Let the Good Times Roll!

catching beads

“Okay, everyone – raise your hands if you think parades are fun!”

Yes, it’ Mardi Gras time down here in Cajun Country.  And, truth be told, my family and I are not really into the whole parade scene.  But they do certainly represent high energy fun in a very special way.  So I thought this would be a good time to remind us all of one very important element of family life…

HAVING FUN!

For some families, it can be easy at times to forget how important it is to play, laugh, and enjoy life together.  This is especially true during difficult seasons when teens may be particularly agitated, contrary, or distant.  When times get tough, sometimes the parenting default becomes correction, lectures, scrutinizing, excessive monitoring, and punishment.  Not much fun at all – is it?  While it is important to watch, correct, and discipline throughout our kids lives, and sometimes especially during teen turbulence, sometimes we just need to break up the serious grind by having some good fun.  Here are a few practical ways you can bring a smile to the faces of your family and remind everyone that life is still good and joy is still readily available to anyone who seeks it:

  • Play a board, card, dice or other variety of game together.  Yes, you’ve likely heard me emphasize this before.  Because it is such a great way to invigorate family life!
  • Have a family video game challenge or tournament.  And let your teens or kids pick the game.  Sure, they’ll likely destroy you if it’s their pick.  But don’t you think that will be more fun for them, anyway?  : )
  • Karaoke night.  If you can find a family-friendly place nearby that has an organized karaoke night, go for it.  If not, create your own.  If your teens think it would add to the fun, invite some family friends or let them invite some good buds.
  • Give each of your kids a chance to pick a fun family activity.  Rotate turns, so everyone gets to pick from time to time.  And feel free to put a reasonable dollar limit on it.  This really is a good way to show your kids and teens they still have a genuine voice in the functioning of your family life.
  • Family role play drama time.  Plan a time where each family member gets to put on their best performance at acting out the part of another family member.  In order to help keep this a fairly positive and fun activity, have an award ready to present to the one voted Best Actor.
  • Family Triathlon/Pentathlon/Decathlon.  No, this one isn’t for hard core fitness families, only.  Plan a weekend or longer, depending on the number and types of events involved.  Each family member gets to determine one “event” in which the entire family must compete.  It can be anything that every family member has at least a reasonable shot at accomplishing.  Laundry speed folding, jigsaw puzzle racing, high score on Plants vs Zombies, basketball free throw shooting, gaining the most views on YouTube within a set time, etc. – anything your family members would consider a fun way to compete.  The prize goes to family member who racks up the highest total score on all combined events.  Make it annual event with a serious trophy.  Who ways we can’t get serious about family fun?!

Whatever you do, just remember to Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!

Six Ways to Inspire Your Teen to Rise to a Higher Standard

 

 

 

 

 

As loving parents, we all want to see our kids thrive, succeed, and reach their best potential.  As Christian parents, we want to see them doing seeking and depending on God to lead them on their best path, so their lives will make the greatest impact for His Kingdom.  Giving our teens our best as parents means more than teaching them life skills and correcting them when they are out of line.  We must also seize opportunities to inspire them.  Here are six ways we can do just that.

1.  Share your own stories of success and failure with your teen.  As long as you aren’t constantly hitting them with a barrage of your own stories, your teens are eager to hear how you have succeeded and failed in life – especially the failures.  Just be sure you emphasis isn’t on telling your kids to be more like you.  Use your life experience to share how you can actually related to them, and how you learned some of your own valuable lessons.  Give them permission to ask questions about the details of what happened and how you responded.  It’s a great way to inspire them while building a solid relationship that will be there in their own times of struggle and triumph.

2.  Be compassionate when your teen fails.  There are times for bringing an arrogant youngster down a few pegs, for sure.  But when your teen is discouraged, hurting, or ashamed from failure, this is the time to reach out with genuine loving compassion.  Don’t relish the moment of your son or daughter paying a price for foolishness or whatever led to the downfall.  Even if you know it was a much-needed lesson.  Fine.  Let the failure make its own point.  You be there with compassion and care to lift up her/his head, speak words of life, or simply offer a much-needed silent embrace.  This kind of parental response offers much in the way of inspiration.  It says you know this low point isn’t the final chapter, or even the defining moment.  It says you believe and you care.

3.  Regularly invite your teen to share his/her life-dream with you.  If you don’t believe in your son’s or daughter’s Big Dream, then who will?  Listen.  Encourage.  Offer constructive feedback and guidance.  Even if your teen has a dream that seems far beyond realistic, spend more effort showing you believe in who they are, rather than trying to convince them what they can’t do.  Being a true supporter, cheerleader, and coach on your teen’s journey toward the Big Dream is not about you believing in the dream.  It’s about you believing in the dreamer.

4.  Ask questions of genuine curiosity about your teen’s daily life and interests.  Sure, the music or YouTuber or games or fashion or Instagram star may seem weird or even just plain obnoxious.  Some of her friends may totally rub you the wrong way.  The stuff your son is hanging on his bedroom walls these days may genuinely scare the bajeebers out of you.  If you want to truly inspire your teen to rise about the current whatever this is and reach her/his full potential, don’t lead with criticism.  Lead with curiosity.  Find out what is so appealing about these mysterious elements of your adolescent’s daily life.  Get past the unpleasant surface appearance or sound.  Find out the meaning beneath it.  And don’t just hold you nose and try to survive the conversation.  Take mental notes.  Write down some actual notes after conversations, if it helps.  Then you can blow your daughter’s or son’s mind at a later date when you actually remember and understand something important to them, no matter how weird it may seem to you.  This kind of energy and attention communicates importance and significance, which are great foundations for inspiration.

5.  Be honest about your own shortcomings, and be quick to apologize to your teen when you are wrong.  WHAT?!?  Yes, that’s right.  Having the humility and integrity to openly acknowledge and correct our wrongs and shortcomings is an incredible way to earn our kids’ respect and inspire them to live a virtuous life.  It also makes it much more likely your teen will listen to you when the time comes for correction, because you have earned the right to be heard – so to speak.  While it wasn’t really something I had done wrong to him, I will never forget the day my son and I went to go watch the first Andrew Garfield Spidey flick.  My son is reasonably knowledgeable about comic book lore, while most of my experience comes through the many comic-based feature films that have been produced in the last couple of decades or so.  Long story, short – I very arrogantly and curtly dismissed his argument on the way to the theater that Spidey uses “gadgets” to shoot his webs.  Thanks a lot, Tobey Maguire!  My son ate up every word of my meek apology, and the two of us still laugh about that one.

6.  Reward superior attitude and effort in your teen’s life.  Medals are great and trophies are wonderful.  They certainly represent moments and seasons to be celebrated and cherished.  But if you want to inspire the most in your teen, always be ready and eager to recognize a winning attitude and champion effort – regardless of whether there are any bleachers or auditorium seats nearby.  Not only will you offer great encouragement to keep walking along the right path, but you will also be a living example of God’s love for your teen and His ready celebration of every moment of victory, even those moments never recognized by another soul.

5 Questions I Dare You To Ask Your Teen!

teen questions

Asking good questions is a great way to build any relationship.  It helps the questioner learn more about the other person, as well as communicating a certain level of genuine caring for that person.  Why bother asking, if I don’t really care, right?  In the spirit of opening important doors of conversation and facilitating a more powerful relationship between you and your teen, I have five questions to share with you.  While some of these could certainly overlap in the same talk together, I wouldn’t try to fit them all into the same conversation.  In fact, I would recommend prayerfully looking for, or perhaps creating, the right time for each one.  Buckle up!  This could be quite a wild ride!

1. What is your biggest fear?  Understanding your teens fears allows such an incredible window into their spirits.  You may already have a good idea what some of these might be.  But you never know what else may be haunting or taunting your adolescent between those Beats headphones.  Ask and be ready to gently reassure and guide.  How you respond to what your teen shares with you can make a huge impact on how likely he/she is to talk to you about other bigger things in the future.

2. From whom or where have you learned the most about sex?  I told you to buckle up, didn’t I?  The responses to a question like this one will vary greatly, based on experiences, personality, and the quality of your relationship with your teen.  If you have shown your teen over the years that you can calmly handle big issues, and you have taken time to have good heart talks along the way, you may just hear more than you would have imagined on this one.  Be sure you make it clear that this isn’t a setup to “bust” your daughter or son.  The hope is simply to discover how your teen is being led regarding sexual information and values, and to make it clear that you are there as a primary resource and guide.

3.  Who is your greatest role model, and why?  Seriously, wouldn’t you like to know?  And for goodness sake, don’t pressure her/him to name you as their role model!  Create conversations and emotional space that invite the truth, not flattery, avoidance, or manipulation.  This could really be a fun one to discuss.  Make the most of it.

4.  What have you never heard from me, but wish you could?  This one may not evoke much response.  It may not be a big deal for your kids.  If not – great!  But I can tell you as a therapist that this is a question, if asked with sincerity and compassion, that has the potential to lead a son or daughter on a better path for the rest of their days.  Think about this: what if your Mom or Dad asked this question of you?  Hmmmm…

5.  Is there any way I have ever hurt or seriously disappointed you that I have never addressed or tried to make right?  Again, there may not really be anything to this one in your relationship.  But far better to ask than assume.  This question has the power to heal and transform your teen’s spirit in ways you may not even be able to imagine.  Be bold.  Be compassionate.  Be genuine.  And ask.

If asking, or even considering, any of these questions stirs up dynamics you don’t know how to effectively handle, please feel free to reach out to me.  Or find a Christian counselor or other helping professional in your area that can help provide you with the space and tools to work through it in the most effective way for the growth of your teen and your family life.  Blessings of openness and honesty to you and yours.

4 Signs You Have A Healthy Relationship With Your Teen

dad and teen watching phone video

Do you ever find yourself wondering how you are doing with with your teen(s)?  Maybe you are unsure how to even assess things.  Well, if you see any of these indicators in your relationship, it’s a good clue you must be doing something right:

1.  Your teen likes bringing friends home to hang out.  This is huge!  It means you have created an atmosphere that not only feels safe for your teen, but is even comfortable enough to share with other teens.  And as a bonus, it is also a clear affirmation that your teen isn’t totally humiliated by you.  WAY TO GO!!!

2.  Your teen regularly invites you to watch/listen/play digital entertainment selections together.  Another big deal.  This lets you know your adolescent isn’t feeling totally judged, criticized, or rejected by you.  No way you would be included in her/his digital entertainment space if you were viewed as a “hater.”  There is clearly something genuinely secure in your relationship with one another, and you may even be viewed as something along the lines of…cool.

3. Your teen periodically gets mad at you for saying “No” and committing other similar horrible acts of parenting.  Congratulations.  You are exercising healthy authority, discipline, and boundaries for the sake of your child’s growth.  If you can check this box, along with at least one of the others, you are a blue ribbon parent.

4. Your teen uses the words “Thank you” and “I love you” in your general direction without an obvious roll of the eyes at least once a week.  Step up to the high platform and enjoy your national anthem – this is champion level parenting!  Your teen didn’t get to this place by accident.  You have been consistently sharing your own healthy love and affection with him/her for some time now.  And you have likely guided your child toward healthy maturity, if these words are still being spoken from your teen’s mouth.

This simple list is not intended to be comprehensive, of course.  And it isn’t shared to scold you, if you aren’t seeing these things reflected in your home.  Rather, I hope it will serve to encourage you today.  Take heart in seeing the things you are doing well in raising your kids.  What are some of the other signs you see in your own relationship that reveal good things happening?

Three things I wish my Dad and I had done together before I left home:

father son fishingThis is not a post about regret or blame.  Let’s be clear up front.  It’s about encouraging fathers to seize the day and share your knowledge, wisdom, experience – share your self – with your teens while they are still teens and you still have this golden window of opportunity.  My son recently turned 12, so I am becoming more and more mindful of the conversations and experiences I want to share with him before he heads off on his own adventure beyond our home.  And one of the places I turn to put together my own list is to consider those things I missed with my own Dad.  There are three that stand above the rest, and yes, they clearly fall in the “stereotypical guy stuff” category.  This is not to say that there aren’t Moms who can share these things.  If you are one of those – don’t miss the boat!  And I am certainly not suggesting that Dads only share these things with sons.  If you have a daughter, don’t leave her out of this!

1. I wish we had worked on cars together.  From what I understand, my Dad worked in an old-fashioned garage at one point earlier in his life (he was almost 35 when I was born).  We changed a few car batteries together over the years, and he did teach me the handy skill of plugging/patching a flat tire.  That one has come in handy and saved me some hard-earned bucks on several occasions.  Thanks, Dad!  But we never really worked on cars together.  Granted, by the time I can remember, my parents typically brought our vehicles to a shop somewhere if they needed work.  Dad didn’t really do much of that himself.  But I’m pretty sure he knew how to do some of that stuff.  And while it would have been much more of a “hassle,” especially with an impatient kid who talks too much during lesson time “helping” him in the process, it would have been really wonderful for me.  For us.  I think our relationship could have deepened through that experience.  And I’m sure I would have more options today regarding my own car care.

2. I wish we had gone fishing together on a regular basis.  We lived out in the country in a small neighborhood about half an hour from town.  And there was a good sized pond in the middle of our little community.  (They called it a lake.  It was a big pond.)  I don’t think there were any world class bass in there, but I’ll bet there were some fish.  I know we weren’t far from some really good fresh water fishing.  Arkansas has lots of rivers and lakes and ponds scattered throughout its beautiful country.  Exploring the different areas and learning the skills of the fisherman would have been a priceless way to spend time with my Dad.  Not only learning the confidence to bait a hook, quickly release a fish, tie various knots, and knowing where to go for what kind of fish.  I’m thinking it would have been an incredible way for an impulsive, overly talkative kid to learn about patience and being still and quiet when called for.  That would have been really good for me.  Might be good for your teens or younger children.

3. I wish we had gone hunting together.  The first time I saw a deer on a hunt with a gun ready in my hands, I was in graduate school in Texas.  I was out with some friends who graciously took along a smart guy from school who was a clueless idiot in the campsite and deer path.  I wish I had been with my Dad.  The first time I killed a deer, I was in a stand in North Louisiana, with my best friend and his Dad and brother in nearby stands, eagerly listening for the report of the rifle they had loaned me.  It was incredible.  Breathtaking.  Surreal.  And I wish my Dad had been there.  As a poor boy growing up in the woods of Middle Tennessee, he had learned to shoot anything they could eat.  And he got very good at it.  He was an exceptional marksman in the US Army in his prime.  I wish he had bought me a gun, taught me to use it correctly, and shared the ways of the woods with me.

While I have begun to share these experiences with my own son, after first seeking guidance from men with the knowledge and patience to teach me, I need to be more deliberate.  I need to plan better.  I need to take time to share these skills and conversations and life opportunities with him.  It won’t happen by accident.  And my son is growing up in a screen-saturated world that constantly cries out to him to stay indoors where the “real” action and adventure is.  I don’t have a set of mechanic’s tools.  I don’t have a boat.  I don’t have a rifle.  But why should that stop me?  I can share some basics with him in auto maintenance.  We have friends with boats and plenty of places to fish in South Louisiana without needing one.  My 12 gauge is all we really need to do almost any kind of hunting we would want to pursue around here.  This year, I’m going to schedule time to get my son outside with me and experience some adventure, growth, and new skills together.  I hope you will do the same.

The Prodigal’s Dad – Lesson Three: Who’s Responsible?

helicopter

 

We’ve all heard the term “helicopter parent.”  The parent who feels compelled to follow around with constant monitoring of their child or teen, ensuring everything goes as planned.  So let me ask you this: have you EVER heard the term used in a positive light?

Didn’t think so.

Why is that?  It’s because we all know deep down that this is not good.  It does not allow our teens to exercise their own judgment and learn their own lessons.  If they are not allowed to fail, then they will miss their greatest opportunities for learning and growth.  So why do we, as parents, still feel compelled to hover and take responsibility for them?  It is primarily a function of our own fear.  Rather than dwelling on what may go wrong, we must choose to focus on remembering how our teens have learned from previous lessons, and the kind of growth, maturity, and responsibility we are eager to see in them as they move into adulthood.

Just as the Father of the Prodigal is clearly a man of faith, so must we place our faith not only in God, but also in our kids’ ability to learn, grow, and shine.  The more we believe in them, the more we will see them rise to the challenge of responsibility.

One Day At A Time

today-calendar-12

This is a week when many of us get serious about considering what changes we want to make in our lives.  There’s just something about starting a new year that gives us fresh hope and fresh motivation.  Unfortunately, many people are quickly discouraged by their “New Year’s Resolution” failures, and end up in a worse state than they were before.  There is one simple shift you and your teens can make together than can make a world of difference in how much real progress each of you make in the transformations you want to experience.  Ready?

Don’t make a “resolution” for the year!

Declaring you WILL do something different for the whole year sets you up for discouragement and a sense of failure.  I know you don’t that for your teens.  Surely you don’t want it for yourself, either?  So, does this mean we should aim low and just remain satisfied with areas of our lives that really do need improvement?  And is THIS what we want to teach our teens?  Of course not!  Instead…

Decide to start facing each day, one day at a time, with a reasonable goal of improvement for that day.  Talk with your family this week about what changes everyone would like to make in their lives.  Be an encourager to your teen, and not a discourager.  If you are really feeling bold, ask for input from your kids and spouse about what changes you could make.  Talk with each other about what is realistic.  Really help your teens think through this part of it.

Then start making daily challenges and goals for yourselves.  Each day is a new day.  Each day is a fresh start.  And each day is a day to celebrate growth and progress.  Just think how much better your teen’s life will be thirty years from now if you do your best to set this example and encourage this way of living right now.  By encouraging each other in the simple daily living of moving toward something better, we can make every year the best it can possibly be.

p.s. – If you and your family have goals of moving more and getting more fit in the coming days, weeks, and months, I can definitely recommend getting Fitbits for parents, teens, and tweens.  We just got them for an early Christmas, and the fun and challenge is a refreshing motivation for all of us.

Welcome

welcome-mat-on-doorstep

I was reminded last night of the rich blessing of hospitality.  Not just the blessing of being welcomed into a home.  But being welcomed into a conversation.  Welcomed into someone’s world.  Welcomed into their heart.  And having someone share their world and heart with you in return through meaningful conversation.  Isn’t that truly better than anything we can buy for one another on Amazon or at the mall?

This Christmas season, take time to have conversations that matter.  Welcome people into a safe place with you.  Especially teens.  They surely need a safe place as much as anyone does these days.  Ask questions that you really want to hear answered.  Pray together.  Eat together.  Laugh together.  Play together.  Make memories without interrupting every moment for selfies.  Just be there.  Fully.  Who will you welcome into your life in the coming days and weeks?  And what difference might it make?

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

– Matthew 25:34-40

Welcome to Our World

As I begin reflecting on the meaning of this Christmas season, this song keeps coming to mind.  Thank you, Chris Rice, for sharing this beautiful song of rich theology and grateful hope.  In the next couple of weeks, I will be finishing the series on lessons from the Prodigal’s Dad, as well as posting some practical family/parenting reflections on Christmastime.  But for today, I simply want to invite you to consider and celebrate the tremendous meaning of God responding to our ugly sinfulness and desperate brokenness through the tender offering of His only son as a fragile baby into our violent world.  What a joyful mind-blower!  Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Tears are falling.  Hearts are breaking.  How we need to hear from God.  You’ve been promised.  We’ve been waiting.  Welcome, Holy Child.  Welcome, Holy Child.  Hope that you don’t mind our manger.  How I wish we would have known.  But long awaited holy Stranger, make yourself at home.  Please, make yourself at home.  Bring your peace into our violence.  Bid our hungry souls be filled.  Word now breaking Heaven’s silence.  Welcome to our world.  Welcome to our world.  Fragile fingers sent to heal us.  Tender brow prepared for thorn.  Tiny heart whose blood will save us, unto us is born.  Unto us is born.  So, wrap our injured flesh around you.  Breathe our air and walk our sod.  Rob our sin and make us holy, perfect Son of God.  Perfect Son of God.  Welcome to our world.  – Chris Rice: Welcome to Our World

The Prodigal’s Dad – Lesson Two: Allowance

Dad watching kids

 

Of all the lessons we can learn from the Father of the Prodigal, this one may be the hardest: He is willing to allow his son the freedom to make his own choices and mistakes, thereby learning the most powerful lessons for himself.  This certainly doesn’t mean he doesn’t care.  Far from it.  He isn’t simply turning away to ignore his foolish son.  He very deliberately makes the choice to allow his son breathing room when he can so clearly see he is about to fall – and fall hard.  He loves him enough to let him go.  He understands that forced compliance is not something that will help his son truly grow to become the man he was born to be.

How hard is this process for you as a parent?  It’s painful, isn’t it?  It certainly doesn’t come naturally or easily for many of us.  And yet, it is such a critical dynamic for us to practice as our children grow through adolescence into adulthood.  They will face touch decisions in life.  Have we given them opportunities to face some of these for themselves before we send them off into the wild blue yonder of adulthood?  Remember, loving our teens doesn’t mean keeping them from the pain of mistakes and disappointment.  We must prepare them to face such times with strength and wisdom.  And allowing them the freedom to choose and fall now (while not far from our watchful eyes) is one of the greatest, if most difficult, opportunities we can bestow upon them.