the hall, again. His grades are sub-par in math, again. She is making the family late to school, again. He seems to be nonchalant about his music audition this weekend. She isn’t running enough to prepare for soccer tryouts next week.

How do you approach the lack of motivation: carrot or stick?

What’s the best approach: direct confrontation, positive affirmation, a new system of consequences? Push hard or back off? Constructive criticism?

Who knows? It’s a minefield, to say the least.

It’s a thin line between motivating your child and provoking him or her to rebellion. Motivating a child, especially a teenager, is not an easy road. There will be resistance, mistakes and regrets, and that is if you are doing it right.

Continue reading “Motivate. Don’t Manipulate Your Kids.”

Connect + Guide + Enjoy = Good Parenting

You are never done parenting.

There is never enough time, energy, money, or wisdom to do it all right.

Parenting is incessant, and perfection is impossible.

No professor will give you an A for all that you did for your children this semester.

No counselor will tell you that you can now celebrate because you have accomplished all the objectives of parenting.

No PTA will give you an award for excellence.

However, you can try to keep it simple and just do your best one day at a time.

Keeping it simple, for me, looks like this.

ConnectGuideEnjoy

 

If I am doing those three things moderately well today, then I am doing something truly great.

I am being a good parent.

I am not perfect, but I am doing something very good well.

 

Fun = Connection

Have Fun with Your Child ASAP

Good parenting has an order of operations. Insides come first. A child should feel connected to his or her mom or dad in a profound way, first and foremost. Then, and only then, the child will think about what the parent is communicating.

A strong emotional bond between parent and child is the single most important aspect of raising children; the rest is details.

snowmanKids bond with people who make them smile and laugh. As a parent, you don’t have to be all that funny or crazy, as long as you will share what makes you laugh. If you think something is funny or cool, then in all likelihood, a kid will think so, too. Sharing a laugh is a force multiplier in the war for a child’s heart, especially when there is tension between parent and child.

My sister once grounded her son for several days, but instead of neglecting him or shaming him, she took advantage of his presence around the house. They played games, went bowling, and played practical jokes on each other. This may seem like a strange way to punish a child, but punishment is not the goal. Connection and correction are the goals. It worked nicely for the whole family; the fun and laughter cut through the tension and created a stronger bond, which means her son is less likely to make that kind of trouble again.

There are no guarantees that our children will grow up well, but the inside-out approach is always the better way. Children are far less likely to engage in problem behaviors when they feel deeply loved, known, and respected by their parents. Continue reading “Fun = Connection”

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”

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”

Teach Your Children Compassion

No matter the age, our children need to be trained to be compassionate. It does not come naturally. Kids are egocentric, but they can and should be taught to consider the needs of others, as much as they consider their own. Some of those needs are invisible, so we need to become sensitive.

Our job as parents, teachers, and coaches is to show, tell, and explain to our children the needs of others around us.

This video reveals what is so true, not just in hospitals, but in every arena of life. We all have pain and joy, and every person has a different set of trials and triumphs everyday.

Show this to your children and talk about it. Or email it to them. 🙂

Preparing for the Storm

If you have ever sat with a weather radio in a dark basement or closet during a tornado warning, or if you have ever hastily prepared for an oncoming hurricane, you know the anxiety that an approaching storm can bring. As a native Midwesterner with friends and relatives scattered about “tornado alley” and with a father who lives on the coast in Florida, I know a little about these times of uncertain anticipation of imminent danger.

Dark, Ominous Clouds Promise Rain and poor Weather.

The storms-of-life metaphor is an ancient archetype, as powerful today as it was thousands of years ago. Storms are used in nearly every movie, book, and play to create the setting for trouble, the mood of tension, and the dramatic dance between eerily-quiet darkness and the jolting of cracks of thunder, lightning, wind, and hail. And in many cases, heroes are made in storms. The Bible is full of stories of storms that radically alter and often ruin people’s lives. Storms are used by God in the Old and New Testament to judge the wicked, test the faithful, and reveal life’s harshness and God’s goodness in both justice and mercy. Through the ages, countless poems and songs have alluded to storms as a way to communicate the universal fear of destruction that moves every man, woman, and child to fears and tears.

The distant storm is a unique sort of crisis. At times, we face a slow-approaching storm in our life, one that we can see steadily advancing toward us for days, weeks, or even months. Continue reading “Preparing for the Storm”

The Sacred Honor of Being a Parent

A Unique Relationship

Parenting is a unique relationship, wherein the parent is authorized by law and by God to protect, provide, nurture, and discipline. Ultimately, the parent must somehow control self and child enough to train for independent success.

Parenting is a special relationship, one in which the parent is fully responsible for the children in the early years and only a little less responsible as the children grow older. It requires enormous sums of time, energy, and money. It requires tough love, tender affection, as well as the shades of grey in the middle.

Parenting is so challenging because every situation is complicated and varies from past situations. What works today may not work tomorrow. And the stakes are high for the parent because the “success” or “failure” of the child directly reflects upon the good or bad reputation of the parents.

What other relationship comes close to that kind of responsibility and intimacy?

Parents Are Heroes to their Kids

Thanks to Family Share for the video. Super Work!

From the Mouths of Babes

This from a 6th grade teacher who I respect a great deal:

I teach a class titled Emerging Leaders, and we talk about “self awareness” to start the quarter. For the lesson I was doing, I decided that asking these 2 questions would be interesting.

1. Name one or two things that your parents to that make you feel awesome and that you will do when you have children some day.
2. Name one or two things that you will do differently when you become a parent.

Hold on to your hat, because I love these answers! Kids really DO need boundaries and DO want to spend time with parents, and they don’t want to fight with their folks. They want to be listened to. Enjoy.

What I love that my parents do:

Have a family night
Helping with homework
Take me to the movies
Shopping at stores that I like
I can tell my mom ANYTHING (good or bad) and they love me no matter how annoying I am
My parents will always love me, no matter what, and they will always be on my side
Me and my dad always play catch
My parents never stop loving me
They will ALWAYS go to my sporting events.
When I win, they always cheer me on
I will go shoppnig with my daughter and make her feel special
Having a night that we all do something together
Being proud of good grades
My dad wrestles with me when I’m down to cheer me up, and my mom rewards me for getting good grades and doing chores.
They make me eat healthy
My parents still rough house with me and play games
I like when my parents take me out to an attraction of some kind or when we go on vacation.
I will give my kids many opportunities
I will go shopping with my daughter
Go fishing
Go out to eat as a family
I will pass down a family “blanket”
Have a family night
Have a pet and take care of it together
I want to appreciate my kids
I’m going to listen to my kids before I ground or punish them.
I’ll give my kids allowance and rewards for good behavior.
I will let my kids start having decaf coffee at age 10
I will reward good behavior and punish bad behavior
I will go to the movies
Just spend time with me for an hour or 2
I will give my kids some freedom at age 11
I will be kind and gentle to my kids.

Things I won’t do:

I won’t tell my kids bad things about themselves
I won’t cuss at my kids
I won’t make them do so many chores.  I have other stuff to do like homework and sports
I will listen to my child’s side of the story before I punish them
I won’t be super strict about a lot of things
I won’t be too hard on my kids
I wont’ work super late. I will have time for my kids
I won’t make my kids eat something they don’t like
I will change how I punish my kids
I wont’ fight with my kids at all
I won’t yell at my kids or them them get in with a bad crowd
I won’t let my kids watch too much TV
My kids will get phones when they get to junior high school
I won’t yell and scream at my kids
I won’t make them feel bad by saying “I had nothing when I was your age or I have horrible parents”

 

Disappointing Birth Brings Hope

By Julie Kerckhoff

Mary and Joseph had just survived an untimely, government-mandated trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem with Mary “great with child.” Mary, who was chosen by God to have His son, had undergone six months of ridicule for being an unfaithful fiancé. By Jewish law, Joseph could have stoned her or at least dismissed her as his upcoming bride. Joseph had nine months of jeering and questionable looks for why he would marry such a loose, unfaithful woman and not shame her as a Jewish example. His carpentry business went way down as well, because no good Jew would support such abhorrent behavior.

Exhausted, they finally made it into Bethlehem only to find out they were too late. Their slow pace, possibly because Joseph was being considerate of Mary’s pregnancy, allowed every other traveler first dibs on the rooms. God had not even saved them a decent place to rest. God, their heavenly Father, who miraculously conceived the child in Mary’s womb to be their Messiah, had not provided a place for them? Really? Was God really in control? Continue reading “Disappointing Birth Brings Hope”

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!”

Powerful Blessings

There are countless ways that an adult can bless a young person.  In Trent & Smalley’s book, The Blessing: Giving the Gift of Unconditional Love and Acceptance, dozens of specific examples are given by people who were greatly blessed by their parents.  Here are a few of those testimonies.  Surely there is something here which can inspire you to better express your love for the young people in your life.

  • My parents would take the time to really listen to me when I talked to them by looking directly into my eyes.
  • We were often spontaneously getting hugged, even apart from a task or chore.
  • They would let me explain my side of the story.
  • My father would put his arm around me at church and let me lay my head on his shoulder.
  • They were willing to admit when they were wrong and say, “I’m sorry.” Continue reading “Powerful Blessings”

The Blessing

Most parents deeply love their children but do not express their love in the most effective ways.  For many children, they feel that their parents love them when… or if… or as long as…

It’s a shame that the love that lays in the hearts of moms and dads so seldom is expressed freely, clearly, daily, and without conditions attached.

Many are fortunate to experience love from their moms and dads and other significant adults in ways that give them a solid sense of acceptance and worth.  They grow up, knowing that they are loved “as is” and that someone is very proud of them.

Unfortunately, most kids strive for a blessing from mom or dad or other adult that they never quite get.  They suffer under a love that is either conditional or unexpressed or both.  As a result, they are not free to give and receive love as well as they need to.  It’s such a shame, since in most cases, the love is there, but it’s just not communicated, or it’s expressed only with strings attached.

In their book, The Blessing, John Trent and Gary Smalley explain how important the family blessing is to every young person.  “The family blessing not only provides people a much-needed sense of personal acceptance, it also plays an important part in protecting and even freeing them to develop intimate relationships… The best defense against a child’s longing for imaginary acceptance is to provide him or her with genuine acceptance.”  There is no substitute for honest affirmation at home.

So what does a blessing look like? Continue reading “The Blessing”

Never Too Young for Compassion

Sometimes, a single, simple act of compassion can change the world for someone else.  As a middle school teacher, I have witnessed this, not daily, but certainly monthly.  More often, I have witnessed the converse, in which a single simple act of cruelty can ruin someone’s day, or year.  However, the power of compassion is every bit as strong as any cruelty.  And children are often compassion’s most powerful agents.

In the book, This I Believe, there is an essay which beautifully illustrates how a child can change the world for someone.  I also think it shows how a child can be trained in righteousness by an adult. In this case, the adult is hidden somewhere behind the scenes, actively teaching the child how to be compassionate. In his essay, Miles Goodwin, an attorney from Milwaukee, writes of a life-changing moment in his life:

“On June 23, 1970, I had just been mustered out of the Army after completing my one-year tour of duty in Vietnam. I was a 23-year-old Army veteran on a plane from Oakland, Calif., returning home to Dallas, Texas.

I had been warned about the hostility many of our fellow countrymen felt toward returning ‘Nam vets at that time. There were no hometown parades for us when we came home from that unpopular war. Like tens of thousands of others, I was just trying to get home without incident.

Continue reading “Never Too Young for Compassion”

Raising the Perfect Parent

Always Kiss Me Good Night: Instructions on Raising the Perfect Parent (compiled by J.S. Salt) is the best advice that kids (ages 8-12) have for parents. Here are a few gems.

  • Make me be beautiful. (Jackie)
  • Write notes on my lunch box napkin. (Jenny)
  • Think when you were a kid and not yell so much. (Joe)
  • Be proud of me, even when I don’t get all the answers correct. (Sachi)
  • Sit down and have a conversation with me. (Kathleen)
  • Treat me like you treat your customers. (Karen) Continue reading “Raising the Perfect Parent”

Loyalty and Love Personified

John Wooden, the most-successful and most-revered basketball coach of all time, is a role model for so many men — and rightfully so.  To this day, as he approaches 100 years old, his character is so strong that the people around him want to be better because of his example.  Watch this, and you’ll get a glimpse of why he inspires so many people, near and far, with his loyalty and his love.

Let’s not forget that this kind of life is possible — and powerful.

We have a lot to learn from Coach Wooden.  Click here for more.

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