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

.

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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. []

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