Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)

In the late 1990s, author J.K. Rowling invented the term “muggle” as a derogative term for the normal people of modern Britain. Muggles are all the ordinary human beings in Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter book series. Muggles do not have any magical powers or awareness of anything magical. They live for comfort, they conform to society, and they have petty concerns. They are boring and bland, at best – miserable and mean, at worst.

In the context of this very ordinary world of muggles, Rowling created a parallel universe of magic. At the center is Hogwarts, the school for youngsters who wish to pursue magic, a better way of life. Rowling knew that children wanted more than what the modern world was giving them and that they would identify with the struggle against muggles, scoundrels, monsters, and villains.

Young readers happily entered the Harry Potter universe in droves. Reading among adolescents exploded worldwide, as hundreds of millions of children read 600-page book after 600-page book. Even adults joined in. Rowling struck a chord. People want more magic, less muggle. And a whole generation, now known as the millennials, identifies with the Harry Potter, the boy who struggles to live with more magic and less muggle.

It is no different in America today. The typical American is a muggle. Isn’t it the norm to seek comfort and conformity? Isn’t it normal for us to be a little bit foolish, a little petty, and sometimes mean? Doesn’t social media illustrate these things pretty clearly? We are muggles, more often than not.  If we are honest and will peer around our blinds spots for a moment, we can see the muggle inside us and all around us. Continue reading “Raising Countercultural Kids in the United States of Addiction (Part 1)”

3 Skills + 1 Passion

For young people to achieve success in their career, it is no longer enough to have a college degree. New college graduates feel like a successful, satisfying, and sustainable career is out of their reach. But there is good news for them that is not dependent on the whims of the labor market or the stock market.

The answer to this problem can be found in a simple equation: 3 + 1.

“3 Skills + 1 Passion” is an idea I am recycling from Tim Ferris’s new book Tools of Titans. In it, Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip Dilbert, explained what he calls the “double or triple threat.”

Continue reading “3 Skills + 1 Passion”

Character Matters Sooner Than Later

Teenagers may think that the middle and high school years don’t matter much, and that having fun is paramount. Or they might think that making good grades, making the team, or being popular is what matters most. Those are common viewpoints held by teens and by the culture at large.

Everybody has their value system, but here is a different way of looking at the teen years. We’ve all heard that the teens are building character, one mistake and life lesson at a time. Let me put it a different way: Teens are building a reputation right now, and that reputation will follow them, unfair as that may be.

If I could speak to every 7th grader in the world, I would say something like this:

“Kids, listen up. Who you are right now in school does matter, and here’s why. Who are you are now is how others will remember you 20, 30, even 60 years from now. It’s a snapshot etched in their memory. It may not be fair, but it’s a fact. People will remember what kind of person you were, and it’s that lens that they will see you through, until you are able to replace that lens, which takes a lot of time. Continue reading “Character Matters Sooner Than Later”

Your Family. Your Culture.

The most common theme among parents of young teens lately is that they want to live differently than the culture. Most parents do not want their kids to ingest the current culture of materialism, comparison, busyness, and anxiety. They don’t like what the culture is teaching and demanding.

Most parents want to be connected with their community, but they don’t want to live just like everyone else (too busy and too anxious). And they certainly don’t want the values of the pop culture to become the values of their children. On the other hand, they don’t want their kids to be social freaks, always on the outside looking in. It’s an everyday dilemma.

Without a doubt, it is difficult to grow up well when immersed in today’s youth culture, which is filled with empty entertainment, rampant consumerism, unhealthy body imagery, and every type of narcissism. It consumes them and then uses them as consumers.

It is so rare to get wisdom from youth pop culture today that it actually makes the news. Recently, Robert Downey Jr., the actor who plays Ironman in the Avenger movie series, said at the MTV Movie Awards“I advise you to dream big, work hard, keep your noses clean, be of service, and because you can, define your generation.” This was a shocking statement because it is so countercultural in the Hollywood / MTV world. The cultural norm is the opposite: have fun, be sexy, and take everything you can from this life.

But it’s not just youth pop culture that is toxic; it’s everywhere. It’s in the cafeteria, on Instagram, in the classroom, and in other families’ homes. The culture is teaching our kids to always look good, have all the right gadgets, and be the best at everything, in order to keep up with everybody else. It’s a culture of discontentment, comparison, and competition that is making our kids more anxious and less happy than ever. It’s never enough. It’s an insatiable more.

As a concerned parent, the question is, “How do you create a family life that is what you want?”  Continue reading “Your Family. Your Culture.”

Peace in the Parenting Journey

Being a parent is overwhelming in mid-December, when everybody’s activities and pressures are multiplying. During the holidays, our expectation of family life is heightened along with our kids’ sense of entitlement and their frustrations with school. Arguments are common this time of year. Perhaps a few lumps of coal belong in some stockings. It’s a time of year when we doubt ourselves as parents.

The journey of parenting is far too long and dangerous to warrant any amount of comfort. Deep down we know that any number of things can get sideways in a hurry, and far too many of those things are beyond our control.

So, how do we know if we are on the right path? How do we know if we are making any progress?

Salesmen can gauge success with sales figures, bar graphs, and commissions. Coaches can measure success with wins, losses, statistics, and championships. But parents labor daily without any quantifiers of success.

Mom and sonSome might say that a good apple falls from a good tree, but it’s not as simple as looking at the immediate results of children. After all, we all know a few stable, loving parents who use good parenting techniques but have a child who doesn’t seem to be turning out so well. Conversely, we all know a few unstable families, and yet some of their kids seem to be flourishing. Some kids rebel, no matter what their parents do, while other kids succeed, in spite of all sorts of family dysfunction. In addition, many kids simply take more time to mature than others, in spite of all the efforts of their parents.

We cannot use the current status of a child to accurately measure the success of a parent. It’s not fair to the child or to the parent. As a middle school teacher, I have learned that you cannot judge a person on their 7th grade year. Well, pick any year, for that matter. It’s not fair to judge anyone on a short era in their history. Kids should all come with visible birthmarks that read: “Work in Progress.”

In addition, there is no other measure that satisfies the question: “Am I actually parenting really well?” Continue reading “Peace in the Parenting Journey”

Connect + Guide + Enjoy = Good Parenting

You are never done parenting.

There is never enough time, energy, money, or wisdom to do it all right.

Parenting is incessant, and perfection is impossible.

No professor will give you an A for all that you did for your children this semester.

No counselor will tell you that you can now celebrate because you have accomplished all the objectives of parenting.

No PTA will give you an award for excellence.

However, you can try to keep it simple and just do your best one day at a time.

Keeping it simple, for me, looks like this.

ConnectGuideEnjoy

 

If I am doing those three things moderately well today, then I am doing something truly great.

I am being a good parent.

I am not perfect, but I am doing something very good well.

 

The Peril of Productionism

 

Busy MomMy wife and I struggle with what I call productionism. It is a variation of perfectionism. It is the belief that a man’s value comes from his ability to accomplish or produce something, or that a woman’s worth is found in the amount that she can get done in a day. In other words, a good man is productive every day, while a lazy man is a lousy man. A good day for a good woman is measured in the amount of to do’s accomplished before her head hits the pillow at night.

Productionism is a little different than perfectionism because things don’t have to be done perfectly, they just need to be done efficiently. A productionist is practical and efficient, always trying to accomplish a lot in a little time.

In stressful, busy situations, productionists follow these mantras:

  • When the going gets tough, the tough gets to work.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, just do the next thing. You can do that much.
  • If you can’t do a big thing, just do a few small things. You will feel better then.

Appointments - list of day's appointments written on a spiral paProductionists brag to others about how much they accomplish. They make lists, check them off, and congratulate themselves. Some will even keep as trophies their old lists with all the crossed out tasks.

Being a productionist is not all bad, of course, but it’s a major problem when tasks overwhelm the ability to love others and enjoy life along the way. When tasks are more important than people, we are way off track. Unfortunately, the productionist will often choose the tasks over people, since there is more control and more pride in doing than in being. Continue reading “The Peril of Productionism”

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”

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”

Career Guidance for Young Teens

The Need for Early Guidance

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

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

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

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”

The Race to Nowhere

The Race to Nowhere is a film that will make you think deeply about what a good education looks like.  It will challenge your beliefs about the nature of homework, AP classes, and college preparation.  You will re-think what a “successful kid” should do in middle school, high school, and college because, in many ways, what we as a society think about that fundamental question is dead wrong.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, or administrator, this is a must-see documentary because it points out some very powerful flaws in our educational system and offers some good solutions.  Unlike other recent films about American schools, it does not demand more from students, parents, and teachers; in many ways it asks for less.  It will get you thinking and talking.

There are more screenings popping up around the country, and it will eventually be a DVD to purchase.  Check it out.

If this trailer resonates with you, and you’d like a greater sense of what this movie is all about, here is what the filmmakers suggest parents do in response to their film:

Continue reading “The Race to Nowhere”

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”

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”

Youth Sports is a Means to a Greater End

Every parent of an athletic child wonders if their kid has a shot at the big time.  Well, let’s look at some hard facts related to this question. Just 2 percent of varsity high school athletes will play their sport in college, and only 1 percent will get a scholarship to do so.  Let’s take basketball as an example.  Roughly 1 basketball player from all the athletes from 8 high school teams will get a scholarship.  How many high school basketball players make it to the professional level?  0.03% Yes, that is 3 in 10,000 who make an income playing basketball.  Far less will make the big money in the NBA.  And very few of them play for very long.  The truth of the matter is brutal.  9,997 varsity high school players don’t ever make any money playing basketball; 3 do.  Of those three, two will earn about $40,000 a year in a foreign league until younger players replace them in about five years.  1 in 10,000 will gain some fame and fortune playing ball.

So kids may dream of playing pro ball, but it’s a fantasy for all but a very, very, very few who are extraordinarily talented, extremely hardworking, and exceedingly fortunate to avoid injuries and be seen by the right people at the right time.

So, is it foolish to pursue excellence in sports in high school?  Absolutely not!  But it’s essential that student athletes understand that sports is a great teacher, but it’s a lousy employer (because it isn’t hiring).  Athletics is a means, not an end.  It can teach young people valuable lessons and instill noble character traits that are extremely useful in their careers and in their relationships.

But too many kids and parents are burdened with the belief that they can do it.  They will be the next LeBron James, Roger Federer, or Albert Pujols.  I say “burdened” because the overwhelming evidence says that they will not achieve anywhere near that level of success.  And the result is a young life that is very often ultra-competitive, over-scheduled, and hyper-stressed.   Burnout is common.  Injuries can be severe (torn ACL’s and rotator cuffs among preteens are not unusual now).  Resentment often looms ahead.

Stephen Durant is an expert in youth sports, and his book Whose Game Is It, Anyway? has some excellent advice for parents and coaches of great young athletes.

1.  “Emphasize the development of virtue and character over scoreboard outcome. The development of a good character — the ability to control passion, emotion, and behavior — will always stand children in good stead on and off the playing field… Children, at any talent level, can only be truly successful in life if they possess good character.  Becoming an emotionally balanced person of courage, fairness, self-discipline, and strong ability to work as a member of a team, sets up a person for success in any endeavor, in any place” (Durant).

Continue reading “Youth Sports is a Means to a Greater End”

Our Friend, Failure

I once heard a speaker named Dan Miller at an educator’s conference tell the audience about how he learned to fly an airplane.  First, you should know that he is disabled from polio as a teenager to the extent that he can only use one arm, and he walks with a serious limp.  His sickness had canceled his first flying lesson; becoming a pilot was his childhood dream.

In his autobiography, he admits that “Planes require two good hands and two good legs to work the controls, yokes, radio, and rudder pedals.  ‘Airplanes crash,’ they would say.  ‘You’ll kill yourself.’  ‘You only have one good arm.’ ‘Your legs are too weak.’  I heard a lot of dream-breaker statements… My first lesson was awful!  I had to reach across my body for the flaps, throttle, and trim.  Every time I’d reach for them, the plane would dip, tip, and do everything but fly straight and level.  I went all over the sky.  I couldn’t fly.  My lesson was a total failure.  But I could give up on my dream yet… The next try, though still not good, was better.  I tell people, ‘If it worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly at first.’

Dan eventually got his pilot’s license and has enjoyed many years of flying adventures.  He also taught himself to play golf with only one arm, and he’s good.  He scores in the mid-80’s regularly and has a hole-in-one to his credit.  Impressive.

Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.  That is wisdom for all ages.  We need to embrace failure as a friend who is honest enough to tell us that we still need to work harder, listen to others, think more clearly, and learn more information. Failure has something to teach us every time.  That’s what makes people successful — learning from mistakes and persevering slowly toward the goal.

Consider this…

Whether it’s a left-handed layup, a math problem, or a new technological skill, kids need to be encouraged to do things poorly at first, then a little better each time, until they make real progress.  Then encourage them some more.  “See! I knew you could do it! You have improved so much! I’m proud of you. Really proud.”

Try it.

Continue reading “Our Friend, Failure”

Chess Builds Brains

Chess is one of the best educational games of all time.  Even the most casual player will admit that the game forces you to think critically —  just to stay alive and not look like a fool.  There is no way to simply stroll through even a single move in chess.  You must think creatively and carefully before each move.  And while some may say that kids today are not capable of sitting still for an hour to play a game that has no electric power source, there are millions of kids today proving that assumption wrong.  Kids who play chess will tell you that it’s fun and challenging and they wish more kids would join in with them.

Now, there are other games which require similar thinking skills, but there may not be a better game for sheer educational value.  The number of thoughts per minute is staggering.  Offensive options, defensive trouble-shooting, cause-effect relationships, spatial awareness, calculating numbers, imagination, and creative thinking are just a few of the thought processes that are involved in every move.

Continue reading “Chess Builds Brains”

The Great Abigail Adams

John Adams was a man of tremendous intellect and inner strength.  With the aid of Thomas Jefferson and the other founding fathers, he set the legal and political foundations of the United States of America.

As a rebel, he was the intellectual force of the revolution against England.  His words in support of reason and law were the balancing force to the raw anger and violent ways of his cousin Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty.  Without him, the revolution would not have taken root in the solid ground of law.

As a writer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, he put his whole life (career, family, friendships…) on the line.  Using his intellect, his pen, and his voice, he helped defeat the most powerful force in the world, the King of England, for the freedom of American people and their descendants.

Continue reading “The Great Abigail Adams”

Beyond Beauty and Athletics

Athletic talent is instant karma for the social status of any young man.  In modern American mythology, the quarterback is the hero.

It’s easy for the athletically-gifted boy to be well-respected and popular because he is always among the biggest, fastest, strongest, and most coordinated boys in his grade.  Anytime there is a physical contest, which is pretty much every hour of every day in a boy’s life, he succeeds.  He gets picked first – maybe second – every time.  And that is just the beginning of the fun.  Win or lose, his God-given talent is on stage for all of his peers to see, sometimes garnering instant applause.  Later, he will bask in the glory of hearing others review some great move or play he made.  His friends will enter his bedroom to see a wall full of trophies, ribbons, and medals.  In high school, he will see his name and picture in the local newspaper.  It’s “The Life” for a boy.

For the most elite athlete, he doesn’t feel the NEED to be a good student, have a witty personality, or have great social skills.  In some cases, he doesn’t even need to practice as hard as the others.  He just needs to put on his shoes and go play ball and success happens because he has IT – the gift of athleticism.  So, he gets self-esteem automatically, friends easily, and it can spoil him to the point where he is no longer developing in other important areas.  His peers allow him to coast – and not grow up well.

And so it is with the beautiful girl. Everybody knows who she is. From the earliest age, people stare at her, trying to figure out what makes her so pretty.  What’s her secret?  All of her pictures turn out well because she is naturally photogenic.  Her facial features are perfectly symmetrical with high cheekbones and bright eyes. Her skin is clear and bright. Her hair easily folds into the latest hairstyle, and her figure just gets better each year.  She is Venus, goddess of love and beauty, who needs no decoration or modification.  In modern mythology, the beautiful cheerleader is the goddess who captivates the hero.

She simply smiles politely, and everybody adores her.  She doesn’t have to speak intelligently, get good grades, or have a snappy sense of humor.  Her name is written on binders at school, and all eyes are on her in the halls.  Continue reading “Beyond Beauty and Athletics”

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


If (Rudyard Kipling)

.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
.
If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
.
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!
by, Rudyard Kipling
.
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Just Believe in Yourself

“Just believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything.”

“Pursue your dream, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”

“If you dream it, you can be it.”

Countless movies, songs, TV shows, and motivational speakers have preached this message.  And countless teachers, coaches, and counselors preach the same message.  Parents teach their children the same.

So, why would any young person ever doubt it?  Most believe it 100% — until they experience enough reality that they realize that it’s a lie that adults tell to make children (and themselves) feel good. It’s just like the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and the Tooth Fairy.  It’s something that feels good and right at the time, but eventually, life reveals that it’s just not true.

basketballHow many boys have spent hours each day playing basketball in the driveway because they knew that they could one day play in the NBA?  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of dunking?  I know I tried everything to dunk, only to find that I was just not able, no matter how much I believed, how much I practiced, or how much I learned.  I wasn’t good enough to play in college either.  I wish someone (or several people) had told me something a lot more truthful, such as, “Quit trying to dunk and spend more time shooting because your only chance at playing in college is as a shooting guard.  But don’t count on it, since the odds are extraordinarily stacked against it.  Studying is much better for you than playing so much basketball.”

How many girls have spent endless hours singing in order to make it in the music business.  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of getting the lead part in their high school musical?  How many high school musical leads get a recording contract?  How many girls will be the next Miley Cyrus or Beyonce?  What percentage of American Idol contestants succeed in getting fame?  For millions of girls, it just doesn’t happen — no matter how much they believe in themselves and practice and learn and believe some more.  It’s a fantasy.

It hinders kids to tell them that they can do whatever they put their mind to.  And that’s in addition to the fact that it is a lie.  It may be easy, feel-good advice, but it’s not true and it’s not helpful.

So what’s the solution?

Continue reading “Just Believe in Yourself”

Well-Mannered Teen Rebels

With the decline of civility and manners in public life, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that so many young people lack basic manners.  There are other factors, of course, such as the breakdown of the family unit and the lack of privacy and decorum in the media.  There is much to be said about how bad it is and what has caused the lack of decency and manners, but I want to offer a positive perspective for those who care to train kids to be polite.

Kids with manners will stand out as all-stars, like never before. It is simply amazing to see how kids with good manners are rewarded for being counter-cultural.teenboy

A friend of mine needed some help moving into his new home.  He said, “I had two students from a huge public high school help me move this summer. I was a little leery when I learned that they were two of the top athletes in the school.  They had better manners than just about any high school kid I’d ever met. I asked them about it and they essentially said that interacting with adults the way that the majority of their peers made them just look like everybody else. They said they could have gotten a tattoo to be different the same way as everyone around them. Or, they could do something really different and simply go through life saying ‘please, thank you, yes sir and no ma’am.’ I paid them double what I said I would.”

Let’s help kids get this sort of edge on the competition.  That means we have to model good manners, explain why it’s helpful, show them how to do it, correct them gently, and thank them for the times they get it right.  It will pay big dividends for them for the rest of their lives.  Good manners will yield success for young people in some surprising ways.

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LINKS to specifics lists of good manners:

http://www.wikihow.com/Have-Good-Manners

http://www.rd.com/living-healthy/good-manners/article27599.html

http://www.cyh.com/HealthTopics/HealthTopicDetailsKids.aspx?p=335&id=2526&np=287

Time Management for Kids

As preteens enter the hallways of middle school for the first time, they often feel totally overwhelmed by the amount of teachers, classrooms, schedules, textbooks, new friends, and homework assignments to manage.  In fact, well into high school, most students struggle with managing their lives, for there is always a limited amount of activity, money, and energy to be spent in a day’s time.  Truth be told, most adults fail to manage their lives well every day.  We all have bad days, but for a teenager the results can be devastating when day after day is mismanaged.

Gift of time

It is NOT all about fitting in one more thing each day to be more productive.  It is NOT about putting an iPhone in the hands of every second grader to maximize their efficiency.  Nope.  It’s about living well. It’s about setting a healthy rhythm to our lives.  And ultimately, it’s about living according to OUR OWN values, not society’s values.  Here are some ideas for helping kids (and adults) manage their time better, in order to live a more deliberate, healthy life.

First, explore the concept of priorities.  Discuss what a priority is and why it’s so valuable.  Discuss how priorities need to reflect our deepest values, and how the way we spend our time should reflect our priorities.  In other words, we should order our priorities from first to last, according to what we value the most, all the way down to what we value the least.  Ideally, we will attempt to spend our time accordingly, making sure that our highest values are not neglected in any day.

Second, examine the way he or she actually spends his or her time each day of each week.  Account for all the time spent in a week.  Sit down and plot out each day, half-hour by half-hour.  Count up the average hours of sleep, school, homework, television, exercise, internet use, eating, chores, and everything. It may reveal some areas well worth congratulations, as well as areas needing improvement, based on how well it all seems to match up with his or her priorities.

Continue reading “Time Management for Kids”

Slowing Down for Kids’ Sake

On the way home from soccer practice last night, my son asked if he could join a track and field team.  This is right after an evening in which his mother spent 30 minutes shuttling him from his school to my workplace, where he worked very hard for 60 minutes on his homework, before we frantically sped home to quickly change clothes and scarf down some dinner, followed by a 30-minute battle with traffic to get to his 90 minute soccer practice, followed by a bleary-eyed 30-minute drive home.  The timing of his request was terrible, so he was hurt by my harsh response.

I had to explain to him that we just don’t have the time and energy to add that sort of commitment to our family life.  It was difficult for him to believe.  It’s a lot like when we say that we can’t afford to buy something, such as a massive plasma TV.  He doesn’t believe me because he knows that we can afford a house, cars, food, clothes, and all kinds of other expensive items.  So, I have to explain that we have to make choices because we can’t buy it all or do it all.  We have limited resources: time, money, and energy.  It’s hard for a kid to fully grasp the concept of over-commitment.

Continue reading “Slowing Down for Kids’ Sake”

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”

Success and Significance

Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, had some words to say about success.  It starts with a quiz.

Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.
Name five people who have won either the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
Name the last five Academy Award winners for best actor or actress.
Name the last five World Series winners.

How did you do?

The point is, none of us remembers the headliners of yesterday.  They are not second-rate achievers.  They are the very best in their fields.  But the applause dies.  Awards tarnish.  Achievements are forgotten.  Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Now, try another quiz.Father Daughter Lake

Name five teachers who helped you through your journey through school.
Name five friends who helped you through a difficult time.
Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
Name five people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
Name five people with whom you enjoy spending time.

How did you do?

The point is that the people who make a difference in your life are NOT the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards.  They are the ones who care.

They are significant, not merely successful.

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