Archive for March 19, 2019

“You Can’t Handle the Truth!” …Really?

People value honesty. Love rejoices in the truth. Married couples expect honesty. Yet how many times do we “fudge the truth” to avoid the conflict? Or, “tell a little white lie” to keep the peace? Think of the question, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Hmmmm…. We fear our partner will misread our intent and become angry in response to our honest reply. We avoid telling our honest opinion for fear it will damage our relationship. But, is it true that we “can’t handle the truth”? Well, a recent study suggests our fears may be unfounded. People may handle the truth better than we think. Specifically, this study revealed three findings about honesty in relationship.

  • Honesty leads to more social connection than simply paying attention to what we say. 
  • Honesty leads to more enjoyment than simply paying attention to our manner of communication.
  • Honesty leads to a greater sense of meaning than simply paying attention our manner of communication.

These results were not only true immediately after the interaction but remained true at a two-week follow-up. In other words, “You can’t handle the truth” is not true.

The truth is: honesty leads to greater social connection, more enjoyment, and a greater sense of meaning. If you’re like me, you want all three of those results (greater connection, more enjoyment, greater sense of meaning) in your marriage. So, be honest.  Tell the truth in love and grow a stronger, healthier marriage.

I’m the Boss Around Here Mom

Do you have a “bossy child”? You know the type. They like to be in charge. They don’t just play with their friends, they direct their friends. At times you might even cringe at how they speak to the adults in their lives. If this sounds familiar, you probably have a “bossy child.”  No fretting though. It’s not all bad. We want our children to mature into assertive young adults who can take on leadership roles in their home and community. Your “bossy child” has already acquired some of the skills necessary to do so. They are naturally assertive. In fact, it is probably a good idea to stop labeling them as “bossy” and start calling them an “assertive child,” a “take charge kind” of person. Talk about their leadership qualities rather than constantly scold them about their bossiness. Just by changing the label you have begun to change how you view them…and how they will view themselves. Rather than scolding them for being “bossy,” you can teach them how to treat others with dignity while being assertive. Rather than squelching their natural ability to “take charge,” teach them how to lead with grace and politeness. Instead of getting upset that they demand their way, teach them the proper times to comply. Rather than fight against their natural ability, work with them to shape that ability into a mature strength. (Read Parental Assumptions & the Cycle of Discipline for more on how our labels impact our parenting.) Here are some ideas to help you do this on a daily basis.

  • Offer your children choices, lots of choices. When we offer our assertive child a choice, we are acting in authority. Our child has to comply, but they also get to remain in control and decide how they will comply. You can make many choices available to your child every day. They can choose whether to wear the blue shirt or the green shirt, either way they wear a shirt. They can decide whether to take a bath before or after dinner. They can choose the vegetable for dinner—”corn or green beans,” “cauliflower or mixed vegetables.” They can control the order in which they pick up their toys. You get the idea. Give your children lots of choices.
  • Give your children chores over which they can practice control. Give them a job and let them do it independently. Teach them one way to do it but let them do it in their own way, as long as it gets done. For instance, you could let your children separate the laundry, fold the clothes, run the sweeper, clean the living room, or load the dishwasher.  They may choose to do it in a different order than you. But they still will have grown in independence. (Remember, Chores Are the Gift of Significance.)
  • Acknowledge times when they accept authorities and follow the directives from adults. Strong-willed, assertive children may struggle to do this. Acknowledge that struggle. Talk about the benefit of accepting authority in life. Let them know there are times when all of us follow the directives of others.
  • Don’t be afraid of giving consequences. There will be times when they push against the directive no matter what you do. As an authority, you need to give a consequence at such times. A consequence could be as simple as losing a privilege or having their toy or game placed in a “time out” where they cannot play with it. You know what consequences impact your children the most. Don’t be afraid of giving appropriate consequences in response to defiant opposition or extreme bossiness. (If the thought of giving a strong limit & consequence arouses fear in you, read I’m Afraid to Discipline for some insight.)

If you have a “bossy child,” rejoice. Celebrate your “assertive child.” Take joy in their ability to “take charge.” Admire their “leadership quality.” Then practice the four ideas above and you’ll watch them blossom into an assertive leader who gives those who follow them dignity and respect.

A Teen Epidemic & Containment

The epidemic of depression and suicide is spreading among our teens (13-18-years-old) like wildfire, especially among girls. Consider these statistics:

  • Suicide rate has increased 31% from 2010 to 2015 among teens. Even more disturbing, the suicide rate has increased 65% among adolescent girls over the same time period!
  • Symptoms of depression have increased 58% among girls from 2010 to 2015 (Excessive Screen Time Linked to Suicide Risk).

In searching for potential causes of this rapid increase in depression and suicidal rates among teens, researchers realized that cell phone ownership increased dramatically over the same time period. In 2012, about half of Americans owned a cell phone. By 2015, only 3 years later, 92% of teens and young adults owned one.  This does not mean that cell phones cause depression, but an association between does exist between the two. Interestingly, this same research does not reveal a link between homework load, academic pressure, or financial problems and the rapid rise in depression and suicidal rates among teens even though it looked for such links (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use, Study Says). On the other hand, the study did reveal that:

  • 13-18-year-olds who spend 3 or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35% more likely to exhibit a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour or less on electronic devices,
  • 13-18-year-olds who spend 5 hours or more a day on electronic devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour on electronic devices.  
  • 48% of teens who spent 5 hours or more per day on electronic devices reported suicide-related behaviors compared to only 28% of teens who spent an hour or less on electronic devices. (OPEN LETTER FROM JANA PARTNERS AND CALSTRS TO APPLE INC.).

Fortunately, recognizing the link between electronic devices and depression and suicide offers us a way to contain the epidemic of depression and suicide rates among teens…not a complete cure, but a way to reduce the spread of an epidemic robbing us of our teens.  With that in mind, I offer four suggestions.

  1. Limit screen time to 2 hours per day or less. Our teens have not developed the skills to manage the addictive nature of electronic devices. (Perhaps many of us as adults have not developed those skills yet either.) Limiting screen-time to 2 hours per day keeps a teen in the area NOT associated with an increase in depressive symptoms or suicidal behaviors. This may involve teaching our teens to limit time spent on social media, turn off alerts, not spend down-time watching videos, limit video game time, and check social media less often. (For more, consider The Burden of a Smartphone.)
  2. Model limited use of electronic devices. We can’t expect our teens to use their devices less when they see us, their parents, wrapped up in our phones and devices. I thought I would never use electronic devices for 3 hours in a day. Surely, I was in the “safe zone.” Then Apple put “Screen Time” in the phone settings and my time usage started popping up. I discovered that I can easily average 3-4 hours per day on my smartphone! Clearly, I have to learn how to limit my time on the phone in order to model a healthy use of electronic devices to the children in my life. Do you?
  3. Encourage non-screen activities like sports, outdoor play and exercise, face-to-face interactions, church, non-screen hobbies, and family games. Teach your teens to have fun without screens. Let them learn by experience that face-to-face interactions are more enjoyable than social media, “real-life games” are more enjoyable than “virtual games,” and hands-on hobbies more enjoyable than screen-time games.
  4. Take a vacation from electronic devices. A study from UCLA noted that after only 5 days of a “device-free outdoor camp,” children performed better on tests for empathy than did a control group.  Another study showed that a month without Facebook led to greater happiness.  Take a vacation. Do it as a family and invest time previously spent on devices engaging in “real-time” interaction with one another and “real-life” experiences. (For more ideas, check out Don’t Let Them Take Over.)

We all have work to do in balancing our lives in a world where electronic devices impinge more and more on our daily lives. But the work we do to limit electronic devices in our lives and the lives our family members,’ could save a life…maybe even the life of your teen!

Apologize? But I Didn’t Do Anything!!

My wife was mad…at me. She was made at me and I didn’t even realize she was mad. I said something to comfort her and she took offense. I really didn’t want to hurt her; I wanted to comfort her. But she heard what I said differently than I had intended. She was hurt. She was angry. When she told me she was mad, my first impulse was to explain. I wanted to clarify the misunderstanding and defend my actions. Unfortunately, that only made the situation worse because then she thought I was not listening. As you can imagine, the more I tried to explain and clarify my actions the worse the situation grew.

Middle age man doubtful and very serious.

Suddenly I realized…it doesn’t really matter if I’m right or wrong. It doesn’t matter whether I intended to hurt her or not. She was hurt by what I said. I needed to apologize for hurting her. With that realization, I started over. “I’m sorry….” No excuses, no explanations, no defense. Just a simple apology. Then I listened to understand how she had interpreted my statement as an offense. As I listened, I understood. With that understanding, I apologized more fully. Amends completed, we hugged one another; and she enjoyed the comfort I had originally intended to give.

I learned something important from this incident…well, I learned a couple of things from this encounter.

  • Sometimes my wife (or my children for that matter) do not hear what I say in the way I intend. They misunderstand. In their misunderstanding they are offended or hurt. I honor my family when I pay attention to how they might understand what I say and when I say things in as clear and loving a way as possible.
  • When I say something that hurts a family member, I need to apologize for hurting their feelings, even if it was unintentional. That honors my family. It shows them how much I value them.
  • My relationship is more important than being justified. I would rather connect with my family than prove myself right and make them angry. I would rather celebrate our connection as a family than celebrate my victory in the argument. Go for the connection and celebrate family.
  • Sometimes I have selfish reasons for apologizing. I might apologize to end the conflict. Or I might apologize with a “but” attached—an excuse, a defense, a casting of blame. Such an apology lacks sincerity. It is selfish. It refuses to accept responsibility. It denies the need to change. A sincere apology, however, simply expresses regret and a desire to make sure it doesn’t happen again. No excuses. No defense. No casting of blame. Just a simple, sincere apology with a plan to make it different in the future. (Read The Hardest Word for more.)

When we make a sincere apology, we remove the stain of our mistake. We come clean. We pull down the barriers that divide us and we grow closer to one another. We enjoy a greater intimacy.

A Powerful Way to Improve Your Marriage

A study of 91 couples revealed a surprise about marriage. Understanding your partner was NOT enough to make your marriage stronger and healthier. Just understanding what your partner is thinking and feeling does not lead to a better marriage. Better marriages result when a person not only understand but cares enough to do something with that understanding. Having compassion and a motivation to respond to their partner based on understanding was necessary to have a better marriage. In other words, responsiveness proved more important than mere understanding in strengthening marriages. How do we become responsive?

  • Listen….not just to the words but to the emotions and intentions behind the words. Listen to understand the needs. Listen with a heart of compassion and an eye (or should I say “ear) toward empathy.
  • Respond to their emotion. Acknowledge what they feel.
  • Act upon the need of the moment.

When we are responsive to our partners, they will feel validated and cared for. They recognize their importance in our lives. They feel safe and stable in our relationship. As a result, our marriage improves. So, don’t stop with understanding. Engage in a compassionate response as well. (For more on responsiveness and building intimacy in your marriage read The Music In Your Heart.)

Bucking the Weaker Trend

According to a study conducted in Chelmsford, Essex, 10-year-olds reported a decline in physical activity between 2008 and 2014. The study’s authors believed this was the result of increased time on computers and greater parental concerns about children safety when engaging in “riskier” activities like climbing trees or wandering from home. 

“So what?” you might ask. “What’s the difference if children show a decrease in physical activity?”  The real concern is the consequences of this decrease in activity. To uncover the potential consequences of decreased activity, the study also looked at changes in height, weight, standing broad jump, sit-ups, handgrip, and arm-hang in 10-year-olds between the years of 1998 and 2014. Over that 16-year period (1998 through 2014), children have grown taller and their BMI has remained the same. However, they have experienced an overall 20% decrease in muscle strength and a 30% decrease in muscle endurance!  Children have become weaker. They have also become less tolerant of discomfort.

There is a way you can buck this trend though, a way to keep your children stronger and more tolerant of simple discomforts. Encourage them to engage in physical play outside. Give them significant household chores to complete. Encourage them to work with you in the yard or in the house. Let them experience the joys of hard work and the reward of completing a hands-on job. When they do these things, they will gain a greater sense of competence than any they can learn through video games. They will grow more aware of their body and be better able to maintain their own physical safety. They will acquire a stronger and healthier self-image than the self-image learned from watching television. They will grow stronger…not only physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually as well.  Then, maybe in another 16 years we will earn how 10-year-olds have not only grown taller but stronger.