It gets worse. Our children’s free time has decreased in the last 50 years. Take the time between 1981 and 1997. Children spent 18% more time in school, 145% more time doing schoolwork, and 168% more time shopping with parents (Read more in All Work & No Play: Why Your Kids are More Anxious, Depressed). Unstructured play time has decreased even though research suggests children need twice as much unstructured play time as structured time (The Decline of Unstructured Play). Once again, our children have become the prisoners to the structures imposed on them. They miss out on the free, unstructured time that allows them to grow and learn.
One last comparison…our children grow increasingly isolated from supportive, non-parental adults as they progress through school. Rather than have a single teacher for most of the day, our children gain a “revolving cast of characters” in their lives as they switch to a new teacher every hour. This change occurs when our children are going through the massive changes of adolescence and they most need the support of caring adults. (Teen Suicides Are on the Rise.) In effect, they become less isolated from caring adults and more involved with peers struggling with the same issues and who have the same lack of experience as they do. Our children need us.
The big question I had to ask myself
as I contemplated these “prisoner comparisons” is: what can we do to
break our children out of this prison? Thankfully, there are ways to do
Have you ever wondered how to motivate your children? They could have better grades but they just don’t hand in their homework or study? They could accomplish so much more but they just seem to “lack motivation”? Researchers at the University of Michigan recently published a study that might just help. In a series of three studies, they explored how positive relationships impact motivation. They discovered that even a brief reminder of a “supportive other” increases motivation for personal growth, even in the face of challenges. The participants who reported actually having supportive relationships showed a greater willingness to accept challenges that promoted personal growth. They also reported feeling more self-confidence (Read For a better ‘I,’ there needs to be a supportive ‘we’ for more on the study). In terms of parenting, having a supportive relationship with your children will help increase our children’s motivation. I’m not suggesting that a supportive relationship will end all motivational woes. It will not result in your children suddenly becoming perfectly motivated to complete every chore and homework assignment given. However, a positive supportive, relationship with your children will increase their motivation. A positive, supportive relationship with your children will increase the chances of them doing the chores more readily and even completing their homework. The question is: How do we develop and communicate a positive, supportive relationship with our children? I’m glad you (well…I) asked.
Remain available. Our children know we are available when we engage them regularly. We communicate our availability by remaining open to interactions with them, putting aside our own agenda and responding to their direct, indirect, or even awkward attempts to engage us. Let your actions express your belief that being available to your children is more important than the game, your book, the paperwork, or whatever other distraction might pull you away from your children in the moment.
Accept your children. Our children feel supported when they know we accept them whether they succeed or fail, experience joys or fears. They know we accept them when we acknowledge rather than criticize their efforts. They know we accept them when we acknowledge and allow for differences in taste and preferences. And, knowing they find acceptance in us they feel supported by us.
Listen. Our children feel supported when they feel heard. This requires us to listen beyond mere words. We must listen with our ears to hear the words, our mind to understand their intent, and our hearts to understand their emotions. Then, our actions need to communicate our willingness to let their ideas and beliefs influence us. When we listen in this manner, our children know they have found acceptance and a supportive parent.
Encourage. We communicate support through sincere encouragement. Sincere encouragement does not offer false praise. Our children abhor false praise. Nor does sincere encouragement manipulate. It is not offered to push our children in a particular direction or toward some action. Instead, we encourage our children by recognizing their inner dream and promoting it. We encourage them by acknowledging their effort and resulting progress.
Offer honest, gentle correction. Children recognize honest, gentle correction as supportive. They benefit from a supportive parent who lovingly “nudges” them to grow, mature, and become a person of honor. Honest, gentle correction avoids screaming, name-calling, and belittling comments. Instead, it offers clear limits, consistent consequences, and loving correction. Gentle correction teaches from a foundation of love, communicating a value in our children.
These five actions can help our children feel supported. This will translate into a healthier sense of self-confidence and greater motivation to engage in behaviors that promote their own positive growth.
I live in Pittsburgh, PA. So, any time I see or hear about a study conducted by one of the universities in the area it catches my eye, especially when it deals with family. Recently, a study by Carnegie Mellon University caught my eye. This study focused on the impact of spousal support and opportunities. The researchers recruited 163 couples and gave one member of each couple a choice. They could either solve a simple puzzle or compete for a prize by giving a speech. Each person then returned to their partner and discussed whether to do the puzzle or compete for a prize. Participants with encouraging partners were more likely to decide to give a speech and compete for the prize. Those with discouraging partners, or partners expressing a lack of confidence, were more likely to choose the simple puzzle. Not real surprising, is it? But, here’s the part I found really interesting. Six months later the partners who had accepted the more challenging speech competition reported more personal growth, greater happiness, more psychological well-being, and better relationship satisfaction than those who chose the simple puzzle! The encouraging, supportive spouse helped their partner embrace an opportunity to “go for it” and grow. They supported their partners’ growth and in doing so supported their partners’ happiness. That, in turn, likely led to a more satisfying marriage as well!
Do you want to see your partner grow and learn? Do you want them to know greater joy? Do you want a more satisfying marital relationship? Encourage your spouse. Learn about your spouse’s dreams and encourage them to “seize the moment” when opportunities that arise to pursue those dreams. When challenges arise, express confidence in their ability to meet the challenge and support them in growing through the challenge. Express joy in seeing them move toward their dreams. Celebrate every step of the way. Then, thank Carnegie Mellon University, located in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, for revealing how encouraging our spouse makes life better! (Sorry for the commercial….I guess I’m a proud “yinzer.”)
I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of high school boys about dating. I love speaking to young people about relationship. I was asked to speak to this group about dating and chose to tell them about the four guys they date when they go out with girl. As you can imagine, they didn’t believe there were any guys involved in their date with a girl. But, let me explain. Every time a guy dates a woman, four guys accompany them.
The woman’s big brother is on your date. My first serious girlfriend had two big brothers and they were big…college football big. I could tell by the way they watched me enter a room or sit next to “their sister” that I better treat her well. They had their little sister’s back. If I mistreated her, I’d answer to them. Every woman has a “big brother.” The big brother may not be a blood relative, but he cares about the woman you are dating and he has her back!
The woman’s father is on your date. Fathers are all for their daughters meeting a nice guy and eventually marrying an even nicer guy. On the other hand, all fathers have at least a small stake in the Dads Against Daughters Dating (D.A.D.D.) club. Fathers are protective. They have high standards for any man who wants to date their daughters. And, daughters adore their fathers. So, if you want to make a good impression on your girlfriend, treat her father with respect. If you want to have any chance at continuing to date your girlfriend, stay in her father’s good graces by treating his daughter well. The better you treat a man’s daughter, the more accepting and supportive of your presence he will be.
The woman’s future husband is on your date. The woman you date will eventually marry. Maybe she will marry you; maybe she’ll marry someone else. Either way, wouldn’t you be upset and even angry if your fiancé told you that some guy disrespected and hurt her…or worse, abused her emotionally or physically? Wouldn’t it be painful to hear her describe how a previous boyfriend mistreated her or took advantage of her? You’d likely be infuriated if you had to work through fears and mistrusts your fiancé struggles with because of how a previous boyfriend treated her! Don’t be that previous boyfriend.
The woman’s heavenly Father is on your date. (Gary Thomas expands on this in his book A Lifelong Love.) Imagine…you stand before our heavenly Father as He sits on the judgement seat on the last day. His gaze falls on you then drifts to His precious daughter, the woman you’re dating (or married to). When His eyes return to you, you will see one of two looks. 1) He may say, “You have treated My daughter well, like the princess I created her to be. I love her so much I’d give my life for her…and you have loved her with the same sacrificial love. Thank you. You’re welcome in my house any time.” 2) He may turn to you with fire in His eyes as He exclaims, “You mistreated My daughter, My princess, the one I love and would give my life for. You hurt her. You disrespected her and took advantage of her. Get out of my house!” Which look do you want to receive from your heavenly Father? How you treat your date could make the difference.
Dating is fun. Dating can even prove important for healthy social development. But, dating carries responsibility as well. Keeping the four men you date with every woman in mind can help make your dating experience much more meaningful and enjoyable.
Do you want happy children? How about children who are academically competent? Would you like your children to have a great sense of security today and a greater chance of wealth in the future? Or, maybe you want children who make positive moral choices. Well, you can have all this by practicing this parenting style! It’s true. A study involving 5,000 responders (learn more here) identified key parenting factors that promote happiness, academic competence, a sense of security, wealth, and moral choices. The parenting style that combined all these factors and contributed to all these wonderful outcomes is “supportive parenting.” Specifically, supportive parenting includes the following key factors.
Spending time with our children. Children spell love T.I.M.E. Spending time with our children communicates how much we value and love them. It also provides us the opportunity to guide them and teach them our values through example and discussion.
Being responsive to our children. By spending time with our children we come to know them better. We learn about our children’s needs and the subtle ways in which they express those needs. As a result, we can respond to those needs more effectively. In other words, we become present in their lives, aware of their needs, and responsive to those needs. Our children develop trust and security in response. They become more confident and assured, knowing their needs will be satisfied.
Exhibiting confidence in our children. As supportive parents, we believe the best about our children’s ability to learn and grow. By spending time with them and responding to their needs, we have nurtured a relationship that inspires them to do their best and motivates them to try hard. We trust them to actually do their best. As a result, we allow them age appropriate independence and trust their ability to make wise choices. We have confidence that they will learn from mistakes…and we let them do so.
Balanced rules. This study revealed that adults who grew up in overly-strict homes with an abundance of rules became less happy and more stressed than adults who grew up in homes focused on relationships and balanced rules. Rules simply set the parameters of safety. Relationships instill those values. Natural consequences teach wise decision making. Relationships help us internalize that wisdom. So, supportive families implement balanced rules to support safety and growth while making large investments in relationship.
If you want your children to grow into happy, academically competent, wealthy adults who make positive moral choices, put these four factors of supportive parenting into practice today. You will enjoy a more fulfilling relationship with your children and enjoy watching them succeed in the future!
Paul was on his way to Rome when he called the elders of Ephesus to meet him. He wanted to offer one last message of encouragement to them. That message ended with these words: “…In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35). A recent study confirmed the wisdom of this statement in regard to giving support to others. Specifically, researchers from University of Pittsburgh and University of California (LA) asked 36 participants about receiving and giving support. Of course, both giving and receiving support led to fewer negative outcomes. But these researchers went a step further in their investigation. They used fMRI’s to assess the brain activation of participants engaged in at least three types of tasks.
One task involved participants performing a “stressful mental math task.” During this task, the fMRI revealed that those who gave the most support to others had reduced activity in the brain areas related to stress response.
Another group of participants looked at pictures of loved ones. In this scenario, fMRI’s revealed increased activity in the brain’s reward system for those who gave higher levels of support to others.
A third group had a chance to win money for someone in need. In this group, fMRI’s also revealed increased activity in the brain’s reward system for those who gave higher levels of support.
In summary, giving support to those in need contributed to an improved ability to manage stress and an increased ability to enjoy reward, at least on a neurological level. Isn’t that a great benefit for families? If we model giving support to others in the family and encourage our family to do the same, we promote more feelings of reward and fewer “stressed out” feelings. By supporting one another’s dreams you can bring a greater sense of reward into your family. Supporting one another when troubles arise will decrease family stress. We really can build a healthier family by giving and receiving support. But, in the long run, it is even better to give than receive!
Do you rob your teen? Many parents do even though they don’t even know it. Parents rob their teens by “getting in the ring” with them instead of “staying in their corner.” For instance:
Parents “get in the ring” to protect their teen from the consequences of poor choices. In the process they rob their teen of the opportunity to learn from the consequences of those poor choices.
Parents “get in the ring” and stand between their teen and his peers by getting involved in their teen’s Twitter skirmishes or Instagram battles. When parents become over-involved in their teen’s social media ring, they rob him of the chance to learn how to set limits or negotiate relationship stress.
Parents “get in the ring” by fixing each and every problem that arises in their teen’s lives, robbing her of the opportunity to learn creative problem solving and time management skills.
When their teen doesn’t get the play time she desires, parents “jump in the ring” to fight for their teen’s right to play…and rob her of the right to learn the hard work necessary to earn a spot or how to advocate for themselves.
In each of these instances, parents jump into the ring and rob their teen of the opportunity to become more independent. Their actions steal their teen’s self-confidence by silently shouting an implicit message of their teens’ inadequacy to “fight their own fights” and achieve their own goals. Parents pilfer their teen’s opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve their abilities. They even embezzle their teens’ opportunity to celebrate success and so rob them of even more self-confidence. Getting in the ring is an act of thievery on a parent’s part.
Parents can avoid robbing their teen by staying out of the ring and remaining in their corner instead. Parents who stay in their teens’ corner play a crucial role in their teens’ life, even their life in the ring. Parents in their teens’ corner do four things that provide and empower rather than rob and steal.
First, parents in their teen’s corner listen. When teens talk about problems, frustrations, or difficulties, a parent in their corner will listen intently to understand how the situation impacts their teen. They remain present, not to fix and solve but to support and relate. In this way, teens feel heard and understand, accepted and valued.
Second, parents in their teen’s corner validate their teens’ experiences. They help their teens label emotions and more clearly define the problem. Understanding the nuances of a problem situation empowers teens. It allows for a deeper understanding of the people involved and the impact of the context. It opens up possibilities for responding.
Third, parents in their teens’ corner encourage their teen by acknowledging strengths and resources available. They identify their teens’ internal strengths and abilities as well as external resources which their teens can access. Knowing a parent acknowledges and believes in their abilities empowers teens. It will build their self-confidence to know their parents believe them adequate and resourceful enough to “meet the challenge.”
Fourth, parents in their teen’s corner will problem-solve with their teen. Rather than lecture and advise, parents in the corner offer words of wisdom based on years of experience, wise words of guidance. Rather than direct and command, they will ask questions or tell a story based on their own experience that will stimulate their teen to think of a unique response to the current situation.
If you want your teen to mature and grow more independent, get out of the ring. Let them fight their own battles. At the same time, stay firmly entrenched in their corner. Listen, validate, encourage, and problem-solve. You can do it all in the corner and watch them grow in the ring!
In this time we call our own and in a home very near to our hearts, there rages an epic battle for the families we call our own. This battle rages between those principalities that wield great power in their efforts to tear the family apart and those in the resistance who quietly, on a daily basis, strive to create and maintain the community of honor, grace, and love we call family. This battle will not be won or lost through legal proceedings or in dramatic cultural changes. No, the victory for the family rests on the meek and powerful deeds of kindness we share with one another. That’s right. Victory rises up on the shoulders of every kind deed and polite word that draws family members together. Victory comes to the kind! Don’t believe it? Well, let me share ten acts of kindness that strike terror in the heart of powers opposed to families and foretell victory for your family today!
Say “thank you” to the person in your family who cooks, does laundry, cleans, puts gas in the car, takes care of your pet, mows the lawn, etc.…. (Learn other phrases of kindness in Family Investment Easy as 1…2…3…)
After you say “thank you,” ask that person how you can help them today!
Hold the door open for your spouse or children and let them go first.
Encourage one another.
Smile at one another (I know this is especially hard in the mornings and for teens…but take one for the family.)
Compliment one another often. Giving one another compliments will really complement your family.
Offer to get a drink for your parents, siblings, spouse, or children. Give it to them with a smile and a twinkle of delight in your eye. When they say “Thank you,” reply with “You’re welcome” or the standard “My pleasure.” (Read The Chick Fil A Family Interaction Model)
Do an extra chore around the house, one usually done by a different family member.
As a family, do each of these for people outside your family as well. In fact, do each on for the members of your family and those outside your family on a daily basis.
This may sound simplistic. How can we “save the family” by practicing simple kindness on a daily basis? But kindness is powerful. Paul goes so far as to call kindness one of God’s greatest tools in drawing us into an intimate relationship with Him: “Do you think lightly of the riches of God’s kindness and tolerance and patience, knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). If kindness is a powerful tool for God’s victory in our lives, it will surely prove a powerful weapon for victory in the lives of our families. We model our kindness toward family after God’s kindness toward us. As such, simple acts of kindness carry the power to win the battle for the family…and not just any family, your family. With every gentle touch of kindness, you will see intimacy grow. Security and confidence increase. Joy flood into our lives and relationships. With every powerful act of kindness, victory draws near.
We need to plug in to build family happiness. No, I do not mean plug in the TV or the internet. Plugging in to technology won’t bring greater family happiness. In fact, too much technology tends to distract us from family happiness. In order to increase family happiness, we need to plug in to relationships. Positive relationships give us our greatest joy. They enhance our immune system and increase our life expectancy. In fact, positive relationships have the same level of health benefit as quitting smoking. Good relationships make us happier, healthier, and stronger. So, if you want a happy family, build stronger relationships within your family and with those outside your family. Here are some practical tips to help you do this.
Invest in building a positive relationship with your spouse and children. This investment will demand your time. Invest time in playing with your family. Enjoy doing work together in the yard or house. Volunteer together. Find out what activities your spouse and children enjoy then engage in that activity with them. If they enjoy jogging, take up jogging. Be present at their activities and in their daily life.
Participate in activities with another family. Go on a picnic with another family. Have a family over for dinner. Get together for a game night with other families. Go camping with other families. Have fun together. When you engage in activities with other families you build relationships with people in similar circumstances. As a result, you can offer mutual support and encouragement. Other families can provide you with a “reality check” when you feel like the kids are driving you “crazy.” You also find other trusted adults that your children might go to for advice when they don’t come to you. Family friends build family happiness and security.
Go on a double date. Studies have shown that “double dating” enhances intimacy. Those who participated in double dates found their attraction to their own spouse grow stronger. In addition, other couples might model desirable behavior for us to emulate or undesirable behavior to avoid. Either way, befriending another couple tends to strengthen our marriages and add joy to our lives. A happy marriage contributes to a happy family. So go on a double date for the sake of your family’s happiness.
Get involved in a community with a higher purpose, like church. Children who attended church with their family are more likely to see expressions of love and affection. Parents are more likely to know their children’s social network when they attend church as a family. In addition, involvement in a community creates the opportunity for mutual support and encouragement. Other parents can share their experience of raising children and support us in our efforts to raise healthy children. Creating friendships in a larger community adds support, encouragement, accountability, and positive experiences to family life. All this adds up to a happier family.
Michael Byron, Smith, retired Air Force officer, wrote an excellent blog for the National Fatherhood Institute (click here to read it). In this blog, he wrote: “Families should be slingshots, throwing children into the world prepared for what lies ahead. Unfortunately, the problems of dysfunctional families are like anchors, dragging down their children’s potential….” So, I have to ask: Have you created a family environment that will serve as a slingshot for your children or an anchor?
Place unrealistic expectations on their children.
Make demeaning, degrading, and discouraging remarks about their children or their children’s activities.
Imply greater acceptance of their children only after they have performed to a certain level (good grades, starting team, practiced their instrument, etc.).
Punish or demean children for times they experience failure.
Offer rude criticisms about their child’s character or performance.
Engage in name-calling.
Disregard their children’s feelings…or even punishing their children for “negative” feelings like anger, frustration, sorrow, or tearfulness.
Tell or imply they know more about what their children feel, think, or like than their children do themselves.
These behaviors act as anchors around your children’s neck. They weigh your children down, drowning them under the waves of guilt and shame.
Slingshot families, on the other hand:
Learn about the development of children, their children’s development in particular, so they can maintain realistic expectations.
Encourage their children.
Make sure their children know they are loved even when they fall short of perfection or have a particularly bad day.
Teach their children that failure is an opportunity to learn. They encourage determination and healthy persistence.
Offer their children constructive criticism in a loving manner.
Use “negative” feelings like anger, frustration, sorrow, or tearfulness as opportunities to grow more intimate with their children.
Remain curious about their children’s feelings, thoughts, and interests…using them as touch-points from which to deepen intimacy.
These behaviors serve as slingshots for your children. They help your children develop the skills necessary to navigate the world with courage, confidence, and poise.
So, I ask again. Which one are you—an anchor family or a slingshot family?