Career Guidance for Young Teens

The Need for Early Guidance

A few kids know from a very early age what they want to pursue as a career, and it turns out that their talents and interests match up perfectly. For them, career guidance is a non-issue, but for the vast majority of children, the opposite is true. My own experience was more typical.

By the time I turned 20, I did not know what I wanted to do with my life, and I did not even have any clear understanding of the options available to me. I had a lot going for me – a good work ethic, a solid set of academic skills, no disabilities, no addictions, decent social skills, and some athletic and artistic talent. In addition, I was going to graduate from a respected university, free and clear of debt, thanks to my family. So, on paper, I had it all. But I was totally blind. I had no vision for my career. I was enrolled as a journalism major simply because I loved to write and keep up with current events, but I had just discovered that reporting was clearly not for me. My parents, for all their positive traits and overall support of me, provided no career guidance. I was on my own. So I went camping.

On a very hot day, I sat on a rock overlooking Inks Lake in central Texas, and I pondered all the things I should have already known. I asked myself: Continue reading “Career Guidance for Young Teens”

Social Development and Kids’ Activities

Social life. Social skills. Social anxiety. Social media. Social Security. She’s so social!

When we think of the “social development” of children, what are we talking about and what is the goal? It is a confusing issue for many. For example, as an educator, I have heard a lot of people talk about how home school children need to go to school at some point for socialization. Conversely, I have heard a home school parent say, “Have you seen those kids? I don’t want my children socialized by kids who are rude, lazy, out of control, and self-centered.”

What is socialization? For some parents, it means that children need to belong to a diverse group of peers for the sake of learning how to deal with a wide variety of people in a wide variety of situations. For others, it means that children need to be a part of a homogenous group where a certain worldview and certain social norms will be taught to and required of the child. Those are two different views of socialization, and those two types of schools will look and feel quite different. One has the goal of conformity and discipline of behavior and thought (think military boarding school), while the other has the goal of independence and creativity in behavior and thought (think large urban public school). Those are two very different forms of socialization. Continue reading “Social Development and Kids’ Activities”

Speak Your Kids Up

Here is a sneak peak at the book I am writing about parenting:

Kids need to see and hear their parents doing hard things, persevering, and being resilient. So, discuss life’s issues with your kids, and don’t dumb it down too much. They can handle and can learn a lot from some transparency. My wife talks to our kids, not as peers, but as very intelligent young people. Ever since our oldest son could understand language, she talked with him in a way that most people would assume was too advanced. She did not engage in baby talk after babyhood. It was full-on conversations. I laughed at her sometimes at the way she explained how and why everything worked. It seemed silly at times, but sure enough, she was right. The kid rose to her high level of language and cognition. And she does the same with our daughter who is physically and mentally disabled. She assumes too much perhaps, but she is absolutely right in raising the level of discussion higher than seems reasonable. And sure enough, our daughter’s language comprehension is far beyond what it should be. The point is that our kids can learn so much from us. They are much smarter than we give them credit for. So, teach them everyday about everything, and they will grow up smart and wise.

Embracing Parenting

Here is a sample from my latest project. It’s a chapter from my not-even-close-to-being-finished book. Feel free to give me some feedback.

Be the Parent

I believe that there is neither “The Way” nor “God’s Way” to raise children. There is no formula for success. But that does not mean that there are not good practices and bad practices. Indeed, there are things that generally work and things that generally do not work. This book is devoted to clarifying the difference.

However, the key to being a good parent is the pursuit of more effective practices and attitudes. We need to be seeking a better way by praying for wisdom, talking with other devoted parents, reading various books, observing happy families, and trying to improve the way we help our kids grow up well. We can’t get complacent. We can’t just be ourselves. We need to become better lovers and leaders of our kids, and I believe we will find our way if we keep on.

The real danger is for parents who do not examine their ways. Continue reading “Embracing Parenting”

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”

 

Weak Language

 

We often chastise young people for using “strong language,” but there is an equal or greater problem with kids, especially girls, who use weak language.

Consider the use of the following “words” among kids, and consider how you can guide them to use stronger language:

like

just

kinda

sorta

maybe

y’know

know-what-I-mean

know-what-I’m-sayin’

well

um

and he’s like

and I’m like

and they’re all like

and um

I don’t know

duh

like yeah

 

It’s Never Too Late to Reconnect With Your Child

I could tell that things weren’t right with me and my boy. He was avoiding me. I was annoyed with him. We weren’t having fun, even when we were playing ping pong or shopping for soccer shoes. I didn’t know what to do. He was acting like a sulking 14 year old boy, and I was acting like a clueless 41 year old man. Too much time passed by, and it slowly was turning ugly. I was losing my boy. So, we had a family pow-wow.

Out of respect for him, I’ll leave out the details, but I have to say that it was not a pleasant conversation. It was just a conversation. Nobody yelled, but there were some tears. But eventually, after sharing a slew of thoughts and feelings, we reconnected. And boy did that feel good.

It’s never too late to sit down with your kid and just talk it out. Just don’t let things fester. Communicate. It may begin awkwardly, but it can end beautifully.

In a related blog post, Hands Free Mama writes about her renewing experience with her daughter. It’s a must read. Click here to read it.  Big thanks to her!

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”

Mister Rogers

I’m a huge Fred Rogers fan, so I was skeptical when I heard about the video remix recently done about him. I expected something satirical and mean-spirited, so I watched with my guard up. Instead, we have this.

There are so many things to learn about in this world and so many people who can help us learn.” – Fred Rogers

Thank you, John D. Boswell, for making this video. And thank you, Fred Rogers, for being a great man, a great teacher, and for leaving behind a great body of work for children throughout the world. Rest in peace, Mister Rogers.

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”

Stop, Look, Listen

Our kids, no matter the age, need us to be with them, explaining what makes one thing beautiful and another ugly, why one thing is important and the other trivial, and why this is quite right and that is all wrong. A relationship such as this is what makes the world a better place, one person at a time.

I am reading a book about finding life’s great truths in the humblest of places.  The Power of the Powerless is about the lessons learned in a family that cares for a child that has no abilities.  The book affirms life in a profound way. What at first seems like a horrible family situation is revealed to be a wonderful place to grow up.  Here is an excerpt.

“The more a parent points out things to their children, the more the children will take it upon themselves to select, identify, listen to, see, embrace.

“I was brought up in a house where the extraordinary was always discovered in the ordinary. I learned to appreciate the sound of water slapping against itself because my father, each Spring, took an iron rake and walked to the small stream that divided our property in two. Each Spring he pulled sticks, rotting leaves, and stones up from the water that broke free the flow of the stream. ‘Christopher, listen to the water rushing.’ So I listened.

Life imitates life. Children do what adults do. If parents are readers, there is a good chance that their children will grow into the reading habit. If parents embrace the enchantments of the heart, there is a good chance their children, too, will laugh.”

Christopher de Vinck, The Power of the Powerless

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”

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”

Parenting With and Without Fear

Fear is universal.  Columnist Dave Barry writes, “All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears — of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words “Some Assembly Required.”

We are all deeply motivated by our fears, and they influence nearly every one of our decisions.   Some fears are entirely legitimate, while others are unwarranted.  Some fears are healthy, while others are neuroses.   And while children are naturally prone to fears of all sorts, due to their lack of knowledge, adults are often victims of unfounded fears due to faulty knowledge or perspective.

Parents, in particular, are afraid of anything that poses a threat to the wellness of their children.  In their best-selling book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explore the fears that control parents (and grandparents, teachers, coaches, etc.):

 No one is more susceptible to an expert’s fear-mongering than a parent.  Fear is in fact a major component of parenting.  A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature’s life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. This leads a lot of parents to spend a lot of their parenting energy simply being scared. Continue reading “Parenting With and Without Fear”

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”

The Power of No (Part 3)

Young teenagers often “cross the line.” It’s inevitable, so it should not surprise us. Yet, we should not just acquiesce to the lowest common denominator: “Boys will be boys.”

It’s our job as adults to help young boys and girls to live well and to move towards becoming young men and women. Adolescence should be a growth process, not a static state of being, or worse yet, a window of time in which to act like a dumb animal. Saying to kids, “No, you won’t do that,” is vital to a civil society.

Young men and women need adults to speak up, but it’s scary sometimes to be the bad guy.  For example, it can be intimidating for even a grown man to tell a teenage boy to pull his pants up, for goodness sake (click here for that story).

Being the bad guy is easier said than done, and as a parent, teacher, and coach, I often fail to hold kids to account. Continue reading “The Power of No (Part 3)”

The Power of No (Part 1)

Anthony Bourdain, is an American chef, author, and television personality. He is well-known as the host of the Travel Channel‘s culinary and cultural adventure program Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.

Tony is a rebel; it’s in his blood, and he has used that iconoclastic attitude in a largely positive way – as an aspiring international chef and as an entertainer.  In addition to his often-abrasive personality, Tony has a soft heart for people. There is a kindness in him that shines through, even when he is putting on a tough front. He is sweet and sour, you might say.

In his wildly-popular and critically-acclaimed book Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, he recounts a crucial moment in his young life when he realized that the universe did not revolve around him.

My first indication that food was something more than a substance one stuffed in one’s face when hungry – like filling up at a gas station – came after fourth grade in elementary school.  It was on a family vacation to Europe…our first trip to my father’s ancestral homeland, France.

“I was largely unimpressed by the food…Centuries of French cuisine had yet to make an impression. What I noticed about food, French style, was what they didn’t have…I was quickly becoming a sullen, moody, difficult little bastard.  I fought constantly with my brother, carped about everything, and was in every possible way a drag on my mother’s Glorious Expedition.

Continue reading “The Power of No (Part 1)”

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”

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”

Family Matters

Imagine two American families, living on the same street, both successful in pursuing the American dream. Their Christmas cards are equally impressive. All their kids are college-bound. Their marriages are stable, and they are in the midst of meeting their career and material goals.  There are no skeletons hiding in their closets; what you see is what you get with them. But there is a difference that only their very closest friends and family might recognize.

Let’s first meet the Johnson family. Jim is an engineer, who loves to fish and go to his kids’ ball games as much as he can. He is a Boy Scout leader, a bible study leader, and a really nice guy, by all accounts.  His wife Sue works part-time as a nurse at the local children’s hospital, in addition to raising three teenagers. Jack (16) plays three competitive sports and gets mostly A’s. He plays guitar in a garage band and loves to ride his dirt bike. Sally (14) is an average student but a truly outstanding gymnast who travels a lot for competitions. When home, she likes to go to the mall or the movie theater as much as possible. Jimmy (12) is interested in everything; he has dozens of hobbies, plays select soccer, is a Boy Scout, and still manages good grades. All in all, the Johnson’s are active, productive, and very busy. They seem content with life and get along well with all kinds of people. They are good neighbors, but they aren’t home much.

Now, meet the Landry family next door. Lou is also an engineer, and Donna works part-time at the elementary school where their three teenage kids attended. The three kids are Josh (17), Bill (15), and Claire (13). They are above-average students, but do not excel in sports or the arts. Except for a few minor incidents, the kids stay out of trouble. After dinner, they like to watch movies together, so they just built a family theater and a “ping pong arena” in the basement. Whenever possible, they get away to Grandpa’s cabin on a lake, where they do a lot of fishing, waterskiing, swimming, cliff jumping, and reading (since there’s no TV at the cabin). Lately, at night, they’ve been playing some very animated games of Texas Hold-em; Mom is actually the best bluffer of the bunch. Their neighbors miss them when they are gone at the cabin because they are a fun-loving family.

So what’s the difference? It’s subtle but powerful.

 

It’s all about WITH. One family lives WITH each other, while the other does not.  The Landry’s play with each other, hang out with each other, and eat with each other. The Johnson’s, however, are not with each other much, except in the car, en route to somebody’s activity. Most people would never see the difference, but it’s a big one. One family is a team, while the other is a bunch of individuals. Yes, the Johnson’s appear to be a tight family, but they are not.  They each have their individual lives, full of their own favorite activities; they freely pursue their own happiness, free from the inconveniences of the family bond.

Continue reading “Family Matters”

How to Negotiate with Children

In a recent panel discussion about parenting on National Public Radio, “When No Means No” (11 minutes of audio), some moms and a family therapist were debating the extent to which parents should negotiate with their children.  It is an interesting discussion about how children need to learn to negotiate at home so that they can learn to negotiate the waters of the river of life.  There was no debate among the panel members that negotiation is a vital life skill, and all agreed  that parents need to teach children how to do it well.  The big question is:  How do you allow children to negotiate with adults, without allowing them to become obnoxious little princes and princesses who feel the kingdom is entitled to them?

The power struggle between children and parents is a primary issue in every household, in every culture, in every era of history.  It should be.  How much power should a child have over his or her life?  And how much power should a parent exercise on behalf of the child?

As in all things, the extremes get the most attention.  The parents who have total authority over their children make the news with their abusive behavior, and the parents who have no authority in their household make the news with their negligence.  The children of these extremists invariably suffer from a wide variety of unhealthy mental and emotional problems.  Some work it out, in spite of their parents’ grave mistakes, while most do not successfully grow up well.  But most of us don’t fall in the extreme cases.

Most parents learn that very young children need lots of boundaries and very little freedom.  And we learn that, as time goes by, they should get increasingly more freedoms and responsibilities, until one day they are independent and can handle living alone at college.

But the real question for most of us is something like, “What do I do with my 8 year old who questions and begs and tries to negotiate with me all the time?”

Continue reading “How to Negotiate with Children”

Creating Consumers or Citizens?

This article, “Reversing the Consumer Mindset” is well-worth reading.  More importantly, as a parent or grandparent, it is worth reflecting upon, since we shape the kids in our care in more ways than we care to admit.

Here is a sample… “I was taught to throw out broken items, rather than seek to repair them myself or do without them. I was taught that love is given through tangible gifts.”

The Wrong Kind of Pain

Generally speaking, children who face difficulties will grow up stronger in the long run.  They earn a host of other character qualities, forged in the fires of adolescence.  I say “generally” because there are some trials which are truly damaging to the soul of a child: molestation being one that comes to mind.  But intense, unmitigated bullying can be just as bad, raping the heart of all that is good.

Single Dad Laughing” is an excellent blog, and there is one must-read article called “Memoirs of a Bullied Kid.”  It will take about 15 minutes to read and reflect on it, and if you are a parent, teacher, or coach, then it is well worth your time.

The Value of Pain

As I walk through the halls after school, there is a barrage of faces along my path.  Some I know well; some I don’t know at all.  Some are happy; some look very frustrated.  But all of these kids have stories inside.  Some of their stories are silly — full of joy from a life yet unblemished by heartache or tragedy.  And some have stories they keep to themselves because they are not the kind that they want to tell or others want to hear.  There are some broken kids out there, some of whom will mend well, and grow up to be good and strong.

As I walk briskly by them each day, I think about what stories I know.  Not enough, unfortunately.  But I know that boy; he’s has had serious struggles with perfectionism and an eating disorder in middle school and is now very healthy, athletic, and academically successful.  I know that girl, whose mother died of cancer when she was ten; her dad remarried a woman whose spouse also died of cancer.  Their blended family is an inspiration.  I also know the story of that girl, whose little brother has Down’s Syndrome and whose parents are on the brink of divorce; she’s serious, smart, and sometimes silly.  Actually, I just know bits and pieces of their stories, but it’s enough to see the depth in their eyes.  I know that they know pain.

Continue reading “The Value of Pain”

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”

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”

Prepare Them for Life

Protection and provision are not enough.

“Here’s the paradox: If we protect our children too absolutely, we actually end up exposing them to other risks.  And leave them without the skills, experiences, and minor life lessons that they’ll need to handle the big challenges as they grow up.” (Perri Klass, M.D.)

When children are very young, they must be protected and nurtured in absolutely every way.  An infant is helpless and needy at all times.  He must be fed, clothed, changed, transported, and even cajoled into sleep – or else he will get sick and die.  Babies are totally unprepared for life.  Now flash forward 18 years, and that same human, now full-grown, had better not be helpless or needy, or else something very wrong has taken place in the meantime.  That 18 year old should be a strong, self-sufficient young man, able to learn on his own at school, have a variety of healthy relationships, and be able to do the jobs that other adults require of them, in order to have any success in his adult life.  After all, he is a legal adult with all the rights and privileges that come with: working, paying taxes, continuing education, voting, getting married, having children, and even fighting in a war.  He should be ready to fly on his own – maybe not soar yet, but fly enough to survive.

In a recent article about “helicopter parenting” we get a glimpse of the problem from the eyes of a college professor.  “Kathleen Crowley, a professor of psychology says parents’ eagerness to overdirect their children’s lives has led to young adults who are less independent and creative than the generation before. Twenty years ago, Crowley announced an upcoming test in her college classes and that was the end of the discussion. Now, she says she’s expected to provide students with a study guide so they know exactly how to prepare, and she’s had these same young adults come to her in tears because they’d earned their first B and didn’t know how to cope. Because of this “extended adolescence,” when these students graduate and enter their careers, they’re now offered workplace mentoring and on-the-job training just to ensure their success.” (Jennifer Gish)

So why are so many 18-28 year old men and women still in adolescence?  Why are so many having nervous breakdowns in the midst of their inability to deal with the trials of life?  Why are so many young men and women crippled (socially and emotionally) in the adult world?

The answer may be simple, but the solution is complex.  The young man’s parents, teachers, and coaches may have done a fine job of protecting and providing, but they did not prepare the child for adulthood.  The solution is not so simple.  HOW do you prepare a child to succeed on his or her own?  (The following is not a comprehensive list)

Continue reading “Prepare Them for Life”

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”

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”

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