Archive for May 20, 2019

My Teen Isolates…Is That Bad?

Parents often ask, “My teen comes home and goes straight to his bedroom, closes the door and isolates. Isn’t that bad?” Well…it depends. Researchers from the University of California and Wilmington College published a study showing not all solitude is the same. Some solitude was problematic. It was a red flag revealing a deeper issue. Other solitude was good, even helpful. It provided a refreshing, restorative time of self-reflection leading to personal growth and greater self-acceptance.

How can you tell the difference? By recognizing the reason your teen is choosing solitude. The motivation for choosing solitude differentiates problematic solitude from healthy solitude. If a teen chooses solitude in response to social anxiety, lack of friends, or rejection, they are at a greater risk of depression. They tend to have a lower level of autonomy and fewer positive relationships.

If solitude is imposed on a teen as punishment, they often feel like they are “missing out” on activities and opportunities. This can lead to feeling left out and lonely. It can contribute to depression and anger.

If a teen chooses solitude to help themselves “calm down” or for “peace and quiet,” it can prove helpful. In this case, solitude provides restorative time for self-reflection. These teens learn the skill of being alone and learn how solitude can enhance creativity and personal renewal.

Still, how can a parent know the difference? One way to determine if your teen is using solitude in a healthy or an unhealthy way is to ask them why they spend time alone. Allow them to explain what they are doing and why. This might be the start of a simple discussion about emotional self-care. You might also ask yourself some questions about your teen, questions you can begin to answer based on your own observations.

  • Does your teen have friends or are they a loner? If they have no friends, their isolation may raise some concerns. Why do they not have friends? Is it due to being bullied? Anxious? Fearful? Sad? This observation may lead to a discussion with your teen about their mood, their perspective on friendships, loneliness, and relationships in general.
  • Does your teen exhibit social anxiety? It’s ok to be shy and introverted. As an introvert they will likely still have a few good friends. However, if a person has social anxiety that interferes with them going places or interacting with others it may be good to seek outside help.
  • Does your teen seem energized after spending time alone? Many teens just need time alone to “re-create” their inner sense of peace after spending all day interacting in a somewhat chaotic and over-stimulating school setting. They need to unwind and enjoy a moment of “peace and quiet.” They need a time of personal restoration. If so, they will often feel energized after a period of solitude. 
  • How does your teen seem overall? Do they sleep well? Do they enjoy times with friends? Do they become tearful often? The answer to these questions can provide a great deal of information about the health of their solitude.
  • Does your teen talk negatively about themselves? Do they put themselves down? Are they excessively self-critical? If so, their isolation may raise some concerns.

These observations may help you decide if your teen’s desire to be alone is a problem or simply a healthy part of their development. If your answers raise concerns seek out some counsel from friends who have older children, a pastor, or a therapist.

Another Benefit of a Responsive Spouse

A responsive spouse—one who not only listens and understands but also responds with sympathy and compassion. Who doesn’t want that kind of spouse? I know I do. And really, who doesn’t want to be that kind of spouse? After all, I love my wife. She deserves a “responsive spouse.”

Responsiveness validates our spouses. It lets them know we care for them. It reduces anxiety and arousal. It increases a sense of security in the relationship. It comforts. Overall, responsiveness is a powerful way to improve your marriage. And, a 2016 study involving 698 married and cohabitating couples suggests responsiveness does something more. It improves sleep quality. Not surprising, right? We sleep better when we feel safe. We sleep better when we feel less anxious. We sleep better when we know someone cares for us and validates us.

There you have it…another benefit of a responsive spouse: improved sleep quality. Good sleep quality contributes to a better rested person. A better rested person is happier, healthier, and more able to respond to their spouse. Not only…. Oh wait. I hear my wife calling. Sorry. I have to go. After all, a wife responded to is a happy wife who sleeps well…and loves her responsive husband.

Alexa, Turn On the Lights?… You Gotta Be Kidding Me

Did you see the Alexa commercial? I usually don’t say anything about commercials that bother me…but did you see that Alexa commercial? A girl comes home from a soccer game and is apparently upset about her game. Her mother “pauses” Alexa (who was reading an audio book to her when her daughter came home) and follows her daughter as though she plans to talk with her about the game. All well and good. In the next scene we see the mother in bed when she is suddenly awoken by “a noise.”  Once again, she speaks to Alexa, “What time is it?” “4:40 a.m.,” whispers Alexa. The mother looks out the bedroom window to see her daughter in the backyard “practicing” her soccer.  What does she do when she sees her daughter playing soccer in the backyard at 4:40 a.m.?  “Alexa, turn on the backyard light.”  That’s it? She turns on the lights before giving a proud nod to her daughter’s early morning practice.

Somehow that commercial really bothers me. What is the message communicated by that commercial? That Alexa, the mother’s only companion and confidante in the commercial, will helps us parent our children? I don’t think so. Alexa has no input…it only offers an obedient response to whatever “parental wisdom” we offer. Not a great parenting partner. No emotional investment. No experiential knowledge. Yeah, not a great parenting partner.

Maybe the message is one proclaiming that persistence and hard work help us achieve our goals…with the help of Alexa of course. But we never see the success…so I don’t think that’s the message. Really, I think I’m bothered more by the missing messages. For instance, where is the message about “a time and a place for everything”…a time to practice and a time to sleep? What about the message of learning to lose a game with grace and dignity? The message that our self-worth is not based on our performance…especially our performance in a single game? What does this commercial teach us about the importance of sleep for our physical and mental well-being…and even for improving performance, especially for teens?  Of course, the commercial is not trying to teach us anything. It only wants to sell us a product. But it does send a message…and I’m not sure I like the message.  Do you? At any rate, I better quit my rambling. “Alexa, turn off my computer.”

“Being There” for Family… When?

What does it mean to “be there” for your spouse and children? We often consider “being there” as giving comfort during tough times or caring for others in difficult situations. We think of “being there” as supporting others when they need help. Those are good times to “be there” for our spouse and children; but they are not the only times we need to “be there.” We also need to “be there” during the good times to share the pleasant news, the times of joy, and the times happiness. In fact, sharing good news and good times with those we love builds stronger relationships. It helps the both person “being there,” the person we are “being there” for, and the relationship. Let me name just a few of the many ways “being there” in good times can help a relationship.

  • Sharing good news or good experiences with a spouse, parent, or child who is engaged in the conversation enhances the meaning and weightiness we attach to those joyous times. These moments of sharing become foundational to our memory. We remember positive experiences more vividly when we share them with someone who engages in conversation with us about them. So, if you want your spouse and children to have lots of good memories filled with meaning in their lives, engage them in conversation about those events. “Be there” for them in celebrating the good news.
  • On the flip side, the person hearing about their loved one’s good news or happy experience feel happier. You’ve likely had that experience. Someone told you about their positive experience and you were genuinely happy for them. You rejoiced with them and felt happier yourself. So, listen intently to your family member’s good news and rejoice with them. Share genuine happiness for their good fortune. You’ll be happier for it. Along these same lines, share your own good news and positive experiences with your family members. Don’t hold back and keep it secret. Let them rejoice with you. They’ll be happier for it…and you’ll be happier that they are happier. Everybody’s happy…sounds like a good family night of sharing.
  • Sharing good news and happy experiences with one another also builds stronger, more intimate relationships. Sharing our good experiences is linked to relationship bonding and safety. When a person telling about their good experience knows the listener is receptive and engaged, they feel more secure in the relationship. To go even further, sharing good news with a receptive family member makes us more grateful for one another, enhances our sense of fondness for one another, and increases our dedication to one another. Sound good? It sure sounds good to me.

Don’t just “be there” for your family during the hard times. “Be there” for the good times as well. Celebrate the joyous occasions. Rejoice together. “Be there” in good times and in bad.

Good for Both Giver & Receiver

Life seems stressed these days, doesn’t it? Turn on the news…stress. Try to manage your schedule…stress. Weather…stress. Work demands, school demands, extracurricular demands, church demands, demands, demands, demands…stress. All that stress is bound to impact our marriages and our families. It robs us of mental clarity and patience. As a result, we have a greater chance of conflict with our spouses and our children.

But there is good news. I have discovered a way to reduce stress and improve mental clarity. Not only that, but this activity will increase a sense of closeness and intimacy, especially in your marriage. It’s true. A study showed this activity reduced stress and improved mental clarity after only one time. And, the reduction of stress accrued over the 9 times couples did it during the 3 week study. In other words, stress continued dropping with each time the couple engaged in this activity. What activity did all this? Massage. Yes, massage. In this study, 38 couples took a massage class each week for 3 weeks. Each class focused on massaging one part of the body (back, arms and shoulders, legs). Then, they practiced giving each other a massage three times a week (Yes, they had homework). Both the giver and the receiver of the massage experienced a reduction in stress and an improvement in mental clarity…BOTH the giver and the receiver! I like a massage…and I like the sound of reduced stress and improved mental clarity.

Although not part of the study, I believe this likely improved intimacy as well. Taking the time to massage one another means more time focused on one another—quality time focused on the one we love. Giving a massage means increasing our awareness of the one we are massaging (our partner).  Massage reduces stress and that means greater patience. Greater patience means less conflict. In addition, touch releases oxytocin and oxytocin increases a sense of connection. Massage involves a lot of touch. Your spouse will appreciate your massage and appreciation build deeper connection. So, why not take the time this weekend to give one another a massage. In this world of stress, we all need a little haven of relaxation and intimacy.  Enjoy!

The Miry Muck of Parenting

One of the most challenging (if not THE most challenging) job in the world is the job of parenting. Parenting brings new challenges every day. It demands different strategies for different situations and different children. It thrusts us into an awareness of our need for personal growth and pushes us to our limit. Is it any wonder we make a mistake here or there? I know I’ve made my share of mistakes (Read Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lessons Learned for more mistakes I made). Here are 5 mistakes parents often make without even realizing it. By becoming aware of these mistakes, we can avoid falling mindlessly into the miry muck of parenting they create.

  • We make the mistake of constantly pointing out what “not to do.” I often felt myself falling into this pit. “Don’t yell.” Stop running.” “Don’t do that.” “Don’t hit.” “Don’t turn the TV on.” “Stop fighting.” On and on. It’s so easy to tell our children what they are doing wrong. Sometimes they seem to give us so much opportunity to do so. However, it will prove much more effective when we tell them what we want them “to do” instead. “Hold my hand.” “Walk.” “Gentle.” “Tell me what’s wrong.” “Get out a board game.” “Read a book.” Sure, there are times we need to tell them “not to do” something, but always follow it up with what they “can do” instead. Many times, however, we can just tell them what they “can do.”
  • Sometimes we expect more from our children than they know or are developmentally ready to do.  Our children are not born experts; we need to teach them…everything. Teach them how to whisper in the library. Teach them how to load the dishwasher. Teach them how to clean a room “up to standard.” Don’t assume they know; teach them. Teaching them involves more than just telling them what to do. Pull up your sleeves and do it with them a few times. Teaching is a hands-on activity that builds connection and intimacy.
  • Too often, we model the wrong behavior. I know I modeled the wrong behavior at times. If you don’t believe me, read (blogs about parenting failures). We might react in anger to traffic and says something we wish our children had never heard…because now they repeat it all…the…time. Instead of modeling the “wrong” behavior, model as much positive behavior as you can. Let them see you apologize for your wrongs. Let them hear you speak the truth. Let them witness your affection for your spouse. Let them hear you encourage and thank other people. Model the behaviors and words you want them to follow.
  • In exhaustion or frustration, we discipline our children when they are simply being annoying. You know what I mean. Sometimes a four-year-old acts like a four-year-old (go figure) and we get annoyed. They ask questions constantly, a normal behavior that helps them learn; but we get annoyed and tell them to sit in silence. They play chase through the house while we are trying to get some work done so we send them to their rooms. They spill a drink accidentally and we yell at them.  We have disciplined for normal, age-appropriate behaviors that were simply annoying at the time. These behaviors are not misbehaviors requiring discipline. If anything, these behaviors may simply require redirection or simple instruction. Let kids be kids…and teach them to be aware of others.
  • We tend to be all talk and no action. Parenting is not merely a verbal task. You cannot sit in your chair and yell, “Turn the radio down,” “Get your hand out of the cookie jar,” or “Clean up this mess” and expect it to happen. Parenting is a hands-on job. We need to talk less and act more. Nag less and take action. Get out of the chair. Walk over to your child. Put a hand on their shoulder and look them in the eye before giving them a request or directive. When they follow through, give them a high-five or a simple “thank you.” If they ignore the request, follow through with an appropriate consequence. It doesn’t have to be a crushing consequence. Just a simple consequence. Can’t clean the room, lose the opportunity to go out (or watch TV) until it is clean. Won’t turn the radio down, lose the radio for a day. Won’t get your hand out of the cookie jar, no dessert today. You get the idea. Less talk, more action. 

Don’t get caught in the miry muck of parenting by engaging in these mindless parenting mistakes. Stand on firm ground with mindful action that will promote your childrens’ growth.