Archive for June 29, 2024

To Grow, Teach Your Younger Self

College age (the late teens and early twenties) has become a time of rapid transition and change. Many young adults may have more addresses during this time of life than they did from birth through high school. Along with different addresses are different roommates and different neighborhood experiences. They also experience a changing, developing sense of identity as they move from childhood to adulthood, from a stage of dependency and living within the rules of family to independence and developing their own life rules. They may even experiment with behaviors we don’t especially like. Importantly though, they also exhibit a growing sense of wisdom and insight. A study from the University of Surrey capitalized on that growing wisdom and insight. They had participants between the ages of 20- and 24-years-old look at photographs of their teen selves while reflecting aloud, offering advice and reflecting on life. Many told themselves to set clear boundaries, let go of bad relationships, or embrace change.  In general, their reflections clarified three lessons they learned.

  1. Create a safe space. Creating a safe space includes choosing supportive friends and walking away from negative relationships that might harm their well-being in some way. It also included setting and maintaining clear boundaries to support their growth, self-respect, and emotional health.
  2. Take a broader perspective. These young adults encouraged their teen selves to understand that everyone faces challenges. They reminded themselves that they were not alone in their struggles but that their struggles represented the common struggle of humanity. They reflected on the importance of valuing themselves for their character, not their appearance. This broader perspective also led them to resist social labels that try to “pigeonhole” them and instead live a life of character based on personal values.
  3. Trust yourself. In this category, participants emphasized the importance of taking care of themselves, focusing on personal growth, and avoiding comparing themselves to others. They noted that failure represented an opportunity for growth as much as success did, that persevering through challenges actually promoted growth and development in a positive way.

Those lessons sound like excellent advice for everyone to learn, especially those in their late teens and early twenties. Maybe you have a child in that age range. If you do, you might enjoy a fun family night of giving advice to your younger selves. Give everyone a picture of their teen self and allow each one to spend several minutes reflecting on themselves before offering any advice to their younger self that they would like to give. Parents could do this as well as young adults. You and your young adult might just learn some important lessons about life, family, and self. You might find yourself having some great discussion as a family about life, meaning, and important lessons we all need to learn.

Family, Anger, and the Heart

Anger…everyone experiences anger. We get angry over so many things. Even those we love can arouse our anger at times. Many times, however, our anger is not a “righteous anger” over some injustice or true wrong but a reflection of our selfishness—things don’t go “my” way, someone interferes with “me” getting what “I” want, or something making “me look bad.” Perhaps it is that selfish aspect of anger that can make it so detrimental to our relational and physical health. It’s true, anger is detrimental to our physical health.

In fact, a study recently compared the impact of sadness, anxiety, and anger on vascular functioning, which impacts heart health. The results of this study revealed that sadness and anxiety did not impact vascular functioning, but anger did. Anger led to an “impairment in blood vessel dilation,” which can increase the risk of heart disease.

Why do I tell you this? Because I know you love your family with all your heart and, as a result, you want to protect your heart and your family’s heart by helping everyone manage anger effectively. Do so begins with you. When you model effective anger management, your spouse and children will likely learn better anger management skills as well. What are these skills?

  • Identifying the thoughts that escalate your “anger cycle.” When you become angry, what thoughts go through your mind? These thoughts will likely follow a pattern, so identify the pattern. Does the pattern of thought involve personalizing? Catastrophizing or generalizing? Blaming? Unrealistic expectations? As you identify these anger promoting thought patterns, write down alternative, yet realistic, thoughts that will help manage your anger, soothe your anger, see the situation in a more realistic manner rather than through the lens of anger. For example, rather than generalizing, make the thought specific. Instead of catastrophizing, let the thought reflect the temporary nature of the situation. If you hold unrealistic expectations, write down realistic expectations.
  • While looking at your “anger cycle,” become aware of what you feel physically as anger escalates. How does your body feel different when you are a little agitated versus angry versus “about to blow”? Where do you first feel anger in your body? How do you recognize anger in your neck, torso, hands, legs, head? Now, practice relaxation exercises for each body part. Learn how you can help that body part relax and “stay calm” in the midst of anger.
  • Breath. Take a deep breath and blow the breath out slowly as if you were blowing through a straw. As you let your breath slowly escape, turn your head to look around the room and notice the details of where you are. You’ll be surprised how much your anger will calm while doing this simple breath.
  • Walk away for 30 minutes. Rather than dwell and let the anger escalate, ask to take a break with the promise of returning to the issue at hand after 30 minutes. During your break, don’t dwell on the issue triggering your anger. If you are angry at a loved one, remember the loving times you have enjoyed with them. Sing a song. Do a puzzle. Read a magazine. Chances are, as you allow your mind to dwell on something other than your anger, you will return calmer and may even wonder why it had escalated so much to begin with.
  • Apologize for the part you played in the situation that aroused the anger. Apologize with no “but’s.” Simply take responsibility for any part you played in the anger arousing situation. Apology is humbling, but it reflects love and strength. It proves stronger than anger.
  • Practice forgiveness. Don’t hold a grudge. Let go of the desire for revenge and begin to intentionally think about the other person’s well-being. It’s an act of altruism and often demands a price, but forgiveness contributes to decreasing anger, increasing justice, and increasing intimacy.

Don’t let anger infect the hearts of you or your family members. Instead, let anger signal the need to relax your body, assess your thoughts and expectations, apologize, and forgive. Your heart and your family’s heart will thank you. In fact, they’ll love you wholeheartedly for managing your anger effectively.

The Success of the “Good Enough Parent”

Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician, coined the term “good enough mother” in the 1950’s. Today, however, many parents fear that “good enough” just isn’t good enough. They strive to become the “perfect parent.” But becoming a “perfect parent” just isn’t possible. In fact, striving to become the “perfect parent” will backfire and create even more difficulties. In fact, a study that involved over 700 parents found that the pressure to become a “perfect parent” contributed to parental burnout. In this study, 57% of parents reported symptoms of burnout in relation to their role as a parent. High self-expectations about what children “should be doing” and what opportunities they “should have” contributed to the pressure to become a “perfect parent.” Comparisons to other children and families also contributed to unrealistic expectations. Many parents see other families on social media smiling and having fun or in public as they put their best foot forward and think, “How are they doing all that? Why can’t I do it? What’s wrong with me?” We forget that we only see the positive side of their family life. In reality, they may be emotionally and physically exhausted and thinking the same thing about you.

Parental burnout had several negative repercussions in this study. First, parental burnout led to parents feeling more depressed and anxious. They became more irritable toward others in their lives. This interfered with their ability to have positive interactions with their children. Second, parents experiencing burnout tended to have children with more mental health issues like anxiety and depression as well. Children need healthy parents. The healthiest children also have parents who take time for self-care in order to manage their own emotional, mental, and physical health.

A third finding in this study, and the one I find most interesting, involved findings around what contributed to the healthiest children in the study. Specifically, “the more free play time that parents spend with their children and the lighter the load of structured extracurricular activities, the fewer mental health issues in their children.” Isn’t that interesting? When parents take time to engage their children in free play, it benefits their children. To have time for free play as a family will mean less time involved in structured extracurricular activities. In other words, the healthiest children and families did not succumb to the social pressure to achieve, the cultural expectation of over-scheduled lives, or the demand for involvement in multiple structured activities to prepare for future opportunities. They simply enjoyed one another. They probably still engaged in some structured activities, but a limited amount. They did not allow the cultural pressure for achievement and success to drive their family. Instead, they enjoyed time with one another in fun, playful activities. They didn’t feel the need to become the “perfect parent” with the “perfect child” who experiences “perfect success and achievement” in all areas to prepare for college and their future. Instead, they celebrated being a “good enough parent” with a happy child who experiences success in some areas while laughing and playing in even more areas. They enjoyed The Blessings of a B Minus…and the blessings of a healthy, happy family and child. Doesn’t that sound inviting?

Marriage Advice from Couples Married 40+ Years

Maintaining a healthy, happy marriage can prove challenging in a world focused on self, personal career, instant gratification, and “me.” It actually requires a shift in focus. This begs the question: what is the “secret” of a healthy, happy marriage? That’s what researchers asked 180 couples who had enjoyed a healthy, 40-plus year marriage. Here are the top four answers given…well, actually six with two ties.

  • Tied for the fourth most common answer is compromise and love. Compromise is that “give and take” of a marriage. One person can’t always receive while the other gives. Happy marriages focus on compromise, developing a solution that satisfies “us” instead of “me.” Compromise flows when both partners are more interested in their relational health and their partner’s happiness and well-being than they are about their own wants and desires. Love speaks to the need for each partner to feel valued, respected, and cared for. It involves knowing that your partner cares more deeply and will compromise to promote your happiness. A partner knows their spouse loves them because their spouse turns to them first when celebrating a success of any kind and when mourning a loss of any kind. Love seeks out the one they love first.
  • Number three brings in another tie between communication and shared values. It is not surprising that these two go together. Two people enter a marriage with their own values and learn to negotiate shared values from there. This demands communication, lots of healthy communication (and compromise as noted in #4). Couples forge their shared values through living together, talking together, and talking some more. This level of communication demands that we value the other person enough to believe they have a legitimate point of view, a point of view as worthy as our own and a point of view worthy of deep consideration. With this attitude and with lots of communication, a couple develops a shared sense of values that holds them close to one another.
  • The number two secret of a healthy marriage is practicing unselfish, even sacrificial, giving toward our spouse. This flies in the face of the hyper-individualized society in which we live. An unselfish spouse considers their partner as “more important than themselves.” They do not merely look out for their own personal interests but also for the interests of their spouse” (Philippians 2:3). In seeking to meet the needs of their partner, an unselfish spouse willingly makes sacrifices. Such sacrifices are a lost art today, but an essential ingredient in a long-term, healthy marriage according to those married for 40-plus years.
  • And the number one secret of a healthy marriage? Commitment. Commitment remains essential for a long-term, healthy marriage. Every marriage will experience good times and hard times. Affection and attraction may wax and wane, as will your sense of emotional closeness. However, the commitment to “stay the course,” to “take the long view” and “hold on,” contributes to the rekindling of affection, the deepening of trust and, as a result, intimacy, and a maturing of attraction. Commitment is the glue that keeps all these ingredients in play and growing over time.

There you have it, ingredients for a long-term, healthy, and happy marriage straight from the mouths of those who have over 40-years of healthy marriage. Which ones do you need to improve in your marriage?

A Social Media Surprise

A study that tracked 800 participants between the ages of 10- to 18-years by collecting data five times arrived at a surprising finding…a finding that may bring relief to many parents. This study suggests that teens who used social media actually spent more time with friends offline as well. That’s good news because face-to-face interactions (offline interactions) seem to be associated with positive mental health. Face-to-face interactions also provide opportunities to learn and practice positive social skills. What a surprising relief! Using social media did not reduce offline, face-to-face interactions. Instead, “higher social media engagement was linked with increased time spent with friends in person” as well.

(There was one group of teens for whom this was not true. If a teen struggled with social anxiety, using social media at a high rate puts them at risk of developing poorer social skills.)

Another study explored how digital communication impacted connectedness, positive social comparison, authentic self-presentation, civil participation, and self-control. This study suggests that teens fare better, have more positive digital communications that exhibit the above traits noted above when their parents actively engage with them around positive online communication and “know their way around technology.”

Social media and digital communication are rather new parenting challenges. It’s good to know that social media use does not reduce offline face-to-face interactions (except, perhaps, for those struggling with symptoms of social anxiety). However, that does not mean we simply let go and ignore how our children utilize social media and technology. In fact, as the second study suggests, our children learn to manage social media and technology in a healthy manner when they have an actively engaged parent who also manages their social media and technology use in a healthy manner. With all this in mind, let me offer two suggestions for all parents:

  1. Utilize technology and social media yourself but do so in a healthy manner. Don’t phub your children through “technoference.” Make sure your actions reveal that you love your children more than your phone, tablet, or computer.
  2. Remain actively involved in your children’s lives. Set healthy, age-appropriate boundaries on technology. Recognize that setting healthy boundaries will require some discussion as your children mature. Play games online and offline with them. Get to know their friends. Text, not just to check in on them or give them a directive, but also to communicate something fun in the moment. Most importantly, remain actively engaged in your children’s online and offline lives.

Five Things Teens Want You to Know

Ellen Galinsky, author of The Breakthrough Years, surveyed over 1,600 people between 9 years old and 19 years old and their parents. She collated their answer into five important messages teens want adults to know about them.

One, teens want adults to understand their development. All too often adults view teens as “deficient adults”–immature, moody, or risk-taking little adults. Unfortunately, that’s like calling a toddler ” a deficient preschooler.” Toddlers and preschoolers, like adolescents and adults, are two unique developmental stages in а person’s life. In the adolescent’s unique stage of development, exploration and adventure are necessary. They help the teen individuate, learn about their likes and dislikes, limits, and passions. One researcher noted that teens were “learning to be brave.” I believe they are also learning to be safe, to live their values, to impact their world.

Two, they want adults to talk WITH them, not AT them. They don’t want adults to simply tell them what to do. They want to discuss what to do. They want to be heard and considered in the process of finding a solution together.

Three, teens don’t want to be stereotyped. Even tweens and teens are unique, different from one another. Each teen is an individual with unique strengths and weakness, abilities and needs. Unfortunately adults (all of us I fear) too often lump all teens into same category… and the categories are often negative. For instance, adults often talk as if all teens are impulsive, at risk of addiction to any variety of things, hormonally driven and sexual obsessed, and rebellious. We forget that many teens have come up with creative solutions to community problems because they are willing to break with “the way we’ve always done it.” Many teens volunteer and show extreme kindness. Many teens do not use substances and love the outdoors. Teens have as much unique individuality as adults… Maybe more.

Four, teens want adults to understand their needs. In particular, teens want adults to understand their growing need for autonomy as well as their need for relationships and caring connection. They want adults to understand their need to feel supported & respected, especially by the important adults in their lives. And teens want to find ways to make an important contribution to their home, community, world.

Five teens want to learn stuff that’s useful.  They want to learn skills like goal setting, collaboration, communication, emotional intelligence, and perspective-taking. These skills build success overtime. They contribute to better relationships, effective work environments, greater work success, and healthier marriages and families. Who wouldn’t want to learn these skills!

Now you know these five facts teens want you to know. Think about ways in which you can apply this knowledge into the relationships you share with the teens in your life. You’ll find a greater joy in the relationship when you do.

Social Media and a Better Body Image

Body image is a growing issue among young women, women like our daughters and our wives. However, a study from York University’s faculty of health showed a way to help improve body image. This study involved freshman college women (first year undergraduates) who were divided into two groups. One group continued to use social media as they always did. The other group took a “one-week vacation” from all social media apps including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and others. The study began with surveys assessing the baseline of self-esteem and body image. The participants completed these surveys again after the on-week intervention.

The results? The young women who took a one-week vacation from social media use exhibited an increase in positive self-esteem and body satisfaction. The increase in positive self-esteem included all areas of self-esteem assessed, including performance, appearance, and social effectiveness. Additionally, those who exhibited the greatest improvement in self-esteem and body satisfaction were the most vulnerable, those most focused on a “thin ideal.”

Why does taking “a week off” social media contribute to an increase in positive self-esteem and body satisfaction? Good question. First, a week off social media means spending less time making comparisons to others. It limits the fear-of-missing-out that grows out of those comparisons. It also means less time viewing filtered images of other people’s bodies. Secondly, less time on social media may mean spending more time socializing face-to-face, sleeping, getting outdoors, getting exercise, or some other healthier activity. In other words, the time spent on social media may get replaced with healthier activities.

What does all this mean for you and your family? That’s the important question for me. If you, or someone in your family, struggle with body image and self-esteem, you might try taking a week off of social media. Maybe you can even take a week off of social media as a family. You might replace the time spent on social media sits with family time playing games, getting outdoors, interacting with actual eye contact. All these activities will contribute to greater family joy and intimacy. I’m checking my summer now so I can include a one-week social media vacation for my family. When will you schedule your family social media vacation?

To My Children: Thank You

Full disclosure: I love being a parent. Granted, parenting has its times of struggle. Over the years, I have experienced fears and concerns that threatened to rob me of joy in the process. I have experienced moments of frustration and disagreement also. But the ongoing times of joy, pride, and celebration far outweigh any negative moments. Still, I have two beautiful adult daughters who continue to add joy to my life. As I recall their years of growing up, I realize that I need to thank them. They helped me become a better person as we journeyed through our lives together…and I continue to become a better person through their involvement in my life today. So let me give you thanks.

  • Thank you for enjoying life with me. We have enjoyed music, food, play, and more together. I am so grateful that you were, and are, willing to share life with me.
  • Thank you for teaching me to listen more deeply. You opened me up to better know the value of patiently taking the time to listen and understand. You helped me understand how easily we can misunderstand and the power of listening to reach understanding.
  • Thank you for expanding my horizons. I have seen more of life than I had ever dreamed possible because of you. I have experienced more music, more ideas, more people, more places than I ever would have without you. You have “opened my eyes” to many aspects of the world I would have missed otherwise.
  • Thank you for helping me clarify my values and priorities. Sometimes you did this by asking questions; at other times by pushing against those values I do my best to exemplify. Most the time, however, your mere existence forced me to clarify my priorities and values. Your presence compelled me to examine my values as more than lofty ideas but as a lifestyle in which my everyday actions and words needed to match my beliefs for all to see. Thank you. 
  • Thank you for laughing with me and for making me laugh. I find great joy and happiness in the memories of laughter we have shared and in the assurance of future laughter I know we will share.
  • Thank you for celebrating with me. We have had and will continue to have wonderful celebrations for whatever reasons we can conceive of.
  • Thank you for teaching me about parts of the world (places, people, ideas, information) that I knew little about. I enjoy learning from you and have learned things I would have never known in a thousand years if not for you.  You both traveled (sometimes far away and sometimes near) and came home with wonderful stories of amazing places and beautiful people. I love to hear those stories about your experiences in the world.
  • Thank you for including me in your “worlds.”  I sit with “wide-eyed joy and anticipation” to witness concerts, talks, or writings of which you are a part. When you were little people often referred to you as “my daughters.” Today, I feel pride when people refer to me as “your father.” It is a joy to become known first and perhaps only as “your father” as I step into “your worlds.”
  • Most of all, thank you for your love. Knowing you love me means the world to me. Thank you for expressing that love in little everyday ways. Thank you for sharing your lives with me. Thank you for your love.

What Makes a Marriage Healthy?

What makes for a happy marriage? That’s a good question. Many times, I meet couples in which one person thinks the relationship is fine while the other person is ready to end the relationship and leave. One seems happy and completely unaware that their partner is not happy. In our individual-focused culture, you can see how this might happen. One person’s needs are being met and, for them, that’s what marriage is about–their happiness. They enjoy their happiness, focus on their happiness, and never look deeply at their spouse’s happiness. They may even provide their spouse what would they think would make them happy. They provide financial security when their spouse desires quality time sharing important conversation and emotions with one another. They provide service, cleaning the home and doing tasks around the house, when their spouse desires physical affection. But, focused on “my” idea of happiness and “my” own sense of happiness, they miss their spouse’s need for something different.

Overall, individual happiness is not a great indicator of a healthy marriage because a healthy marriage involves two people in relationship. A healthy marriage is about “relational-connectivity”–behaviors and beliefs that focus relationship not individuality. What does that entail? Here are three factors involved in relational-connectivity.

  • Commitment. In healthy marriages, both spouses have a high sense of commitment. They maintain a long-term view of the relationship and nurture the permanence of the relationship. As a result, they turn toward their spouse for emotional support, mental stimulation, and physical affection. They turn to their spouse to celebrate positive happenings in their life and to express sorrow over hardships. They nurture this commitment by:
    • Dreaming about the future together. This may include supporting one another’s dreams as well as developing dreams as a couple.
    • Making future plans together. This may include something as simple as making weekend plans together. It may also include planning yearly vacations and getaways. In addition, it may include planning the trip of your dreams or planning a trip for your anniversary…or planning a trip “just because.”
    • Turning away from other options for intimacy and emotional support and seeking that support only from your spouse.
    • Prioritizing their marriage. We tend to focus on and nurture those things to which we are most committed. We nurture our marriage with kindness, affection, and time when we prioritize it.
  • Practice Being Other-centered. The spouse of a selfish person finds it more difficult to stay in a long-term relationship. On the other hand, having an “other-centered” perspective allows one to see their spouse and their needs as well as respond to meet those needs. An other-centered spouse nurtures their marriage with:
    • Acts of kindness for their spouse.
    • Knowing and “learning to speak” their spouse’s love language.
    • Engaging in behaviors they know brings their spouse joy.
    • Serving their spouse.
    • Making sacrifices, large and small, for their spouse.
  • Compassion. A compassionate spouse is there when their spouse needs them. They recognize times in which their spouse needs extra time, extra rest, or extra affection…and they provide it. A compassionate spouse is also ready to forgive. Ironically, a compassionate spouse is also ready to apologize when they see they’ve hurt their spouse. And they are ready to “bear the fruit” of that apology, to make the necessary change.

Our culture tends to be very individualistic, and this focus on the individual presents a danger for a healthy marriage. A healthy marriage is countercultural. It is relationally focused. It is “other-centered,” committed to relationship, and compassionate.  Open your eyes and become aware of your spouse. Prioritize your marriage. Commit to your marriage. You and your spouse will both be glad you did.