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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Parenting with Confidence in a Technolescent World: Part 2

So, picking up where we left off last week…

What specific guidelines should we use with preteens and young teens?

  1. Utilize parental device checks as needed.  While this does not mean constantly confiscating phones or other devices, it does mean you reserve the right to check out devices anytime you feel you have a reason, including regular periodic checks.
  2. Parents don’t lurk or snoop to excess.  Becoming too invasive in your child’s digital world is likely to backfire, setting up all kinds of negative dynamics you will wish were not happening.  Keep it reasonable.
  3. No devices in the bedroom after bedtime.  Make this a standard non-negotiable rule, and your kids will not only accept it, but may even come to appreciate it at some point.  (I said they may.  That is certainly no guarantee.)  Whether they appreciate this guideline, or not, it will be an important part of their technolescent success.
  4. No direct social interaction with non real-world friends.  Again, make this a non-negotiable and explain why it is so important.  Help them understand in clear terms why this is such a critical guideline for their young lives.
  5. Report anything inappropriate to parents immediately.  (And we won’t freak out!)  Encourage an open dialogue between your kids and yourself about their digital world experiences, and show them that you can handle discussing the tough stuff – which means they are likely to actually talk to you about the tough stuff.
  6. Turn off device within two minutes of being told, unless a longer time frame is specified.  Use whatever time frame you want, but I would strongly urge you to have a rule like this in place.  And take charge decisively when they break the rule.  It will save you countless frustration down the road.  Trust me on this.
  7. Parents lead regular family discussions regarding digital life and its foundation on “heart life.”  Be proactive in helping your kids grow up understanding their digital life experiences are only a part of their larger life – hopefully a life of clear purpose and value.

How should these guidelines change as our teens grow?  Keep the same general perspective and structure, but gradually increase freedom as teens show Maturity, Responsibility, and Respect.  This process will likely look different for different kids, just as these qualities will develop at different rates from one teen to another.  Allow broader social interactions on digital media, but only with the agreement that parents are always allowed to friend/follow all accounts, as well as requiring teens to work to pay for any data overage or higher volume data plans.  This isn’t a punishment.  It is a lesson in personal responsibility and life management.

Anything I should NOT be doing?  Absolutely!  Don’t assume everything is fine because you have good kids, leaving them to navigate the technolescent waters without your direct guidance and supervision.  Today’s world is filled with forces that are anything but passive.  Good kids can easily make foolish choices, and need our guidance, encouragement, and discipline to help them grow along the best path.  Don’t get consumed with snooping or lurking on your kids’ devices and/or accounts.  Check occasionally, just to see how things are going, and check additionally if you have a compelling concern.  But don’t ruin your peace of mind or your relationship with your teen by getting consumed with these dynamics.  Don’t assume you know about all the major players and dynamics in the technolescent world this year because you understood them all last year.  If you aren’t actively seeking awareness and education about new and changing dynamics, you are falling behind.

Tune in next week for a final installment in this crucial series…

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Parenting with Confidence in a Technolescent World: Part 1

In a WHAT kind of world?  Technology has now become a primary medium for the social dynamics of adolescence from middle school through college and beyond.  Parents MUST understand that digital social media is more than just an important area of our teens’ lives.  It has become a dominant force in shaping, containing, and expressing their intellectual, social, and moral development.  In many ways, it is both the canvas and the paint with which they are creating their life murals.  It is totally intertwined with their world and development, and you cannot adequately understand your teen unless you have at least a basic understanding of their digitally wireless social media world.

So, what’s the big picture here?  Okay, buckle up and don’t freak out here.  Your kids cant afford to have you freaking out about this…

Your kids will always be a step ahead of you in this constantly morphing digital world.  Accept it.  But keep your eye on the bigger picture, and don’t throw up your hands over this.

The bigger picture is that you will always have more life experience than your kids, regardless of their superior awareness and understanding of our digital world.  And you must remember that GOD deliberately CHOSE YOU to be the PARENT of YOUR KIDS!  As parents of technolescents, we must remain aware, educated, and proactive regarding their digital world, but it doesn’t mean we should be afraid of it or ruled by it.  We need to remember, and deliberately teach our kids, that the digital world is still just a part of our whole life experience, and being the people God has created and called us to be will result in handling the social technology world in the best ways.

What’s the most important thing we should be doing?  As parents, we need to focus more on Preparing and Processing with our teens than on Protecting them.  This doesn’t mean we should neglect to use some reasonable boundaries of protection with them.  It does mean we should work hard to prepare them for the increasing complexities of technolescence before they face them on their own.  Can you imagine letting your teen start driving on his/her own without spending time together in both instructional and experiential lessons?  I sure hope not!  And we need to show the same kind of courage and initiative to process life experiences with our adolescents as they happen along the way.  If our teens grow up with the confidence that we can handle talking with them about anything, no matter how sensitive, we will have served them very, very well.

(Stay tuned for the next installment, which will offer specific guidelines for parenting teens at different ages/stages along the way…)

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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!

Posted in Christian parenting inspiration, offbeat, parenting encouragement | Leave a comment

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