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)”

Taking Control of Your Digital Life

Part 3 in the series on becoming “tech-wise”

The first two posts in this series laid down a philosophical framework for why we need to take control of our digital devices. Now, let’s dig into the nitty-gritty details. The following is a list of strategies, tools, and thoughts to consider as you use your electronic devices. Try some of these things this week and see what works for you. Then try some more.

Physical Environment

  1. Reduce the number of devices that you use daily and have a philosophy of use for each one. Put certain apps on each device, and intentionally delete (or at least hide) all the extras.
  2. Don’t keep your phone on your body all day long. Give yourself some physical space for extended periods of time.
  3. Reduce the number of TVs and computers in your places, and don’t make them the focal point of any room where you spend a lot of time. Hide the screens as much as you can.
  4. Use paper and pen more. A paperless life is not an ideal life.
  5. Make sure you have tech-free zones and times in your home, in your office, and in your car.
  6. Put your tech to bed early. Put your phone, tablet, laptop in the kitchen every night for charging. Don’t bring it into the bedroom. Parents may need to keep children’s devices in their bedroom, since some kids will sneak their phone at night.
  7. Practice sabbaths from technology use: weekly, daily, hourly. Give your brain a break from the screens regularly. There should be a rhythm to our interaction with technology. There should be a rhythm of work, rest, and play to each day, week, and year.

Continue reading “Taking Control of Your Digital Life”

Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use

Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use (Part 2 in series)

Technology continues to improve, but is our use of technology improving? Not if we use all our high-tech devices and apps with their default settings. Not if we use them in whatever way feels right at the moment. Not if we go along with what everyone else is doing. Nothing will improve unless we personally change the ways we use technology during our days.

As parents, teachers, and coaches of young people, we see the current struggles that they are having with technology, and we would like to do something about it. But we have little idea about what to do to be helpful.

The answer begins with us. We need to attempt to gain control of our own digital lives, as we also try to help young people gain control of their digital lives. We should put high-tech tools to use in their proper places, and that includes putting them away at times. We need to become tech-wise, not just tech-savvy. We need to lead by example, and teach from our experiences.

Continue reading “Becoming Tech-Wise: Philosophy of Use”

Why Technology Worries Us So Much

Since 2010, human behavior has changed. In these last 7 years, we have experienced the complete integration of smartphones, the holy grail of gadgetry, into our everyday lifestyle. In that same time frame, we have experienced the proliferation of tablets among children at play, students at school, and even in the daily life of older adults who quickly took over Facebook. The teenagers quickly fled to other forms of social media, namely Instagram and Snapchat, both of which have become youth culture phenomena. So much has changed in just 7 years, as we have all come to realize that for almost everything “there is an app for that.

We use our devices so much because they work so well at so many things, and they make life more fun, more efficient, and more… everything. Both the allure and the utility are undeniable. Just look around at all the people in any public space. At any given time, most of them are on their phones, which is a truly remarkable fact. What else garners that much attention?

There is no question about our reliance on our glowing rectangles: small, medium, and large. In fact, a reasonable argument can be made that many of us are now, at least to some extent, cyborgs. Continue reading “Why Technology Worries Us So Much”

The Social Combat of Being 13

A New World Order for Young Teens

tired stressed girl7th and 8th grade is when the social life of a child amps up in three ways: importance, intensity, and consequences.

At 13, a child’s social standing becomes extremely important to them, as it has become more important to all the other 13 year olds. For some, it is the most important aspect of life itself. Most teens would rather go without food and shelter than suffer any sort of social trouble.

At 13, a child’s feelings of insecurity, awkwardness, and fear are at an all-time high. The hormones are raging, the insecurities are constant, and the emotional swings are intense. The biggest concern of every day is how to get through that whole day without any public embarrassment. Their fears are fueled by the intense anxieties of their peers. It’s a sea of fears as far as the adolescent eye can see. Continue reading “The Social Combat of Being 13”

Take Your Kids Outdoors

Kids spend well over 40 HOURS per week in front of electronic screens, but less than 40 MINUTES per week in nature. Screens are ruling teens.

Delayed Gratification

A major component of growing up is learning to deal with long waits and unexpected delays, yet nearly everything is now available in an instant. If we are going to prepare our kids for the best things in life, we need to teach them to wait and reward them for being patient. Kids need opportunities to practice patience that are followed by rewards for sticking with it to the end—whether it’s a 500-piece puzzle or a friendship with a neighbor that takes a long time to develop.

Once again, the push-button culture is working against kids. They are constantly given immediate, customized, positive feedback from their cell phones, iPods, video games, YouTube, and Facebook. These are places where they can hit pause, fast-forward, or reset any time they like with no consequences. But in real life, and especially in the natural world, there are no fast-forward or reset buttons. In order to experience a sunset, you have to watch for a while. A computer cannot simulate that experience.

The Need for Nature

boy fishingRichard Louv, author of the best-selling book Last Child in the Woods, understands this problem more than anyone, and loves children enough to cry out for them, “Let the children play outdoors!” His books and lectures have inspired a national movement that wants to leave no child inside. He encourages all families to embrace the nature that is in their local community. “For children,” he writes, “nature comes in many forms. A pet that lives and dies; a worn path through the woods; a fort nested in stinging nettles—whatever shape nature takes, it offers each child an older, larger world separate from parents. Nature offers healing for a child.”1

Louv explains how our children’s generation is suffering from what he calls “nature deficit disorder,” a preventable ailment of the body, mind, and soul. Kids just don’t go outdoors anymore. Continue reading “Take Your Kids Outdoors”

Five Ways to Manage Your Social Media

Social media, like just about everything, can be a blessing or a curse. It’s usually both. It’s a #lovehaterelationship, right?

When we log on, we see a picture of true beauty, like someone’s adorable daughter jumping in the swimming pool with floaties for the first time, and we are so glad that she shared it.

Then we scroll down, and it’s ten straight posts of people sharing and oversharing about the most annoying things.

But what can you do about it? Continue reading “Five Ways to Manage Your Social Media”

Parenting Digital Kids

Life Beyond the Screens

If you ask most teens what item is their most prized, important possession, they will say it’s their smartphone. In fact, I’ve heard teens say that if they could only take one thing on a deserted island it would be their smartphone, in spite of the fact that it would be useless once the battery dies. A lot of kids use their phones constantly and are addicted to the internet. They sleep with them and answer text messages in the middle of the night. They absolutely panic when they can’t find it or when someone takes it from them for even a second. They are quite open about it too; they admit that it’s a vital part of their existence.

 

The concern about technology’s impact upon the social, emotional, and spiritual development of our boys and girls is growing. “The average amount of time a preteen spends in front of a “screen” (including TV, DVD, video player, pre-recorded programming, video game, computer, etc.) is approximately 37 hours per week. This reality is in sharp contrast to the 7-14 hours per week recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.” (tweenparent.com)

Continue reading “Parenting Digital Kids”

Introducing Kids to Nature

How to Turn Kids On To Nature

I can’t tell you how many times one of my middle school students has melted down because he or she could not find his or her cell phone. They just come unglued.

Most kids are hooked on their screens. In fact, many of them are better named “screenagers,” addicted to digital images and text. They bounce from their cell phone screen to their television screen to their computer screen to their iPad screen, and in many cases their screens are all on at the same time. It’s quite an exciting existence to the average teenager. They can’t think of anything more interesting than laying on a comfortable couch in front of a satellite-connected high-definition TV, with their smartphone and X-Box controller on the coffee table, their iPad on the lap, and the computer nearby (just in case). If you think I am exaggerating, just ask a teenager if they think that sounds like a nice way to spend a summer day.

These screens are more like screen-doors or screen-windows than windows to the real world. You can see and hear things to some extent, but the clarity and depth perception is inferior. You are not fully in the world, even though you can hear and see and maybe even feel some of what’s happening out there. These digital doorways are virtual experiences at best.

The best way we can unhook them is not to take away all their screen time and tell them to go read a book. The answer is to get them hooked on something even more interactive and real than what’s on their screen. And what better antidote for digital addiction than fishing, hiking, or hunting?

Jake Hindman, an agent with the Missouri Conservation Department and a true outdoorsman, speaks to adults around the state about how to get kids interested in the outdoors. Here is a summary of his 3-point sermon: Continue reading “Introducing Kids to Nature”

Growing Up Too Fast

Our culture tends to throw kids in the deep-end of the pool without teaching them how to swim. Kids are given adult freedoms and privileges, without the responsibilities and training to help them handle it.  Now more than ever, it’s essential to give kids age-appropriate responsibilities, privileges, and freedoms.

Knowing exactly what is and is not age-appropriate is no simple task.  The unpredictable nature of adolescence makes it especially difficult. Every day I am amazed at how 13-year-olds are both incredibly immature and mature.  With any group of seventh graders, there will be some kids with tremendous maturity and some with absolutely none.  Even more amazing is how a single student can seem so mature one moment and so utterly immature the next moment.  It’s a paradox that makes my job as a father, teacher, and coach constantly interesting and challenging.

This is not a new phenomenon, but I think it has grown from a simple stage of development to a societal problem.  The problem is that many children are growing up too fast without developing properly.  Kids are growing up fast but not well; they are not ready to handle the adult things that they are getting in to so young.

David Elkind wrote The Hurried Child in 1981 and has updated it several times since, in response to the fast-changing world of media and technology in which kids live.  He discusses the effects of television on kids in great detail.

Continue reading “Growing Up Too Fast”

Life in the Shallows vs. Life at Sea

In the area of technology and society, nobody is an expert because we just don’t know what the long-term effects are.  In fact, nobody even knows what a digital life will look like five years from now.  Most of us don’t even understand what is going on right now.

This video displays many of the realities of the digital lives of teenagers and young adults in 2010.  I think you’ll find it enjoyable, informational, and thought-provoking.

Jordan is a complex picture of modern adolescence, so it’s not as if this portrait can be labeled as entirely good or bad.  However, there are two things that are striking about this video: 1. Jordan is alone and 2. his social connections and activities all exist to serve himself.  In a word, I’d describe his relationships as “immature.”  In many ways, it is a sad picture of someone whose primary motivation is to entertain himself.  Jordan is living for himself and having a pretty good time.

While Jordan is not an evil young man, he is clearly living a life in the shallow end of the pool.  He has not grown up yet.

Hopefully, we can raise a generation with a reality that is more rich in meaning than this. Here is an example of a man and his family who are living life well, in spite of daily trials and extreme tragedies.  Furthermore, they are passing good character on down to the next generation.  Prepare yourself for the remarkable story of Ed Thomas, his family, and his community.

And to accept the award…

Video Games

I grew up with the Atari 2600 video game system.  It was the cultural phenomenon of 1978, right along with Star Wars (I was a nut for both).  To go from the old Pong game system to Space Invaders, Pac Man, Pitfall, and Asteroids seemed like a giant leap for all mankind.  I had such fun playing those games, saving up my money to buy another cartridge, and swapping stories and games with my friends.  Perhaps I wasted some hours of life along the way, especially in the long days of summer, but all in all, it was good clean fun.

Flash forward 33 summers later.  My son just turned 12, and like all boys, loves to play video games on his X-Box.  As a matter of fact, right now he is playing a video hockey game with a friend.  They just finished playing soccer and wiffle ball outside, so it’s a great way to cool down indoors on this steamy July afternoon.

This is what I love about video games.  It can be a very social activity for boys and girls to play in between more active, creative activities. Sometimes, my son and I will play a game when we are wiped out from the other activities of the day, and we just want to chill out and have some fun.  We tease each other and laugh a lot, as we play a game that keeps us acting and reacting to each others’ onscreen moves.  Mostly, he wins, which makes him feel great, but most importantly, we enjoy the free-spirited competition —  the laughs, the taunts, the punches — much more than the game itself.

As with every good thing, there can be too much of it.  Here’s one of many articles about the negative effects of too much gaming. Certainly, moderation is paramount with video games. Continue reading “Video Games”

The Reading Crisis

What and How Are Kids Reading?

Some recent observations have caused me to worry about what and how kids are reading, writing, and thinking:

1.    The English teachers at our school have been noticing a gradual loss of reading and writing skills in the last five years.  While the “above-average” students still exist in good numbers, there seems to be more students with “very-low” reading competency.

2.   My colleagues and I on the 7th grade team have noticed more students each year who are struggling with vocabulary and reading comprehension skills, so that even in math, they struggle with understanding the questions asked of them.

3.  Everywhere you look outside of the classroom, students are reading a lot, but it’s mostly text messages, instant messages, emails, teen-related blogs and websites. Teens are often seen viewing screens yet are very rarely seen reading a book. (Some are calling this generation of kids the “children of the screen.”)

Continue reading “The Reading Crisis”

Urgent Information of the Age

I cannot emphasize this enough.  If you are a parent, a teacher, a coach, or have any connection with a young person, you must see Frontline’s “Digital Nation”!

You will not regret it.  I have seen it twice and will see it again.  You need this.  Your kids need this.  Put it on your “to do” list, and make it happen.  Click here for the full 90-minute version online.

Our Digital Lives

Being a kid is complicated, now more than ever. There are two things that I have seen in the last 24 hours which strongly support this theory.

1.  PBS aired another valuable Frontline documentary called “Digital Nation” that I watched last night.  It can be viewed in its entirety, or in brief excerpts, online by clicking here. Even if you just watch the first 15 minutes, you will learn and think about the most important, and least understood, new aspect of the world in which we live – our digital lives.

2.  I received an email from a colleague this morning which listed the most popular search words used by kids on the internet in 2009.  Click here to view it.  Again, you will see how our kids are all over the place online.

It has never been easy to be a kid.  The good old days were not always that good.  In many ways, the old days were more difficult on kids physically, since there was far less peace and prosperity back in the 1920’s and 1930’s when my grandparents were kids.  However, there is not a doubt in my mind that it is far more complicated to be a kid now.

Too Much Internet, Too Soon

What was the most popular Christmas gift this year for 5th graders?  The Apple iPod iTouch.  What is the most popular gift for 6th grade birthdays and graduations?  Hands down, a “smart” cell phone.  And what do they have in common that makes them so popular?  The most coveted feature is the wireless internet accessibility, so that kids can surf the web, email, instant message, and play web-based games from their pocket-sized device at any WiFi hotspot (home, school, coffee shops, bookstores, etc).  At first glance, it seems like a really fun toy and a great way to keep in touch with preteens who are increasingly mobile.  In fact, it seems like a great safety device – a way to keep in touch, to know where kids are and what they are doing all the time, and to allow kids to call for help when needed.

But at what cost?  What are the hidden costs that counter these benefits?  How many parents are even aware that there are dangers in this wireless revolution?  Well, let me pull back the curtain a little to show you what is really going on in the digital lives of many children and teenagers (and these are not just a few latchkey kids).

Continue reading “Too Much Internet, Too Soon”

Time Management for Kids

As preteens enter the hallways of middle school for the first time, they often feel totally overwhelmed by the amount of teachers, classrooms, schedules, textbooks, new friends, and homework assignments to manage.  In fact, well into high school, most students struggle with managing their lives, for there is always a limited amount of activity, money, and energy to be spent in a day’s time.  Truth be told, most adults fail to manage their lives well every day.  We all have bad days, but for a teenager the results can be devastating when day after day is mismanaged.

Gift of time

It is NOT all about fitting in one more thing each day to be more productive.  It is NOT about putting an iPhone in the hands of every second grader to maximize their efficiency.  Nope.  It’s about living well. It’s about setting a healthy rhythm to our lives.  And ultimately, it’s about living according to OUR OWN values, not society’s values.  Here are some ideas for helping kids (and adults) manage their time better, in order to live a more deliberate, healthy life.

First, explore the concept of priorities.  Discuss what a priority is and why it’s so valuable.  Discuss how priorities need to reflect our deepest values, and how the way we spend our time should reflect our priorities.  In other words, we should order our priorities from first to last, according to what we value the most, all the way down to what we value the least.  Ideally, we will attempt to spend our time accordingly, making sure that our highest values are not neglected in any day.

Second, examine the way he or she actually spends his or her time each day of each week.  Account for all the time spent in a week.  Sit down and plot out each day, half-hour by half-hour.  Count up the average hours of sleep, school, homework, television, exercise, internet use, eating, chores, and everything. It may reveal some areas well worth congratulations, as well as areas needing improvement, based on how well it all seems to match up with his or her priorities.

Continue reading “Time Management for Kids”

Facebook Kids

The most common questions that parents have today are all related to Facebook, since every student wants full access and most parents don’t know enough about it.  It is a generational thing, like rock and roll was misunderstood by our grandparents.

In the same way that our parents monitored our use of the telephone, television, and movies, parents today have the duty to monitor their children’s use of social networking sites, like FaceBook.  By the way, if you want an interesting discussion, ask any fourteen-year old if Facebook is more popular than television.

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Well, here is a good list of protections for preteens and younger teens, especially.

1)  Parents will know the password and have access to the child’s page.

2)  Parents can customize their child’s settings to make profile safer (privacy, visibility, etc).

3)  Email of posts, friends, etc. come to the family’s home e-mail.

Continue reading “Facebook Kids”

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”

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