3 Simple Ways to be a Halloween Blessing

Halloween is one of the most active evenings of the year in neighborhood after neighborhood across our nation.  What a great opportunity to be a blessing to our neighbors – especially the children!  Whether you will be staying home awaiting the costumed trick-or-treaters, taking your own kids around the neighborhood, or heading to a church or community event, here are three very simple ways you can make a real difference and be a blessing in the lives of numerous neighbors this year:

1. Offer a prayer and/or encouraging word for every child who visits your door.  Rather than just throwing candy in their bags and scooting them along, take a few moments to find out who they are, offer a word of encouragement, and maybe even say a prayer of blessing over them.  Those blessings will far outlast the sugar rush from their evening’s candy haul.

2. Offer a prayer for every home and family you visit while out trick-or-treating.  Ask God to genuinely bless each home and family along the way.  And tell them you are praying for them.  You never know where God may lead such a genuine act of simple kindness.

3. Actively look for ways to help and serve those you encounter throughout your evening.  I will never forget seeing my twelve year old son stop to help a girl pick up her spilled bag of candy last year as the rest of the boys laughed and went on down the sidewalk.  It only took him a minute, but it was a profound act of compassion.

And, speaking of our own kids, why should we be the only ones looking for opportunities to bless others this Halloween?  Encourage your kids, even in the midst of their fun, to look for these same moments to consider and encourage others.  Then, at the end of the evening, instead of just showing you their best candy grabs, you can share with one another your favorite moments of neighborly kindness experienced along the way!

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Six “Grades” That Are More Important Than English

In my last post, I shared some ideas for helping make homework time a more peaceful and successful part of your family life.  In reflecting upon the importance of academic success for our teens, it occurs to me that there are some key subjects in life of far greater importance than those that make up a typical high school or middle school curriculum.  Let’s take some time to reflect on a few of those, and consider how we may help guide our kids to greater success in the most important facets of life.  Even as I would love to hear your ideas about the most important “subjects” in life, allow me to offer six.  I hope you will consider not only how you would grade your child or teen in each one, but also consider how you are doing as a teacher, coach, and mentor in each area:

1. Personal Integrity.  As your child grows through adolescence and adulthood, will he or she be known as someone who is genuine, honest, and trustworthy?  Will others be confident that they can count on your son or daughter to “walk the talk?”  Will he or she be the kind of person to live free from the fear of skeletons wandering out of the closet?  If and when you catch your teen in a lie, or somehow covering or distorting the truth, don’t just punish.  Use it as a critical opportunity to teach about the tremendous worth of personal integrity – both now and throughout life.

2.  Personal Responsibility.  Are you training your daughter or son to face their own tasks, challenges, and life problems – or teaching them that someone else will take care of these things for them?  Does your teen understand the difference between asking for help or support and asking for a bailout?  Which do you emphasize more in your home: externally recognized achievement or internally motivated effort?  (Not that these two are mutually exclusive, but it is still a question worth really considering.)  Are you still leading your teen by the hand to take care of required tasks, or is your daughter or son learning to show their own initiative?

3.  Social Skills.  Is your son or daughter learning to genuinely consider how his or her actions and words affect others?  Can he or she respectfully and comfortably engage in conversation with adults, other teens, and younger kids?  Do teammates and coaches consider him or her a team player?  Can he or she put as much effort into collaborating as into competing?  Are you seeing both confidence and humility reflected in your teen’s life?  Have you been teaching the importance of showing compassion toward others, and perhaps even the power of fighting for those who are oppressed?

4.  Spiritual Growth.  How proactively are you training your teen to understand and experience purpose in life?  Is your daughter or son as interested in displaying virtue as she or he is at displaying fashion, gaming success, or athletic prowess?  Is your child showing any interest in somehow making the world a better place?  Does prayer have an important place in the rhythm of her or his life?  How effectively could your teen articulate beliefs about God, life, faith, and what matters most?

5.  Personal Hygiene.  Laugh if you want, but some teens could really use some help in this department.  And if we, as their parents, aren’t the ones lovingly and intentionally helping them to properly care for and present their bodies, who do we think is going to do it?  Regular bathing/showering, face washing, using deodorant, proper brushing of teeth, self-respecting care of hair and even clothing, etc.  How’s that going with your kids?  Do they need some new lessons or reminders?

6.  Problem Solving.  How often do you allow your child or teen to struggle with a dilemma before stepping in to offer guidance or a helping hand?  Has he or she learned to use creativity in the process of facing new situations, or is there too much reliance on a memorized list or formula?  Does frustration, helplessness, or anger often short-circuit the process of problem solving, or do you see a patient and determined ability to keep pressing toward resolution?

Each and every one of these life-subjects can make a huge impact on your teen’s journey of success or struggle through the avenues of adulthood.  And while you may struggle to answer your kids’ frustrated question about when they will ever really use algebra or calculus after graduation, you should be able to offer countless examples of when their “grades” in these subjects will make a world of difference along the way.  Take some time with these.  Reflect on how each of your kids is doing in each subject.  Consider how you can be more proactive in teaching and coaching.  Recognize them for their strengths!  Help them where they are struggling.  And find help for them or for you, if you aren’t sure how to help them yourself.  I’ll be glad to help, if you need it.

Posted in dynamics of adolescence, parenting encouragement, spiritual formation | Leave a comment

Four Simple Steps to Homework Peace

Frustrated with the tension at home with your kids and homework?  Here are four simple steps to help increase the peace, along with your child’s or teen’s personal responsibility and growth:

1.  Insist on a homework area that invites success.  Your teen may try to make their schoolwork spot the place where they can maximize comfort and minimize accountability.  Not the best plan, right?!  Lounging his bed is probably not setting him up for the best posture and environment of concentration and effective work.  Hiding in her room with headphones and three screen devices running is not exactly maximizing focus and efficiency.  Be in charge!  Be sure your child or teen is sitting at a table or desk that feels like a workstation.  Don’t argue, plead, or whine.  Just be in charge and insist.  Positioning ourselves for success is a huge step toward achieving that success.  It’s true for us.  It’s true for them.

2.  Minimize likely distractions.  Some kids (and adults) can actually concentrate and work more effectively when listening to music.  That’s cool.  But with headphones on, there is no way to really know what is fueling the mind and attention.  Unplug the headphones, have them set a reasonable volume, and direct them toward music choices that will not directly interfere with brain power.  I’m not talking about making them listen to stuff you enjoy.  But high-octane, erratic, or wild-tempo music is not the best option for studying, learning, reading, writing, problem-solving, and creating.  Aside from the music factor, have them put aside other devices that will likely tempt them to focus on interacting with friends or enjoying their favorite videos and such.  There is a time for that kind of social connection and entertainment.  But homework time isn’t it.  Again, don’t be overbearing, but be in charge.

3.  Engage your teen in conversation about studies and classes at non-homework times.  I’m not talking about interrogating them here.  But regularly ask them what they are learning in this or that class.  What material or teachers are they enjoying?  What are they finding difficult or frustrating?  Invite them to “stump you” with material from their classes.  Celebrate their victories and successes.  We don’t do this for every exam, but my wife and I will periodically ask our son to give us his study materials so we can quiz him before big tests, or in courses where we know he may be struggling.  The emphasis here is on showing your kids you are on their team and there to help, encourage, and support.

4.  Use online grade postings and classroom information as a helpful tool – not as a burden of anxiety.  Okay, maybe that’s easier said than done, but it is really important for family life and sanity these days.  For some parents, we may need to become more familiar and engaged with the online tools provided by our kids’ schools, so we are more aware of where they are succeeding and struggling.  This helps empower us to empower them.  For other parents, we may need to chill out and stop frantically scouring their reports every day to allow breathing room, growth, and even a healthy dose of failure, so we can have a more peaceful relationship.  This helps us get out of the worry trap, while letting them feel safer to talk to us about academic issues and possible struggles, mistakes, or failures.

Blessings of peace, growth, and success to you and your family!

Posted in dynamics of adolescence, parenting encouragement, teen media issues | Leave a comment

Five Ways to Catch Your Kids in the Act!

parent-praising-teenWhether they like it, or not, our kids need us to watch out for their missteps, so we can give them corrective guidance.  And with the increasing social connections, life opportunities, and freedoms that come with the teenage years, it seems this part of parenting just gets bigger and more challenging.  And that is why it is so essential for their healthy character formation that we parents commit ourselves to catching them in the act.

Catching them in the act of doing the right thing!  That’s right.  Doing the right thing.  Showing strong character.  Making wise choices.  Displaying a Christlike spirit.  Amidst our best efforts at corrective feedback to our teens and younger children, we need to let them know we see the good and wonderful things in them.  It quite literally breathes much-needed life into their spirits.  Here are five simple ways to up your game on catching your kids in the act:

  1. Remember to be on the lookout for good things in your teen’s life on a regular basis.  While it may come quite naturally at times and with certain kids, in other seasons or with other kids, it just won’t happen unless you are committed to looking for the good.  Let us live as parents according to Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4:8: “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”
  2. Take time to hand-write a letter or card commending your teen or child for the good you are seeing in her/him.  Be specific.  Be sure to share how much this means to you, and why you believe it is so important.  Seeing such praise in your own handwriting may just mean the world to your youngster, especially if parenting conversations have been tense or critical lately.
  3. Tell your teen exactly how you see Christ or some kind of Godliness reflected in his/her choices, actions, or words.  This not only offers a word of affirmation, but also puts things in the highest possible context.
  4. Have a little celebration on their behalf to recognize what is going right.  This isn’t something you are going to do every time your teen makes a good choice or accomplishes a difficult victory.  But if you make the effort to do something really special together to highlight how truly important that seemingly small thing really is, your will make a deep heart impression.
  5. Write an encouraging word on your teen’s bathroom or bedroom mirror.  You don’t need to get lengthy, and don’t get your feelings hurt if your son or daughter erases the message sooner than you would like.  But you might be surprised how long some kids will leave this kind of affirmation in place, to be reminded daily that they are more than their mistakes or shortcomings.  Goodness – don’t we all need to remember that?!
Posted in Christian parenting inspiration, dynamics of adolescence, parenting encouragement | Leave a comment

7 Ways to Lead Your Family After the Great Flood

we-will-rebuild

The tips I shared for leading your family forward after the damage and chaos of Hurricane Gustav seem just as relevant, and perhaps more important, in helping with moving forward after the Great Flood of 2016.  I have added a few updated comments in parentheses to the original posting.  I hope this is helpful to you and your family, and it is always my privilege and joy to serve and encourage you however I can on your journey through life.

September 5, 2008 – Family Life After Gustav (October 6, 2016 – Family Life After The Great Flood)
I am struck with the great irony of this post as I offer some positive guidance to families who, like my own, have been thrown off track by the wind and rain of Hurricane Gustav – most of whom don’t have electricity or internet access yet, and so cannot read this post today when they may need it most.  Well, for those of you who do find this post, and who really need some encouragement for your self and your family – know that you are in my prayers and hopes.  Following these links are some basic tips to help you and your family keep your sanity and remain as hopeful as possible during this extended time of uncertainty, recovery, and stifling muggy heat:

Resources and Services for Louisiana 2016 Flood Recovery

National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Hurricane Tools and Links

1. Get your rest. I know it is hard to sleep in a house without electricity in this early September heat of South Louisiana (or in a different space away from your own home that was flooded and remains uninhabitable at this time after the 2016 flood).  But I urge you to make it a priority for your self and your children to get as much sleep as you can, so your body, mind, and family can function at its best.  As miserable as you may be feeling right now, it will only get worse if you sacrifice sleep night after night and become increasingly exhausted.

2. Stay active. As with getting restful sleep, I know this oppressive heat and humidity can make it hard to find the motivation to get physically active (Thankfully, we seem to be at the verge now of moving into more temperate and pleasant fall weather in October, 2016).  However, I believe you will find it more than worth the effort during this season of heightened stress and challenge.  Physical exercise is a great way to keep your body and mind feeling healthier, keep your spirits up, and strengthen your immune system.  And these are all benefits we really need right now.

3. Maintain routines. Sure, many of our routines have been obliterated by Gustav (And FAR more so by the devastation of the Great Flood of 2016), but we need to fight to re-establish whatever positive routines we can for our families.  The structure and security of routines is so important for all of us to stay positive, especially for young children.  So sit down to eat family meals together, even if it is a weird hodge-podge of defrosted items from the freezer.  Play that board game or card game together by candlelight.  Keep that bedtime ritual of reading and praying together.  These family rituals remind us that we are still the same family and life goes on, even after our favorite old tree seemed to turn against us on Labor Day.

4. Start with a game plan. Begin each day with a brief family conversation about your plans for the day.  Who is going on the gas run this morning?  Who is going for ice?  How long do you plan to work around the neighborhood?  How long do you plan to hang out and play at the church that has power and fun activities for the kids?  Who needs their cell phone charged?  etc. (After the 2016 flood, be sure to share regular updates as a family regarding any positive developments on your home, neighborhood, favorite business and restaurants, family and friends, insurance or FEMA claims, etc.)

5. Finish with highlights. End each day with a family conversation where each individual is invited to share their best experience of the day or what they are most grateful for.  Our four year old has kept our spirits up by reminding us of how cool it was that the huge oak tree that broke apart and fell across our street contained a wild beehive and was full of honeycomb (which several of us enjoyed for breakfast Tuesday morning), not to mention how much fun he has been having with all the extra play time with old and new friends at the air conditioned church gym.  (As our community rebuilds post-flood, be sure to share any blessings you are experiencing, any encouraging stories you have heard, any lessons you are learning, and any ways you are seeing God’s loving hand at work through this process.)

6. Help someone else. Along with physical exercise, serving someone else in need has long been recognized as a powerful way to overcome stress, discouragement, and depression.  And let’s face it – there are a bazillion opportunities to serve folks in need during this time.  You don’t need to go on some international “mission trip,” or even across town.  Check around your own neighborhood.  I guarantee you there is someone who would be so grateful to you and your family for helping them clean up their yard, patch up their roof, clean out their house and refrigerator, help them get gasoline, ice, medicine, or other essentials, and the list is endless.  You may be amazed at the positive impact of serving others on your family, their family, your community, and our entire state.  (While the initial and surreal activities of house-gutting may be behind us, there remain so many needs we can help to meet for individuals, families, businesses, and churches throughout our extended community.  Ask around.  We can’t help with every need.  But if we are proactive and willing, we can each find something tangible our family can do to contribute to the Great Rebuilding of 2016!)

7. Stay spiritually centered. This is such an important time for families to practice our spiritual faith, which gives tremendous security and purpose to children and adults alike.  And staying connected with your faith community can bring so much joy, hope, opportunities to serve and be served, and continuity of life.  And folks, if you haven’t been to church in a long time, or maybe never, I guarantee there are churches all over that would be thrilled to welcome you and make room for you in their family right now.  So set the alarm on your cell phone this Sunday morning, get our your Bible or other inspirational books, have those family devotionals, and keep praying every day.  If you aren’t sure what to pray, I’ll offer two model prayers that have been life anchors for millions:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread.  Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever.  Amen.

And

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.  Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.  Trusting that you will make all things right if I will surrender to your will.  That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with you forever in the next.  Amen

With Hope for Your Family,

Roger

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Check out my videos!

Just wanted to be sure you are aware I am now posting video messages regularly.  I will generally be broadcasting them live from my Facebook professional page, then adding them to my YouTube channel, and to my Video page here on my website (Video page tab above) I would love for you to follow my FB page and YouTube channel, and join in the conversation there.  I look forward to your feedback, and any suggestions or requests you may have for encouraging words and guidance I can offer in the future.  Blessings to you and your family!

Posted in Christian parenting inspiration, parenting encouragement, teen media issues | Leave a comment

6 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make With Teens & Tech

Mom Freaking Out at Daughters PhoneOne of the most fundamental changes in parenting teens in our times is the lightning speed with which new technologies are embraced into and throughout their world.  We are still working on how to handle emerging digital technologies and the always expanding world of social media for ourselves, so we have little previous experience and no previous generations from which to draw our parenting wisdom.  We have to figure it out for ourselves and our kids, and we need to do so NOW.  Our kids are growing up in a whole new world I call “Technolescence,” and they need us to do our best to guide them through this complex time and space.  With this in mind, here are six of the most common and significant mistakes I see many parents make in this realm of technolescence:

1.  Saying “Yes” to all requests for tech devices and privileges.  According to Matthew 7:11, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  Yes, giving good gifts to our kids is really a reflection of our Heavenly Father’s love for us.  But think about how many times you sincerely prayed for something you thought you or someone you loved really needed, and your Father’s loving answer was… “No.”  Or maybe “Not Yet.”  We need to take time to prayerfully consider and have parental discussions regarding new tech devices or privileges before saying “Yes.”  Some new opportunities simply are not good for our teens and preteens, and other times they are either not ready or just need to learn the valuable lesson of waiting with patience.  Kids who get everything they want as soon as they want it are often the least satisfied, most demanding, and generally disagreeable teens in the bunch.

2.  Trusting kids too much in their technolescent world.  Of course our teens want us to trust them, and in a healthy family this trust should continue to grow over time.  Over time.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t trust our kids at all.  I am saying we should give them opportunities to earn our increasing trust, and this is a process that takes time and lots of growth experiences.  And look, it isn’t just that our kids are still growing and developing their moral and social compasses and abilities, the nature of the technolescent world is very very much ACTIVE and not passive!  The more they swim in digital waters, the more they are bombarded with complex choices, invitations, and temptations.  Regardless of how naturally mature or good-hearted our teens seem to be, they need our guidance, training, and oversight to help them grow “in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man.”  This means we need to periodically check in for ourselves to see that they are conducting themselves with right standards in their digital world of technolescence.

3.  Lurking or snooping to excess.  While we should beware of trusting our teens too much in their technolescent journey, we must also use caution against trusting too little and letting our fears dominate our parenting decisions.  I have seen huge family fallout and alienated, embittered teens when parents became so obsessed with what may go wrong that they couldn’t stop lurking and snooping in their kids’ digital space.  To keep from falling into this trap, we must be clear and open about parental boundaries, practice a healthy sense of balance, and prayerfully trust the Holy Spirit to prompt us when something is not right.

4.  Not staying current on emerging digital devices, social spaces, and available apps.  Folks, the world of technolescence is changing rapidly, and is unlikely to slow down anytime soon.  In fact, its rate of change seems to be exponential – changing faster and faster and faster.  Worn out yet?  The reality for us as parents of adolescents today is that we must be very diligent in staying reasonably up to date on the tech developments that are available and popular among teens in general, and particularly those that appeal to our kids and their friends.  This means we need to pay attention to what they are into in the digital world, we need to ask non-threatening questions and really hear their answers, we need to do the same with their friends when we have the opportunities, and we need to regularly take time to explore online to find out what is new and big.  One source you may find particularly helpful is the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU).  This is a Christian organization that does an exceptional job in helping parents understand what is happening in youth culture today.  They have lots of very practical and useful resources, as well as informative and insightful articles.  You really should check them out.  Regularly.

5.  Not having regular family discussions about the technolescent journey.  I’m not saying you have to have rigid weekly summit meetings with your teens.  You don’t want to drive them crazy.  But if you are only discussing their digital choices and experiences once or twice a year, you aren’t discussing these issues nearly enough.  A good guideline is to have some kind of direct conversation about what is happening in their digital world on about a monthly basis.  Sometimes this may be more of a curiosity based conversation.  Other times it may be a negotiation regarding digital freedoms.  When needed, we need to offer correction and discipline in response to mistakes made.  And we will do very well to incorporate spiritual guidance as foundational elements to all of our digital discussions and decisions.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17 NIV)

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NIV)

6.  Not updating digital rules and freedoms as kids grow.  That sound is my soapbox being dragged to the front of the room.  This is such a fundamental dynamic of parenting teens, and I will preach it over and over again.  Respect, responsibility, and freedom go hand in hand.  Our teens naturally crave more freedom as they grow up.  We parents hopefully expect to see increasing personal responsibility in our growing adolescents.  And parents and teens alike want to be respected by one another.  We need to make clear through our words, our decisions, and our actions that our kids will regularly gain more freedom and opportunity in their lives as they reflect responsibility and respect in their lives at home, at school, at church, and in their digital space.  And as we periodically show this respect to our teens by increasing their freedom, they are more likely to naturally show more respect and appreciation for us along the way.  Keeping high school junior locked in the same rules and boundaries as they had back in sixth grade is a sure fire way to frustrate and embitter that growing teen.  Our relationships and rules should grow along with them.

As always, let me know how I can help you and your family navigate the ever-changing world of technolescence, and ask your school and church leaders about bringing me to speak to your community sometime soon.  Blessings of wisdom, strength, and peace to you and your family.

Posted in Christian parenting inspiration, dynamics of adolescence, parenting encouragement, spiritual formation, teen media issues | Leave a comment

Three Ways To Set Up A Great School Year For Your Teens

teens enjoying family home  Another summer break is nearing an end.  Time to get the kids and the whole family back into school rhythm, and hopefully set them up for success as much as possible.  As you do your best to lead your teens toward increasing maturity, responsibility, and success in the coming year, here are three ways to make a positive difference:

1.  Commit to making your home a welcoming, safe, and fun place for your teen’s friends to hang out.  A simple way to start this process is to ask your kids what they think would be fun for them and their friends at home.  Find out what they enjoy about going to certain friends’ houses.  Be prepared to share a genuine interest in the lives and activities of your teens’ buddies whenever they come over.  It could be as simple as always having “good” snacks.  Maybe it’s time to upgrade to a new gaming system or buy a couple of new games for the one you have.  Check to be sure your wi-fi is optimal.  A good old fashioned board game or two might be a big hit.  The crew may become regulars if you have an organized neighborhood Pokemon-GO hunt every couple weeks or so.  You might even consider a big investment, such as a backyard pool, a teen room with new furniture, or a game room with a pool table or huge TV with a great gaming system. If your house can become a home base for your teen’s social group activities, don’t you think it would be worth investing a few bucks in some strategic house upgrades?  Just remember, it is important to establish clear boundaries with your teens and their friends about how the physical and digital space in your home is to be used.

2.  Make clear your expectations of your students’ efforts and responsibilities, as well as where your boundaries and responsibilities fall.  I may elaborate on this one with a full post soon, but for now – just be sure you have clear, open conversations about expectations of study time, grades, extra-curricular commitments, etc., as well as what you will or will not do as a parent.

3.  Offer your teens one mental/spiritual refreshment day to skip school per semester.  This may sound crazy, but I’ve never forgotten hearing this idea from a great client family years ago.  Don’t make it contingent on grade performance or anything like that.  Just offer them that occasional day, once a semester or so, to skip school and have fun.  Spend a portion of the day talking about how they are doing in school, friendships, teams, spiritual walk, and life in general.  Remember to listen more than you speak.  The point of this kind of conversation is to be aware of where your teen is, but also to remind your daughter or son that you are genuinely there as a loving support, no matter what.  But don’t let this convo take up the better part of the day.  Give him or her an opportunity to have fun, enjoy a day of grace, and just be refreshed.

Let me know if I can help you and your family have a more successful year this year, and remember that I love coming to speak to parents and teachers at schools to share encouragement, inspiration, and guidance.  Blessings of peace, growth, and wisdom to you and your family!

Posted in dynamics of adolescence, parenting encouragement, Speaking Engagements | Leave a comment

7 Rules for Early Adolescent Digital Devices

parent phone inspection

 

 

 

My family has officially reached that time where we have made the decision for our young adolescent son to have his own smartphone (after having his own tablet for gaming/YouTube only for a year or two).  For as much as I have been helping other families navigate digital waters for years now, we are swimming in the deep end of the pool ourselves now.  And since my wife and I are so serious about utilizing clear rules to help provide healthy digital boundaries for our son, I thought you might like to know what those rules are.  Keep in mind that these rules will evolve as he grows through his teen years, so this is our beginning point with a middle-schooler.  Here goes…

1. We reserve the right to examine any and all phone content any time we believe we need to do so.  This could include phone calls, texts, internet history, and any app content.  All passwords must be disclosed, or swift and sure consequences will follow.  I recommend occasionally taking a look through the phone, just to be sure all is well.  If something has popped up on your parenting radar that gives you particular concerns about your child’s or teen’s digital behavior, take a good close look right away, and keep a close eye for a while.  Any kind of backlash from our youngster about handing over the phone will result in a loss of trust, which will likely result in some loss or setback of privilege.

2. We will not abuse this parental power with excessive snooping.  As parents, we must keep in mind that going overboard with hovering, investigating, and downright, snooping into our kids’ digital worlds will likely cause a strain in our relationship, and possibly push them to just get better at hiding what they don’t want us to find.  Just as we want them to learn healthy boundaries, we must model healthy boundaries for them.  Reserving the right to look when you have a clear reason is not the same as lurking.  Don’t be a lurker.

3. No digital devices are allowed in kids’ bedrooms after bedtime.  The simplest way to set this boundary is to have teens/preteens put their devices on the charger in a “public” family space before bedtime.  If they get busted sneaking it into the bed at night, this will also be addressed with painful lessons and clear teaching and guidance.

4. Early adolescents are not allowed to have direct social interaction with anyone they don’t know in the REAL world.  As we explained to our son, there are several reasons we are so serious about this rule, including the reality of predators and the risk of making online connections more important than real life connections.

5. Preteens/Teens should report anything inappropriate to parents immediately – including their own misbehavior.  I realize this may sound far-fetched, but hear me out.  We want our son to learn that life will always go better for him if he brings questionable activity or his own misbehavior to our attention than if we discover it while he is hiding it.  Reasonable measures of mercy will be shown in such situations, along with a clear conversation about how proud we are of him for practicing confession and honesty.

6. Digital devices should always be turned off within two minutes of being told it is time to do so.  I do believe it is important for us parents to recognize and respect that our youngsters may be in the middle of something that they would really like to finish or save.  You may be surprised how much this respect from us will do to build a strong relationship of mutual respect with our teens.  However, they also need to learn that there is a time to simply turn it off, and that their world will not come crashing down, even if they lose a little progress or the opportunity to get something really cool on a game or whatever.

7. We will have regular discussions about digital life.  These discussions may range from Biblical inspiration and guidance to conversations about emerging technologies, apps, etc. to sharing recent experiences and decisions made in the digital world.  Periodically include parental feedback about delights and/or concerns you have regarding your teen’s digital conduct, as well as occasionally discussing possible expansions of their digital freedom.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.                                        – Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

Posted in Christian parenting inspiration, dynamics of adolescence, spiritual formation, teen media issues | Leave a comment

Six Great Parenting Opportunities of Pokemon GO

pokemon go

 

 

I’m not sure there has yet been an app that has so immediately caused such a cultural impact as Pokemon GO.  If you haven’t heard of it yet, you probably think I’m kidding or exaggerating.  I’m not.  This innovative app has not only captured the attention of a staggering number of gamers from age five to twenty-five and beyond, but it is changing their behavioral patterns as well.

If you begin noticing young people wandering around in large numbers where you have never really seen them before, chances are they are playing Pokemon GO.  If you see young adults strolling about in an oddly disjointed and distracted fashion, looking like they are part of some sort of smartphone-driven “zombie apocalypse,” there’s a good bet they are out hunting Pokemon.  If there are kids giving you the creeps with the way they kinda seem to be taking your picture, but not really paying attention to you as they swipe their screens and whoop with delight, don’t fret.  They just snagged a super-rare with a Pokeball.

And as peculiar and data-consuming as this new digital culture craze may be, I can see at least six distinct opportunities it gives savvy parents who are willing to work with technology in their kids lives, rather than to simply ignore it or fight against it or helplessly complain about it.  So, at only a week or so into the new Pokemon GO era, here are the parenting opportunities I am seeing:

1.  Motivation for kids to exercise.  This is the most obvious benefit of the first major gaming technology since the intro of the Wii to encourage players to move more.  And reports are already in of kids, teens, young adults, and families going for walks or bike rides for hours more than they every have before.  WOW!  This is a big deal in the increasingly sedentary, screen-centered world in which we are raising our kids.  Don’t miss the motivational opportunity.

2.  Open door for parents to enter the world of our kids’ interests.  Whether your child is five, fifteen, or twenty-five (and still living at home), seizing the opportunity to step into his or her world and really learn about something that captures your son’s or daughter’s attention is so huge – especially when you have actually been invited through that door!  Don’t squander this opportunity.  Get in there and learn all about Pokestops and incense and gyms and water types and rares and all there is to know about the ever-growing world of Pokemon.  It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, or even if you think it’s goofy.  It’s about connecting with your teen or child in a meaningful way and opening the door of communication.

3.  Shared adventure time!  What could be finer than joining your pre-teen or adolescent on a stroll, hike, or bike ride throughout your neighborhood, to the nearby park, and beyond?  Go for it!  Get out there and have some fun together.  Get into the thrill of the hunt with your kid, but stay alert for the opportunity to blend in some “real-world” adventure, as well.  I mean, you’re already out there together.  Make the most of it.

4.  Break from the tired lame routine.  Not that routines are all bad, or anything.  But be honest, sometimes it’s easy to let our lives and our family time fall into a routine that just isn’t making the most of our time.  We may be gradually drifting away from meaningful connections with one another and from meaningful activity if we let ourselves default to the same old routine.  By nature, Pokemon GO invites player to, well…GO!  So, get up.  Get out.  Go do something different.  Go find new places.  Embrace the changes with your youth and GO for it!

5Learning and practicing resource management.  I’m not really talking about elements of the game now.  I’m talking about time and money.  Mark my words, there will be a collective scream in a few weeks when the first round of wireless bills hit since the beginning of the Pokemon GO era.  This app is going to eat through data like an Excadrill rips through rock and metal!  Hopefully, Niantic (the app developer, and probably overnight gozillionaires) will work on ways to minimize the voracious data appetite this little game-changer has at present.  Even so, parents will need to be very proactive in training our kids how to be conscious, responsible, and wise in their use of data.  Sitting in a WiFi zone playing endless data-sucking games is no big deal – it’s free.  And putting a time frame on how long they can play certain games outside of WiFi is fairly straightforward.  But the whole nature of this get out and hunt game is going to change all that.  And as parents, we will either need to train our kids how to manage their data usage with this new adventure or we may find ourselves buying lottery tickets or selling our kids’ old rare Pokemon on eBay!

6.  Developing critical consumer skills.  Being a critical consumer of anything from food to teaching to entertainment to appliances is a really important skill for navigating our world today.  And at its heart, being a critical consumer means learning to question and investigate.  Using the Pokemon GO app doesn’t just mean investigating the world around your family in search of elusive pocket monsters.  It also means asking important questions and being informed and safe in regard to privacy issues.  What a great opportunity for us to train our kids in digital savvy and safety!

Happy hunting, all!

And please remember to watch where you’re going at all times.  NO HUNTING AND DRIVING, PLEASE!

Posted in dynamics of adolescence, parenting encouragement, spiritual formation, teen media issues | Leave a comment