Archive for Author John Salmon

Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness

A recent study published in the journal Emotion noted the impact of screen time (meaning the time on devices engaged in social media, texting, or playing games) on teen happiness. Just to let you know, getting rid of all social media, texting, and electronic game playing did NOT result in the greatest level of happiness! However, as engagement in social media, texting, and electronic game playing increased, so did teen levels of unhappiness. (See The Amount of Screen Time Linked to Unhappiness for more.) Wait. Don’t those two statements contradict one another? Not really. Let me explain.

Over one million teens in 8th, 10th, & 12th grades were surveyed about how they spent their time on their phones, tablets, and computers, how much time they engaged in face to face interactions, and their overall happiness. The results suggested that the more time over an hour that a teen spends in front of a screen engaged in social media, texting, and gaming, the less happy they were. Cutting out screen time altogether, however, seemed to coincide with less happiness as well. In moderation, teens who spent a little less than an hour a day on screen time and filled non-screen time with reading, sports, and face-to-face interactions were happiest.

The takeaway message seems pretty obvious. Allow your teen to enjoy some time on social media, texting their friends, and even gaming. But limit that time. Don’t let them get “sucked in” to the screen time activities. Instead, provide opportunities for your teens to engage in face-to-face interactions like sports, face-to-face games, and simple conversations. Encourage your teen to read. Help them find topics and books that will hold their attention and interest. And, of equal importance, model healthy use of electronic devices in your own life. Do this and you might just be surprised at how happiness increases as non-screen time activities increases as well.

Beach Balls, Chopsticks, & Ping Pong Balls…Oh My!!

What do beach balls, chopsticks, and ping pong balls have in common? They teach us an important lesson about marriage. What? Really? Yes indeed. It’s true. They teach us to bring laughter into our marriages. When spouses laugh together they report feeling more supported and cared for by one another (Couples Who Do This Together are Happier). They also report greater relationship satisfaction and connection. (The Effect of Reminiscing about Laughter on Relationship Satisfaction)  In addition, a review of 230 baseball players revealed genuine smiles could lead to a longer life! (Grinning for a Longer Life)  Wouldn’t that be a wonderful gift to give your spouse—a longer life for both of you? Smiling and laughter can even reduce stress (Smile It’s Good for Your Heart & LOL-On Safari for the Elusive Smile), making it easier to recover from moments of conflict.

So, whether you do a beach ball ballet,

the Tissue Box Bop,

or wisely use chopsticks like the Chinese, bring a little laughter into your marriage. You won’t regret it!

PS-If you missed our couple’s retreat P.L.A.Y. Rx you missed learning more about the joys of play, laughter, adventure, yearning, and rest for your marriage. But, here are some pictures of the times we shared.  Hope to see you next year.

Savor the Odor…er, I Mean…AROMA

Did you know smell is one of our strongest memory inducers? It’s true. Think about it. Have you ever had a scent tickle your olfactory and find yourself transported back to high school in an instant? Or caught the whiff of a passing aroma that reminded you of your spouse…or a grandparent? (Not that your spouse smell like your grandparent…I mean, it’s ok if they do…but…oh, it’s just an example….You know what I mean.) Do you remember the smell of your grandparent’s home? (Whew, good save?) Scents hold our memories securely in their aura. They do more than trigger memories. Scents can also lower stress. A recent study from the University of British Columbia found the scent of our “romantic partner” helps lower stress. They randomly assigned women involved in opposite sex relationships to one of three groups. The women in one group wore a T-shirt previously worn by a stranger. Those in the second group wore a T-shirt previously unworn and those in the third group wore a T-shirt previously worn by their husbands.  None of the women knew which group they were in. All the women then went through a stressful mock interview and completed a stressful mental math task. Results?

  • Those who wore a shirt exuding a stranger’s scent were the most stressed and had the highest levels of cortisol (stress hormone).
  • Those who wore the shirt releasing their husband’s scent had the lowest stress level and lowest cortisol levels.
  • If the women recognized their husband’s scent on the shirt, their cortisol levels were even lower, suggesting that the stress-reducing benefits of their husband’s scent was strongest when they recognized his “aromatic essence.”


With this in mind, you can use the power of smell to enhance your marriage. For instance, the scent of your spouse can trigger positive memories when you wear your spouse’s favorite perfume or after shave on a date.

If your spouse is away on a trip, take a whiff of his/her shirt. It may ease the longings and reduce the stress of missing them. (Just hope you don’t find the same disheartening result as Ty Burrell in the Gain commercial.)

When you have a particularly stressful event, take a moment to recall your spouse…and their aroma.  You might just experience a reduction in stress.

Oh the power of a scent!  Enjoy the aromatic aura of your spouse…and enjoy less stress.

Friendships in Middle School Begin at Home

Researchers from Penn State University followed 687 families for three years. Each family consisted of a mother, a father, and an adolescent child. The three year period spanned the adolescent’s 6th, 7th, and 8th grade years…the dreaded middle school years. (Read more here.) The study examined whether family relationships impact friendship during middle school. Of course, the short answer is “yes,” “you betcha,” “without a doubt.” But, the study did expose a couple of very interesting nuances to that “yes.”

First, a mother’s rejection, a father’s rejection, and the overall family climate not only predicted changes in the quality of the adolescent’s friendships but their sense of loneliness as well.

Second, feeling rejected by one’s father in 6th grade predicted social anxiety in 7th grade and social anxiety in 7th grade predicted loneliness in 8th grade. This was significant for rejection by one’s father but not so much in regards to one’s mother. It seems (in agreement with other research) that rejection by one’s father impacts how confidently a person moves into the world outside the home.

So, if you want your children to have the ability to develop and maintain high quality, positive friendships in middle school, nurture and strengthen your relationship with them. Their ability to form positive relationships outside the home begins at home…with you. Dads, this seems to be especially true for your relationship with your teen. Here are a few key ways to strengthen your relationship with your children.

  • Spend time together…lots of time together. Enjoy uninterrupted time with your children. Put aside the distractions (cell phones, papers, TV) and get to know your children. Learn what they like and who they like. Talk about classes, interests, strengths, and fears. Learn about their struggles in the community and which peers present them with the biggest challenges and why. Enjoy fun stuff and endure boring stuff…together. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn. And, you’ll be amazed at how cool your children really are.
  • Listen more than you lecture. The more you lecture, the less they’ll talk. The less they talk the less you will know them.  On the other hand, the more you listen, the more they’ll talk…and the more you’ll get to know them. Listen intently. Listen patiently. When they say something that arouses your urge to lecture, Don’t Do It! Instead, show empathy for their feelings around the topic. And, get curious about their thinking about the topic. Ask them questions out of a genuine curiosity to know them better. As you do, they will continue to talk…and you will get to know them better.  They will continue to talk…think…and learn. They’ll learn about the topic and you’ll learn more about them as they review their approach to the topic out loud.  All you have to do is listen and….
  • Problem-solving together. Our children will approach us with concerns and struggles when they know we will listen and empathize. As they recognize our efforts to understand their concern and their point of view, they will open up to discuss and problem solve with us. We will have created an environment of mutual respect that allows for cooperative problem solving. In the process, we will also deepen our relationship with our teen.

Practice these three actions and you can help prevent pervasive loneliness in your middle schooler. You will also increase your middle schooler’s confidence in making friends and the quality of their friendships.

Serving Up Family Happiness

Serve up a big bowl of happiness for your spouse and children today. Here are the ingredients.

  1. Start with a big scoop of acceptance. Every member of the family needs to feel acceptance. They need to know they are accepted “no matter what.” They need to know that acceptance is not conditioned on behavior, performance, or beliefs. It is unconditional. This allows them to explore, grow, and mature. Lack of acceptance, on the other hand, increases stress hormones, decreases coping skills, and even hinders immune functioning. It can contribute to physical or emotional illness. Lack of acceptance hinders change. Acceptance will open the doors for change. Acceptance promotes healthy relationships and healthy emotional development. So make this first scoop of acceptance extra big. Give a double dose to everyone in the family.
  2. Add a delicious topping of tolerance. Tolerance does not mean “letting anything go.” No, tolerance simply means to accept our differences, to even enjoy each person’s unique contribution to the family and world. Tolerance accepts each person’s uniqueness by encouraging each one to “come into his/her own.” Tolerance knows that our differences add beauty to our relationship and strength to our opportunities. In appreciating each family member’s unique gifts, we can become the “Michelangelo” to each one’s dreams. Be gracious with the topping of tolerance…really gracious…pour it on.
  3. Then sprinkle on some hope. Hope looks to the future. Hope believes fun and intimate joys wait for us “just around the river bend.” Hope anticipates adventure and excitement, laughter and joy, even though there will be times of sorrow and stresses as well. So put on lots of sprinkles. Pour on the sprinkles through your actions and your words.
  4. After you’ve done all this get out a real bowl and fill it with ice cream (I prefer chocolate chip cookie dough). I mean fill it up. Then pour on some caramel, chocolate, and even a little marshmallow and whip cream. Throw on some sprinkles…the colorful ones, they’re the best. Get a spoon for everyone and enjoy the treat. Tell a few family stories while you eat. Dream about your next outing. Laugh. Have a good time. Serve up the happiness!

There you have it, a big bowl of happiness. Enjoy!

Happiness is life served up with a scoop of acceptance, a topping of tolerance and sprinkles of hope, although chocolate sprinkles also work.  –Robert Brault

A Devotion on Making All Things New

A couple walked into my office seeking couple’s therapy. They were at their whit’s end. They have a faint memory of loving one another but that love has long since been replaced with frustration, bitterness, and sorrow. Hope was hanging on by a thread. Coming to me was their last ditch effort to restore something they had lost long ago. They were tired of the old marriage they had fallen into and needed something new.

As this couple spoke with me, an image of the resurrected Christ appearing before Thomas came to mind with the words, “Behold, I make all things new” ( I realize this statement does not occur when Jesus appeared to Thomas, but both came to mind…). Later, as I thought about that passing image, I realized how drastically Jesus had changed things, how “He had made all things new.”  He stood before Thomas still recognizable in body and speech. But, everything had changed.

  • He still had the body that everyone recognized as belonging to Jesus, but His body had changed. The old body, the mortal body that had died on a cross was made new. He now had an imperishable body, an immortal body, a resurrected body.
  • He still had the marks of nails in His hands and feet, the pierce of the sword in His side. But these had transformed. They no longer represented pain, torture, and death. They had been made new. They now represent forgiveness, redemption, salvation, and love.
  • Jesus stood in their presence. He ate their food. In this sense, He appeared very similar. But, all things had been made new. He didn’t walk through the door, He simply appeared. And, His very presence transformed hopelessness and fear into hope and anticipation.

Truly, everything had been made new. As time progressed, even the disciples were made new. Those who lacked understanding became wise in the Word of the Lord. Those who lived in fear became courageous. Those who wanted to rain down fire on a village become loving. All things were made new.

I know it sounds simplistic but if you want “all things to be made new” in your life, your marriage, or your family begin with prayer. I’m not saying change is easy. I’m not suggesting suddenly all things will be made new while you do nothing.  Jesus endured shame and humiliation to make all things new. He had to practice radical obedience “even to the point of death” to make all things new. You will have to take some radical action as well…actions that will feel uncomfortable, actions that will challenge you, actions that may even prove painful. The scars will still be there…but they will be made new. The pain will be a memory…but it will be made new. So if you want change get ready to work. Hard. And begin that work with prayer because He makes all things new.

The Burden of a Smartphone

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.

  1. Learn the phone settings. Determine which “pop ups” and notifications your child needs and which just cause more stress. Turn off unnecessary notifications.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

P.L.A.Y. Rx

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.)

Marry Your Homework?

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.

Customer Service in a Marital Dispute

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

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