The Internet: Is It a Risk or an Opportunity for Your Child? YES!!

Let’s face it. The cyberworld, with all its knowledge, gaming, social media, and videos has taken up residence in our homes…and it’s here to stay.

Some families respond to the cyberworld with fear…and rightly so. It is filled with risk.

Other families respond to the cyberworld with joy and anticipation…and rightly so. It is filled with opportunities.

In fact, the cyberworld has both risks and opportunities, just like every other facet of life that our children encounter. I love the graphic on page 8 of this presentation. It shows the risk and opportunity of both the cyberworld and the non-cyberworld. YouTube presents risks and opportunities in a similar fashion as movies, twitter as the social gathering at a park, amazon as a bookstore, and so forth. Perhaps two of the biggest differences between the spaces being compared in this graphic are how familiar we, as parents, are with each one and how easily we can shelter our children from the risks while affording them the opportunities. Nonetheless, they both carry risks and opportunities.

What can a parent do to limit the risks of the cyberworld while affording their children the chance to enjoy the opportunities? The first thing to do is to educate yourself about the cyberworld as best you can.

  • Talk with your children about various social media sites, games, or video cites. I don’t mean educate them. Let them educate you. I talked with young man last week who talked about several groups focused on improving society through their Facebook or YouTube accounts.  
  • Engage the cyberworld with your child. Play some games with them. Watch videos together. Share videos with one another. As you learn about social media, interact with our children via social media.
  • Learn firsthand about the cyberworld and its “draw.” As you do, share with your children what you learn and how you have established personal boundaries to maintain the cyberworld as a tool in our life rather than letting it become your “master.”

As with so many aspects of parenting, the best way to teach our children is to begin by being a good role model. Let them see you manage the cyberworld in a healthy manner. Let them see how you limit the risk and emphasize the opportunities. It’s only a beginning, but a great beginning it is!

The First 3 Minutes: Predicting & Reflecting

Three minutes. That’s all it took. Three minutes…and the researchers could predict who would be divorced within six years. It was a study completed by John Gottman and Sybil Carrere to see if the way a discussion of marital conflict began would predict divorce. The study involved observing couples engage in 15-minute conversations about an area of marital disagreement. Want to know the secret of the first 3 minutes?

Three minutes. That’s all it took. Three minutes…and the researchers could predict who would be divorced within six years. It was a study completed by John Gottman and Sybil Carrere to see if the way a discussion of marital conflict began would predict divorce. The study involved observing couples engage in 15-minute conversations about an area of marital disagreement. Want to know the secret of the first 3 minutes?

If the first 3 minutes of a conversation about a marital conflict started with criticism and involved more negative affect (disgust, contempt, anger, defensiveness) than positive affect (interest, validation, humor, affection), divorce was more likely within the next 6 years. For husbands, the atmosphere of the first 3 minutes of the discussion tended to amplify over the remaining 12 minutes of the conversation. Those who grew more negative more quickly over the remaining 12 minutes were most likely to be divorces. For wives, the rest of the conversation remained similar to the first 3 minutes. Either way, the more negative the first 3 minutes of a conversation, the more likely the couple would divorce within 6 years.

Let me say this in a more personal way. I don’t want you to miss its importance. If you initiate a conversation about a marital conflict with a harsh statement or criticism about your partner or their character, they are more likely to respond with defensiveness. From there, your conversation will likely remain negative at best, and, at worst, grow more negative. That growing negativity predict the greater possibility of your divorce within the next 6 years. And no married couple wants to go through a divorce.

On the other hand, the first 3 minutes of the conversation about a marital conflict also reflects the past. It predicts the future AND it reflects the past. Let me explain. Marital partners invite one another to connect and interact hundreds of times a day (see RSVP for Intimacy in Your Family). When each person responds to those invitations with interest and genuine responsiveness, an environment of trust and security grows. In that environment, one person is less likely to begin a conversation about some marital conflict with a harsh statement or criticism. And, if they do, their partner is better able to remain non-defensive and open to hear the concern. They show a greater willingness to accept their spouse’s influence and change. As a result, the relationship grows. Love and intimacy are nurtured. 

So, 3 minutes… 3 short minutes that reflect a history of marital interactions and predict the future of the marriage. What will your 3 minutes reflect…and predict?

Parenting: A Christ-Like Vocation

I read an interesting quote about parenting that made me to stop and ponder.

“There is no other thing you do in life only that the person you do it for can leave you. When they leave, that is success; when they do something because they want to do it and not because you want them to do it, then you have done your job. You succeed when you make yourself irrelevant, when you lose yourself.” (Keith Gessen in Raising Raffi)

It’s true. Raising a child is one of the most rewarding opportunities a person can ever experience. It is also a challenge. It’s bittersweet; and it’s beautiful. Becoming a parent compels us to become a better person. In fact, becoming a parent may well prove one of the most influential ways of shaping us in godly, Christ-like character.

If you’ve gone to Sunday School, I’m sure you heard that a “person who seeks to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will be saved.” Parents invest their time and energy into their children. Rather than invest solely in their own interests and pleasures, they invest in their children’s growth and enjoyment. In a sense, parents quit seeking to save their own life and start investing in their children’s lives. They focus on their children’s lives and, in so doing, find their own joy and happiness in watching their children become mature and responsible adults.

Parents serve their children with no expectation of being served in return. Sure, children contribute to the household in age determined ways. But parents encourage them to contribute to the household so they can mature and grow into responsible adults, not so they can serve their parents. In fact, most chores would likely go faster and more efficiently if a parent did them on their own rather than allow their 8-year-old to help. But we encourage the 8-year-old to help because we are in service to their development and maturation.  Parents serve their children by providing for their physical, emotional, and mental needs. It’s as if we came into parenthood to serve, not to be served.

Serving and investing in our children’s lives results in sacrifice. Not only do parents sacrifice time and energy, but they sacrifice a new set of clothes to get their children school clothes. They sacrifice the last piece of chicken so their child can have it. They sacrifice willingly and lovingly, out of a desire for their children’s best interest above their own. And they sacrifice without complaint. Many don’t even recognize their parents’ sacrifices for us until we are older and have a more mature perspective. But parents continue to sacrifice anyway.

Then, perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all, we let them go. They leave. They no longer need us. We have “made ourselves irrelevant.” As harsh as this sounds, isn’t it what Christ did when, “although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant”?  He emptied Himself, made Himself of no reputation, became “irrelevant” according to worldly standards. Yet, it was through that giving up of Himself that He brought us into His loving family as children of God. Perhaps it’s because parents give themselves up for their children that their children become mature and are then able to truly return a deeper, truer love to their parent.  

Investing in another more than myself. Serving another’s needs more than my own needs. Sacrificing for the good of another. Sounds like a parent. Sounds like growing in godly character. Sounds like love. If you will pardon my paraphrase: parents “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard their children as more important than themselves; [they] do not merely look out for their own personal interests, but also for the interests of their children” (adapted from Paul, Philippians 2:3-4).

Offended by Family: Forgiveness or Revenge?

If you have a family (and unless you were hatched from some alien species, you do), then you have encountered the need and the opportunity to forgive. Forgiveness is hard. You may have even thought, “Why should I forgive him? He never changes. He never apologizes. Why should I forgive him?” Let me offer an answer by way of a study published in 2022.

In this study, 546 participants wrote about a time in which they had been wronged by another person. Then, they wrote a letter to the person who wronged them. Some were instructed to write a letter forgiving the person and others to get revenge. The letters were not sent, only written.

After writing about the scenario of hurt and a letter of forgiveness or revenge, the participants rated themselves on traits such as warmth & morality—traits measuring their personal sense of humanity. The results revealed some important reasons to forgive.

Those who had written letters of forgiveness rated themselves with a higher level of perceived humanity than those who wrote letters of revenge. In other words, forgiving contributed to a person feeling more human. It made them feel better about themselves as human beings. Those who wrote letters of forgiveness also reported less “inclination toward self-harm” than those who wrote letters of revenge.  

In another experiment, college students either imagined one of two scenarios: a coworker insulting their presentation or a coworker having a positive interaction with them. Those who imagined being insulted experienced a decrease in their feelings of “self-humanity.” They felt “dehumanized.” However, if they imagined forgiving their coworker, their level of self-humanity returned to normal.  If they imagined taking revenge, their perceived level of humanity remained low; they continued to feel dehumanized. Forgiveness led to an increased recognition of one’s own humanity. Interesting, isn’t it? Forgiveness seems to make us feel more human, more humane. So, why should you forgive that family member who hurt you? For one thing, doing so will make you feel more human. It will make you feel better about yourself as a person. That’s great…but it’s only the beginning. Forgiving also presents an opportunity for the other person to grow. It opens the door to restoring the relationship. It reveals the character of God. So, even though it can prove difficult to do at times, forgive. A healthy sense of self and a healthy marriage (with a more satisfying sex life, by the way) awaits you when you do.

How Does Your Family Feel About Emotions?

I’m a behavioral health therapist. You know, a “how-do-you-feel-about-that” kind of guy. But truth be told, I’m not one who exhibits deep displays of emotion. I feel them, but I don’t express them loudly.

I’m also the father of two daughters. If you happen to have daughters, you know how emotive they can be during their growing years. At times I was simply overwhelmed by their display of excitement, hurt, joy, or sadness. So, I had a couple of choices. How would I respond to their emotions? How would I model treating emotions in my family?

I could teach my daughters that emotions are too much to manage. They aren’t safe to express. I could encourage them through my actions and words to push their emotions down, muffle them, deny them, keep them bottled up. “Stop crying. You have nothing to cry about.” In other words, I could encourage them to repress their emotions. But simply repressing emotions has a way of transforming into hiding emotions under overworking, drinking too much, obsessive scrolling, simply disappearing from the lives of others, or…any number of other negative behaviors. That’s no good.

Or I could teach them that emotional expression is simply “bad.”  In my own sense of being overwhelmed, I could yell at them for being “too loud,” “too much trouble,” or “out-of-control.” I could aggressively shut them down with critical name-calling or threats of harsh punishment. But then they’ll just internalize those harsh criticisms about themselves and others. They’ll follow the example of holding emotions in until they bubble over in aggressive words and actions of their own. No. that is not what I want my daughters to learn.

Or, perhaps the best choice, I could teach my children that emotions are welcome. They present us with information we need to take care of ourselves, even the sad and angry emotions. So, I could make sure that emotions are welcome in our home. I could accept them, all of them. I could listen to them deeply to understand their message…and so teach my children to listen deeply as well. I could hold their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment. In the process, my daughters will learn that they are loved and accepted, even when sad or angry or overwhelmingly excited. That acceptance and love, combined with their parents’ attentive ear, builds the internal resources they need to manage those emotions independently. That sounds like a great place to start.

The choice is made…a “no-brainer” really. I’m going to allow emotions, welcoming and accepting each one. And, in the holding of their emotions in a welcoming, accepting environment, my children will learn to express their emotions in a safe way. No. I won’t be perfect. Nobody is. But making this choice provides the best goal, an ideal that’s worth striving for. Will you make the same choice for your children and your family?

Another Way to Beat Depression in Your Family

Depression is a growing problem in our country, especially among our teens and young adults. However, an interesting study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a way to limit depression in your family. This study involved 72 males between 18- and 25-years-old who scored in the moderate to severe range of depression based on Beck’s Depression Inventory Scale. These young men were randomly assigned to one of two groups for twelve weeks. One group talked with a researcher about neutral topics like movies or hobbies. The other group received education and support to help them eat a Mediterranean Diet. Those who ate the Mediterranean Diet showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. Amazingly, 100% of them showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms and 36% dropped from moderate/severe depression to low/minimal depression on the Becks Depression Inventory Scale.

Why would a healthy diet like the Mediterranean Diet have such a profound effect on well-being and mood? Because it provides a person with the nutrients they need to act as the precursors and building blocks for the neurotransmitters that promote positive mental health.

For me, this information presents another way for us to limit depression in our families. Eat a healthy diet filled with the nutrients necessary to build the neurotransmitters we need for our physical health and our mental health. This study focused specifically on the Mediterranean diet, but I believe any healthy, well-balanced diet will help promote positive mental health. In fact, other studies have shown that eating vegetables improved mood (Read What? That Can Increase Happiness? and Diet, Fitness, & Sleep…Oh My for more.)  Proteins may also help manage anxiety over the long term. (See The Connection Between Protein and Your Mental Health – Mental Health Connecticut (mhconn.org))

Isn’t that great news? You can promote well-being and positive mental health in your family by encouraging a healthy diet. It’s a win-wind. Why not start today?

“Refurbish” the Empty Nest

It happens. Parents invest time and energy into their children’s lives for years. They set aside their own comfort, and even postpone some personal goals, to invest in their children’s goals and dreams. Then it happens. Our children fly the coop. They grow up, spread their wings, and fly off to live their own lives…just like we raised them to do. Still, their leaving is bittersweet. The “empty nest” can be…well, empty. Some parents experience a heavy sadness or a loss of purpose when their children leave home. Research reveals that the empty nest can even lead to depression or anxiety for some parents. (See Empty Nest Syndrome for more information.) That’s the bad news…but I have some good news, too.

A series of three studies revealed a wonderful way to beat the empty nest. It’s really pretty simple too. Get involved in a class or an activity group. Not just any class or activity group though. Get involved in a class focused on crafting, singing, or creative writing. In this study, each of these three types of classes increased participants’ self-confidence, enhanced their willingness to take on new challenges, and gave them a greater sense of control over their own lives. Even more, the classes “broadened their network of friends” and gave them a greater sense of belonging. And the more a person felt like they were part of the group, the “more their health and well-being improved.”

There’s more. If you want to create new relationships and a sense of belonging quickly, start with the singing class or group. Those in a singing group connected to others in the group most quickly, followed by those in the creative writing group and, lastly, those in the craft group. Still, they all lead to a greater sense of belonging and new relationships.

So, if you’re feeling lonely, sad, or just a little empty sitting at home after your children have flown the coop, join a singing, writing, or crafting class. You’ll have a great time, meet new friends, and fill the nest with new and interesting activities and friends.

What Did I Just Do?

My daughters were upstairs…arguing…loudly. I hate arguing. And I hate loud. Still, I waited in hopes they would resolve their disagreement without my intervention.  But they continued to argue and yell. The longer they yelled, the more my irritation grew. After what seemed like an eternity (probably only 1-2 minutes in reality), I stomped to the bottom of the stairs and yelled, “Stop the yelling. We don’t yell in this house!” As soon as I heard the words leave my mouth, I shook my head. Did I just yell at my children to stop yelling? That’s just wrong on so many levels.

  • Yelling didn’t model the behavior I wanted them to see. What else can I say about this? Yelling is bad modeling…unless you want children that yell to get their point across.
  • Yelling prevents learning. Our children, like people in general, enter into the “fight or flight” mode when someone yell at them, even if that someone is a parent. In the “fight or flight” mode, a person focuses on self-protection and, as a result, really can’t learn. Their learning is frozen in fear and all their internal resources are mobilized for self-protection. There is no learning or rational thought, only the buzz and frazzle of confused self-protection.
  • Yelling sabotages our parent-child relationship. It severs the connection between you and your child and replaces it with fearful self-protection. It scrambles your child’s brain, interfering with their ability to relate. Remember, the parent-child relationship forms the foundation of effective parenting. After all, rules without relationship leads to rebellion.
  • Yelling plugs up our children’s ears. It teaches them that they don’t really have to listen until we yell. A simple, quiet request goes unheeded when yelling is our general practice. They have learned to not listen until they hear you yell. 
  • Yelling models disrespect and we want our children to learn respect. Children, like all people, deserve our respect, even during discipline.

It’s true. I yelled at my children to stop yelling. Not one of my finer parenting moments. Fortunately, I caught my discrepancy and my children, like all children, are extremely gracious. They allowed room for “do-over.” I walked up the stairs and went into the room where they argued. We took a moment to talk about their argument, my yelling, and the fact that we really “don’t want to yell in this house.” Another moment to resolve their disagreement, at least to my satisfaction, and life returned to normal. Next time I opened my mouth to yell up the stairs at my children, I remembered that day and smiled. Then I walked up the stairs. Even before I got to the top of the stairs, my children started arguing more quietly and with greater civility. I smiled. Maybe we were all learning after all.

Secretly Exercise Your Child’s Patience This Summer

Do you wish your child had more patience? If you’re like me, you probably wish you had more patience too. We could all use a little more patience. Here’s the good news. You can increase your patience and help your child increase their patience at the same time… all while you’re having fun! It won’t even seem like you’re practicing those patience muscles. But you will. And did I say? It’s fun! Here are 6 activities that can help you and your child increase your patience this summer.

  • Plant a garden. It takes time for a seed to germinate, sprout, grow, blossom, produce fruit, and ripen. Nurturing and watching it go through this process promotes patience. So, plant a vegetable garden, flower garden, or herb garden. Plant a tree. Plant it and watch it grow.
  • Bake together. Baking also takes time and patience. You have to gather the ingredients, mix the ingredients, prepare the pan, bake your cake (bread, pie, or pastry), let it cool, and, best of all, eat it.  Depending on what you bake, you may have to add time for the dough to rise as well. All this provides practice in patience with a reward of a very delicious treat.
  • Play games. Many games promote patience. In board games or card games we practice patience while waiting our turn. Chess involves waiting even longer while your opponent considers options. Games like “Simon Says” promotes patience as well as listening. So play a game and practice those patience muscles.
  • Build a model. I don’t hear about children building models as much as I used to. But, you can imagine the patience needed to sort the pieces and carefully follow the instructions to put them together properly before painting the assembled model. When you’re done, show it off.
  • Complete a puzzle. My wife and children loved doing puzzles. (I didn’t have the patience, lol.)  Puzzles promote patience as you sort the pieces before looking for just the right piece to fill the empty space. You also get to enjoy spending time together as you complete it. Perhaps the one who shows the most patience can fit the final piece into place. 
  • Paint by numbers. You can get a simple paint by number or a more complex paint by number. Both will promote patience as you carefully follow the instructions, using the correct color to match the number and then waiting for one color to dry before using colors that border it. After patiently completing the project, however, you have a beautiful picture to display.

I love ideas that help promote patience in such simple, natural, and fun ways. They allow our children (and us) to learn without even knowing it. And, I have to say it again—it’s fun. So, practice patience and have fun at the same time this summer.

This Vacation Will Improve Your Family’s Mental Health (& You Don’t Even Have to Leave Home)

A team of researchers at the University of Bath published a study in May of 2022 that revealed a way to improve mental health and well-being in just one week. It’s not a cure-all, but it can make a difference. The study included 154 participants between the ages of 18- and 72-years-old. Researchers randomly assigned them to one of two groups. One group was asked to stop using all social media for one week. The other group continued “scrolling through” social media as usual. I don’t know about you, but “scrolling as usual” for me often occurs mindlessly. I go to Facebook or Instagram to check something simple and find myself scrolling for more time than I want. In fact, the average time spent on social media in the United States is about 2 hours and 6 minutes (See Average Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more statistics on social media use.)  That means that taking time off social media frees up an average of 2 hours every day. Imagine what you can do with 2 extra hours a day.  But that was not the objective of this study. Check out the results this study discovered.

Questionnaires completed before and after the week of the study showed that those who had taken a time off of social media showed a “significant improvement in well-being, depression, and anxiety.”  In addition, those who took a week off social media self-reported improved mood and less anxiety. Read that again. Those who took a week off of social media exhibited an overall improvement in well-being and a decrease in depression and anxiety.

Social media usage has increased dramatically over the last decade. In fact, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we spend more time using social media than we do socializing, eating and drinking, or doing housework. (See Time Spent Daily on Social Media (Latest 2022 Data) – BroadbandSearch for more.) Not using social media for a week opens up time for you and your family to engage in many other things that might bring you greater joy and health. For instance, you might enjoy activities ranging from visiting the zoo or aviary to going to an amusement park to taking a raft down the river to having a picnic to enjoying a free concert to spending time with your family to… the list goes on.

So here is a challenge. Sit down with your family (maybe over dinner or a trip to the ice cream parlor) and discuss the findings of this study. As a family, pick a week to take a “social media vacation.” You might combine it with your family vacation; or you might choose a different week. Whichever you choose, be sure everyone agrees to take a week off social media. Plan some activities—fun activities, family activities, individual activities—to do during that week. Put the week and the activities on the schedule. Then do it…and enjoy it. After it’s all said and done, reconvene (another trip to the ice cream parlor perhaps) and discuss your experience. Who knows? You might end up deciding to take a one-week-social-media-vacation twice a year or once a quarter.

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