It has happened to me several times now. I meet a child in fifth, sixth, or seventh grade who is exhausted, depressed, and ready for a rest. After a few questions I discover they do not go to sleep until 2, 3, or even 4 o’clock in the morning! Why? Because they are “on their phone texting friends and playing games.” These experiences, combined with an exert (A Smartphone Will Change Your Child in Ways You Might Not Expect or Want) from Naomi Schaefer Riley’s new book Be the Parent: Stop Banning Seesaws and Start Banning Snapchat, increased my understanding of the smartphone as a burden for our children. Yes, giving a preteen or teen a smartphone places a burden on them. We, as parents, need to know that burden and establish parameters to teach them how to manage that burden. How is a smartphone a burden?
- When children receive a smartphone they move into a culture of “24/7 popularity competition” in the words of Anderson Cooper in the documentary Being Thirteen. They begin to judge their popularity on likes and shares. They see posts in which their friends are having fun without them, maybe even during an activity to which they were not even invited. Selfies and group selfies taken during “fun activities” engaged in “without me” raise thoughts of “not being popular enough.” “Maybe they don’t even like me” and “why are they hanging out with them after what they did to me” are thoughts that cross many a preteen’s mind as they see pictures of their peers having fun without them. Loneliness increases. Feelings of isolation can even flood over many a teen in this situation.
- At the same time, it becomes more difficult to avoid the drama of the preteen and teen life. “Who said what about whom,” “who does what,” and “who does what with whom” flood the digital airways, popping up on phones 24/7. It’s hard for your teen to go into their room and “get away from it all” because “it all” follows them wherever they take their phones.
- This also means news is constantly at their fingertips. News of school shootings, Korean bomb threats, police brutality, catastrophic tsunamis in distant lands, and threats of political upheaval in countries they may have never heard of pop up on their phone at all hours of the day. And, little to no positive headlines pop up on the news. Instead, a steady stream of random “breaking news” pops up with no coherent story behind them. This constant stream of disconnected catastrophes can overwhelm our children with information, increasing their level of anxiety.
- This constant flow of information includes texts, snapchats, and instagram pics from friends as well. Our children feel obligated and pressured to respond to texts and other digital “pokes” that pop up on their phone. They fear their friends will accuse them of “ignoring” them if they do not answer immediately. And, they feel ignored if their friends do not respond to them immediately. Imagine the pressure of needed to respond to others every minute of every day no matter your current activity.
These are only four ways in which a smartphone becomes a burden that can increase our children’s sense of exhaustion, pressure, anxiety, and depression. It also raises concern for their safety from predators and bullies or the pressure to look “perfect” in the selfie. So, what’s a parent to do? Parents can help their children learn to manage this burden by establishing limits for cell phone usage. Here are a few ideas to help.
- Learn the phone settings. Determine which “pop ups” and notifications your child needs and which just cause more stress. Turn off unnecessary notifications.
- Do not let your child charge their phone in the bedroom. Instead, plug it in overnight to charge in the kitchen or in your bedroom. It is easier to not respond to a peer’s text because “my mom has the phone after 9” than ignoring it when it is charging next to “my bed.”
- During dinner and family meals enjoy one another’s company. No phones allowed. No texting. No checking email. No checking Facebook or Instagram. No reading “pop ups” and notifications. Put the phone someplace else and enjoy one another’s company.
- Enjoy one another during family outings too. No responding to texts. No checking Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media app. Leave the phones in a purse, backpack, or pocket and enjoy the company of the people you are with.
- Parents maintain access to the phones their children use. Our children may manage the phone very well but find themselves bullied through the phone or sent inappropriate pics through the phone. So, parents need to have full access. That means parents know the passwords for their children’s phones. And, parents check their children’s phones from time to time. A good time to check the phone is when it is charging in the kitchen overnight. Any inappropriate materials will need to be discussed with the child who uses the phone.
What other limits might help ease the burden of a Smartphone?
A virus has infected our marriages. Perhaps you have suffered with this virus. It capitalizes on the weakened immunity created by our busy lifestyles and our limited rest. Work, raising children, maintaining a home, and constant community involvement takes a toll on our physical and emotional health. This virus of busy-ness attacks our relationships, including our marriages, while we are in a weakened state. It creates a distance and disconnection between our spouses and us. Our home life begins to deteriorate as each spouse runs in a separate direction. Smiles disappear. Joy drifts from our interactions. The virus leaves us longing for a remedy for “we-don’t-even-know-what” because we have no energy or time to think. At the Camp Christian Couples’ Retreat (coming up on February 9-11, 2018) we will offer a prescription to treat this virus…P.L.A.Y. That’s right. PLAY offers an oasis in the desert of busyness, an effective treatment for the virus that has attacked our marriages and our homes. PLAY will bring the smiles back to our faces and the joy back into our interactions. PLAY will restore energy and revitalize intimacy. And why not? After all, we are made in the image of a God who loves PLAY, Laughter, Adventure, and Yearning. It’s the perfect Rest. Join us at the Couples’ Retreat February 9-11, 2018, as we partake of this prescription together and PLAY. Hope to see you there!
(If you haven’t registered yet, go on-line at Camp Christian and sign up today. Only room for 10 couples.)
I read an interesting quote about marriage the other day. Adrienne Gold said “You marry your homework.” That’s interesting. Some of you are leery already because you hated homework in elementary school and high school. Who wants to “marry your homework”? But don’t pass off this four word quote so quickly. As adults, we know homework had a purpose. Well, most of the time it had a purpose. It was supposed to have a purpose anyway. It was supposed to help us learn and improve our skills in a particular subject. I even had a few teachers who made homework fun, like the teacher who told us to make a bug collection for homework or the one who told us to watch our favorite TV show and write a new ending for it. Thinking about purpose and fun, marriage is the best kind of homework. We learn a lot through marriage. We learn to better communicate. We learn it’s rewarding when both spouses pay attention to one another. We discover areas for personal growth too…and even have a partner to help us in those areas growth. Marriage helps us learn our true potential and marriage helps us move toward that potential. It can be challenging, no doubt. But it can also be fun. I mean working on your marriage involves things like going on dates (the more adventurous the better), having conversations, sharing physical affection (one of these days I’ll get the courage to write about the benefits of a healthy sexual relationship…you’ll be surprised!), and sharing our lives with one another. Working on a marriage means playing, laughing, and doing new things together. That’s the kind of homework I always enjoyed. It’s challenging but fun. It promotes growth and actually serves a purpose. And, to top it all off, it’s rewarding. In fact, marriage may be the most rewarding homework I’ve encountered. So, get in there and do some homework. Love your marriage.
I’ve seen it happen several times. I’ve heard friends talk about it even more. I’ve even experienced it myself. You probably have too. You order you’re food at a restaurant and when it finally comes to the table it is cold or maybe even the wrong order. So, you call on the wait staff to correct the problem. Now one of two things can happen.
Option One: The wait staff becomes defensive. They try to make you understand what happened and explain it was not their fault. They sound like they’re arguing with you. They may even blame you for the mishap. You just get more and more frustrated. Even if they fix your food you leave the restaurant angry, determined to never do business with them again. That’s one option.
Option Two: The wait staff listens. They calmly hear your concern. They may even ask a few questions to clarify. They seem to show genuine concern, apologize, and do their best to remedy the problem. This time you leave feeling good even if the food wasn’t the best you’ve had. At least they listened. They understood my concern. They empathized with my frustration. They are good people and I enjoy doing business with them.
These same two options exist in our marriages. When disagreements and conflicts arise we can follow option one or option two. The option we choose will impact our relationship satisfaction. In fact, a group of researchers explored this very idea in a series of seven studies published in 2016 (See 3 Steps to Calm Your Romantic Partner When You Are Arguing for more). The results of all seven studies demonstrated that couples had greater relationship satisfaction when both partners felt understood. Even more, participants reported greater relationship satisfaction in spite of disagreement when they felt understood by their partner. They felt more like a team. They believed their partner was invested in the relationship and that the problem could be resolved more easily. They even felt closer after the disagreement than before the disagreement! Sounds like a great result. So, how can you assure your spouse feels understood?
- Listen. Listen to their words to understand what they say. Look at them so they know you are listening. Listen to their body language to see if there might be more to what they are saying. Listen to their emotions to discover the deeper meaning behind what they’re saying. Listen wholeheartedly. Listen intently. Listen.
- Ask questions to better understand and clarify what they are saying. No matter how intently you listen you might misunderstand something. So, ask some questions. Repeat what you believe they are saying and ask if that is correct. If not, listen some more.
- Look for areas in which you can change and compromise based on your partner’s concerns. In other words, let their words influence you. Let your partner’s needs and wishes influence your actions. Compromise.
- And, did I say…LISTEN.
Responding to disagreements in this manner will determine whether you and your partner walk away from the disagreement satisfied or frustrated, feeling good or feeling bad, happy or upset, determined to enjoy more time together or questioning your relationship. I know which one I want, do you?
I recently read a couple of articles about the outstanding work Iceland has done to reduce teen drug abuse. They have produced amazing results in response to an entrenched problem seen throughout the western world. Specifically, Iceland has implemented holistic programs contributing to a dramatic reduction in alcohol abuse, marijuana usage, and cigarette smoking. As a result, “Iceland tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens!” The statistics reveal the “clean-living teens.” The percentage of 15- and 16-year olds who have been drunk in the last month plummeted from 42% in 1998 to only 5% in 2016. During the same time period, marijuana use among 15- and 16-year-olds was down from 17% to 7% and cigarette smoking among the same age group fell from 23% to 3% (Read How Iceland Got Teens to Say No to Drugs). Although Iceland’s program incorporated a comprehensive family and community-based, government-supported model, the principle underlying the whole “shebang” includes principles simple enough to implement in your family. The principle: increase factors that protect your child while decreasing factors that put your child at risk. There are many risk factors in our communities today. Risk factors include things that place your child at risk—things like a lack of a secure relationships at home, harsh parenting, high parental conflict, negative peer pressure, and many more. There are also many protective factors. But, what I find amazing, the beautiful part of protective/risk factors, is that a few key protective factors help overcome many risk factors. Let me share four key protective factors that can “cover a multitude of risks.”
- A secure parent-child relationship in which the parent is warm, responsive, and supportive. This is fairly self-explanatory. We protect our children from involvement in risky behaviors like drug use when we develop a warm, supportive relationship. How can we develop a warm, supportive relationship with our children? Keep the lines of communication open. Enjoy time together. Laugh together. Make family meal times a regular occurrence (daily if possible but at least 3-5 times a week). Develop a bedtime routine that includes time to talk. Ask about their friends, school, and activities. Go to watch them in their activities. Remain available to talk about hurts, fears, and successes. Celebrate milestones. All these things will help you develop a warm, supportive relationship with your children.
- Participation in positive community activities. Children need activities. We do not need to force them into activities they do not enjoy; but we can help them find the activities they will enjoy. Based on your warm, supportive relationship (see previous bullet) you will have some idea about what your children enjoy. If not, you will have a relationship that allows you to discuss this with your children and explore. Encourage your children to get involved in some positive supervised activity. This may be sports, music, theatre, recreation, art, dance, church, the list goes on. Help your children find the activity they will enjoy.
- The support of at least one supportive adult outside the home. Sometimes our children are hesitant to approach us with a problem. In those instances another like-minded adult can prove extremely beneficial. As you involve your children in positive community activities, you can help them find that supportive person and allow their relationship with that person to blossom. This supportive person might be a teacher, a coach, an uncle or grandparent, a minister, or even an older sibling. Encourage your children to form relationships with adults you know and trust in the community.
- A stable relationship between parents. Children flourish when their parents get along. If you want to protect your children, nurture your relationship with their other parent. Learn to work together. Do not bad mouth the other parent. Cooperate with one another. Work together in regards to limits and discipline as well as celebrations. Resolve arguments and let your children witness your affection for one another (within reason of course). This will increase your children’s security and decrease the chances they will get involved in “risky behaviors.”
When you provide your children with these four protective factors you have reduced the possibility of their involvement in negative behaviors. And, you will enjoy an amazing relationship with your children.
How a parent thinks will influence how they parent. Here are six statements I hear from parents that interfere with effective parenting.
- “I know my kids better than they know themselves.” Good parents do know their children well. They learn when their children need to rest. They can tell when their children are hungry or need to go to the bathroom. They learn the nuances of their children’s moods. However, assuming we know more about our children than they know about themselves sets us up for conflict and disaster. After all, children change. They don’t like peanut butter today but love it tomorrow. Sue was her best friend yesterday but her antagonist today. And, who can really know another person’s emotion, intent, or motivation? With that in mind, we need to check our assumptions and not let them prejudice our responses. Instead, ask your children about their feelings, their motivations, and their intent. Watch and observe them in action. Let them tell you about themselves through their words and actions as you learn about them every day. You might be surprised what you learn.
- “I have to worry. It’s a parent’s job.” It is true. Parents worry and, chances are, parents will continue to worry. However, a parent’s worry doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t keep children safe. A parent’s worry does not protect children. In fact, if worry takes over it can actually harm children by preventing them from becoming involved in healthy activities that might worry their parents. A better job description for parent involves concern, not worry. A parent’s concern allows them to teach their children how to remain safe. Concern allows the opportunity for children to learn from the consequences of their own mistakes when the stakes are low. Concern allows for discussion about various activities and discussion allows for teaching. Let’s change a parent’s job description from “worry” to “concern.” Parent and child will benefit!
- “My kids are my life.” Children are an important part of a parent’s life. But, if you’re a parent who say’s “my kids are my life,” your teen will likely offer the best advice when they say, “Get a life!” (More parenting advice from teens in Parenting Advice to Parents of Teens…From Teens)When children become the sole purpose of our lives, our lives suffer. Marriages suffer. Health suffers. We don’t take care of ourselves. Our children need us to model self-care so they learn the importance of taking care of ourselves. If they see us constantly caring for them and running ourselves ragged to meet their needs they might incorporate an unhealthy message about adulthood. “It’s no fun as an adult. Who wants to become an adult when all they do is what everyone else wants? I’ll never grow up.” Give children a sweet spot in your life and heart, but don’t make them the sole purpose of your every waking hour. Get a hobby. Make some friends. Enjoy some adult activities. Get a life.
- “I love my kids too much.” I hear this from parents who are afraid to discipline. They love their children “too much” and fear their children will learn to hate them for discipline received. Truth be told, our children want structure. They actually long for discipline. They may not admit it in the moment (or even realize it in their younger years) but they will appreciate it as they mature. Discipline provides a measure of predictability, safety, and security our children need to thrive. It lets our children know we love them enough to teach them and keep them safe. Discipline establishes a baseline of limits and values our children can internalize as they mature. These limits and boundaries will promote success as they engage the world independently. Limits, boundaries, and values also teach our children that “you can’t always get what you want…you get what you need.” It allows them to learn how to manage the frustrations that accompany not getting what you want. So, do your children a favor. Love them enough to discipline.
- “We need more discipline in this house.” As George Banks so aptly said in Mary Poppins, “Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools. Without them-disorder! Catastrophe! Anarchy! In short, we have a ghastly mess!” Discipline and structure are an important part of a healthy home, but not the foundation or the only part. Discipline alone leads to fear. Fear of not doing good enough. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of failure. People who live in a home in which discipline forms the foundation tend to struggle with self-confidence. And, when they taste the freedom of less discipline, they rebel. Children who grow up in a home with tight structure, discipline, and schedule do not learn how to manage their time. When they leave home, they still do not know how to manage time. As you can see, unlike George Banks’ beliefs, it is too much discipline that leads to catastrophe, anarchy, a ghastly mess! Instead, balance discipline with connection, structure with relationship, limits with love.
- “Kids will be kids” or “boys will be boys.” This is true…to a point. I hear these statements used too often as an excuse for low expectations. Yes, “kids will be kids” but parents must teach them responsibility. Yes, “boys will be boys” but they need to learn respect and self-control. Rather than simply say “kids will be kids,” say “kids will be kids and kids can learn.” In fact, kids love to learn. Take the time to teach them responsibility, respect, honor, and self-control.
I was sitting among a group of friends when the discussion turned to “those people.” Everyone in the group knew I was not only a part of the friend group having the discussion but a member of “those people” being discussed as well. Suddenly, one of my friends looked at me and said, “Well, we don’t mean you. You’re different.” It was too late. I already felt the twinge of being cast out. I’ve had a similar experience several times. It has happened in response to where I grew up. It has happened because of a particular group of people I have chosen to belong to. It has even happened, on occasion, because of my gender. It really doesn’t matter why “it” happened; the fact remains that some comments separate and judge others as inferior, even when those making the comments add a sheepish “we’re not talking about you.” The comments still lead to division. They still make someone feel like an outcast. Researchers call such comments “micro-aggressions.” Micro-aggressions accumulate to create greater division and prejudice, even causing declines in physical health.
Fortunately, I have also encountered groups who engaged in conversations and comments that elevated people, conversations that brought people together and made each person feel important. These groups validated our shared humanity as well as our individual worth. Researchers refer to comments made in these more positive discussions as “micro-affirmations.” A study published in 2017 made me think about how our families can become catalysts and training grounds for micro-affirmations rather than micro-aggressions. In this study, 503 teens (11- to 16-years-old) were divided into two groups. One group was given a questionnaire to help them recall specific examples of their own past acts of kindness. A second group was given a questionnaire asking questions about neutral topics like the weather or a favorite tree. Both groups read an “anti-relational aggression message” as well. One month later, the researchers explored the frequency of hurtful behaviors in which members of both groups had engaged. The results? First, the “anti-relational aggression message” did not produce any behavioral change. Second, and more important for our purposes, those who recalled previous acts of kindness engaged in less aggression and more kindness over the last month than the group who had recalled neutral information. The authors of the study believe that recalling acts of kindness triggered mini self-affirmations and “primed the pump” for more acts of kindness. They believed acts of kindness served as “micro-affirmations” for both the giver and the recipient of kindness by bringing people together in a shared moment of humanity and worth.
How does this relate to our families? I believe our families provide the training ground for micro-affirmations, for kindnesses that validate, unite, and elevate worth. And, I hope you will join me in implementing a “training protocol” that will not only promote growth in kindness and the giving of micro-affirmations but will strengthen your family at the same time! It only takes three steps!
- Model kindness. Make micro-affirmations (statements that elevate worth, validate positive identity, and bring people together) to your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, and even strangers you meet throughout your day. It’s really not hard. It can be as simple as thanking your teen when they do a chore, appreciating the meal your spouse prepared, or admiring the shirt your wife is wearing. It might involve holding the door open for a stranger, getting the car so your family doesn’t have to walk through the rain, or offering to get a family member a drink when you go to the kitchen during a commercial. Each time you engage in a simple act of kindness, you produce a micro-affirmation that informs the other person of their value in your eyes. You bring unity between yourself and the person to whom you show kindness, a unity based on your shared humanity and love.
- Celebrate acts of kindness your family members engage in. You can do this with a simple acknowledgment and statement of gratitude…”thank you for your kindness” goes a long way! You can acknowledge when people offer forgiveness or show consideration. You can acknowledge the kindness of generosity and service, awareness of others and responding with respect. Yes, many of these things are expected behaviors. But, when we acknowledge expected and desired behaviors we increase the chances of those behaviors continuing and even increasing. Make it a family habit to acknowledge and appreciate kindnesses shown.
- Provide simple opportunities to show kindness. The possibilities for showing kindness are unlimited. If you can’t think of any ways to show kindness, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families and 31 Acts of Kindness to Strengthen Your Marriage and A Family Night to Share Kindness. Make an intentional effort to show kindness every day.
As you can see, this really is not a difficult protocol to implement in your family. It simply involves developing a family environment of kindness and affirmation. Your family will benefit from this environment filled with “micro-affirmations.” Your spouse will love this environment. Your children will thrive in this environment. And, the community in which you live will benefit as practicing kindness at home will lead to practicing kindness outside the home. In fact, if enough of us make kindness and micro-affirmations a vital aspect of our family environment, we might just start a wave of change that impacts our whole world. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?!
Strong families make multiple, daily deposits into the Family Bank of Honor (Read Family Bank of Honor for more ideas on making investments in the Family Bank of Honor). We not only expect children to make deposits into the overall Family Bank of Honor, but we need to make deposits into their honor accounts as well. But, certain phrases cheapen our deposits. These phrases take the value away from an attempted deposit and make it empty. Instead of using phrases that cheapen our deposits, the whole family will benefit when we use phrases that enrich our deposits. Let me give you a few examples.
- “No problem” tends to cheapen the deposit. It raises an implicit question, a subtle doubt so to speak. Did we do “it” simply because it was “no problem”? Would we have valued our child enough to do it if it was difficult or problematic? A better phrase, one that will enrich the deposit might be “I am glad to do it for you,” “I enjoyed doing it for you,” or even the infamous, “My pleasure.” These statements enrich the deposit by noting you did it because you valued the person and enjoy doing things with and for them.
- “That’s a good boy/girl” is another phrase that cheapens a deposit. Saying “good boy/girl” implies that your child is good only because of whatever they did or are doing that prompted the statement. It suggests their “goodness” is based on performance, not inherent worth. Rather than applying the label of “good” to your child, make note of their effort. Or note one aspect of their work that you admire. For instance, “You worked hard on that project.” “I like the colors you chose.” Noting effort enriches the deposit and encourages a “growth mindset” and persistence (Growing Your Child’s Mind for Success), both important for success.
- “Stop crying. It’s OK.” This phrase is often said in an attempt to comfort our children. But it cheapens the deposit into their honor bank by disregarding and minimizing their emotions. You can accomplish the same goal (providing comfort and nurturance) while enriching the deposit by saying things like “That really hurts” or “Can I do something to help you feel better.” Sometimes you will not even need to say anything to make an enriching deposit. Simply give your child a comforting hug. You can further enrich a “hug deposit” by saying “I love you” while you hug them.
- “You’re so lazy/smart (you pick the label).” Anytime we apply a global label to our child, whether a positive or a negative label, we have, at best, cheapened the deposit into their honor account. Avoid negative labels because they actually make withdrawals from your child’s honor accounts. Positive labels lead to a “fixed mindset” (Read Build Your Child’s Success Mindset for more) that will hinder growth and success. Instead, enrich the deposit by acknowledging specific behaviors you like or behaviors you would like to see changed. For instance, “You studied hard and learned a lot for that test” or “Your practice really paid off.” On the negative side, “You chose to watch TV all day, so now your project is going to be late.” Addressing specific behaviors and their consequences enriches deposits into the Bank of Honor.
- “Wait until your father/mother gets home.” On first glance, this statement may not appear to influence the bank of honor. However, it cheapens deposits into your child’s bank of honor by giving your power away to the other parent. Without power all your deposits become weaker, less valuable. Only powerful people can make priceless deposits. Rather than “wait ’til your father gets home” to address a behavior, address it in the moment. You can still address it when your partner arrives home, but address it in the moment as well. By doing so you enrich all your deposits into your child’s bank of honor.
I think you get the idea. Some statements cheapen deposits into the bank of honor. Others will enrich the deposit. Fill your children’s banks of honor with enriching statements that pay rich dividends of joy and maturity.