Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 3 of 3)

The trends are not looking good for the mental and emotional health of young people, across all demographics. For instance, most people think of college as one of the happier times in a person’s whole life. However, according to a recent survey by the American College Health Association, 52 percent of college students reported feeling hopeless, while 39 percent suffered from severe depression during the previous year. Those are some staggering numbers. Apparently, the freedom and excitement of college life offers little relief for the inner troubles of young people. As we discussed in part 1 and part 2 of this series, the current culture is toxic for families and for young people.

What can we do about it? Clearly, we can’t change the culture right away, so what is a person to do?

Benjamin Franklin famously penned, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Does this apply to avoiding anxiety, depression, and addiction. Absolutely!

No young person intends to get addicted to anything. Generally, an addiction begins small and benign, then grows like a cancer undetected, until it’s a serious problem. For this blog post, we will focus on that intermediate stage of growth, when it is neither too soon to detect nor too late to treat effectively.

The most common concern of parents regarding dependency is related to electronics, and it goes something like this: “We struggle constantly with our kids over screen time” or “I know my kids use screens a lot, but the screens are literally everywhere. What can be done?” Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 3 of 3)”

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”

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”

Parenting is Regulating

Every parent should regulate their children’s behavior until they are ready to regulate their own. It will likely be a 20-year process, which starts with full regulatory control of the infant and ends with total release of all control at adulthood.

What does it mean “to regulate?” In grammatical terms, it is a transitive verb, meaning that a subject rules or governs another object by adjusting the time, amount, degree, or rate of something upon the object.

Let’s take food, for example. An infant has no idea how to handle his hunger pains, can’t make decisions about food, and can’t feed himself. It is the parent’s job to fully control the diet of the child. The twenty-year old, on the other hand, should have mature eating habits within his full control: when to eat, what to eat, how much, how to shop, how to cook, how to balance his nutrition with exercise, etc. Continue reading “Parenting is Regulating”

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.”

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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

Doodling

My wife, my 13 year old son, and I went to see The Taming of the Shrew outdoors last night in Forest Park.  Since it’s a free and first-class show, we had to get there very early to get a spot with any sort of good view.  Before the show started, just as we settled into our lawn chairs, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to see a young man in his 20’s in hipster attire.  Remarkably, my brain processed that it was a student of mine from many years ago, and the name Dustin popped in my head.  He was as impressed as I was that I had remembered his name, since we haven’t spoken in probably 8 or 10 years.  We had a nice conversation for about ten minutes, catching up on the basics of our lives.

Dustin is now 23, graduated from college, working two jobs, and pursuing a career in cartooning. He seemed very happy to talk about how much he loves his art, even though it can be exceedingly time-consuming and often frustrating.

Continue reading “Doodling”

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”

Helicopter Parents

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

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

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

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

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

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

21st Century Beauty vs. Girls

Beauty is complicated.  I feel sorry for our girls who have to grow up in this modern American society which twists and enlarges the meaning of beauty at every turn, every day.  It’s a hostile environment for the self-image of young women.

Sometimes, it helps to go way back in time to find some truth.  How about two thousand years?  First Century Christians were taught this about beauty: “Let your beauty not be external – the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes – but the inner person of the heart, the lasting beauty of a gentle and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)  The world has changed, and always will, but truth has not.

External beauty is elusive, shallow, and fleeting.  It’s mere eye candy.  However, inner beauty is obtainable by all, deeply-satisfying, and eternally valuable – it’s just not as immediate, apparent, or exciting.  Our girls need to know this as soon as possible. We can help them see real beauty, but as usual, it’s going to take some direction and a lot of love.

Related Article: Sexy Too Soon

Social Skills Needed: Apply Here

There is a social epidemic that has swept the nation.  While it used to be contained to young teenage girls, it is striking adults at an alarming rate in recent years.  It sounds like this: “Um, it’s kinda like, well, you know when you just can’t really, like, seem to just um say like what um you like want to say?   Like, um, do you know what I mean?

Rolling eyes

The epidemic is clearly some kind of communication disorder, but it lacks a name.  We need a good label.  How about Unintelligible Verbal Skills Syndrome?  Adult Communication Avoidance?  Teenage Verbal Nonsense Disorder? Arrested Social Development?  I think that one fits best – Arrested Social Development – because it’s really all about kids not growing up.

This communication deficiency is a sign of a larger problem.  It’s more than just the inability to make coherent statements with purpose and confidence.  It’s the larger problem of young adults not growing up in their speech, in their manners, or in other social skills.  It’s seen in adults who talk and act like immature teens, even preteens, in so many ways.

Historically, parents have taught young children to shake hands with adults, look them in the eye, and say something positive, such as, “It’s nice to meet you.”

Continue reading “Social Skills Needed: Apply Here”

The Solemn Process of Growing Up

Like Autumn, growing up is bittersweet.  Poet Billy Collins says it well.

On Turning Ten

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

But now I am mostly at the windowstockxpertcom_id129022_jpg_3daea408b338a37f876b18949df4f679
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

Billy Collins



The Pitfall of Comparison

“Senior class president, she must be heaven sent.  She was never the last one standing.  A beautiful debutant, everything that you want.  Never too harsh or too demanding.  Maybe I’ll admit it, I’m a little bitter.  Everybody loves her, but I just wanna hit her.  I don’t know why I’m feeling sorry for myself.  I spend all my time wishing that I was someone else.” (from the song “The Girl Next Door,” by Saving Jane)

stockxpertcom_id279338_jpg_45a7232e3d293b7cabd3c49ee6b519b3
Adolescents ask themselves all sorts of questions related to their identity.  Am I athletic and strong enough to play varsity?  Am I good looking and fashionable enough?  Do I have the cool clothes and gear?  Do I like the right kind of music?  Do I have the right friends?

Even long after high school, we measure ourselves by how we compare with our peers.  Depending on our values, we assess our self-worth based on things like our socio-economic status (house, neighborhood, cars, vacations, private schools), educational level, beauty, fashion, fitness, career success, and even our volunteer activities.

It’s human nature.  We judge ourselves (and each other) in every area that we value.  If we value athletics, then that is how we compare ourselves to others.  If we value fashion, then that is how we compare ourselves with others.  However, we need to learn that anytime we compare ourselves to anyone else, we are falling into a pitfall, a trap without any good results.

There are three possible outcomes when we compare ourselves with someone else:

Continue reading “The Pitfall of Comparison”

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”

Training Up Independent Kids

Embracing Mistakes; Developing Problem-Solvers

Thomas Edison believed that failure was not a bad thing; it merely directed him closer to success.  He embraced his mistakes as opportunities to learn, and he ultimately succeeded as the greatest inventor of all time.

The truth is that you want your children (or students) to learn from their mistakes, which means that you are going to have to be okay with them making mistakes.  You want them to learn that they are capable of creating solutions to their own problems.  You want them to struggle with fixing their own troubles.  And you want them to know that their parents, teachers, and coaches are sources of wisdom and help along the way.

“So at the heart of good parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy
.” (Silk 51)  In fact, mistakes are often the greatest teachers.

Continue reading “Training Up Independent Kids”

Growing Up and Away?

A friend of mine recently expressed frustration with the way that everyone seems to write off their kids around the age of 12.  He said that he hears people say very matter-of-factly things like, “Well enjoy your little boys now because it won’t be long before they are teenagers and they stop loving you.”  Or they sadly bemoan, “Yeah, I miss those days when my kids hugged me everyday and meant it.”  Or they state in exasperation, “I don’t even know who this kid in my house is anymore.”

My friend is worried about this happening to him.  He has three boys under the age of 7, and he is absolutely loving them.  He told me about how his oldest boy is learning to share and sacrifice for his little brothers at times.  He described it as absolutely beautiful.

And then he said, “I don’t want to lose my connection with them.  I don’t think I have to, but everybody is telling that it will happen, as if there isn’t anything I can do about it.”

Continue reading “Growing Up and Away?”

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