Archive for January 26, 2013

Help! My Teen Lies to Me!

Yes, it is true. Teens lie. Teens argue. Teens often want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be given the freedom of independence while relying on their parents’ supportive cash for gas money and money to go out with friends. It is a very confusing time—for teens and parents. As parents, we want what is best for our teens. We hope they will accept the wisdom of our experience as they navigate the transition into adulthood. Unfortunately, they do not always heed our words…at least not to our faces. So, when it comes to dealing with teens, here are a couple helpful ideas.
The most common reason teens give for not telling the truth or for withholding the truth from parents is to “protect my relationship with my parents.” In other words, they fear that the truth will cause distance in the parent-child relationship. They do not want to hurt us. Some parents believe that being more permissive will result in more truth-telling. It does not. Teens who have permissive parents actually lie more! They believe that their permissive parent really does not care if they engage in various behaviors and will not do anything in response anyway, so why tell? Why hurt their feelings? Just don’t mention it…or, if forced to, lie.
Families with the least amount of deception, on the other hand, have clear, concise rules accompanied by reasonable and consistent consequences. Teens in these families know the rules and the consequences. Families that experience the least deception also have one more ingredient: parents who listen and make sure their teen feels heard before offering small concessions and compromises. “Wait…what? Did you say concessions and compromises? But I am the parent…my rules go in this house!” Remember, our teens are becoming adults. They have to learn how to manage their own behavior. As we honor them with our listening ears and show them the grace of small compromises and concessions, they grow in their ability to recognize potential consequences and make wise decisions independently. A little bit of flexibility will go a long way in decreasing teen deception and increasing teen maturity. So, teens who lie the least have parents who set clear rules, consistently enforce those rules, and also find opportunities to make some compromises with their maturing teen.
Using this style of parenting does have some side effects (stated in the soothing voice of one announcing medication side effects on various TV commercials). Having clear rules that are consistently enforced may result in increased arguing and complaining. In fact, those families with the least amount of deception often had a higher rate of arguing and complaining. That is great! No really, it is great. A moderate amount of arguing between parent and teens (emphasize the word moderate) results in better adjustment than no arguing or frequent arguing. Arguing allows the teen to see their parent in a new light, to hear the argument for the rules clearly articulated and “reasoned out.” In the teens’ effort to become independent and take on “their own values,” they can listen to their parents articulate the rules they have grown up with before internalizing them as their own. In a sense, the teen who complains and argues is saying, “I know you have always kept this rule; but now I want to know why. Do you really believe it? What makes it such a good rule?” In the midst of this argument, teens assert their growing independence while exploring the values they have grown up with.
One last secret (don’t tell your teens). I often meet with parents who are at their wit’s end because they feel like their teen is not listening. I listen as they tell me what they have told their teen. I empathize with their frustration as they explain that their teen does not take their words of wisdom into account. Then I meet with the teen. In the midst of our discussion, their teen will often tell me exactly what their parents have said…and they say it as though it is their own idea. They have heard it. They even believe it; and, they are in the process of making it their own. They just can’t tell their parents about this and carve out their own independence at the same time. So, keep on listening. Keep on patiently enforcing the rules. Keep on discussing the rational of the rules and struggling to make appropriate concessions. Trust that your teen hears you. They are listening. And, hold on for the ride of your life on the teenage roller coaster. Your work will pay off…when the ride ends and your teen becomes an adult!

5 Tips To Create A Family Rhythm

Ever have one of those days when nothing your family does seems to go as planned? I have. Every interaction feels disjointed, out of sync, confused, out of sorts. Everything discussion seems to jumble together and even the simplest task becomes difficult. The emotional and physical needs and desires of each family member seem to pile on top of the one another, compete for attention, and clash in horrid dissonance. Relationships suffer as people miss cues, interrupt in mid-phrase, and crescendo into arguments over silly misunderstandings. During these days of dissonance, I find myself jumping into the flow of conversation at the wrong time and disrupting what little flow seemed to exist. Everyone grows more agitated and irritable. Nothing, and nobody, seems in tune with anyone else.
There is a solution to those days…a remedy for the out-of-sync family. That remedy involves developing a family rhythm. Developing a family rhythm helps family members become more “in tune” with one another. Through a family rhythm, family members get more in sync and they flow together more naturally, weaving a counterpoint of activities and ideas that fit together in beautiful harmonies. Families with a good family rhythm get along better, enter into conversation at opportune moments, and understand one another more easily. They follow one another’s cues and find their daily lives harmonizing with the family as a whole. Family members learn to take turns playing the lead and willingly “play second fiddle” when another family member takes the lead. Everything seems more fluid, relaxed, and enjoyable. Periods of dissonance are resolved. Moments of complexity and hurry are followed by rest and intimacy. You can imagine how this family rhythm reduces stress and creates greater connection. So, what does a family rhythm involve and how do we create a family rhythm? Here are 5 tips to help develop your family rhythm.
     1.      To develop a family rhythm, think about your typical day and week…and, think about your family values and priorities. Here are some questions to consider: When do people get up? When do various family members have the highest energy? When is energy at its lowest? What activities do you enjoy as a family? What activities do you enjoy as individuals? What do you do on a weekly basis—worship, family nights, movies…? Do these activities fit into your family values and priorities? Why or why not? As you answer these questions, consider how these activities fit together. You may find that you have to remove some activities from your schedule in order to have rhythm and include only those activities that harmonize with your family values. It becomes hard to have a healthy family rhythm when your family life is filled with frenetic activities that keep you rushing from one activity to another. So, really focus on your family priorities and which activities harmonize with those values.

2.      A healthy family rhythm includes time for play. Families that play together find one another’s rhythm. They learn to read one another’s cues and respond to those cues. Whether they be cues of joy or discomfort, play teaches us to recognize them and respond to them in a helpful way. 

3.      A healthy family rhythm includes time for work. Everyone in a family can contribute to the family rhythm and stability. That means everyone has a job to fulfill. When everyone does their part, families find a healthy rhythm. Perhaps the younger children will simply dust or pick up toys, but they can participate in the “work of the home.” This makes everyone a part of the home. Everyone learns that they have a contribution to make. Everyone leans to appreciate the contribution of others. 

4.      A healthy family rhythm also includes time for rest. One of my favorite ways to ‘get in tune’ with my family is to rest together. Some families may rest by taking a nap at the same time. Others find that the best way to rest is taking a walk, listening to music, talking over a cup of coffee, or enjoying a time of recreation together. Whatever helps your family enjoy times of rest will instill a positive rhythm into your family and build opportunities for intimacy.

5.      A healthy family rhythm includes time to eat together. I know our lives are very busy, but if we fit 3-5 family meals in a week we add can beautiful harmony to our family rhythm. Having family meals allows us to talk, learn about one another’s day, discuss future dreams, encourage growth, comfort sorrows, and laugh together. All of this will enhance your family rhythm.
When we get our family in sync and enjoy a positive family rhythm, we find harmony between time as a family and time as individuals; time learning and growing with one another and time becoming more independent; time working and time resting; time rushing in counterpoint to get things done and time enjoying the leisure harmonies of family fellowship. We find harmony, unity, and intimate support. As we practice our family rhythm, we invite future generations into a generational legacy of family rhythm.

A Magic Bullet?

I have spent what seems like a lifetime in search of some way to buffer my children against stress. The world seems to bombard our children with demands and pressures, “you have to’s” and “you better’s.” You know what I mean, the “You have to do perfect on the state assessment tests (PSSA’s for us) or you won’t graduate,” “You must practice all year or you won’t make the team,” “You have to enroll your child in the best preschool or they’ll miss out on the right college,” “You must learn a language, work for extra cash, practice every day for the play, make your curve ball perfect, volunteer each week, study for your bio test, talk to your friends, read 25 books…” You get the idea. I’m sure you have watched your children struggle through this litany of stressors and more. How can we help our children manage this stress? How can we buffer them against this kind of stress? I have finally found one answer to that question. It may not be the only answer, but it is a start…a very important start…and it has added benefits too. What is this magic bullet? Play! That’s right, unsupervised, unstructured, frivolous play. Allowing children to enjoy play, and engaging them in play, will buffer them against stress. Play provides the opportunity for children to work through, and relieve, their stress. Through play, children may act out possible solutions to their stress or simply repeat certain scenarios until they find themselves comfortable with them. In addition, play provides the opportunity for children to discover strengths and competencies, which helps reduce stress. Children can conquer their fears while acting out adult roles through play. They learn to cooperate and work as a group during play. All of this helps build competencies and reduce stress.
When parents allow their children to guide and lead them in a play activity, they learn a lot about their children. They will learn to see the world through their children’s eyes and discover how their children think about the world. This knowledge allows a parent to become familiar with their children and, as a result, more easily address their children’s worries and fears. Parents also learn how to better communicate with their children through the knowledge gained during play. As an added bonus, receiving a parent’s full attention and observing that a parent will follow “my guidance,” provides children with a sense of value…which is another great buffer against stress.

All of this (and I didn’t even mention how play allows a child to grow in creativity, language, negotiation, and self-control) will help your children respond to stress in a positive way. Oh yeah, and it is fun!  Play may not be the only way to help buffer a child against stress, but it is one way I don’t want to miss out on. How about you? Aye, wait a minute…why are you still sitting there? Go on; get out there with your children and play!

Build A Family Legacy of Hospitality

One evening while in college, a friend, his girlfriend, and I were invited to enjoy dinner at the home of my friend’s grandmother. While she fixed dinner, someone knocked on the door. We opened the door to discover a traveling salesman advertising his wares…vacuums in this case. My friend’s grandmother invited him in and allowed him to demonstrate the amazing feats of his vacuum. We all listened while he told us about power, cleanliness, and pricing. She did not buy a vacuum that day. However, while he finished his spiel, my friend’s grandmother set the table, carefully arranging the dishes and chairs to allow for one extra place at the table. As he packed up to leave, she invited him to stay for dinner…and he stayed! That vacuum salesman did not sell a vacuum in that house, but he did enjoy a wonderful dinner before he left. I often remember that incident…a stranger invited in for a dinner, no charge, no expectation, just the hospitality of a good meal and conversation. That day, I learned a lesson on hospitality…I watched as a legacy of hospitality took shape right before my eyes!


Throughout my life, various people have shown great hospitality to me. They have allowed me to sleep in their homes and eat their food. Hospitable people have allowed me to watch TV with them and even let my clumsy hands help them with various projects. One hospitable person even met me at the border of Mexico, escorted me on a bus into Mexico, allowed me to stay at his home, fed me his food, and walked for over half a day to bring back fresh water for me to drink. That is hospitality!


Hospitality is a wonderful legacy to leave our families, a legacy our children can witness as they grow up and emulate when they start their own home. We can build a legacy of hospitality in a couple of ways. First, practice hospitality in your own home…model it. Invite others to share meals with you. Invite guests to visit in your home. This will mean making your home environment welcoming. I used to visit homes for work. Many homes I visited were very hospitable. Some, however, were not hospitable. In some homes I felt like I was not allowed to converse because the TV took priority…or the home was so filled with clutter that I had no place to sit and no one seemed to care that I could not sit. These homes were not conducive to hospitality. They were not welcoming. To practice hospitality, create a home environment that is welcoming to others. Make sure your teens know that there are chips, apples, and oranges for their friends to snack on when they come to visit. Have a place to sit where everyone can see one another and freely talk to one another. Be sure to keep a supply of games for all to enjoy.


Second, quit worrying about whether your home is spotless. Of course, we want it clean enough that no one is uncomfortable, but don’t worry about perfection. Instead of spending your time worrying about every crumb, every ring left by a glass on the coffee table, and every piece of dust, spend your time connecting with the people who come to your home. Instead of rushing around making sure that the food is perfectly prepared and a visual delight, invest your time in talking with your guests. Be a “Mary” rather than a “Martha.” Get to know your guests. Let them experience your acceptance. Connect with them.


A legacy of hospitality will provide you and your family hours of enjoyment and an abundance of positive memories. It will instill a sense of hospitality in your children that they can take with them anywhere they go. You may find them showing polite hospitality in a store by talking with a stressed mother and even allowing her to go through the check-out line first; or, friendly hospitality to the check-out clerk who is having a bad day. A little hospitality in the home will have ripple effects in your family and community.


I like what Lauren Winner says in her book Mudhouse Sabbath. She reminds us that the practice of hospitality is actually modeled after God’s example. God created the world and then invited us in. Although we have made our messes in His creation, He still invites us in. When God became a man and walked the earth as Jesus, He ate with us and entered into our lives. Today, God still invites us into His life. Even more, He invites us into His family! Now that is a legacy of hospitality!

Now That’s A Legacy!

I have heard adults talking about children and making statements like, “He’s got an anger problem, just like his father…” or, “She’s a gossip, just like her mother…” or, “He is so selfish. His grandmother was the same way.” What a terrible family legacy to pass on to our children! I don’t know about you, but I want to pass on a legacy better than “angry,” “gossip,” “selfish,” or any other negative label. I’d rather pass on a legacy of generosity, thoughtfulness, hospitality, gratitude, or kindness. I think I might like to begin the legacy with generosity. A study entitled “Give and You Shall Receive” found that giving generosity to one’s spouse led to greater happiness and marital quality. I like that idea. Moreover, giving generosity had a greater impact than receiving generosity. That finding stands in opposition to our cultural message that close relationships and even marriages “exist primarily to enhance individual happiness and [individual] growth”…in other words, to make me happy. Why would “freely and abundantly giving good things to one’s spouse” increase marital quality and happiness? I’m glad you asked.
     1.      We have to learn about our spouse in order to give her something she will find meaningful. Not everyone finds a bouquet of flowers meaningful; so, we have to become a student of our spouse to discover their interests, likes, and dislikes. We have to know what our spouse considers a “good thing” to receive. Perhaps, in terms of Chapman’s love languages, our spouse might think it a “good thing” to receive “words of affirmation.” On the other hand, they might not. They might consider it a “good thing” to receive “acts of service,” “quality time,” “physical touch,” or “gifts” instead. We have to become a student of our spouse to figure that out!

2.      Not only do we have to become a student of our spouse, we have to take the initiative to act on the knowledge we gain. We have to make practical use of that information. Having a “head knowledge” of what pleases our spouse does no good unless we put it to practical use…unless we act on it. Generosity involves the actual act of “giving” some gift “freely and abundantly.” In the end, “actions speak louder than words” when it comes to generosity.

3.      When our spouse receives a “good thing” from us, they feel greater self-worth. They know that we considered them valuable enough to learn about them. They also know that we find them valuable enough to invest the time and energy necessary to act on that information as well. In addition, their love toward us (the generous spouse) increases.

4.      When our spouse receives a “good thing” from us, it boosts their gratitude and appreciation as well. They become more thankful.
Overall, generosity in marriage increases the satisfaction of both spouses. That’s a “win-win” proposition. Even more, generosity in a marriage will impact the children. The children will witness the generosity of their parents toward one another and, most likely, be the recipient of that same generosity displayed toward them. They will witness the joy of giving “freely and abundantly” to the one’s you love. They will also experience the joy of receiving generosity. As parents model and teach generosity, their children will soon learn the joys of giving and practice the art of giving as well. We will have created a legacy of generosity that will outlive our lifetime and flourish in the generations to come. Can’t you just hear the statements of that legacy? “You are just like your grandfather; he was so generous!” “You really know how to give great gifts, just like your mother.” Now that’s a legacy!

3 Signs You Are A Helicopter Parent

Are you protective of your children? Perhaps even a helicopter parent? Children need a parent to protect and guide them, no doubt. They need parents who will teach them right from wrong and hold them accountable to those standards. They benefit from parents that will support them and advocate for them when necessary. However, in our child-centered culture, some parents have become what many lovingly refer to as “the helicopter parent.” You know who they are…perhaps you have even played the role of a helicopter parent yourself. Unfortunately, playing the helicopter parent carries a cost for you and your children. So, are you a helicopter parent? If so, what are the costs of hovering over our children?
     ·         If you are a helicopter parent, you may find yourself structuring your children’s every waking moment. You may include yourself in their every activity. You will look for reasons to talk with them every waking moment. If they have sport’s practice or music practice, you are there to watch and encourage…every time. If they attend youth groups, you become the sponsor. If they go on a school trip, you become one of the adult chaperones. A helicopter parent’s life revolves around their children and their children’s activities. Where there child goes, the helicopter parent is sure to hover near.
       o    Children benefit from time in which they have nothing to do but play with other children—that means unstructured, unsupervised, no adults involved, creative fun. Given time for this type of play, children develop creative problem-solving skills, resilience, confidence, and the ability to manage their own time. With time away from parents, children grow more independent. They learn how to accept the support and assistance of other trustworthy adults. They build their own support group. They become better decision-makers. Interestingly, children who are provided opportunities to engage in unsupervised play even become more active than those children constantly supervised.

·         If you are a helicopter parent, you may find yourself “stepping in” to save your children from any struggle or potential disappointment. Helicopter parents, not wanting their children to make any mistakes or get a single problem wrong, step in to cajole, explain, and even make corrections saving their children from “suffering” the disappointment of a less than perfect homework assignment. If their children forget an assignment, the helicopter parent dutifully rushes it to the school. If their children begin to experience discomfort with some task, the helicopter parent swoops in to ease the pain and complete the task. No failure allowed…they reason, “It might hinder my children’s self-esteem.”
     o    Children benefit from some struggle, disappointment, and even failure. They learn how to “bounce back.” They discover their own strengths and weaknesses. They learn that momentary failure or disappointment is not the end of the world, but an opportunity to learn, grow, and persist. This leads to greater resilience and strength, persistence and fortitude. A little failure never hurt anyone…some might even say that learning to manage setbacks actually “makes the man.” Like Einstein, Edison, or Lincoln, a child who experiences momentary setbacks can achieve more than their peers who were rescued from setbacks and, as a result, never learned to persist. 

·         If you are a helicopter parent, you may want to be your child’s BFF (Best Friend Forever). Unfortunately, helicopter parents as BFF’s are governed and constrained by fear. They fear that a child’s anger will mean the friendship is broken…so they give in or argue. They try to convince their child to engage in certain behaviors, but fear to push too much and “threaten” the BFF relationship. To compensate, helicopter parents may praise their child incessantly, raving about any success, large or small. Parental BFF’s find themselves subservient to their children’s emotions.
    o    Children benefit from a BFF…but that BFF is not their parent. Children need a parent who they can “look up to” rather than see as an equal. They benefit from a parent who presents a loving, but strong authority figure they can respect…a loving authority that even produces a healthy fear of doing the wrong thing and receiving the “just penalty” for that action, whether that be a disappointed look or some stronger consequence. Of course, that relationship changes as our child grows. However, even as adult children, we respect and submit to our parent’s will out of a respect that was nurtured and taught during childhood.

Are you a helicopter parent? If you are, I’m sure you are acting out of love for your child. Take a moment to consider the truth that setting the helicopter down and parenting from a different perspective actually reveals your love in a deeper and more enduring manner. I invite you to steer over to the landing pad and park the helicopter. Pick up a few shepherding tools and begin to lead your child with the parental authority that will guide them into healthy adulthood.

LOL-On Safari for the Elusive Smile

The smile—you know, that infant giggle that brings joy to a mother’s heart, the hearty laughter of a child telling silly jokes, that elusive expression that goes into hiding through the teen years, the “raucous guffaw” of the adult watching comedy. We love to smile…and laugh. A recent review of a study on smiling and chopsticks made me smile. The researcher had three groups of subjects, each biting a pair of chopsticks to elicit a different face. Specifically, one group bit the chopsticks to stimulate the facial muscles of a fake smile, one to elicit a neutral face, and one to stimulate the muscles of a genuine smile (who thinks this stuff up?). While holding the chopsticks in their mouth, the subjects traced a star, trying to stay within the lines, with their non-dominant hand. Whenever they drew “outside the lines” a loud and annoying buzzer sounded, producing stress. Researchers monitored the subjects’ hearts rates during this task. After the heart rates spiked due to the stress of the loud buzzer, those who “wore a genuine smile” recovered a more relaxed heart rate more quickly than the other two groups. They recovered from the stress more quickly. Smiling enhances heart health. (Read the article here) I just have to smile…I mean, who would think of biting chopsticks and smiling? I guess the Chinese have known it all along-they train people to smile with chopsticks according to this brief article.
Anyway, I decided I’m going on safari this year. I have two teenage daughters (the elusive smile is often in hiding) and various stressors that I believe are more significant than whether I stay within the lines while tracing a star (don’t we all?). If using chopsticks to stimulate the muscles of a genuine smiling can help shorten recovery from stress and benefit the heart, maybe learning to genuinely laugh and smile on a regular basis can help my whole family manage stress and even build some fun into the family. With that in mind, I am in search of “the stuff of smiles.” I am on safari for the elusive smile producers. I have a couple of ideas to set the stage for effectively eliciting genuine smiles on the face of our family.
First, I hope to create a family environment that will encourage smiling. That is, everyone needs to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they can find acceptance in our home. Accept family members, smiles or not. Let it be known that mistakes are accepted… and allowed. In fact, learn to enjoy the humor in a simple mistake. Model smiling at your own mistakes.
Second, bring opportunities for smiling into your home. Play games just for fun. Who cares who wins…just have fun. Tell jokes. Get a book of silly jokes. Look up some jokes on the internet (Ducksters is a fun sight for jokes for younger children). Tell funny stories from your own childhood. My kids love to hear about the day I fell into the baptistery or ate a worm to impress a girl (yes, I know…not a smart move on my part). Watch a funny movie. Do whatever it takes to find that smile in your family and enjoy it.
Some of my favorite family times include my family laughing hysterically, tears rolling down our eyes, unable to even speak because we are laughing so hard. Sometimes I end up laughing just because my wife and daughter are laughing so hard. Remembering those times, I realize it is true… stress is relieved when we laugh. A fresh spirit of revival enters the home during a season of laughter. Oh yeah, I am on safari for the elusive smile this year. You’ll know if you see my family…they’ll be the ones with a smile on their face (even without biting on a chopstick)!

Heroes: Step Aside, Competence Awaits

Several years ago, I watched a 6-year-old leaping up and down in an attempt to grab a bar and hold onto it while sliding across a low hanging beam. She had done it several times, but had now grown tired. So, she jumped and missed the bar several times. Each time she missed, she would grunt and groan…louder and louder with each failed attempt. Her father (I knew the family) walked over and offered to lift her up to grab the bar. She refused and continued to try on her own. With each attempt, her groans grew more frustrated and her uncle (who was also at the park) grew more frustrated. “Would you just help her already?” the uncle yelled from where he sat talking to another girl. But, the father did not help. He simply stood next to his daughter and offered as much support as she wanted. Within moments, the 6-year-old’s persistence paid off. She caught the bar and slid across the beam… smiling from ear to ear at her accomplishment.
On the surface this looks like a child playing in the park. Her father and uncle stood nearby: one grew increasingly frustrated and wanted to step in to solve the dilemma while the other just stood idly by offering his help if desired. But, look again. On a deeper level, this incident epitomizes the development of competence. Competence is rooted in the experience of facing and mastering challenges. It necessitates that parents learn to balance when to get out of their child’s way while she persists in some task and when to join in and solve the problem. Consider what this father communicated to his child by allowing her to persist and simply offering help instead of intruding with assistance:
·         “You can decide if you want help. You are wise enough to make that decision. You are competent to decide.”
·         “You can solve this problem and I trust your ability to do so. You are competent to do it.”
Many times parents simply have to get out of the way so a child can gain competence. We have to allow our children to figure out how to finish their own projects, completing it to their own specifications. When we step in to figure it out for them, we communicate that we do not believe in their wisdom, their creativity, or their capabilities. We save them from learning the benefit of persistence. We even teach them that they do not have to work for success, Mom and Dad will fix it instead. Our children come to believe that our actions prove they lack wisdom, creativity, and ability. They come to believe that failure is inevitable. They learn that they lack competence; that they are incompetent. That is not what we want our children to learn, but when we step in that is what we teach them. It can be difficult not step in, to let them struggle instead. Seeing our children struggling in frustration sounds our internal alarm. The “mother bear” or “protector of the house” moves in to save and protect. We have the experience that can help, the ability to make an impact, the power to make it easier for them. We can be our child’s hero. Unfortunately, acting on that impulse, becoming the hero, often leads to children who have no personal competence and a great dependency on their parents.

So, step aside. A true hero knows when to help and when to watch. Let your child figure it out. Let them struggle through the task. Even allow them to fail and, through that failure, learn how to get up, dust off, and “get back on the horse.” Let them learn that they have competence. Even more, let them learn that they are competent.