Reducing Anxiety

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome. Every human experiences anxiety. It is 100% normal, natural, and essential to life.

Anxiety is a natural force that protects human life. We are hard-wired to sense threats to our wellbeing and to protect ourselves when threatened. Anxiety rises highest when we cannot control something that is a real and present danger to our body, mind, or social standing. Anxiety serves a very good purpose often. It helps us to focus intently on something very important. Some stress is good for us. It motivates us to do what needs to be done to survive or to thrive.

Unfortunately, an unhealthy level of anxiety is on the rise in many ways. The news is making us more anxious than ever about the world in general. Fear captivates our attention and changes our perceptions. Smartphones and social media have increased the amount and intensity of anxiety. Public embarrassment can be swift and practically permanent online. And the stories that we consume on TV often make us all the more anxious, as we perceive that the whole world has gone mad. An anxious culture, anxious families, and even anxious individuals can foster more anxiety among otherwise healthy people. 

Anxiety turns into a ‘disorder’ (a disruption to normal functioning) when anxiety and its sensations and symptoms interfere with a normal lifestyle. There are many anxiety disorders, including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), Panic Disorder, and phobias. 

Approximately 40 million American adults — roughly 18% of the population — have an anxiety disorder (Anxiety and Depression Association of America). Some estimates put this number higher – approximately 30 percent – as many people don’t seek help, are misdiagnosed, or don’t know they have it. Continue reading “Reducing Anxiety”

Living on 1 Dollar Per Day

Young people in America need to know more about real poverty, and this video is possibly the best I have ever seen at getting kids to relate to abject poverty. It’s entertaining and educational. They pack a lot of information and experiences into just 28 minutes. Plus, it’s appropriate for kids age 11 and up, since there are no deeply disturbing images.

 

Discussion Questions for Kids

1. How would you describe these men and their lifestyle in America?

2. Why do you think they decided to set such strict rules for their time in Haiti?

3. Does this sort of adventure appeal to you in any way? In what ways?

4. What would worry you the most about living in a tent in Haiti for a month?

5. How tolerant are you of being hungry and eating only simple foods like rice and beans?

6. What is the longest you have ever been hungry? Describe that time.

7. Describe the most grueling physical work you have ever done. What was it? How long did you work? Did you get paid (or fed or anything) for your work?

8. What part of this 28 day experience do you find most intimidating or terrifying? Explain why.

 

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”

The Power of Kindness

Josh was a normal teenager whose father died. His mother moved them from their home in the country to the city, with the hope that a fresh start would improve their lives.

But Josh was ridiculed in his new school for no good reason. In fact, he was ridiculed for a horrible reason.

Instead of responding with hatred or melting into melancholy, Josh chose to be kind. To everyone. Simply kind. And his world changed.

Josh’s kind strength is what our boys and girls should imitate in their own ways.

Advice for Middle School Kids

Recently, I asked my Facebook friends to give me advice for my 7th graders. Here’s what my friends have learned in their 30 years of growing up since 7th grade.

  • Be cool to everyone because there’s a good chance you will either marry, work with, or work for one of them one day.
  • “It’s not about the shoes, it’s about what you can do in them.” – Michael Jordan
  • The stuff you are worried about is probably the wrong stuff.
  • Everywhere you go, leave it better than you found it.
  • Sometimes it’s best to just take the butt whoopin’ you deserve and move on.
  • The prettiest girls are the ones you don’t notice right away.
  • The measure of success you hold now won’t be the same in 20 years. Be good to everyone. Many who aren’t “successful” now will be very successful in 20 years.
  • If you want to know what you are like, look around at the people you hang with.
  • You can pick you friends, you can pick your nose, but don’t ever ever pick your friend’s nose.
  • The person who chooses not to read is no better off than the person who can’t read.
  • Manners matter! Always.
  • How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
  • Some days you are the dog, and some days you are the fire hydrant. That’s life.
  • There is no such thing as normal…it is only a setting on the dryer.
  • Never miss a good chance to shut up.
  • “20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Leave the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Discover. Dream.” ~ Mark Twain
  • Those who hate you don’t win, unless you hate them back.
  • Sometimes you just have to accept that “It is what it is” and sometimes you should fight it. Pray for the wisdom to know the difference.
  • “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

The Distance Run

CSC_0569I coach middle school cross country, which is not a glamorous job, but it is uniquely rewarding. For young distance runners, the hardest part is embracing the pain that creates stronger legs and faster times. I try to make practices and meets fun, but there is no way of getting around the fact that running really fast for 15-20 minutes is going to be painful, especially for growing little bodies.

Most of the kids who run cross country learn that without a healthy dose of pain every day they will not improve. No pain, no gain. Convincing kids of this is no easy task, but over time the sport tends to naturally reward those who fight through physical pain and emotional weakness.

When a young person develops some mental and physical toughness, they are growing up well. It’s incredibly rewarding to see the progress that these kids make over a season.

Some of my fellow coaches, Doug and Jennifer Meyer, use a fairy tale metaphor when explaining the need to persevere over a long distance. It also applies to many of life’s challenges that require stamina.

Parenting is a distance run, after all.

The Wolf

Somewhere in the middle of the race, there is a big bad wolf lurking around the corner. He will try to get you to slow down.

He sneaks up next to you and says things like, “Slow down. You’re hurting yourself. This is crazy. What’s the point of this? It’s not like you can win the race. You’re not very fast. Doesn’t this hurt? Just take it easy. No one will notice.”

The wolf doesn’t want you to work hard to achieve your goals. Continue reading “The Distance Run”

Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 10.06.39 AM
7 year-old has been using tools since 3.

A friend recently posted on Facebook a picture of her three young children helping their dad build a deck. The seven year-old boy was using a power drill to sink a deck screw.

Another woman posts a picture of her two kids 6 feet high up in the branches of an old oak tree. One is climbing with a garden hose in her hand, while another is hanging upside down.

You’ve all seen pics on social media that make you think, “Isn’t that dangerous for a little kid? Is he old enough for that? Is that safe?”

Those are excellent questions for every parent to ask about every activity. We should always be concerned about the safety of our children, but the real question is in how you respond to those questions.

Do you always choose the safest option?

In my opinion, always erring on the side of safety is a mistake. It seems like the safest way to raise kids, but it’s not. Failing to give young kids experiences with dangerous things will only increase their chances of being hurt later in life.

Continue reading “Why Young Kids Should Learn to Use Dangerous Things”

Raising Resilient Children

Rubber Band with white backgroundResilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and return to well-being. Paul Tough, in his book How Children Succeed, explains that even kids who grow up in the most difficult situations of poverty, abuse, neglect, and stress can rise up from the ashes. It may not be the norm for kids of adversity, but with help, they can do it. “The teenage years are difficult for almost every child, and for the children growing up in adversity, adolescence can often mark a terrible turning point, the moment when wounds produce bad decisions. But teenagers also have the ability—or at least the potential—to rethink and remake their lives in a way that the younger children do not.”

Young teenagers who are supported by family and adults who empower them will face life’s challenges with more guts and stamina than those who fly solo. Those who have a strong sense of belonging, hope, and purpose will hold up better in the face of obstacles. Good parenting can transform a child into a happy, healthy, successful young person.

Resilience is not callousness. It is toughness. I think of certain people in my life who exhibit toughness when it is necessary and sweet sensitivity when it is called for. I call it “kind strength.” Continue reading “Raising Resilient Children”

Families Should Be Tough

My wife is kind and compassionate, but she is one of the toughest people I have ever known. She does not have a mean bone in her body, but she is strong. She will tell you like it is and somehow make you feel like she is on your side. And when it comes to being a mom, nothing will stop her. She is tough for her children.

She is the kind of tough that can handle trials that makes most women wilt. Just ask anyone who knows her. And yet she is kind toward others and displays a genuinely positive attitude most of the time, even though her days are full of service to others and hard work.

Monica BelluciMy wife’s strength is a large part of her beauty. Mel Gibson once described his leading lady in The Passion, Monica Belluci, as someone who looked absolutely beautiful no matter how much grime that the makeup artists put on her. They kept trying to make her look like a beaten-down beleaguered Mother Mary, and they just couldn’t seem to get her to look bad enough. That’s my wife, metaphorically speaking.

She is an eternal optimist and can be an unstoppable force. You can slow her down. You can make her sick, you can make her cry, but you cannot ultimately stop her. You can put her child in the hospital for major surgery, and she will go toe-to-toe with any nurse, doctor, or therapist. You can take away her sleep and give her  a nasty sinus infection, but that won’t stop her. You can give her three days worth of work to do in one day and make her kids sick and whiney all day, but she will not give in. Day after day. You can knock her down, but you can’t knock her out. She is Rocky Balboa tough.

Beyond her ability to persevere, she is a protector of her children. She wants them to grow up strong, so she pushes them and is not afraid to let them struggle. She knows that strength comes from the struggle, so she passes that legacy along daily. Continue reading “Families Should Be Tough”

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”

Living in Crisis

 

Our family is in crisis. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.

Three weeks ago, our severely disabled 13-year-old daughter, Kathryn, had a full spinal fusion surgery. According to the “pain team” of anesthesiologists and neurologists, it is the second most painful surgery to recover from. (It’s second only to a certain kind of chest surgery.) So, we have been dealing with a lot of crying, screaming, tears, flailing arms, beeping machines, doctors, nurses, specialists, sleepless nights, and hospital meals – just to list a few of the trials of the last month. It’s been a hell of a month.

Depressed manTo add to the complications, both my wife and I have been dealing with health problems of our own that manifested in the week before the big surgery. Julie earned herself a hernia in her abdomen, which was surgically removed three days before our daughter’s surgery. She is not allowed to lift anything for several weeks, which is pretty challenging for the mother of a disabled girl. In addition, I earned myself an ailment called Meniere’s Disease, which landed me flat on my back on two occasions with two-hours of nasty vertigo – both episodes were during the week of Kathryn’s surgery.

Fortunately, we have a good support system made of our family, friends, and medical community. Continue reading “Living in Crisis”

Ten Ways to Help Someone in Personal Crisis

Our family has been going through rough waters related to some serious medical issues, and we have only been making it with the help from family and friends. People keep asking what they can do to help us. They want to help, but they don’t know exactly how. We have been very specific with them, which they appreciate.

Certainly, every situation is different, but here are some tried and true ways to help others in great need. 

1. Write notes, emails, texts, Facebook posts, or tweets of encouragement.

2. Gifts – flowers, fruit, ice cream, coffee, magazines, books, movies…

3. Gift cards to nearby restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, movie theater…

4. Do Errands – groceries, library, dry cleaners, or whatever they need.

5. Do Laundry. This can be a huge help for a family.

6. Housecleaning or yard work.

7. Child care, pet-sitting, or house-sitting.

8. Visit, according to their best day, time, length of visit, etc. Just ask what they prefer ahead of time.

9. Listen to them vent about their problems, if that is what they want to do. Be the listener, not the advisor. See note below about the ring theory.

10. Bring humor. It’s good medicine. Share funny stories. Bring a light heart, not your own set of first-world problems that you want to gripe about.

Just remember that every family is different and every crisis is different. Do your best to customize your support for their specific situation. Ask what they prefer, and ask them to be specific. Sometimes the giver must drag the information out of the receiver. Be persistent in finding out how you can bless them in the most helpful way possible.

NOTE: An important aspect of caring for someone in need is the language that we use with them. My copy editor and new friend, Meghan Pinson, sent me this outstanding article about how to communicate with people in any sort of crisis. It’s the ring theory, and it is such a brilliant concept that you must read it. CLICK HERE for the article.

 

Storm Preparation

A Creeping Crisis

Some crises develop gradually. Some are excruciatingly slow.

Perhaps it is the approaching death of a parent with terminal cancer. Or it is the military dad/son/husband who will be deployed to an overseas conflict. Or it may be a huge financial crisis, which will likely take away the family’s savings and home.

In these situations, the anticipation of the looming crisis is a danger in itself, for anxiety can take deep root early, and that can be paralyzing.

At some point a person facing a slow-moving crisis makes decisions (conscious and subconscious), to deal with it or ignore it. Psychologist call it the “fight or flight” response. We can run from our problems or fight them head on. Of course, we often do both. We fight something for a bit, then flee it for a while. I suppose, that is not a bad strategy, actually, as long as the general attitude is to win, not just avoid. So, we can fight. Regroup. Then, fight again. Continue reading “Storm Preparation”

Loving Grandpa

One of my favorite 7th grade essays ever is this memoir about a grandfather. Ashley Aucker, is now a 25 year old, wife, mother, singer, and songwriter. She was a sweet, quiet little 12 year old in my 7th grade English class many years ago when she wrote this essay. It blew me away then, and it still moves me now. It’s a tribute to the power of a loving grandparent and the deep the inner lives of children.

The first thing I saw upon waking up were tears streaming down my mom’s face. My eyes were still groggy, but I could tell she has been crying a lot. She told me to get up and get dressed as quickly as possible. The one thing about mornings is that it is the most confusing time of day. Therefore, asking no questions, I got up and did as my mom told me. I threw on a shirt and jeans, brushed my teeth and hair, and ran out to the car.

“We are going to see Grandpa,” she finally told me on the way over to my grandparent’s house. I soon understood what was going on. Grandpa had had cancer for about two years, and this day he was struggling greatly, and I knew that this day he would breathe his last breath. Continue reading “Loving Grandpa”

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”

Same Lake, Different Boat

When you are a parent of a child with severe disabilities, you have to accept the fact that your life journey is going to be much different than most people’s and that you are not in control of circumstances.  Those two truths are much easier said than lived-out, but they are crucial to living well.

Same Lake, Different Boat is a book that puts the right words to so many truths that I have learned in that past eleven years since my daughter’s birth.  A reviewer, with whom I agree, says of Stephanie Hubach’s book: “Concisely written, personal in tone, she provides a solid basis for tearing down judgmental barriers and building effective communities among people with different needs. A must read for anyone interested in learning about loving and caring for “normal people in an abnormal world.

Here are my favorite parts:

Much of our 21st century life is organized around denying the reality of life’s difficulties. We can surround ourselves with material comforts that give us the false sense of security that, maybe, life is not so difficult after all. We can create an illusion of control that, perhaps, we really are the masters of our own destiny. However, when the reality of disability strikes, neither a thousand trips to Wal-Mart nor unlimited funds in a retirement account can insulate the blow. When disability strikes a family, it is the startling splash-of-a-bucket-of-cold-water-in-the-face that reminds us that, indeed, life is difficult.  And we are not in control. (Hubach 99)

Whether we recognize it or not, we all have implicit expectations about our future that reside in our minds. Continue reading “Same Lake, Different Boat”

I Wish You Failure

Once again, I offer an article from NPR’s This I Believe.  Jon Carroll started at the San Francisco Chronicle editing the crossword puzzle and writing TV listings. He has been a columnist for the paper since 1982.

Last week, my granddaughter started kindergarten, and, as is conventional, I wished her success. I was lying. What I actually wish for her is failure. I believe in the power of failure.

Success is boring. Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly the first time, which can often be a problematical victory. First-time success is usually a fluke. First-time failure, by contrast, is expected; it is the natural order of things.

Failure is how we learn. Continue reading “I Wish You Failure”

Books for Boys

Finding a well-written, entertaining book for a boy who hates to read is always a challenge.

 

Woods Runner, by Gary Paulsen, grabs your attention at the get-go. It opens, “One day, it seemed he was eleven and playing in the dirt around the cabin or helping with chores, and the next, he was thirteen, carrying a .40 caliber Pennsylvania flintlock rifle, wearing smoked-buckskin clothing and moccasins, moving through the woods like a knife though water while he tracked deer to bring home to the cabin for meat.”

This is a book for the reluctant male reader.  It is just 164 pages and moves quickly but with plenty of detail in the right places.  It has characters that you root for, conflicts that create tension, and plenty of interesting historical information about everyday life during the Revolutionary War.  Most importantly, the author makes the reader feel the struggle, the pain, and the chaos of the war, with an appropriate amount of detail (not too much for an eleven year old, but not too little for an adult.)  The reader witnesses death, destruction, and disease, as well as heroism that, against all odds, continues to fight for what is good.

Paulsen does not glamorize war.  He shines a light on war’s destructiveness, in which we see the very worst of man’s nature, as well as the very best.  It’s a tense story with a very real conflict that is deeply felt.  To the very end, it is not predictable.  In fact, at several points a long the way, Paulsen shocks the reader with something completely unforeseen yet entirely believable.

The main character, Samuel is an ordinary thirteen-year-old boy whose life is transformed in extraordinary ways. The publisher writes, “Gary Paulsen brings readers into the flesh-and-blood reality of one boy’s struggle in the long and savage war that changed people’s lives in infinite ways.”  It’s best to just read it, without reading the jacket cover or anything.  Is it a sad story? Yes.  Is it full of exciting action? Yes.  Is it deeply depressing and full of despair? No.  Similar to the birth of America, it is a tale of tragedy and triumph.  It is just the sort of book that boys (ages 10-14+) should be reading.  And the values taught within the tale will be tops on anyone’s list: loyalty, perseverance, self-sacrifice for others, resiliency, and resourcefulness.

Some other good books for boys, related to boys surviving difficult obstacles:

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

Holes, by Jeff Sachar

Hoot, by Carl Hiassen

The King of Mulberry Street, by Donna Jo Napoli

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series) by Rick Riordan

The Secret Benedict Society (Series) by Trenton Lee Stewart

Eragon (Series) by Chris Paolini

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Series) by Andrew Peterson

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In addition to reading about outdoor adventures, our kids need to get outdoors. So, sign those kids up for summer camps that get them outdoors.  Have a campout in the backyard. Go fishing. Try a hike you’ve never been on but have heard good things about. Anything.

Here’s a slideshow from our little Outdoor Camp.

 

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

.

Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask

Here are some of the big questions kids (10-14) have, although they will rarely, if ever, vocalize them.  Understanding the questions is half the battle; having all the answers is not necessary, even if it were possible.

Who are my real friends?  Who really likes me?  In which group do I belong?

Who am I?  How am I like and different from others my age?

What will I do with my life?  Will I be important?

What sort of career and family will I have?

What will I look and act like when I am a grown up?

Am I cool?

Am I respected?

Continue reading “Questions Kids Have But Don’t Ask”

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”

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”

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”

Realistic Expectations for Life

Donald Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is quite good, but the end of chapter 29 is truly great.  In it, he refers to a recent episode of 60 Minutes, which I vividly recall seeing myself a few years ago.  It was about the happiest people in the world, and I found it tremendously thought-provoking and memorable.  Here is Don’s take on it.

A study done by a British university ranked the happiest countries, and America was far down the list, but Denmark was at the top.  Morley Safer explored why.  Ruling out financial status, physical health, and even social freedom, he landed on a single characteristic of the Danes that allowed then such contentment.  The reasons the Danes are so happy was this: they had low expectations.

I’m not making that up.  There is something in Denmark’s culture that allows them to look at life realistically.  They don’t expect products to fulfill them or relationships to end all their problems.”

From my recollection of the study, there is another important aspect of Danish culture – their involvement in their own local communities.  More than any of the other developed nations in the study, people in Denmark have a sense of equality and connectedness to each other.  In fact, their values are so community-oriented that they have a popular government program which pays for citizens to get involved in local recreational and social groups.  As a result, they are far less competitive than Americans.  They are more likely to view success as a community, not as individuals in competition with one another.  The Danes are a reasonable and communal people, which seems to make them significantly more content and happy than other people groups.

Donald Miller concludes his chapter with, “I’m trying to be a more Danish, I guess.  And the thing is, it works.  When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.  And when you stop expecting material possessions to complete you, you’d be surprised at how much pleasure you get in material possessions.  And when you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.

Therefore, if American parents, teachers, and coaches were to adopt a more Danish approach to life, we might just be happier and more effective in helping the young people in our care.  And isn’t that what we all want?  But what would that look like?

Continue reading “Realistic Expectations for Life”

Are Your Kids Resilient?

Bouncing Back: Increasing Resilience for Hurting Kids

This is an excerpt from an article by Maria Drews on August 3, 2009. (Fuller Youth Institute)

Our kids face obstacles every day — difficulties with friends, stress at school, issues with boyfriends or girlfriends. But many of the students we work with also face larger obstacles-poverty, violence at school or in their neighborhood, parents getting divorced, substance abuse in their homes, homelessness, teenage pregnancy, abuse, or domestic violence. Remarkably, some kids seem to make it through these situations intact, while others crumble before our eyes.

Even more remarkably, there are kids who even thrive despite facing huge struggles. Which leaves us scratching our heads — Why are some kids able to bounce back from tough stuff, while others aren’t? What are the differences between those who seem to make it through in one piece and those who seem to fall apart? And what can we do to help more kids survive — and even thrive — in the midst of steep challenges?

Responses to Adversity

When adolescents face tough stuff, they experience adversity — defined in the research as serious stress or trauma that can be physical or psychological.1 Adversity can be a one-time event (such as a violent incident at school) or a long-term situation (like living in poverty). There are a lot of ways the teenagers we know might respond to adversity in their lives.  Here are a few typical possibilities:

  • Succumbing: Kids succumb to the adversity and enter a downward slide in their lives, decreasing their level of functioning and their ability to cope with everyday life.
  • Survival with Impairment: They survive the adversity, but never fully recover to their previous level of functioning, leaving them hurt long-term by the adversity they faced. This leads to more vulnerability to future adversity.
  • Resilience: Resilience is the capacity to recover from adversity and return to their former state of well-being. 2 These kids are able to “bounce back” to their previous levels of functioning after the adversity ends, or even in the midst of long-term adversity.
  • Thriving: Finally, a fourth group of kids are able to overcome the adversity and actually surpass their previous level of functioning.3 This is because adversity can be an opportunity to grow, gain new skills or knowledge, new confidence about their future, or strengthen trust in personal relations.4 All these developments can help them face future adversity and become higher functioning people in general. Because adversity can lead to either succumbing or to resilience/thriving, we should see it as both a threat and an opportunity for growth.5

The Path Toward Resilience and Thriving

All of us possess resilience. It is not a quality some people have and others don’t. We all have the ability to overcome problems and adapt to challenging and new situations. 7 If we didn’t, we would never make it through the day, because we would not be able to bounce back from the small problems we face. Although resiliency is an innate capacity in kids, their ability to actually be resilient can either be strengthened or hindered by the amount of assets or risks in their lives.  As Fuller psychology professor and youth development specialist Dr. Pamela King notes:

All young people have the potential to grow and change — especially in the face of adversity. Youth who have more internal resources and external supports, and the ability to activate them, will weather the waters of life more effectively. For example, kids who are anchored by a strong sense of purpose and hope will not easily be overcome or deterred by obstacles. Similarly, young people who are buoyed up by family and adults who can affirm and empower them will face life’s challenges with more fortitude than those who go it alone.8

Assets are the resources and supports available to a kid both internally and in their environment, like having a sense of purpose (internal) or a supportive family (environmental), that are the building blocks of healthy development.9 Risks are the adversities and disadvantages the kid faces (also both internal and external), such as lack of desire to learn or violence at school. The more adversity and risk factors a kid faces, the more likely there will be poor outcomes and lowered levels of functioning. Fortunately, the more assets and resources an adolescent possesses, the better chance they have of meeting obstacles with resilience or thriving.10

There is no “silver bullet” that we can give kids to ensure that they thrive, but we can increase assets and resilience factors in kids’ lives through relationships.

  1. Charles S. Carver, “Resilience and Thriving: Issues, Models, and Linkages,” Journal of Social Issues (vol. 54, no. 2, 1998) 245. []
  2. Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 248. []
  3. The four responses to adversity are described in Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 246. []
  4. Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 251-252. []
  5. Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 247. []
  6. Chart from Carver, “Resilience and Thriving,” 246. []
  7. Ann S. Masten, “Ordinary Magic: Resilience Processes in Development,” American Psychologist (vol. 56, no. 3, March 2001) 227. []
  8. Pamela E. King, personal correspondence, July 2009. []
  9. Pamela E. King and Peter L. Benson, “Spiritual Development and Adolescent Well-Being and Thriving,” in The Handbook of Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence, ed. Eugene C. Roehlkepartain et al. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishers, 2006) 388. []
  10. Masten, “Ordinary Magic,” 228. []

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”

Being a Good Loser in Youth Sports

After a weekend out of town at my son’s soccer tournament, I’m a little tired of hearing, “Did you win?”  It was, without question, the single-most popular question of the weekend. Even strangers in the hotel would ask my uniformed son, “Didja win?”  And each time he would sadly reply, “No,” followed by an awkward silence.

For an 11-year-old boy who loves to win, it’s not easy, especially when you lose all three games.  Especially when you drive 5 hours each way to make it happen.
DSC00625
O for 3.
Winless.
Losers.

And yet he and his teammates played so hard and so well. They did all that their coach asked them to do.  They pressured the ball on defense.  They stayed spread out.  In particular, they passed the ball much better than all the other teams.  They put together nice plays and took more shots than the other teams.  They kept playing hard, giving their best – body, mind, and heart – even when knocked down over and over without a foul being called.   Shot after shot would hit the goalposts or just miss the net.  But then they’d give up a breakaway goal to the other team.

Continue reading “Being a Good Loser in Youth Sports”

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