7 Keys to Healthy Co-Parenting

Parenting kids has become more complex today than ever before.  The digital explosion of entertainment and social media has created layers and layers of options, opportunities, dangers, and decisions that we must navigate as we do our best to love and lead our children well.  Add to all this the challenging dynamics of dealing with another parent who lives in a different home with different beliefs, values, and expectations, and the whole process can feel totally overwhelming.  And it’s especially hard when you and your Ex are disagreeing and butting heads.  And if it’s hard on you, think about how hard it must be on your kids, who desperately need you to work it out with as much cooperation and respect as possible.  Well, take a deep breath and take heart.  Because I’ve got some simple, practical, real life tips to help you navigate the difficulties of c0-parenting with sanity and balance:

  1. Keep your kids’ well-being first and foremost, above your own personal feelings and preferences.  Regardless of how right you think you are, and how wrong you think their other parent is, you’ve got to remember the only person you can ever really control is your self.  Are you still speaking and making decisions out of your beliefs about what is best for your child… or are you allowing your self to turn this into a power struggle and personal grudge match?  Always come back to asking, “How will MY choices, actions, and words right now affect my child in the coming days and beyond?”
  2. Aim for consistency between households as much as possible, but DON’T sacrifice a basic climate of respect and peaceful cooperation in your efforts for consistency.  Yes, it is much better for our kids to have similar rules, values, and routines in both of their homes.  It nurtures a foundation of security and clarity in kids’ hearts and minds.  As much as it depends on YOU, make this possible for your precious children.  But if your zeal for consistency between households leads to a climate of tension, blame, drawing kids into unhealthy conversations about their other parent, or escalating legal action, then you have made life far more burdensome and difficult for them in the process.  For the sake of your kids’ well-being, be wiling to relax and cooperate on some things that aren’t the way you like them, if it will promote a climate of more peace and security for them.
  3. Plan regular co-parenting conversations regarding how each of the kids are doing physically, emotionally, academically, spiritually, etc.  If you make these important conversations a regular and predictable occurrence, they are much more likely to be constructive and helpful than if you wait until problems or frustrations have escalated to near-crisis level.  For younger children, aim for monthly co-parenting discussions – more frequently if you have a child with special needs.  For teens, quarterly talks along these lines should be sufficient most of the time.  Of course, any time something new comes up, be proactive in communicating with the other parent.  Depending on the nature of your relationship and personalities, these regular conversations may take place face to face, by phone, or by email.
  4. Utilize email or an app like Our Family Wizard for communication, planning, and record-keeping of time and expense.  DON’T USE TEXTING or other instant messaging apps for communicating important information or discussions.  This form of rapid-fire communication is ideal for drawing immediate attention to a critical situation or email.  But for regular communication exchanges and discussions, texting is way too likely to lead to emotional escalation, miscommunication, or lost information.  Email is a much better method, especially if dealing with your Ex is difficult.  And if you don’t know about Our Family Wizard, check it out as soon as you finish this article.  It is an outstanding tool for facilitating communication, planning, record-keeping, financial cooperation, and more.
  5. Focus on giving your kids the healthiest experience you can give them at YOUR home – where you are actually in charge.  This is not about competition with your Ex.  Not at all.  It’s about remembering YOUR HOME is the only place where YOU are really in charge.  So your kids need you to focus primarily on what is going on there, and how YOU are doing as a parent.  Don’t spend time and energy complaining about or comparing with their other home.  And don’t fall into the trap of overcompensating in your home for what you believe are deficits in their other home.  Instead, emphasize how life works in your home, and WHY you do life the way you do.  Take responsibility for discussing the morals and modes of living you want to see your kids adopt for life, and be sure you practice what you preach.  Your kids need you to be a leader, not a reactor.
  6. Continue to read good parenting books and discover other parenting resources to help you stay on a healthy path for your kids.  There are so many great books, websites, podcasts, classes, and other resources to help us on our journey of parenting.  Some good ones are: ScreamFree Parenting, Parenting with Love and Logic, and Smart Stepfamilies.  Continue to be an eager and open-minded student of parenting and living well, even as you actively teach and lead your kids.  And any time you find a resource that is particularly helpful for you, for goodness sake, share it with your kids’ other parent!  Just don’t be preachy or judgy about it.  That won’t help anyone, no matter how “right” you think you are about it.
  7. Utilize a professional as needed.  If concerns or conflicts reach a high enough level, you may need to reach out for help from a qualified professional, such as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.  Don’t let pride, stubbornness, or cost stop you from reaching out for help when your kids need you to get it.  You don’t have to do this alone.  Reach out.  Your kids are counting on YOU!
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Three Ways to Help Your Teen Grow Toward Adulthood

As parents who love our kids, our aim is to raise them to become fully capable and responsible adults who will strive to make a positive impact on the world around them.  Right?  And that sort of theoretical statement sounds all great and wonderful when our kids are little.  But once they hit their teen years, we all start finding out how much we really mean this kind of “mission statement.”  Because in adolescence, the line between childhood and adulthood gets really blurry.  That’s just the way it is.  And our teens need us to stay on the adult side of the line, even as they desperately long to reach grown up status for themselves.  Here are three fundamental ways we can help them get closer to becoming strong healthy adults:

1. Let them fail.  Yep.  That’s what I said, and I meant what I said.  If we go about rescuing our teens every time we see them on the verge of blowing it, how do we expect them to be able to handle the tough parts of life when they are adults?  Or do we plan on continuing to bail them out through their adult years?  YIKES!  Equip them?  Yes, absolutely!  Coach them along the way?  You betcha!  Step in to redirect of save them whenever we can see they are about to fail?  Hold up.  I will follow up and expand on this point soon, but we must be able to tolerate seeing our teens fail if we are going to give them our very best as their parents.

2. Admit our own failings and shortcomings to them (in an appropriate way).  If we want our teens to arrive at a healthy adulthood for themselves, we need to be willing to paint a realistic picture for them of what that is.  Allowing our kids to see our own process of making mistakes, facing them, and doing the work of cleaning up our messes helps them see that adulthood isn’t about attaining some sort of perfection.  But it is about humbly admitting our mistakes and doing our best to make things right as we move forward by God’s grace.  Just ask my teenager about the bad words he heard me say the other night about half an hour before our family devotional reading from James 3 about taming the tongue.  Let your teens know you are still a work in progress.  But be sure you share with them how that process of progress works in your life.

3. Share more of our decision-making thought process with them as they mature through their teen years.  The older our teens get, the more we should take time to consider their input and the more we should explain to them our own process of making decisions.  This doesn’t mean we hand over our parental authority to them while they are still growing through their teen years.  But they will be far better equipped to make mature adult decisions if they have seen and heard how their own parents weighed out possibilities, costs, benefits, and consequences, rather than always just giving them rulings from on high, so to speak.

I will expound on each of these points in the coming weeks, but I hope these simple concepts help you gain better clarity in living out your role as parent to the kids in your home who are transforming into emerging adults faster than we ever imagined possible.  I mean, it only feels like about three or four years between the images below…

 

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Parental Celebration

Today’s post is all about celebration.  Enjoy the Kool & the Gang tune playing in your head now.  You’re welcome!

I frequently write about things you can do to improve your relationship with your teen, or things you can do to help get your teen on a better life track.  It is easy for us parents to be constantly looking at what our kids can do to improve or what we can do to improve as parents.  And aiming for improvement and growth is certainly a positive thing.  But today, I thought we would do well to stop and celebrate our parental victories.

What positive character qualities do you see in your teen?  Take time this week to celebrate those qualities with your daughter or son, and take a moment to celebrate the reality that you have almost certainly helped contribute to that aspect in your teen’s life.  Have you recently held your tongue from making an unnecessary critical comment with one of your kids?  Take a moment to celebrate that victory and recognize your own growth as a parent.  Have you invested some extra time or energy lately in your teen’s life in a particular way?  Give yourself a quick pat on the back for being intentional about pouring into your kids.  Has someone complimented your teen for some positive quality or achievement?  Of course you should celebrate that compliment with your teen!  But you should also have a bit of celebration in what you are doing right as a parent.

Just as our teens and preteens thrive on positive energy and wither on negative energy, so do we as parents.  So let’s take a bit of time for some celebration today for all those things we are doing right as parents!  Seriously, take some time to list some things.  I’ll betcha the list will be longer than you think.

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Today

Ever see the movie, Groundhog Day? It is a rather insightful story based on a very farfetched premise.  Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a local weatherman who is utterly miserable and discontented with his life.  He basically thinks his job is beneath him, and that he should be further along in his life and career than where he is.  And then he gets stuck in a time-loop, doomed to repeat the same day over and over and over again – Groundhog Day, the day that most highlights how much he hates where he is in life.  The only way he can emerge from his torment is to find contentment today – to see the best in others, make efforts to be a blessing to others, and to find moments of joy in his least favorite time and place.  He’s got to stop looking at what he wants beyond today, and be willing to celebrate whatever he already has – today.

How many days of our kids’ lives have we missed because we were so focused on something beyond today?  Whether we are dwelling on a future season of our kids’ lives, a future point in our careers, a future home or vacation or vehicle or whatever…if we aren’t focused on today, we are missing it.  Just ask yourself how often does the phrase, “I can’t wait until…” escape your lips?

Maybe it’s time to start a revolution in your life.  In your home.  In your family.  In your neighborhood.  In your office.  You don’t have to stop making plans for down the road.  There’s really nothing wrong with that.  But let’s decide – for the sake of our kids, our families, and even our own sense of joy and peace – we are going to start living fully engaged in today.

Look around for something beautiful in your everyday routine environment today.  I’ll bet there’s something beautiful.  Share an encouraging word with someone.  I’ll bet there’s someone who would deeply appreciate it.  And whatever else you do, notice something amazing in your kids today.  I’m sure there’s something amazing to be discovered.  And don’t keep your amazement to yourself – share it with your kids.  Whether they are preschoolers, preteens, teens, or beyond.  I guarantee they would have a better life today if you begin to make it a daily priority to see the wonderful things in your kids right now, and take obvious delight in who they are.

And for a bit more inspiration, enjoy this stirring song by Chris Rice:

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Encouraging Kindness in Our Kids

“Evan Almighty” has been one of my family’s favorite movies for quite a while.  If you’ve never seen this heartwarming family film about God (Morgan Freeman) choosing a modern day Noah named Evan Baxter (Steve Carell), you really should watch it.  Through a wild adventure with God, his wife and three sons, congress, a ginormous pile of lumber, and a whole bunch of critters, Evan learns that God really does give each of us the power to change the world through a very simple process: one Act of Random Kindness (ARK) at a time.  And I think the makers of this film really are onto something in the midst of their crazy tale.  We really do have tremendous potential to change the world for the better, simply be practicing kindness every day with the people around us – wherever we live, work, or attend school.

In this spirit, I am offering you a sort of script you can use with your teens and preteens to open a meaningful conversation with them about the power of kindness.  I presented this material recently to a school assembly of seventh and eighth graders, and they really received it.  I hope it has already been a blessing to their school.  And I hope this will be a blessing to your family, as well.

Kindness: the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

The “Golden Rule” reminds us to treat others the way we want to be treated.  Do you want to be treated with:

  • Rudeness?  or Kindness?
  • Meanness?  or Kindness?
  • Arrogance?  or Kindness?
  • Coldness?  or Kindness?

When you have an embarrassing moment, would you rather have people point out and laugh at your mistake…or reach out with encouragement and compassion?  Would you rather have someone do something to rub it in and make it worse…or lend a hand to help you get through it?  Which way do you respond to others in their moments of embarrassment?  How do you think your response affects them?

Do you prefer spending time with people who are kind, thoughtful, considerate, generous, friendly, and encouraging?  Or with people who are unkind, thoughtless, inconsiderate, selfish, rude, and discouraging?  Think of an example of someone you know who represents each of these types of people.  Who would you rather be more like?  How can you practice being more like the positive person who came to your mind?  What can you do to be a positive influence on the negative person who came to your mind?

If you were a new student in an unfamiliar school, which way would you want to be treated?  Is that the way you have welcomed new students into your school (or youth group, etc)?

Do you think apologies are important?  What difference do they make?  How does it impact you when someone apologizes to you?  How does it impact you when someone fails to apologize to you?  Do you think it is ever too late for an apology?  Why do you say that?  Here is a great format for offering an apology that really makes a difference: “I’m sorry I ________.  It must have made you feel ________, and I was wrong to do that to you.  I’m really sorry.  Please forgive me.”  If you say or do something hurtful, mean, or teasing to another person, and then respond with some version of “I’m just kidding,” do you think that comment at the end really matters to that person?  Does it really make it okay?  Or is that just something we say to make ourselves feel better about acting like a jerk?

And finally, here is a simple tale about a boy whose father taught him a valuable life lesson about the power of our words and actions:

There once was a boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.  The first day, the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence.  Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive all those nails into the fence.

Finally, the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.  He felt so proud as he shared this with his father, who suggested the boy now pull out one nail for each day he kept his temper in check.  The days passed and the young man was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.

The father took his son by the hand and led him out to the fence.  He said, “You have done well, my son…but look at all those holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.  It won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry,’ because the wound is still there.”

It only takes a bit more effort to choose kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, and encouragement over rudeness, thoughtlessness, selfishness, and discouragement.  Choose wisely, and see how the world gets just a little better around you day by day as you water the soil of your neighbors with kindness.

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Let’s Stop the Shootings!

(Photos and collage compliments of Sandra “Sam” Morris, who embodied the spirit of this post as well as anyone I know, and who created this very photo collage as a loving welcome gift to me for my first office in Baton Rouge.)

Of all the forms of hatred, violence, and madness that plague our nation and our planet today, school shootings have become a particularly horrifying headline that scream all is not well with us.  Too many of these headlines.  Too many of these victims.  Too many of these perpetrators.  And while all the horror of it all may leave us feeling helpless to do anything, I believe this is a great lie.  Sure, neither you nor I are powerful or influential enough to change the whole world.  But we can change the little pocket of the world in which we live.  We really can.

I believe we begin to really truly change our pockets of the world when we decide we are here to serve others, rather than ourselves.  And our impact grows broader when we raise our kids to understand that they are also here to serve others, rather than themselves.  And this movement of healing and betterment of our soul-sick world doesn’t need to start with some kind of big organization or financial push or impressive “service project.”  This healing movement of peace begins with a mindset.  And here are some of the primary pillars of that mindset:

1. I am not special.  Yes, we are all unique in certain beautiful ways, according to God’s amazing tapestry.  But I’ve got to remember that I am not better than you.  And I’m not more impressive than you.  I’m not more valuable than you.  Or more significant than you.  Or more worthy than you.  We are all in this together, and we all have strengths and limitations to use as we will.

2. I just won’t get my way much of the time.  It’s the way of the world, and I need to accept it.  But it isn’t some cosmic plan to pick on me, because you are dealing with the same reality.  And the sooner you and I willingly accept and embrace this reality that we just won’t get our way much of the time, the sooner we can move on to doing something that really matters for the rest of the world.

3. Thoughtfulness and compassion are powerful beyond measure.  Seriously, just make a commitment to start calling restaurant servers, grocery checkout attendants, coffee shop baristas, and the like by their name when you speak with them.  That may not keep all the bullets from flying, but it will shine some light into some dark places around you.  I guarantee it! And you’re gonna be amazed at how the world really starts to improve around you when you put thoughtfulness and compassion into practice in even bigger and deeper ways.  If hatred and fear are our great enemies, thoughtfulness and compassion are our great countermeasures.

4. People are priceless treasures.  I will never know the profound ways my life could be enriched by the various people around me if I never make the effort to get to know them.  People are people, not objects.  If I see others primarily as obstacles, competitors, or tools, I am shortchanging myself and I am contributing to the cesspool of ignorance, fear, and violence that swirls around us all already.  And before you try to use my first point to poke holes in this point, consider that I believe all of us are priceless treasures.

5. My most meaningful legacy will be measured by how much I have improved the world around me, not by how much I have harvested from the world around me.  Seriously, who left a greater legacy in It’s A Wonderful Life…Mr. Potter or George Bailey?  Making a better life for myself and my children and their children is not wrong.  In fact, I think it’s a good thing.  But what am I doing to make life better for others one day at a time?  And how am I leading my kids to make life better for others one day at a time?

And if you would like a Biblical perspective on these issues, take a look at one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture.  So, let’s stop the shootings!  We CAN do this!  You and me in all our non-special glory.  But we must decide to put ourselves in proper perspective, so we can get the world around us in proper perspective.  Then, we can change the world!

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Six Ways To Get Your Teen To Listen To You

Tired of feeling like you’re talking to a brick wall when you try to communicate with your teen?  Ranging from fun to fundamental, here are six different ways to shake up the old routine that isn’t working, and help begin a new era of listening and connection at home.

1. Make drive-time count!  If you have a teen driver who either has to borrow your vehicle or is still working on supervised hours with a Learner’s Permit, insist on respectful, engaged conversation with you, if they expect you to hand over the keys and hop in for their much-wanted time behind the wheel.  No loud music.  No headphones.  No YouTube.  No zoning out.  This is conversational prime time.  Make the most of it!

2. Soften your tone.  This one may not apply to you, but often times there is a self-reinforcing pattern in place with teens and parents where: teens tune out parents…because parents are being too loud or pushy…because teens are tuning out parents…because parents are being too loud or pushy…because teens are tuning out parents…  Crazy making, right?!?  As a parent, the most effective way to stop this cycle is to calm your self, quiet down, and take charge with compassion and confidence.  Rather than getting louder to demand their attention, get quieter to invite their attention.  You may think it is easier said than done, or just sounds like hokey counselor’s nonsense, but really try it out.  It is surprisingly effective.  Works with spouses, too.

3. Partner with technology.  Try this one out with the teen who prefers screen time to pretty much everything.  Make a short video of yourself telling your teen whatever it is you really want him or her to hear.  (Three minutes or less is preferred.  Don’t even think about going over five.)  This method will work best if you only do it occasionally for something important, and if you are willing to be creative and fun with it.  Send it to your teen with an invitation to reply with comments as if they were critiquing you on YouTube, or something.

4. Take some time to “hang out” with your teen first.  Before shifting into sharing the message that matters to YOU, take some time to experience something that matters to YOUR TEEN.  This doesn’t mean we have to become second-class citizens in our teens’ universe.  But it is important for us to consider how much we expect them to pay attention to us without us being willing to pay attention to them.

5. Reward them for removing headphones and looking at you with a listening face.  Let’s not get crazy with cash awards or anything, here.  But you might be surprised what a game-changer it could be if you begin to find simple ways to reward your teen for taking off headphones, putting aside devices or other distractions, and looking at you with at least an appearance of respectful attention.  Here are some possibilities, but you can use anything that teaches them it is in their best interest to listen when you speak to them: – Explain that this behavior builds up points in your grace-bank for the next time they mess up big time.  – Occasionally give them a treat such as dinner at their favorite restaurant or a new something you know they’ll like.  – Treat them with a free pass from some family activity they’d rather skip.  – Treat them with a free pass from a regular household chore.

6. Regularly get your teen’s attention, just so you can tell them something good about them.  Be sure you aren’t establishing a pattern that you only want their attention so you can tell them something they don’t want to hear.  Get their attention so you can share something you like about them.  Get their attention so you can ask about something they like talking about.  Get their attention so you can draw attention to an area of positive growth you have seen in them.  Get their attention so you can just tell them, “I love you.”  Yes, we need their attention to share things they may not like hearing.  But let’s not discourage them or wear them out.  Give them some conversational goodies on a regular basis, and you’ll go a long way to establishing open lines of respectful attention and communication between you and your teen.

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Unplug

Do you ever just feel like your teen lives a world away from you these days?  Oh, she still sits at the dinner table with you (sometimes).  And he still sleeps in the same old bedroom in the same home with you.  But it just feels like your teen has disconnected.  Like he or she is really living somewhere else altogether. Well, I’ve got two simple suggestions for you, even as I live with this changing dynamic in my own teen in my own home.

1. Recognize that it is a normal, healthy dynamic for teens to feel an increasing pull away from home and family toward friends, a special someone, more personal interests, and some kind of life-calling.  The transition and process of this normal pulling can be very different for different teens and different families, and it can certainly be tumultuous and problematic at times.  But we do well as parents to remember that, fundamentally, it is normal.  And rather than fighting them in this process, we will all be better for it if we guide them in this process.  As parents, we must see this as the healthy and exciting expansion of our kids’ lives, rather than as the cold casting aside of Mom and Dad.  If we actively help them expand their lives in healthy ways, we continue to have an important place in their lives.  If we jealously or angrily scold and gripe, we risk cutting our kids off from us prematurely.

2. As normal as this shift may be, it may be happening more abruptly than it should be, thanks to one simple, yet powerful piece of technology: headphones.  Headphones are an amazing invention, and they have come a long way in the last decade or so.  Whether your teen uses earbuds, Beats, Airpods, or whatever…headphones facilitate privacy when engaging in digital entertainment and communication.  At face value, this is neither good nor bad.  It is just an option.  But as parents, we hold a responsibility to monitor if and when our teens are defaulting to headphones so much that they lose their healthy connection with other elements of the real world around them.  And so, sometimes we simply need to tell them to unplug.  Be part of the family.  Contribute to the conversation.  Share their thoughts with the rest of the room.  Respectfully listen.  Offer a vote toward a group decision regarding an activity or form of entertainment.  Sure, you might catch an eye-roll from your teen when you issue the parental dictate to unplug.  Oh, well.  You’ll live.  And so will your teen.  And you’ll both be better for it.  So don’t go trash your kid’s earphones.  Just be willing to insist they take a healthy break from the ears now and then.

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Giving

What is your favorite part of the Christmas season?  I know there are significant elements of the holiday season that are irritating or even downright painful for some.  But for many of us, there are so many special layers to the Christmas season.  What’s your favorite?  The food?  The time away from school or work?  The extra time with family and special friends?  Opening gifts?  Giving gifts?  Shopping for gifts?  Christmas lights and decorations?  Christmas trees?  Christmas music?  That special church service?  Live nativity scenes?  The hope of snow?

I really like a lot of the things on this list.  But for me, I think there is nothing quite like the challenge and joy of shopping for just the right gifts for those on my Christmas short list.  Whether it’s that big special gift, or just the little variety of knick-knackery to put in the stocking, I love this part of Christmas!  I guess it brings out my best: really thinking of others, trying to understand and appreciate others as very special individuals, and trying to bless those people in a way that touches the heart and soul.

And I suppose this is why “The Gift of the Magi” is my favorite story to read every year at Christmastime.  If you have never read this beautiful short story about Della and Jim, and the love and generosity they share with one another, I invite you to take about ten minutes, click the link I provided, and enjoy this rich blessing now.  It’s an older story, so some of the language is a bit outdated and unfamiliar, but it is such a wonderful inspiration.  Go ahead, read it for yourself.  The rest of my post will be here when you’re done…

What if we brought this thoughtful, generous, self-sacrificing spirit with us beyond Christmas to share with the world around us all year long?  WOW!  What if I took as much delight in folding laundry, doing dishes, or completing household repairs as I do when I find that perfect little something for my wife’s stocking?  What if I was as thrilled about taking time to help my son with challenging schoolwork as I am about giving him that little collectable I know he wants?  What if I was as joyful about greeting and offering genuine kindness to some random person of another race at night in a dark parking lot as I am about telling my cashier, “Merry Christmas!”?  What if I put as much priority on reaching out to that person I know has been hurting for months from deep personal loss or struggle as I do on making sure my family Christmas cards get to all the right people at the right addresses?

What if I regularly shared gifts of love, compassion, and sacrifice with people to the point where it really cost me dearly, and blessed them to the point where their hearts simply burst forth with tears?  What if I decided the spirit of Christmas was a way of life – a calling to be as generous with those around me as I believe God has been with me?  What if I lived with eagerness to bless those who don’t expect blessings from me, and to do it in ways where I get little or no “credit,” but God gets the glory in ways that inspire hope in those who are touched?

God, Father of that precious perfect Babe in the manger, will you help me experience the answers to these questions?  Despite my best intentions, I know I am simply not good enough to live up to this calling on my own.  But I want to be.  And because of that, I call out to the only One who can transform me into this kind of man.  So, God, here I am this Christmas season, asking you to make of me what you will, so that Jesus can be even more present in this soul-sick world.

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Parenting with Confidence in a Technolescent World: Part 3

Now that we have covered some overall dynamics and guidelines regarding parenting your teens in relation to their digital world, let’s take a quick look at some of the major players in the social media app world today:

As of today, Snapchat  is king of social media for teens.  Not only does it provide them with one digital tool that combines the best of pretty much all the others, but it is also built around a platform of sharing in the present moment without leaving a history.  For the majority of teens today, Snapchat is their primary means of communicating with the friends that really matter to them.  And, of course, this one is inherently difficult for parents to “check up on” when concerns arise.  That doesn’t mean we should automatically keep our teens away from it.  It just means we must be very proactive and intentional about preparing them and processing with them to ensure they conduct themselves well within this medium.

Remember that the main reason most teens and young adults are on Facebook  is because it is currently still the largest and most mainstream social media.  This isn’t their primary social media world at all, but serves two functions for them.  First and foremost, it provides them an account which is used for other apps/sites they actually want to use.  Let’s face it…you’ve got to have a Facebook account (or so it seems, anyway).  Secondly, it can serve as a nice pleasant cover for their social media presence for parents who don’t know how important it is to look deeper.

Think of Instagram  as the primary substitute for Facebook in youth culture today.  It is built around sharing pictures about your life experiences in a large broadcast format where folks “follow” other folks in a way that can lean toward one-way mass communication or more toward interactive dynamics, depending on the personalities involved.  This is currently a huge platform among teens, and one in which it is relatively non-invasive for parents to see what kids are sharing.  Just as is often the case with Facebook and Twitter, Instagram users tend to be driven by an insatiable quest for more “likes.”

Honestly, it baffles me how popular Twitter  is with so many teens today.  I would have thought all the adults would have run them off by now, as has been the case on Facebook, but its popularity actually seems to be growing with youth.  This app is built around a platform of short bursts of words , shorthand lingo, and hashtags, but can also be used for sharing pictures.  Functionally, this one is for words/letters what Instagram is for pictures.  Important for parents to know: Twitter is used aggressively for the marketing of porn sites.  This is certainly not its primary function, and your kids may use it without any intentions of looking at porn, but the pornographers are there in full force and actively looking for customers – especially young ones.

One of the newer apps making a big splash in the technolescent scene is Houseparty.  It is a group chat app that allows nine individuals to share a live video chat with one another, with each member in their own little box on the screen.  (Picture the intro to the old Brady Bunch TV show where everyone is looking around them at the others in their little boxes.)  For many teens, this is a fun way to talk to one another and enjoy some group interaction with good friends.  It is critical to discuss privacy settings and how to handle various situations immediately that could arise on this app, as it involves live video feeds.  Talking via video with friends can provide more substance to their relationships than relying on text-based communication.  But wild things can happen and never be unseen on live video applications, as well.

As one older adolescent female once explained to me, “Facebook makes you hate people you know.  Tumblr  makes you love people you don’t know.”  The best way I can explain this site is to imagine the 10 most clever/witty/entertaining/crude people you have seen on Facebook, and imagine a whole social network designed to help people share those people’s stuff with one another.  It doesn’t seem to be geared as much toward sharing your own experiences as toward passing on stuff you have discovered that you believe other people would also like to discover.  This one also tends to be heavier on sharing video content than some of the others.  It can also have elements of blogging.  It is an interesting mishmash that has a somewhat smaller group of very loyal users.  This one is riddled with porn, as well.

WhatsApp, Kik, Line, and other similar apps are all expanded texting apps built around user accounts, rather than phone numbers.  They are most popular among gamers looking for more effective and enhanced ways to communicate beyond what is provided within their game of choice and among people looking for free international communication with family, friends, etc.  While they typically offer more options along the lines of “stickers” and such, they are essentially glorified texting apps.

Whisper  is probably the most inherently creepy app of the bunch!  Its users are anonymous, and they are invited to share confessions (yes, use your imagination) with… whoever is listening.  And then users are invited to comment about those confessions.  Seriously, this one is yuck!  Just… don’t.

 

Okay, so imagine a much younger, sexier version of a “traditional” dating site that leaves it to users whether they want to seek relationships or simply hookups.  Welcome to tinder!  The format of simply swiping one way or another on profiles makes it very easy to use and, therefore, super appealing to those looking for… a way to look for sexy folks.  This one should be totally off-limits for younger teens, and still not a good idea for older teens.  Young adults may really be able to find a meaningful relationship here, but the focus tends to be on a fairly shallow sexual level, and it is another major pedophile/trafficking risk site for teens.

Ask.fm  is a curious site that invites users to anonymously ask questions and post comments to a named person’s account.  Why kids want to subject themselves to a dynamic that is so ripe with cyberbullying is a mystery.  It isn’t nearly as popular as many others on this list, but can be a darker place for some teens who are already in a dark place.

If you don’t know what YouTube  is, or what it’s about, please see me about setting up some face to face professional parent coaching sessions.  What I will say is it is important to stay aware of your teen’s current (which may change more than once a month) favorite YouTubers.  And if you are feeling overwhelmed at this point, just take a moment to enjoy how funny it sounds to say “YouTubers.”

And in addition to all all these apps specifically designed for various modes of communication, it is also critical to remember that many of the games our kids are playing on their phones and other devices have social networking features built right in.  For example, many of the popular  team/clan/etc. games have dedicated chat rooms for the team, but also include “global chat” that is open to any and all users.  I can tell you from experience with a few of these games… global chat is a SEWER!  And sadly, it often appears much of the worst chatter is from kids trying to seem grown up as they sink down toward a lowest common denominator.

“WHEW!  That’s a lot to process!  Help!”  Remember, the more you intentionally and effectively teach your kids how to cultivate good hearts as you seek the Spirit of God together, the more you will see His good fruit being produced in their lives and the more capable they will be to handle the nuances, pitfalls, and predators in the rapidly expanding world of digital social media.  The three most important ingredients in effective parenting of technolescents are 1. a close, genuine, honest, humble relationship with God, 2. a close, genuine, honest, humble relationship with each of your kids, and 3. a willingness to continue putting in the time and effort to stay reasonably educated on what’s developing in the digital social media world.

Helpful Resources for Parents:

www.apple.com/icloud/family-sharing/  This link will explain how to set up and navigate the family sharing and control options for all Apple devices used by your family members.

cpyu.org (Center for Parent/Youth Understanding)  This is a terrific resource for accessing tons of information and guidance about current youth culture from a Christian foundation.

digitalkidsinitiative.com  This wealth of resources provided by CPYU is all specifically geared toward issues of “technolescence,” as I have termed it.

chapclark.com  This guy is about as expert as it gets in understanding the issues of today’s teens, and he offers very solid guidance to parents from a Christian perspective.

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