Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!

Anne Lamott says that in her experience the two most powerful prayers are “Help me, help me, help me.” and “Thank you, thank, you, thank you.”

We are so grateful for our recent trip to Laguna Beach, California.  The Dream Factory granted our family a first-class vacation that would suit the special needs and wishes of our daughter, Kathryn.  They paid for and arranged all the details of a trip that we unanimously hail as the best family vacation we have ever had. Thank you, Bene Messmer and all the volunteers and donors at The Dream Factory!

Continue reading “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!”

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”

Powerful Blessings

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

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

I Believe in Encouragement

By Lauren Baum, in her senior English class at Westminster Christian Academy, St. Louis (Class of 2011).

Without any hesitation, he said, “I’d be better off dead.” Hearing those words come out of my best friend’s mouth tore my heart apart. He has repeated that phrase more than once, and my mind continually plays it over like a voice recording.

I met my best friend about three years ago. After knowing me for six months, he told me about his struggles with depression. Sadness was not the only emotion that came over me; I was shocked. He seemed so outgoing and happy all the time. I soon learned that he was physically and emotionally abused as a young child, prompting him to bottle up suicidal thoughts. I cannot begin to imagine the physical pain he has suffered during his lifetime.

He refuses to talk to others about his depression because he now distrusts adults, especially those in his family. Nevertheless, he feels as if I understand him and that I know the right words to speak. Consequently, when it comes to helping him, convenience is not in my vocabulary. It does not matter where I am or what I am doing, for he takes priority. Sometimes he just needs the assurance of my voice telling him that everything is going to be okay and that I will not let him down.

Many students at his school mock him when they notice the scars on his arms from cutting. As he sees it, other kids have every right to tease him and to look down on him. But no one holds such a right, so I encourage him to ignore the heartless kids who treat him less than human. When he feels the weight of judging eyes or hateful voices, I always remind him that I care about him unconditionally.  Just hearing me say I will always be his best friend seems to give him the security he needs to keep on going.

My best friend once told me that if he had not had me, he would not be alive. He said that my encouraging words convinced him not to take his life. I never took a bullet or rescued him from a burning fire, but, in his eyes, I saved his life. Our friendship has taught me that no matter the situation, a single kind word can impact someone’s life. With the fragility of life as it is, I believe in the necessity of encouragement.

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)”

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”

Thanksgiving Child

Kathryn was born on Thanksgiving weekend 11 years ago on an unforgettable day.  Due to the trauma of her birth, she sustained brain damage which causes her to have spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and cognitive delays.  She cannot walk, talk, or do anything without assistance.

Her disabilities are many, and her life is full of discomfort, but her spirit is delightful and other-centered in spite of it all.  She is not a disability.  She is beautiful and strong.  Those who know her are better for it.

 

Kathryn

Wakes with seizures

Scars with surgeries

Grows with splints

.

Plays without running

Comprehends without reading

Communes without speaking

.

Throws with accuracy

Laughs with hysterics

Hugs with stiff arms

.

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…

Questions to Ask Kids

Kids want to be known, and not just by their parents (their #1 source of value).  They want their teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and neighbors to know their names, their interests, and their talents.  Granted, some kids seem to want to be left alone, but even the shy ones deeply desire to be known by others on some level.  It’s ingrained in all of us.  Nobody likes to called by the wrong name (sibling confusion is common).  Nobody enjoys being overlooked by the cool coach who loves to talk with the cool kids on the team.  And when it’s halfway through the year and the teacher still can’t remember your name, it hurts.

Some adults are natural-born kid-lovers.  They just know exactly how to talk to kids and make them laugh.  Somehow they get away with teasing them to no end, or the kids just flock to them because they feel safe and loved with them.  They make great youth leaders, mentors, and assistant coaches.  However, it’s not so easy for most adults to connect with kids, especially if they don’t think they have anything in common with them.

Fortunately, it’s not rocket surgery.  So, here are some easy conversation starters.  First and foremost, always call a kid by name every time you see him or her.  If you can’t remember his or her name, then find out (to avoid the same problem next time).

“Hey, Joel…

How’s it going today?  What’s up this morning / afternoon / evening?

What did you do this last weekend?  What was the best / worst part of it?

What are you doing this next weekend? Anything fun or unusual?

What are you doing for Christmas Break?  (Adapt to whatever break is upcoming)

What sport are you playing this season?  How’s that going?  What position do you play? What team?  Who is on that team that I might know?  Who’s your coach?  Where do you play?  Does your teams travel?  Is it your favorite sport?  Do you think you’ll play that in high school?

Continue reading “Questions to Ask Kids”

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.

Fandango: How boys make friends

fandango  |fanˈda ng gō|  noun
1. a lively Spanish dance.
2. a foolish or useless act or thing.

In May 1993, six young men on the cusp of college graduation, decided to forgo the prudent way to spend the final two days before final exams, in favor of driving south all night toward Mexico in a small Toyota pickup, in pursuit of an adventure worthy of a lifelong memory.  Inspired by the little-known movie, Fandango, they piled three in the cab, three in the bed, with nothing packed but a desire to do something truly memorable and perhaps meaningful.  It was their final act before each going their own way in life to sundry cities, careers, and spouses.  It would be a celebration of the privileges of youth. And it would be repeated many times later.  Only later it would be a celebration of something more meaningful – deep friendship amidst life’s struggles.

Ten years later, those men, returned to retrieve what was left behind: a makeshift time capsule buried a stone’s throw from Mexico, full of meaningful tokens, such as pictures, prophecies, jewelry, notes to self, and a pact of friendship that they wrote on the spot.

And ever since 2003, they reunite for another summer fandango (each year someplace new).  Fandango began as a silly 36-hour road trip, and it’s become a rich tradition for these men. I am privileged to be a part of that group that grows in friendship each year.

We have talked about writing a book about it, but we can’t seem to agree on exactly how to do it well. I believe that the adventures and the lessons need more time to percolate, and in time, it will make a good read.  In the meantime, we’ve dabbled with some small pieces of writing.  Last year, Yancey wrote a piece about our 2009 Fandango, and this year Jeff has written a bit about the 2010 Fandango on his blog. I think it deserves attention in this space, since it deals with how men form strong friendships.

Boys, 10-14 especially, need to learn how to make friends well, in order to grow up to be effective men.  So if this interests you, follow this link to Jeff’s article about how men make lifelong friendships.  Here’s a taste: “For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans, and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.”

I hope it helps you better understand how to help boys make friends, for they are a very different social animal than girls.

In short, find ways to give boys opportunities (within basic safety limits) to get together to…

  • be physical  (wrestle, tackle, flip, chase, body surf…)
  • be silly  (tell jokes, tease, perform skits, practical jokes…)
  • take risks  (compete to win, jump off the high dive, ride a roller coaster…)
  • go on an adventurous journey with a mission (road trip with dad, bike ride to grocery store, hunting with grandpa…)
  • play with stuff (build forts, make a bonfire with dad, Nerf, foam swords…)

Boys need to share these kinds of experiences with other boys in order to make friends.  It rarely happens any other way.

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”

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”

Father or Friend?

Father’s Day.  We give Dad something like a pocket knife or a round of golf.  We remind him that we appreciate his work and that his role is valuable.  It’s a worthwhile holiday, even if it’s a bit underwhelming sometimes.  Nonetheless, a good dad is priceless, which is worth celebrating.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who are deeply-saddened on Father’s Day.  It’s a painful reminder of what could have been, or once was.  There are so many who would give anything to have a father to celebrate.  So many men wish they could go back in time and do it over again.  So many had a terrific dad, only to lose him.  For too many, Father’s Day is a reminder of disappointment or tragedy: car accident, cancer, divorce, abandonment, infertility, suicide, or decades of emotional distance.  Let this be a reminder that fatherhood should not be taken for granted.

Fortunately, there are many men who have enjoyed the privilege of fatherhood for decades and have taken the responsibility very seriously.  They are fortunate, indeed, as are their children.

An old college buddy of mine wrote on his FaceBook wall the following tribute to his dad.  Growing up, he never was distracted by trying to get me to like him – probably the most impressive thing about his love for me. I see parents all the time that try to get their kids to like them so THEY can feel good. It takes a takes a hell of a lot of vision, self-confidence, and faith to be a great parent.”

It’s such a tough job, being a parent. It’s one thing or another, an uphill journey with no end.  It’s my firm belief that the price of being a loving parent is high, one way or another.  You pay now, or pay later.  But the highest price is the paid along the path of least resistance. Those who take the easy road parenting end up in the worst destinations.  But those who choose to sacrifice, serve, teach, discipline, encourage, and love their kids daily, making their kids’ needs (not wants) their top priority, will have a tough time of it too.  Later, however, they will enjoy the sweet fruits of their work, in the form of beautiful, powerful relationships – full of respect and affection.

Unfortunately, the norm seems to be that parents are giving up the hard role of being a parent and taking on the fun role of just being a friend.  So many kids are raising themselves – ineffectively.  They are figuring things out the hard way, or not figuring things out in any way.  And that is one of society’s biggest problems.  This is largely due to parents making deals with their kids to make them happy, rather than making the tough choices that lead to good character.

So, choose to be the adult in your relationship with your child.  And encourage others (tactfully, of course) to be the parent, not just a friend.  Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.”  Training is tough, but it pays off.  Ask any athlete, soldier, or dog owner.

Be the adult, the teacher, the leader, the protector, the provider, the encourager — and yes, the friend.  The payoff will be immense.

Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes

I’m grading papers on the second to last day of the school year.  I’m grading fast, trying to finish ASAP, so I can go run some errands.  I am more than a little ready to get out from behind my desk and browse around the hardware store, before heading home.  Teaching in May is exhausting.  And in walks Ian, who is in a very happy mood.

Ian is a junior (a senior in just 24 hours) who was an English student of mine five years ago when he was in seventh grade.  Back then, he was a trainwreck academically (he’s the first to admit that).  In spite of his positive attitude and a love for books and acting, he was a woeful writer.  He routinely earned D’s and F’s on his papers, especially on essays of any length.  He could talk your ear off, and he was terrific in dramatic performance, but writing was a source of constant frustration.  Truly, his spelling, handwriting, and syntax were awful.  Trust me.  It was scary.

Continue reading “Lousy Starts and Strong Finishes”

Loyalty and Love Personified

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

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

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

Finding Significance

I’ve had the blues for a few weeks now.  It’s not a full-blown depression.  It’s just a nagging funk that doesn’t seem to have a good reason for its existence and doesn’t seem to have an end.  I get it once or twice a year, often on the backside of winter.  Since I haven’t been able to just get over it, my wife offered a solution.  She kindly told me to get lost.

So, Saturday morning I headed out of town to get lost in the country.  I needed to get away for a few hours to a quiet place to reflect on the meaning of my life and pray about what in the world to do about it.  I headed south and ended up at this old cemetery.

Continue reading “Finding Significance”

Respecting Girls

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “A healthy-minded boy should feel hearty contempt for the coward and even more hearty indignation for the boy who bullies girls or small boys, or tortures animals…”  Strong words from a strong man for boys.

It all starts on the playground.  Boys treating girls disrespectfully is nothing new, however the new trend is that boys are treating girls as lesser boys, and it’s causing larger social problems.  It starts as teasing and harassing on the playground and ends up in failed marriages and broken homes.  Call it old-fashioned, but boys should treat girls BETTER than the guys.

Instead, boys bully girls, and the girls learn their own manipulative ways to fight back and against each other.  (Certainly, girls are not without blame, for in many ways they perpetuate the problem, but that’s a whole other article.)

Girls were made to be different than boys, and it’s a wonderful thing which should be celebrated.  Any attempts by a girl to be a boy typically winds up a mess, to say the least.  Boys tend to push, wrestle, hit, and make fun of their best guy friends.  And they say dumb — sometimes brutal — things to each other, and they tend to get over it pretty quickly.  This behavior does not fly well with most girls, beside the fact that it’s just not appropriate in any way. What hatches in elementary school, grows fast in middle school, and is full-grown in high school — the battle of the sexes.

So, yes, boys should treat girls differently.  They can and should be friends, but the nature of the friendship must be different than with the guys.  There needs to be a much higher level of care and respect.  The words and actions in the locker room should be different than in the company of girls because there IS a difference.

In past generations, most dads taught their sons these values.  Continue reading “Respecting Girls”

It’s a Wonderfully Difficult Life

 

It’s a Wonderful Life strikes a chord — several chords — deep in my soul, every time I watch it.  Most importantly, it makes me want to be a better man and to live my life as well as I can for my friends, family, and community. Deep down, I want to be counted in the ranks of the George Baileys of the world.  And if I can’t, then I want my son to get there upon my shoulders.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” should be required viewing for every young person growing up.  Anyone over the age of ten should see this movie with their parents, grandparents, or any adult who cares enough to explain what’s going on as the film rolls.  If you haven’t seen it in a few years, do so.  And bring a kid along for the ride.

This movie says it all about growing up well.  It does not hide the truth that life is hard, and it’s even harder for those who choose to serve others.  It teaches just about every character trait you would want to see in a young man or woman.  In no way is it an easy life — just ask George Bailey — but it’s worth it all.

Here’s a fun little trivia game for lovers of this movieClick here


Kids Need Community

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

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

teen in hall alone

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

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

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

Continue reading “Kids Need Community”

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”

The Empty Nest

My children are just entering adolescence, so it surprised me that I had such a visceral reaction to this article about “the empty nest.”  It made me realize that these days – right here, right now – with my children are absolutely precious and fleeting.

Whatever you think of Dr. James Dobson, I think you will agree that this piece he wrote many years ago is a beautiful picture of a parent’s loving relationship with his child.  Enjoy.

“I’d like to revisit a letter that I wrote some time ago when my own son, Ryan, left home for college. His older sister had taken the same journey several years earlier, which meant that Ryan’s departure officially qualified Shirley and me as ‘empty nesters.’ As you will see, that experience made a profound impact on me.

James Ryan was my boy–the only son I would ever be privileged to raise. What a joy it was to watch him grow and develop and learn. How proud I was to be his father–to be trusted with the well-being of his soul. I put him to bed every night when he was small, and we laughed and we played and we talked to Jesus. I would hide his sister’s stuffed animals around the house, and then we turned out the lights and hunted them with flashlights and a toy rifle. He never tired of that simple game. But the day for games has passed.

Continue reading “The Empty Nest”

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”

The Power of Choice

Children lack power.  They can control very little in their lives, until they get a license to drive and the keys to the car.  So, when they don’t get choices, they seek power; they just find ways to push our buttons, in the hope that perhaps we will give them choices.  You can’t blame them for wanting to have a little control over their lives.  They are human (most of the time ☺), and humans by nature want freedom, even if it’s just a bit here and there.  But when humans are backed into a corner and have no choices, they rebel. They find a way – any way – to get a little power, a little control, a little something that makes life more enjoyable for them.

“Children, quite naturally, find out that parents are defenseless against disrespect.  Thus parents are terrified by it…So we need a way to manage ourselves so these guys will have no success in pushing our buttons, no matter which way they poke and prod our psyche…” (Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk p.101)gripe out

Before you can give a child a choice, whether it’s in the classroom or in the car, you have to be in control of yourself.  You cannot, must not, give children choices (power) because you are sick of hearing them whine and complain.  Instead, you have to get yourself into neutral gear, not frazzled, fried, or frustrated.  That’s easy to say, but what do you do when your child (or student) is angry and you are losing patience?  You have to downshift.  Decelerate.

“When your child wants to argue with you, these one-line phrases are your best friend.  They are your sanity.  They are a way for you to kick your brain into neutral while the other person is trying to drive you into the Crazy Ditch.  They help you become sort of like a cloud, something that doesn’t react – something that cannot be controlled.  When your kid is throwing a fit, it is absolutely the worst time to have a reasonable conversation with that person.  Your child is absolutely emotionally wasted.  Your child is not looking for solutions at this time; he or she is looking for victims. This is a good time to just be a cloud.  Say, “I know.  I’m sorry.”  You are telling your child, ‘I am going to manage me while you struggle with you.’” (104-105)

To decelerate an argument, you have to stop lecturing and start giving very short responses to your child’s complaining, whining, worrying, and begging.

Continue reading “The Power of Choice”

Discipline vs. Punishment

Heart-to-Heart Connection

A long time ago, in a land far away, I was the principal of a small elementary school.  One of my first disciplinary problems was with a 12-year-old boy who was riding his bike aggressively on the playground and sidewalks after school, which was against the rules.  He continued to disobey the orders of a teacher to stop, and he was sent to my office.  I called his mother and told her that he would be punished for directly disobeying the rules and the authorities.  I felt confident that I was doing the right thing, but this mother flipped out.  She agreed with me that he was wrong and deserved a negative consequence, but she could not believe that I was using the word punishment.  She lectured me for ten minutes about why punishment is not appropriate with children and how we should be disciplining children in love, and that if I didn’t know the difference between the two then I had no business leading a school.

I was stunned by her outrage.  I was amazed that she could be so passionate about what seemed like a very minor difference in word meaning.  It’s not like I was going to beat the child at the whipping post or anything.  What was the big deal?

Well, now that I have 13 more years in education, I see that she was right.  There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline.  Punishment is all about behavior change.  It works on the outward behavior first and foremost.  The hope is that enough punishment for bad behavior will force the child into a pattern of good behavior.

Punishment can be delivered without any love at all.  In fact, it’s meant to be rational, impartial, and free of emotion.  Take the criminal court system as an example.  The judges, jurors, and jailers don’t make the laws (legislators do that).  They don’t enforce the laws (policemen do that).  They punish lawbreakers who have been caught by the law enforcers.  The goal of the justice system is to objectively apply a punishment to fit the crime.  It’s about destroying the will to do that negative behavior again.

Continue reading “Discipline vs. Punishment”

Heart-to-Heart Connection

Parenting, teaching, and coaching are mutual pursuits.  At this stage in my life, I am involved in all three, and I firmly believe that the daily problems I face, the skills I develop, and the lessons I learn are parallel.  So, when I recently read a book on parenting, it actually spoke more to me as a teacher and coach.  The book is Loving Our Kids on Purpose: Making a Heart-to-Heart Connection by Danny Silk.

At first, I was not impressed because I had pre-judged the book by the back cover; however, the more I read, the more I found it to be insightful and helpful.  I kept thinking about my behavior as a classroom teacher – how there are so many times when I win the battle but lose the war with kids.  PunishmentI began to see more problems with my behavior, and I eventually gained both inspiration and vision to change, along with some excellent practical advice for parenting.
This will be the first of a four-part series related to the book, in which I comment on some its most profound truths.

The Power of Connection

The goal (of parenting) isn’t to get them to clean their room; it is to strengthen the connection to your heart. We will deal with the room, but if we lose the connection, we’ve lost the big stuff.  We may win the battle, but we’ve lost the war.” (176)

Continue reading “Heart-to-Heart Connection”

Embracing Interruption

Today was the first day of the school year, the day when the hallways of our middle school are jam-packed with beaming 12-14 year olds.  They are beaming with delight at being reunited with their old friends, beaming with suntanned faces full of braces, and beaming with shiny new school supplies, locker decorations, and fresh-out-of-the-box Nikes.
back to school
It’s pretty exciting, really, even for a guy who has socks older than these kids.  The buzz is real.  You can feel it all day long.

And on day one of school, it feels right and very innocent.  Every one is curious all day, going from classroom to classroom, anxious to discover who they will be with all year.  Teachers feel the same way about it, checking out the kids, seeing if we might know their parents or siblings.  We are all trying to get a feel for what the whole year might become and trying to make the best of the fact that there is a year of hard work ahead.  There is great hope that this might just be the best year yet.

I had that exact thought this morning just before school started.  This might really be the best year yet, of all my 16 years attending the first day of school as a teacher.  Then, just before the apex of this blissful moment, I was interrupted by the piercing bong of the PA system and an excessively loud announcement, which was irrelevant to about 998 of the 1,000 people on campus (myself included).  I hate that PA.  Buzz killed.
Continue reading “Embracing Interruption”

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: