Archive for Family Shepherds

Help, My Teen is SOOO Negative

If you have a teen, you’ve probably noticed how negative they can become. Sure, they take risks, which is good. They also exhibit an idealistic view of what can be accomplished to change the world.  (Which, by the way is also a good thing.) Unfortunately, they can also exhibit a negativity that can drive any parent to the brink of sanity.

A study published in 2019 suggests this negativity is a normal part of teen life, a part of the maturation process. They reached this conclusion after having 9,546 people take a test of emotional sensitivity. This test measured how sensitive the participants of various ages were to facial cues of happiness, anger, and fear. Guess what? Of all the ages, adolescents were the most sensitive to facial expressions of anger and social threat. Their sensitivity to negative facial cues seemed to improve dramatically during mid-adolescence. They become “experts” at seeing negative emotions in another person’s facial expression…and they respond to that emotion in kind.

Interestingly, as we age, we become less sensitive to facial cues of anger and fear while retaining our sensitivity to happiness. So don’t get to bogged down in your teen’s negative responses or negative attitude. They will mature and become more sensitive to happiness. In the meantime, these tips may help you survive the teen wave of negativity.

  1. Have fun with your teen. Engage in activities they enjoy. Watch a comedy. Go for a bike ride. Play catch. Joke around a little. Enjoy dinner out.
  2. Listen to your teen and empathize with the struggles of teen life. Teen life is challenging. Accept the normalcy of teen challenges and teen negative. Then focus on being a positive support for your teen as they navigate the challenges of the teen years. 
  3. Gently challenge their use of absolutes like “always” and “never” that can contribute to escalating their negative thinking. Avoid using those same absolutes in your own thoughts and speech.
  4. Enjoy stories, movies, and films that depict people overcoming the challenges of life in realistic ways.
  5. Gather supports for yourself. A group of friends can make sure you hear the voice of validation and support from those engaged in raising teens as well. A supportive group of friends can also include those parents who have already navigated the teen years and provide a voice of wisdom and perspective.

These tips will not alleviate all the negativity from your teen’s life or your home. However, they can add a balance of joy, intimacy, and happiness that you and your teen will appreciate.

The Dangers of Strict Parenting?

Most parents want their children to grow into healthy, responsible adults. They don’t want defiant teens or lazy young adults as the fruit of their parenting labors. The parental fear that our children might become defiant or lazy can lead to a strict, controlling style of parenting that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let me explain. Strict parents respond to their fears with rules and more rules. They focus so much on the rules that they neglect the relationship with their child. Their children come to believe that rules are more important to their parent than they are. They learn that performance, achievement, and living up to strict standards are necessary ingredients for acceptance. Strict parents punish their child any time they break a rule or falls short of a standard… And standards are generally high and rigid. Obedience is expected at all times…at all ages…without question or discussion. Discipline often includes harsh words, guilt inducing
statements, and shame.  They make comments like:

  • “I won’t let my kid walk all over me.”
  • “My children better behave.”
  • “I’m tough on them because I don’t want them to end up on drugs or in jail.”
  • “Kids need a parent, not a friend.”
  • “Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Unfortunately, strict parents come off as unresponsive, cold, and unsupportive. You can imagine that this type of strict parenting has a negative impact of children, a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to the very things the parent fears. (Learn more about parental assumptions and how they impact discipline in Parental Assumptions & the Cycle of Discipline.) In fact, research suggests that children raised with this type of parenting:

  • tend to exhibit more rebellion, anger, aggression, and delinquency,
  • lie more often,
  • are more likely to be unhappy and suffer from depression,
  • develop extrinsic motivation and show less initiative and perseverance as a result,
  • lack self-esteem and confidence in decision-making,
  • tend to have greater peer rejection and relationship problems, especially in romantic
    relationships,

All that being said, our children do need structure, limits, and rules, don’t they? Don’t parents need to enforce those rules and limits? Good questions… and the answer is “yes.” Not all strict parenting is dangerous. Some is beneficial. It all depends on at least two things.

  1. What motivates the parent to be strict. Strict rules and limits become dangerous
    when parental fear motivates their creation and enforcement. They become even more dangerous when that fear leads to parental attempts to control. However, rules and limits motivated by a sincere desire to teach accountability and responsibility, to instill self-discipline and an awareness of others, and to encourage healthy self-reliance can lead to a positive outcome…especially when combined with #2 below.
  2. The type of relationship the parent builds with their child. When a parent builds a responsive, nurturing relationship with their child, they know what structure and limits will most benefit their child at their current maturity level. Their child will also respond better to the limits when they feel their parent listens and is responsive to their needs. Building a warm, caring relationship contributes to a child who desires to please their parent by obeying rules and limits appropriate to their maturity level. All-in-all, the stronger the parent-child relationship, the less likely the rules feel strict. Instead, they become an expression of love and a much-desired safety net. (Learn more in What “Master” Parents Do.)

Perhaps we can sum this up with two familiar formulas:

  • Rules without Relationships contributes to Rebellion in the parent-child relationship.
  • Relationships with Rules contributes to Resilient children in the parent-child relationship.

Protecting Our Young Adults…AKA Saving the Life of a Young Adult

According to the 2017 Center for Disease Control and Prevention Data, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults, accounting for 18% of deaths in this age group. That is terrible news. But researchers from McGill University published a study that suggests a simple way to decrease suicide in young adults. This same factor can reduce depression and anxiety as well. Simply put, young adults who perceived higher levels of social support showed lower levels of anxiety and depression. Specifically, young adults who felt they had someone they could depend on for help experienced 47% less severe depression and 22% less anxiety than those with perceived less social support. They were also at a 40% decreased risk of experiencing suicidal ideation and attempts. 

You likely know people in this age group. You may even have a child in this age group. Either way, I’m sure you’d like to see fewer young adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. You can help make this happen. You can help decrease the number of young adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and thought of suicide simply by welcoming them into your life. Here are four ideas to help.

  • If you have children who are young adults, reach out to them regularly. Make a consistent investment in their lives to remain connected to them. Make sure they know they remain part of the family even if they live outside the home. Be available to them when they reach out to you. Even for young adults, time is one of the greatest currency of love.
  • When you drop your children off at college, look for the potential social groups they might enjoy. Connect them with those groups. Encourage their involvement in some social groups in or around their school.  This may include young adult groups through churches, school clubs, or community groups.
  • If there are young adults in your religious community, reach out to them. Call them. Send them cards. Even invite them to lunch. Many college age people are looking for a good home-cooked meal while away from home. Make sure they know you care about them.
  • If you are a church or religious community and a young adult walks into your service, welcome them. Talk to them. Find out their name. Get to know them. Invite them back and remember them when they return. Even reach out to them during the week with a card or a call. Make them feel a part of the community.

These may sound like obvious ideas, but I have met too many young adults who could not find this connection anywhere…too many.  Make sure the young adults in your life know they are welcome in your family and your community. Invest in their lives. You might just save a life!

From Where Do Our Tweens Learn Values?

What values do you want your children to learn? Who do you want to teach them those values? Of course, we all want to teach our children the values we believe in and support. But there is another teacher in your home. This teacher reflects the values of our society and teaches those values to your children, tweens, and teens whether you agree with them or not. Who is this teacher? TV’s, videos, and screens.

Tweens’ average daily screen media use ranges from 4-6 hours per day with 53% of that time being with TVs and videos. As you can imagine from these numbers, TV shows and videos can have a huge impact on the values our children learn. A recent report by UCLA’s Center for Scholars and Storytellers assessed the values tweens (8-12 years old) saw portrayed in popular television shows from 1967 through 2017.  This study examined the top watched “tween television shows” and “surveyed which values were being communicated in the storytelling.”  The 16 values they tracked included achievement, benevolence, community, conformity, fame, financial success, hedonism, image, physical fitness, popularity, power, security, self-acceptance, self-centeredness, spiritualism, and tradition.  You can learn more about the findings in The Rise and Fall of Fame: Tracking the Landscape of Values Portrayed on Tween Television from 1967 to 2017. But I want to share how just a few observations about how values have changed over that 50-year period.

In 1967, Community Feeling was the #1 value portrayed in shows for tweens. By 2007, Community had fallen to #11. Fortunately, it rose to #5 by 2017. Valuing a sense of community has had quite a roller coaster ride in television.

In 1967, Benevolence was ranked #2 in values portrayed on television shows popular among tweens. By 2007 it had dropped to #12. It did rise to #8 by 2017. Still, it fell below achievement, self-acceptance, image, popularity, community feeling, fame, and self-centeredness.

On the other hand, fame was ranked #15 in 1967. It rose to #1 in 2007 and remained #6 by 2017.  Achievement was ranked #10 in 1967 and rose to #2 in 2007 and #1 in 2017. What five values were between the #1 achievement and the # 6 fame in 2017? #2 was self-acceptance. #3 was image. #4 was popularity. #5 was a sense of community.

Notice the difference. The top 3 values in portrayed 1967 were a sense of community, benevolence, and image. The top 3 values portrayed in 2017 included achievement, self-acceptance, and image. Benevolence ranked #8 in 2017. Achievement, popularity, fame, and self-centeredness all rank above benevolence. Are these really the values we want our children to learn? I think most of us would say not. Instead, we’d say, “Houston…we have a problem.”

This review of “televised values” also looked at reality shows vs. fictional shows. Not surprisingly, reality shows conveyed self-oriented values like fame, image, and self-centeredness. Fictional shows conveyed more community-oriented values like benevolence, a sense of community, and self-acceptance.

We must ask ourselves: what values do we want our children to observe and learn for 4-6 hours a day? Right now, they are learning the values conveyed through television and social media. As a parent, what can you do?

  1. Teach your children to be wise consumers of television. Teach them to use critical thinking when they watch various shows. Teach them that reality shows do not depict the life of your average person and fictional shows do not depict the complexity of struggles people experience in life. Complex problems do not resolve in a 30- to 60-minute show, or even in a 2-hour movie.
  2. Expose your children to real world issues in an age appropriate manner. Let your children learn about the world at a level appropriate for their age. This may be as simple as taking a trip to another state or reading fiction stories about various people’s struggles. Trips to history museums are also a way to let our children learn about the world.
  3. Volunteer. Serving other people is wonderful way for your whole family to learn and have fun about the needs of the world around us. In the process, we also learn that people with needs are often people like us.
  4. Read. Research suggests that reading increases empathy and kindness. Read your children a story at bedtime. Even as children become teens and young adults, we can read a book at the same time (maybe one of their choice) and enjoy talking about it as you both read.

These are just four suggestions to help convey the values of your family to your children and teens. What are your suggestions for teaching our children the values we cherish instead of leaving it up to TV and videos? Share them below. We could all use some suggestions.

Climbing the Social Ladder of Adolescence

A recent study from the University of California—Davis explored teens who bully and who they bully. The study followed 3,000 eighth, ninth, and tenth grade students over the course of a school year. They discovered that teens who bullied often bullied their friends not strangers or those of lower social status. In fact, they uncovered five interesting patterns.

  1. Teens who were friends in the fall but not in the spring were three times more likely to bully or victimize each other in the spring. 
  2. Teens who remained friends for the entire year, however, were four times more likely to bully one another in the spring. Interestingly, teens bullied those who remained their friend more often than those who did not remain friends with them.
  3. Teens who had overlapping friendships were roughly three times” more likely to bully one another than those who did not have overlapping friendships.
  4. Teens who share the same bullies or the same victims are more than twice as likely to bully each other.
  5. Finally, being bullied by a friend is painful. It is associated with a significant increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The researchers believe that this information suggests that bullying behavior comes with social rewards. It leads to an increase in social status. In other words, teens were climbing the social ladder of adolescence by bullying their friends. Teens get caught up in popularity. They base their self-concept on the popularity of their social media posts and their popularity at school. They seem to equate popular with acceptance and will do almost anything to get accepted…even if it means bullying a friend to move up the ladder of acceptance in the popular crowd.

With this in mind, what can a parent do to help decrease bullying? 

  • Develop a secure relationship with your child. Spend time with your child. Let them know that you love and accept them. Learn about their interests. Support and encourage their dreams. As you develop a strong relationship with your teen, they will feel less pull to “need” the status of popularity among their peers.
  • Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage teamwork. Rather than competing for popularity, teamwork encourages teens to cooperate and work together for a common goal, to encourage one another and support one another’s growth for the good of the team.
  • Involve your children and teens in groups that encourage community and service. This might include church groups, scouting groups, or service groups. These groups can teach your teen to work with others in serving and accomplishing goals rather than competing to be more popular than the other guy. Teens can also learn to accept and appreciate one another’s gifts in working toward a common goal while volunteering in the community.
  • On a slightly different note, keep your marriage strong. At least one study reveal that teens who see their parents as loving toward one another are less likely to engage in cyberbullying. Invest in your marriage.

By implementing these three tips, you lessen the chance of your child becoming a bully to “climb the social ladder” of peer relationships. They’ll be kinder. They’ll be happier. And so will you.

Adolescence, Depression, & Technology

Two recent studies explored the relationship between adolescents, video games, and internet use. Unwrapping the first study reveals a surprise. A research team from UCL, Karolinska Institute, and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute reviewed data from 11,341 adolescents born between 2000-2002. At the age of 11 years, these adolescents answered questions about their time spent on social media, time spent playing video games, and general internet use. They also answered questions about their mood, any loss of pleasure, and levels of concentration at the age 14 years. After ruling out other potential factors, the research team found that boys who played video games most days at age 11 had 24% fewer depressive symptoms at the age of 14 than did boys who played video games less than one time a mouth. Somewhat surprisingly, moderate video game playing at 11 years of age was associated with fewer depressive symptoms at 14 years of age.

A second study, published in Child Development, gathered data from a study involving 1,750 high school students over a three-year period, through the ages of 16, 17, and 18 years. This study explored risk factors contributing to problematic internet use (or internet addiction). The research suggested three harmful effects of problematic internet use and each of these effects had a reciprocal relationship with internet use. In other words, problematic internet use increased these negative outcomes and these negative outcomes increased problematic internet use. The negative outcomes included higher levels of depression, increased substance abuse, and lower levels of academic achievement. We all want to avoid those outcomes. So, what risk factors contributed to problematic internet use? And what can you do about it?

  1. A lack of satisfying relationships or the perceived inadequacy of social networks contributed to problematic internet use. In other words, loneliness predicts problematic internet use. With that in mind, involve your children in community. Enroll them in scouting, sports, dance lessons, theatre, or other group activities. Involve them in a local church youth group. Give them the opportunities to develop relationships with peers and other trusted adults in the community.
  2. Parenting practices, as perceived by the teen, contributed to the level of teen internet use. Parenting perceived as warm, empathetic, interested, and close led to healthy internet use. Parenting perceived as neglectful, being inconsistently available and consistently unresponsive, predicted problematic internet use. This draws attention to the need to build a positive connection with your children. Take time to develop a warm, loving relationship by spending time together and engaging in activities together. Talk, go on outings together, worship together, attend their concerts and sporting events, share meals together. Invest time and attention in developing a positive, loving relationship with your children. (By the way, did you know your parenting style could be killing you?)
  3. Paternal neglect, neglect by a father, had a particularly strong relationship to problematic internet use. Dads, get involved with your children. If you need ideas for involvement in your children’s lives, check out the “cheat codes for Dads.”

A Word of Warning for Parents

A study published in a 2020 issue of Development and Psychology offers an important warning for parents (Does ‘Harsh Parenting’ Lead to Smaller Brains?). Researchers from the Université de Montréal in partnership with researchers from Stanford University monitored parenting practices and child anxiety levels every year while the children were between the ages of 2 years and 9 years. Then between the ages of 12 and 16 years, the researchers assessed the same children’s anxiety levels. They also performed MRI’s. What this data revealed serves as an important warning to all parents. Here it is: Repetitive exposure to harsh parenting practices during childhood led to smaller brain structures in adolescence. These practices also contributed to higher anxiety levels in adolescence. Consider these results carefully:

  • First, we need to consider what “harsh parenting practices” entail. For this study, harsh parenting practices included getting angry, hitting (spanking or smacking), shaking, and/or yelling. Harsh parenting practices fell short of legally abusive practices. In fact, many people find the parenting practices included in the definition of “harsh parenting practices” acceptable. Yet, according to this study, these harsh practices have a potentially negative impact on our children… which brings us to the next bullet point.
  • Harsh parenting practices have a negative impact when used repetitively, when they become your normal pattern of parenting.  If you have a bad day and behave harshly on occasion, it will likely not have a large negative impact on your child. But a consistent, repetitive pattern of harsh parenting will have a negative impact. That being said, we do our best to avoid even rare occasions of harsh parenting because of the potential negative impact it can have over time.
  • The impact of harsh parenting practices actually changed the physical structure of the children’s brains in this study. Those who experienced a high degree of harsh parenting exhibited a smaller prefrontal cortex and a smaller amygdala. These two areas of the brain play a key role in regulating emotions. In other words, the physical changes to the brain in response to harsh parenting makes it more likely that your child will more be overwhelmed by his or her emotions, leading them to shut down, cry, or act impulsively behaviors in response to overwhelming emotions such as desire, fear, sadness, or loneliness.
  • The brain regions impacted by harsh parenting also play a role in the development of anxiety.  Harsh parenting then, may contribute to anxiety.

Perhaps children need to come with a warning label: “Beware. Consistent use of harsh discipline measures is hazardous to your child’s brain development and mental health.” 

Now that we know the warning, how can we effectively discipline our children? Here are a couple of quick principles to keep in mind.

  1. Children learn best by example. Live the life you desire them to learn.
  2. Children learn best within the context of a positive relationship. Invest time and energy in developing a positive relationship with your children. Learn about their interests.  Spend time playing, eating, and talking together.
  3. Children thrive in a predictable and structured (not rigid) environment. Develop daily routines and rituals to help structure the day. Good routines actually help to discipline proactively, before a problem even arises.
  4. Children learn best when they know the rules and the rules are age-appropriate. Take time to establish concise, age-appropriate rules in your home. Communicate them clearly to your children.

These four principles lay the groundwork for a positive style of parenting within which your children will thrive, a parenting style based on an appropriate balance of intimate relationship and appropriate structure.

Teach Your Child Happiness? You Bet

Who doesn’t want happy children? We all do…well, at least I know I do. But we often forget to teach them the skills and mindsets that contribute to happiness. No worries. It’s not too late. Now is the best time to start teaching them happiness. And here are 7 lessons to get started.

  • Teach your children gratitude. Happy people, just like the rest of us, have plenty of things to complain about but they have learned to focus on those things they are grateful for. They have learned to “give thanks in all things.” Teach your children to practice gratitude.
  • Teach your children to find their “flow.” Flow is an experience in which a person is fully immersed and involved in an activity they enjoy. Flow leaves us feeling energized and fulfilled. It is intrinsically rewarding and motivating. Help your child find those activities that give them a sense of flow. Such activities may include sports, dance, music, reading, yoga, hiking, or many others [For more read What is Flow in Psychology: Definition and 10+ Activities.].
  • Teach your child to celebrate the achievements of other people. Teach them there are plenty of opportunities for success and achievement to go around. Celebrate the successes of others. It is a great pathway to happiness.
  • Teach your child to take healthy risks. Teach them to enjoy an adventure, to leave their comfort zone to try something new or to go someplace new. People who try new things, meet new people, and go to new places tend to experience happiness as well.
  • Teach your children to persist. One way to do this is by acknowledging their efforts instead of their achievements. Acknowledging effort encourages persistence, even in the face of obstacles. Persistence contributes to happiness.
  • Teach your children to share. Studies have shown that toddlers who choose to share exhibit greater happiness. When you nurture your growing child’s willingness to share, you also nurture their happiness for a lifetime.
  • Teach your child that you love them. Remember, children have two currencies for love: time and attention. So spend time with your children. Engage them daily, even multiple times a day. Follow their lead in an activity. Recognize and acknowledge their contributions to the home, their efforts in school and their involvement in the community. Learn about their interests.

These seven things may not sound like much on the surface, but they will bring your child greater happiness…and that makes most parents happy as well.

What Every Mother Already Knew

I love looking at research, especially research about families and mental health. But sometimes the results seem so obvious.  For instance, a study published in 2020 confirmed something every mother already knows. The study had two parts: a lab study of 147 participants and community daily-diary study involving 202 participants. Both parts of this study revealed what mothers already knew—lack of sleep amplifies anger. More specifically, decreasing a person’s amount of sleep by 2 to 4 hours a night for two nights decreased their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions and increased the likelihood they would react with anger. And who doesn’t have to adapt to frustrations on daily basis? So, lack of sleep puts us all at risk, parent and child alike. In other words, less sleep increases anger. What mother didn’t already know that?

But these results do raise a few other important questions. First, how much sleep does a person need?  Sleep experts recommended that:

  • Those 6-13 years old need 9-11 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 14-12 years old need 8-10 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those 16-25 years old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Those over 25-years-old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night as well.

Second, what can a parent do to help themselves and their child get enough sleep? Here are 4 tips to that can help you create good sleep environment for you and your family. Remember, by building a good pattern of sleep, you are proactively reducing anger in your family.

  • Establish a consistent bedtime and bedtime routine. Start the bedtime routine 30-60 minutes before bedtime. A bedtime routine might include personal hygiene activities. It might also include setting out clothes for the morning. A bedtime definitely needs to include quiet time to connect with one another, a parent with a child, a spouse with their partner. You can do this through reading a book together, talking about the day, sharing things for which you are grateful, or offering support around any struggles of the day. Overall, a good bedtime routine offers one of the best times to connect with your child and spouse. So get your child on the sleepy train with a good bedtime routine.
  • Make sure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and comfortable. That may mean no TV in the bedroom (link) and no social media in the bedroom after bedtime. It will involve a comfortable temperature. For children, it may include stuffed animals or blankets that promote a sense of safety. Work to create a comfortable environment in the bedroom, an environment that is safe and promotes rest. 
  • Do not use electronic devices for an hour before bed. Electronic devices tend to interfere with sleep, either through the blue light they emit or through the outright stimulation of peer drama, gaming, or exciting shows. So, turn off devices once you start the bedtime routine. Put on some enjoyable music instead.
  • Do not eat large meals too close to bedtime and avoid caffeinated drinks close to bedtime. Both tend to interfere with quality sleep.

Do everything you can to promote quality sleep for your child and yourself. Doing so will help increase everyone’s ability to manage frustration and anger. It also has many other physical and mental health benefits (see also . And, it contributes to an overall happier, healthier family.

Is Free Play REALLY Better for Kids?

What happens when children get to play together without interference from adults?  Amazing things happen…like problem solving, creativity, independence, and learning limits (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself”). I’m not just making this up either. A recent study published in the School Community Journal explored the impact of children’s participation in recess and The Let Grow Play Club.  Study participants included 460 Kindergarten through fifth graders attending an elementary school in Long Island, NY. One hundred of these students were chosen to participate in The Play Club for one hour every week while the rest participated in regular school recess (40-minutes long). Results were obtained through observation, student interviews, and teacher interviews. What were the results? Good question.

In student interviews, the students actually noted that the Play Club helped them “stay focused” during school, increased their energy level and mood, and gave them the opportunity to socialize and make more friends.

Teacher interviews suggested that students who engaged in the Play Club were better able to focus and concentrate during school. Teachers also noted an improvement in social skills like negotiation and problem-solving without adult intervention. They were better able to make adjustments to meet challenges that naturally arise during play. Overall, they exhibited greater creativity.

Observations supported the interviews, revealing the same results.

You may be thinking, “But I’m not a teacher. I’m a parent. What does this have to do with me and our home?”  Well, play can have the same positive benefits in the home setting that it has in the school setting. If you want to give it a try, encourage your kids to go outside and play with their friends. If they have trouble doing so, help them come up with ideas. If they still have trouble, you might try the Let Grow Independence Kit and involve the neighbors in developing your children’s free play in the community. In the Let Grow Independence Kit, children can choose activities to do in their home. They will learn new things and have fun. In fact, a random sampling of kids and parents who have used the Let Grow Independence Kit revealed a “flourishing of idiosyncratic interests the kids would never have had the opportunity to pursue otherwise.” In other words, you might just be surprised at how much your children learn through play and what they develop an interest in during play. But don’t take my word for it. Let the children play…and watch what happens.

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