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reflections of mine others might find useful

Category: Reflections on Parenting (page 1 of 6)

Understanding the “y” in Lying.

The other day a parent messaged me, wondering what to do about a lying teenager.   Her question prompted me to flesh out this post that I started almost two years ago.

Let me start by saying that “lying” is one of the things that ought to be on every parent’s “Majors” list.  I’ve blogged about Majors and Minors elsewhere, but let me just state that few things are more “Major” than having family relationships based on trust.   Lying within the home can’t be ignored.

But just because something is on the Majors list doesn’t mean it has to be dealt with severely or punitively–it just has to be dealt with.  In the case of a child’s lying, I think it may be just as useful to consider the reasons for the child’s lying, rather than be solely punitive about it.  Before jumping to confrontations, it would seem useful to think about what internal things may be going on that might make them (and us–if we were honest) choose to lie.  Rather than immediately react to what they did wrong, let’s slow down, gather all the information, and listen.  Only then can we learn what’s really going on with our children.  Here are six possible reasons they might be lying.

1. Some kids lie out of fear.  Could it be that our discipline methods are overly strict?  Any reasonable child would want to lie to avoid “setting off” an unreasonably punitive parent.  Parents would be wise to consider whether they may be over-disciplining.  An honest heart-to-heart conversation between the child and parents might reveal rules and expectations that are overbearing.  If so, negotiating better rules and expectations might eliminate the need for the child to lie for self-protection.

2. Some lie so as to not hurt loved ones.  Perhaps the lying is intended as a way to make the parents less anxious, worried, or crushed by the child’s choices.  Thus, lying could actually be intended as a kindness.  Such children view their parents as fragile; such parents need to convince their children that their own well-being doesn’t depend on the child doing everything perfectly.  As I’ve controversially stated elsewhere, the parents need to communicate that they don’t need their kids to behave in order for them to thrive.  The parents should model a resilient faith in Jesus that doesn’t need to pressure their kids into making perfect decisions all the time.  In fact, it’s ok for them to fail!

3. Some kids lie as a way to protect someone else.  As in the previous case, such lying might actually be intended as a kindness.  The biblical Rahab hid the Israelite spies on her roof–and lied about it to the authorities.  Her lying saved not only the spies but also the lives of her own family–and she was rewarded for doing the right thing!   Likewise, the child who lies to the stranger at the door–saying their absent parent is home but “can’t come to the door”–is being wise, not wicked.  In the same way, the kid who lies to keep a friend from getting in trouble is likely trying to do the greater good.  Parents would do well to have conversations with their kids about when lying may be appropriate, when covering for a friend may be helping them, and when it actually might be hurting them unknowingly.  Discussing how “true friends” should relate to each other is an important concept for them to understand during their years of nurturing in your home.  Sometimes friends need to “wound” others rather than enable them to avoid responsibility.  (Proverbs 27:6.)

4. Some kids lie so as not lose their parents’ approval.  These kids have a perception that their parents’ love and acceptance depends on their good behavior.  Wise parents would do well to communicate that–no matter what good or bad choices their kids may make in life–their love will never be in question.  It is important to keep a distinction between the child’s behavior and their personhood.  They need to be convinced that we unconditionally delight in their personhood, eliminating this reason to lie about their behaviors.

5. Sometimes kids lie to build themselves up.  Each of us has a longing to feel accepted by others, so it’s no surprise that this is a common motive for kids’ lying.  In this competitive “selfie-saturated” world of ours it’s easy to see why exaggerating one’s achievements may seem necessary for social survival.  Lying may also be a defense mechanism to avoid bullying. If self-preservation is the cause of your child’s lying then berating him or her for lying might actually be adding to their feelings of not measuring up.  Rather than punishing such boasting, it would be better to spend time empathetically listening to them while looking for opportunities to convey biblical truth to them about their worth in the eyes of God.  Pray for them–and with them–about this.

On the other hand, if the child is lying as a way to put others down, that should also be addressed with a heart-to-heart discussion.  Beneath the rough exterior of most bullies is insecurity.  Helping them see how their lying may be wounding others is important for them to learn.

6. Some kids lie to cover up their rebellion.  This kind of lying needs to be carefully handled as it indicates a deficiency in the child’s heart.  Since we have no ability to directly change a heart, prayer is the best thing parents can do in such cases.  But we can also indirectly affect their heart by the way we respond to their rebellious lying.  Will it require consequences?  Absolutely!  But as stated earlier, be sure the consequences are reasonable.  Any obvious overreaction will make the child focus on the parents’ faults rather than his or her own bad behavior.   (This is where delayed consequences can really help avoid the perception that parents are being unreasonable and impulsive in their punishments.  Such a delay buys the parent ample time to pray, think, and consult with others regarding which appropriate consequence would help the child learn the best lesson.)

Six Final Considerations:

First, since character is “more caught than taught,” parents must be careful to always model lives of personal integrity.  If the kids overhear the parent calling in sick to work–while heading out to the golf course–no amount of lecturing on life’s virtues will compensate!

Second, reward honesty.  Every time we catch our kids telling the truth, let’s affirm that wise choice.

Third, as I mentioned at the top of this post, lying often results in a breach of trust within the home.  Consequences–if there are any– should be tailored to address this issue. It’s appropriate to reign in the leash if the freedom of a longer leash has been mishandled.  This is a true principle that will apply for all of life.

Fourth, consequences should last as briefly as possible, with the stated goal of wanting to restore their freedom as soon as they show they can handle it.   We want them to have freedom–and we want them to use it responsibly.  Offer hope for a better tomorrow.  “Grounded for a year” will only produce resentment instead of shaping a child’s character.  Trust and verify.

Fifth, consider whether the lying might be age-related.  It should be noted that preschool children typically manifest lying as part of their normal development.  They may not fully grasp the difference between fantasy and reality–an example would be having an “imaginary friend.”  They also are experimenting with reading others’ perceptions and controlling their own actions.  Parents should keep this in mind as they confront the lying of preschoolers in the home.  Kang Lee has done some interesting research (and a Ted talk) on the subject of early-childhood lying if you’re interested.

Finally, is the lying related to mental disabilities or trauma?  I haven’t studied these issues yet, but consideration might need to be made for such cases.  I’ll edit this post as I learn more during my graduate school counseling training.

Why you should give your kids HEFTY allowances! (Part 2)

In Part 1 I made the case for why I believe every kid should be given an allowance.   Today I want to make the case for giving your kids HEFTY allowances.

Someone will say, “But we don’t have any extra money in our budget to start paying our kids hefty allowances.”  I’m not suggesting you add even $1 to your overall family budget.  I’m merely suggesting you transfer some of the money you’re already spending on raising your kids–to them!

Think about it–right now, you’re already spending a certain amount of money to buy them treats, gifts, clothes, fashion accessories, cosmetics, games, entertainment, etc.  How about handing them some of that same money and letting them pay for some of their own expenses!  This will lighten your load and teach them a lot about managing themselves.

Realizing that every family’s amounts will be different, let me share how it worked in our house.  We paid our girls $1 a week for each year of their age.   That means when they were three, we gave them $156 a year and by the time they were 18, that had increased to an annual amount of $936. That may sound like a lot, but it’s really not, compared to the total cost of raising a child.

Six considerations

  1. We made them put 10% of it in their savings bank and 10% in their “Jesus bank” to take to church periodically to put in the offering.  From the earliest age, we wanted our kids to learn the importance of generous living and wise saving.  (Savings money could only be used for investments that we parents agreed were worthy ones:  e.g., musical instruments, computers, major school trips, cars, etc.)
  2. Their remaining *80% of “discretionary” money, was theirs to spend as they chose–for the most part.
  3. Parents will need to restrict what purchases are–or are not–allowed based on their own values.  Examples of “outlawed” purchases might be explicit music or violent video games.  Be sure to major on the majors though, and don’t be afraid of letting them waste their money!  (For years our 8-year-old daughter Lexi would spent all of her weekly allowances on frivolous purchases, living from “paycheck to paycheck.”  Then one day she decided she wanted an American Girl doll.  She started saving almost all of her allowance for the next 6 months and when that doll arrived, it was a hard-earned treasure.  She learned an important lesson on how “the best things come to those who wait”–a lesson she’s never forgotton!)
  4. Each year on their birthday, they would get an increase in allowance, and often be informed of new things they would need to start purchasing for themselves.  Parents would do well to envision how much much financial responsibility they would want their kids to have on their first day of college and work towards that.
  5. Depending on the age and situation, parents might physically dole out cash or transfer amounts into an account–perhaps even a debit card.  Admittedly this takes some time and effort, but the benefits from creating financially responsible and independent kids make it worth the effort.
  6. As I’ve blogged about elsewhere, allowance money can easily be deducted from the child’s next “paycheck” to pay for fines, consequences, unfinished **chores, etc.  No arguments required!

What kids might pay.

  • Here is a list of expenses kids might be expected to pay for, starting from age three and progressing through high school:
    • Small Toys, snacks, candy–anything the 3-year-old might beg for at Walmart!
    • Hobbies and crafts (slime comes to mind!)
    • Pet expenses (100%–food, cages, shots, etc.)
    • Bikes, scooters, etc. (parents might choose to pay for safety equipment, helmets, etc.)
    • Electronic games (including batteries), apps, books, magazines, entertainment (movies, bowling, etc.)
    • Hot school lunches (if they don’t want to pack their own)
    • Netflix or Cable TV costs (e.g., parents could charge a fee per movie or show watched to help defray the entertainments bills)
    • Room decorations (paint, themes, accessories, etc.)
    • Clothes/shoes (beyond the basics, such as expensive name brands)
    • Cosmetics/accessories/toiletries (beyond the basics like deodorant, essential hygiene items, etc.)
    • Haircuts/hairstyling
    • School/church trips, proms, club sports (a percentage–see below)
    • Cell phone/data (beyond the basics–see below)
    • Car (purchase, gas, insurance, repairs–see below)
    • Saving for College (see below)

What parents might pay

  • Parents should make clear what expenses they will cover.  For us, in addition to the basics (food, essential clothing & toiletries, school supplies, transportation, housing, utilities, insurance, etc.) we told them we would pay for the following:
    • 75% of church activities/expenses.  (The high percentage shows how this was a priority for us.  Yet, we also wanted them to participate in deciding which church activities were most important.  However, if they had been reluctant to go to church at all we would have gladly paid $100%.)
    • 25% of extra school activities/expenses (such as uniforms, trips, prom costs, club sports, etc.)  School costs were admittedly a lower priority to us than church ones.
    • Birthday presents for friends (However, this was a predetermined “flat rate.”  They would need to pay the extra if they wanted to purchase extravagant gifts.
    • Basic phone and data costs (If they wanted the latest, coolest iPhone or unlimited data, they would need to pay that difference)
    • One weekly music or sports lesson.  We wanted to encourage their skill development, but we didn’t want them burning out.  If they wanted a second type of lesson they would need to pay those costs.  (BTW, if kids are too lazy to practice between lessons, they should pay for those lessons!)
    • A percentage of car insurance or fuel costs once they own their own car (this is because they are saving us money by driving themselves.)
    • Half of college expenses (This helped one of our daughters determine where to attend since it would significantly affect her pocketbook.)

I hope this gives you some ideas of how you might incorporate allowances into your family structure.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

*Others, like Jeff Anderson, have suggested making kids save a third, give a third and use 33% for discretionary spending.

**I’m not suggesting allowances are given in exchange for doing chores.  I explain the difference here.

Why you should give your kids allowances! (Part 1)

Our goal as parents is not to raise children, but rather to raise responsible adults.  Sadly, too many parents end up with chronically-dependent high school graduates who can’t manage their lives — or their money.

So today I want to make the case for giving your kids allowances!   They will be much better prepared for life.  And that means your life will be better too!

But first, I want to share with you an email I received from a missionary mom in Nicaragua, where I did a parenting seminar a few years ago.   She followed my advice about giving kids allowances, and surprised me with this beautiful testimonial about doing it with her THREE YEAR OLD!    [I’ll insert my comments between hers.]

.Our 3-year-old son is learning the value of $ as he spends all his $1 per week on gum.

We might think of it as a waste of good money, but he’s learning to decide what matters to him.  Someday he’ll figure out that there are better uses for his money, but he’s got to learn that for himself over time.  Most importantly he’s learning that adults are trusting him with the responsibility of making his own decisions.

He is quickly learning which gum pack gets him the most pieces.

Amazing!  Notice how he already is learning to stretch his dollar, to look for bargains, and to do comparison shopping to get the best value!

He is learning not to eat the entire pack in 2 minutes because he doesn’t have $ to buy more.

See how he’s learning about delayed gratification, patience, pacing himself, relishing what he has, and living within his means!  How many teenagers never learn this!

He even paid me a nickel the other day to carry the laundry into the house because he did not want to do it.  I explained to him that it is one of the small chores he is required to help with and therefore would have to pay me for his portion of the work.  Amazingly he looked at me square on and asked, “How much?”  I told him, “One nickel,” and he paused, thought, and finally said “I want to pay you because I don’t want to do it.”

This three-year-old is already learning to weigh pros and cons, to make decisions, to negotiate with others, and to wrestle with priorities regarding his time, money, work & leisure!

I share this because if someone told me that this stuff would work on a 3 year old I would never have believed it.  But, he is the youngest of 3 so we included him in the process because he was feeling SO left out.  Now we know it is effective even at 3.

I love this story because it vividly demonstrates how giving some measure of financial control even to the youngest of kids can serve to build their character.

I’ll blog again soon with Part 2, making the case for HEFTY allowances, but let me close this post with some general thoughts about giving kids allowances.

  • It makes children feel valued and trusted and gives them a measure of control over their lives.
  • It gives them money to waste.  Failure is a great teacher.
  • They can experience the joys of giving and the rewards of saving.
  • It minimizes whining in stores about things they impulsively want (“Did you bring your money purse?  No?  Well I guess you’ll have to remember to bring it next time.”)
  • It gives you opportunities for reasonable, non-emotional disciplinary action (“If you forget to do your chores, no worries, it just means you’ve hired one of us to do them!”)
  • It doesn’t cost you anything.  You’re already spending money on your kids — this just transfers responsibility onto them for certain purchases.
  • Because if you hold all the money, they’ll always be coming to you for withdrawals, which can cause conflict.  Better to dole it out deliberately and let them learn to manage it.
  • Parents can still set limits on what money is allowed to be spent for (but remember, don’t prevent them from wasting it.).
  • Instead of butting heads with them about their financial wants, it forces them to make decisions about what matters most, learning important life skills.
  • It gives them assets that can be used to reimburse you for any damage they may cause.
  • It gives us opportunities to help consult with them about their financial choices.
  • It makes you the coolest parents on the block!

Why this room never made our “Majors” list

This is an actual photo of one of our children’s bedrooms.  I won’t mention which child it was to protect Lexi’s identity.

In my previous post, I talked about how parents need to determine which household expectations are essential and which are optional.   In this post I’m going to share two of our “Minors” that may surprise you.  But before I do, please note that I’m not suggesting that our “Minors” should be yours.  Every set of parents needs to determine what they can live with and what is necessary for the well-being of the family and sanity of the parents.   That said, here are two of our “Minors”…

BEDROOM TIDINESS.   We chose to make bedroom tidiness a “Minor” in our home.  We opted to never have a battle over the condition of our kids’ rooms.   We gave them the privilege and the responsibility to organize and manage the stuff in their rooms however they wanted.  The only stipulations were that there could be no dirty dishes or food crumbs left in the room, and any dirty clothes they wished to be laundered had to be put in the hamper in our bedroom.  Other than that, they had complete creative control over the condition of their rooms.  And our girls were creative!

[It’s important to note that this rule –or lack thereof — pertained only to their bedrooms.  They were still expected to keep the common areas of our house picked up and had to take care of any messes they made throughout the house.  Keeping our common living space picked up was a “Major!”]

Now I can imagine that some of you reading this might take issue with our lackadaisical bedroom policy and push-back as follows…

  • This teaches them to be sloppy people.  Perhaps, but we’d rather have sloppy kids that we enjoy being around than kids who resent us for constantly nagging them to clean their rooms.   And in our experience, the sloppiness of their rooms didn’t spill over into other areas of their lives: schoolwork, musicianship, work ethic, and doing ministry.
  • Kids like yours won’t learn how to clean and be tidy.  They were required to keep the rest of the house tidy, so they did learn cleaning and organizing skills!  But we wanted them to practice managing their own lives, organizing their rooms when it was important to them.  We found that there were two main situations that motivated them to be clean and tidy:  1.) When they were sick of their mess or frustrated by not being able to find the important things they had buried.  Failure is a good teacher!   When this happened they would sometimes go on a self-imposed cleaning binge until their rooms were immaculate!  This always gave them a peaceful and satisfying feeling!  2.)  When friends or guests were coming over and they would feel too embarrassed to have them see their messy rooms.  Positive peer pressure at its best!
  • Won’t this teach them disrespect for others?  Making bedroom clutter a “Minor” worked for us because our girls had their own rooms so their mess didn’t affect anyone else.  But because respect was a “Major” value in our home they entered college prepared to keep their dorm rooms tidy  out of respect for their roommates.  
  • How could you parents tolerate living with that mess in your house?   Honestly, sometimes we closed the door — out of sight, out of mind!  At other times we stood at the door and chuckled at the sight,  We chose to view it as entertaining rather than annoying.   Sometimes we’d ask, “How’s that working for you?”    We made it their problem, not ours.

CLOTHING CHOICES.  We also chose to never have a battle over clothing with our girls (as long as they were modest).   From a very young age (3 or so) we let them choose their own outfits and only rarely would we regulate what they wore (e.g. family pictures, holiday attire, weddings, funerals, etc.)  This meant that we sent them off to school and church wearing what they felt like wearing, which may or may not have matched the fashion etiquette of the day!   We figured it was good for them to choose their attire as a way to express their individuality.  This encouraged them that it was ok to be themselves.  As they grew older and more aware of social norms it also forced them to make decisions on how “conforming” to their peer group they wanted to be.

Let me illustrate this “Minor” with one of my favorite stories about Bren.*

It was a blizzardy, mid-winter Sunday morning and church should have been cancelled, but wasn’t.  I had gone ahead to church already, but Cindy was still at home getting herself ready with our three-year-old daughter, Bren.   Bren had chosen her church outfit for the day: a dressy plaid skirt, a red, tattered, Micky Mouse sweatshirt, and flipflops!  Making mention of the frigid temperatures and pointing out the blankets of descending snow outside, Cindy advised Bren that it might be a better choice to join her in wearing boots rather than flip-flops.  But Bren’s mind had been made up — she was determined to wear those flip-flops!

Rather than engage in a potentially lengthy and emotional battle with a strong-willed child over footwear, Cindy wisely decided to drop the issue completely, and began loading up the car and heading to church.

The trek through the snowy church parking lot to the front door provided the perfect teachable moment for Bren.  By the time they got inside Bren’s feet must have been absolutely miserable, although she tried hard not to show it.

One thing we do know, however:  never again did Bren choose to wear flip-flops in a blizzard!

So what was Cindy’s biggest challenge that cold morning?  It wasn’t Bren or her footwear choice.  It was the awareness that other moms might judge her as being a bad mom because she allowed her three-year old go to church in a blizzard in flip-flops.   Her concerns were well founded — in fact, just recently, a woman admitted to having done just that on that fateful morning.  But rather than feel guilty, Cindy knows that she did what was best that day:  avoiding a needless battle, letting Bren learn from her mistake, and arriving at church in a joyful mood!

I couldn’t agree more!

[Note: flip-flops in the winter was a “Minor” in this case because it only involved Bren having to walk across a snowy parking lot.  If she would have been walking to school or watching a parade for an hour, that would have been a different scenario.   Having to amputate frostbitten toes pushes the issue into the “Major” category!]

              * the stories and photo above are used with my kids’ permission!

Majoring on the Minors

One of the biggest mistakes we parents make is when we Major on the Minors.  It wastes energy, causes us undo consternation, and jeopardizes our relationship  with our kids.

In a previous post, I wrote about how parents have a God-given responsibility for managing their families.  It is certainly the parents’ job to decide what will and will not be allowed in the home.   In this post I want to encourage parents to carefully evaluate your current household expectations and rules to see if they may need rethinking.

Every parental expectation or rule  can be separated into two categories:  Majors and Minors.  They can be either spoken or unspoken, formal or informal, articulated or perceived.

By Majors, I mean the things that we absolutely require of our kids.  These are the firm expectations and rules for household behavior.  They are the things we are willing  to have battles with our kids over.

By Minors, I mean the things that are merely parental preferences, hopes, or dreams — but not requirements.  We may wish things were otherwise, but we are unwilling to engage in battle over these things.  A harmonious relationship with our kids is more important than getting these things that we’d prefer.

Everything must fit into one of these two categories.  There is nothing in the middle — either it’s required or it’s not!  Parents will be wise to think carefully about where they put what.

 

So what determines which of the myriad of possible expectations belong on the Majors’ side or the Minors’?   Several factors will play into this.  Here are some:

  • Religious convictions.  (e.g. rules related to church attendance, religious instruction, modesty, swearing, etc.)
  • Values (e.g. respect, responsibility, kindness, chores, keeping commitments, etc.)
  • Family traditions (e.g. eating together, holidays, relative interactions)
  • Perception of the well-being and safety needs of the family (e.g. internet accountability, porn, smoking, sarcasm, bullying, noise volume, hygiene)
  • Pet peeves and personality factors  (e.g. OCD, Autism, ADHD, and other realities that need special accommodation)
  • Special needs of family members (e.g. sleeping baby, stress, lack of sleep)
  • Learning from the example and inspiration of others

Three final thoughts…

First, consider carefully in which box your expectations should reside, because if you Major on the Minors you’re likely choosing numerous and needless battles with your kids.  It was always our goal to have the fewest number of battles with them.  Each battle builds a relational wall of separation between us.

Second, be aware that some things will need to switch back and forth from one list to the other over time.  This is because family needs change as everyone ages, our abilities and capacities can grow, and our tolerance levels can vary.

Third, make your list of Majors as small as possible.  Have as few rules as you can.  Say “yes”, every time you can.  Choose your “no”s strategically and be prepared to explain why.

This might be a better mix…

 

 

 

 

In my next post, I’ll share some of the things we considered Minors with our kids that may shock you!

 

Influence is the Answer!

 

In my last two posts, I talked about the false security of relying on parental control as a way to keep our teenage kids safe and well behaved.

Today we’re going to consider a far more important parental pursuit:  becoming influential.   First let’s define it.

influence

[in-floo-uh ns]  verb (used with object), influenced, influencing.
1. to cause someone to change a behavior, belief, or opinion    
2. to cause something to be changed.  
While parental control needs to decrease during the teen years to prepare them for life out of the nest wise parents shift their focus toward increasing their influence during those same years.  The graph might look like this.
Four observations.
  • Influence is a powerful force, for good or for bad.
  • Influence begins the day your child is born and can last a lifetime.
  • Studies prove that parents are the primary influencers of children — by a long shot!
  • Secondary influencers will be anyone or anything that captures your child’s mind and heart.
So what can parents do to be positive influencers of their children?
I recently did some brainstorming with a group of grown children about positive ways their parents influenced them and here are Five Intensifiers of Influence we came up with.

1. Model authenticity.   Managing your own life and character well is of critical importance.  Character and values are more caught than taught.

2. Relate positively.    Fostering a mutually respectful relationship with your kids will give them reason to follow you.
3. Cultivate Trust.  Convincing them that they are important to you, that they safe around you, and that your goal is their well being is a solid foundation for influencing them.
4. Verbalize values.  Kids can’t process things we neglect to talk about.  The world will inform them about everything we don’t.  We need to get in the “first word” to give them context and perspective on what matters to us.
5. Emancipate strategically.  Typically, parents and teens battle over kids’ emerging desires for independence.  Instead, let’s work with our kids to prepare them for living on their own.  As I’ve blogged about before,  our goal is to raise adults, not kids.
 I’ll flesh out these five intensifiers of influence in future posts!

Maintaining Parental Control is not the answer.

In my last post about keeping kids safe I made reference to parental CONTROL.

Today I want to explore the topic of CONTROL more fully because the way you wield it will not only affect your lifelong relationship with your kids but also their long-term well-being.

Let’s begin by defining the word.

CONTROL

[kuh n-trohl] verb (used with object), controlling.

1. to exercise restraint or direction over; dominate; command.

As the authorities of the home parents certainly have a God-given right and responsibility to exert control over their kids.  Control is a critical component of nurturing, especially since kids are born weak, without the ability to take care of themselves or exercise sound judgement.

We’ve all seen kids who are “out of control” and wondered where their parents were!

But I want us to give some thought to the amount of control that parents should exert over their kids during the course of their kid’s childhood.  I’ve observed that many parents overextend their use of control or aren’t willing to relinquish it.

Recently in my Bridgehaven parenting class we charted out what an ideal amount of parental control ought to be for developmentally normal kids over the course of 20 years.

Here’s what we came up with…

You’ll note that for the first year or so, it seems the parent has zero control — indeed the child controls the parents!  The baby cries: the parent feeds him.  The child poops: and the parent rushes to change the diaper!  Like it or not, that’s how it works!

But before long, the parent begins to exercise a high amount of control over the kids.  In fact, the parent is now controlling almost every thing in the child’s world:  what he wears, where she goes, who and what he can play with, what she can touch, etc.  This of course is necessary because the child has no filters to make such decisions.

Now let’s fast forward–in our minds–to the day that child will leave for college.  (Keep in mind that we’re talking about developmentally normal kids.)  How much control should the parent still be asserting?  I say almost none!

Think about it –by this time in their journey our kids should be able to function almost completely apart from parental control.  When they graduate from high school they ought to be well on their way to be managing their own lives: their health, their friends, their finances, their choices, their education, their hygiene, their sleep habits, their decision making, their church involvements, their workload, etc. with little –if any–parental controls in force.

But sadly, that’s not how it works in many homes.  Out of worry and fear some parents maintain a high level of control all throughout the teen years.  Then they send their kids off to college where the kids suddenly find they are without any parental control at all.  They love it — free at last!  But those unfortunate kids are the ones who will naturally misuse their newfound freedom, running up credit card debt, partying their freshman year away, accumulating baggage, and discovering how ill-prepared they really were to manage their own lives.

They’ve had guardrails imposed on them their whole life and consequently they never learned to set their own.

Let’s not do that!  As the chart shows, our control over our kids should gradually diminish over time and they should be increasingly taking control of their own lives.  No, it won’t be as smooth a curve as I indicated on the chart above — it will zig and zag a bit, based on the responsibility that our kids show as they practice managing their own lives.

But they should be given opportunities for epic failure — better to do it in high school where the stakes are lower and the education is free (for most) and where parents are nearby to help our kids process their life management abilities.  If they don’t learn how to set their own guardrails in high school they’ll never be able to do so in college.

Our ultimate goal must be to gradually relinquish our control more and more until they are effectively running their own lives — even if we don’t necessarily like the way they’re running them.

What will this require?

  • As they grow older we have to increasingly give them responsibilities.
  • Over time we will have to willfully, intentionally, and gradually diminish the things we control.
  • We will have to let them experiment with managing their own lives.
  • We will need to process their mistakes with them.

Three things that would keep us from relinquishing control.

  1. Fear.  We have to trust God for things we can’t control.  It’s as much of a spiritual battle as it is a physical one.
  2. Discomfort.  It’s much more comfortable for us to keep them on our radar and under our control.
  3. Hard Realities.  We know the dangers that are lurking out in the world and we also know our kids’ particular weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Fear, discomfort, and the hard realities all make us hesitate to relinquish any control–in fact, we’re tempted to increase it.  We tend to reign our teenage kids in closer and tighter so we don’t have to worry so much.

But the more control we assert over teenagers, the more likely it is that they will resent us — some for a lifetime.  Some will be counting the days until they can legally exit our home and be free of us completely.  Ironically, those kids will end up doing the very things our use of control was trying to prevent them from doing in the first place.

Discouraged?  Don’t be.  Luckily we have a powerful tool in our parenting tool belt that is even greater than control.  It’s called INFLUENCE.

We’ll discuss that in my next post

Keeping computers out of kids’ bedrooms is not the answer.

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Sometimes parents believe that as long as the computer resides in a common family area our kids are safe.   I want to tell you about a bizarre intervention I did that proved how wrong this idea is.

Over a decade ago — in the days before cell phones — an anonymous teen began “Instant Messaging” me using a fake screen name.  All I knew was that he knew me and that he was someone in our youth group.  His IMs to me continued daily and he shared about being depressed and having thoughts of despair and suicide.   I was glad to offer as much encouragement and perspective as I could.  Over the course of several weeks he unknowingly gave me enough clues that I figured out who he was, but i didn’t let on.  I’ll call him Roger.

Late one evening Roger was especially troubled and messaged that he was planning to kill himself that very night!  He even had a plan in place!  Yikes!  I knew an immediate intervention was necessary, but I was unsure of how to proceed.

I needed to talk to Roger’s parents, but didn’t want to raise any alarm which might make him either kill himself or bolt.  Calling the family phone so late at night would be too risky.  I decided the best response was to drive to his house and assess the situation from there — and hopefully find a way to talk to his parents without his awareness.

I recruited my intern to sit at my computer, to keep Roger engaged in conversation with “me!”  What a nerve-wracking assignment it was for this poor guy — keep Roger alive by pretending to be me!  Prayerfully, I drove to Roger’s house.

When I got there I prowled around the house — in pouring rain no less — peaking through various windows to get a glimpse of what was going on.  What I found shocked me.  There in the family room his parents were sitting on a couch watching — no kidding — “Leave it to Beaver.”  Not 10 feet away Roger was sitting at the family computer typing his nightmarish, suicidal plans to “me.”    Wow!

Miraculously, I was finally able to get the parents’ attention without Roger’s knowledge.  Dripping wet from the rain, I revealed to them that their son was in a depressive crisis, which they were completely unaware of.  It took me showing them the written transcript I had brought of Roger’s dire IMs to convince them.  Once they were convinced, the three of us walked out into the family room and confronted him.  He was shocked — but ultimately relieved — to have been found out.  His parents showed tremendous empathy and concern, and immediately got him treatment for his depression.  Roger was rescued!

Today, more than a decade later,  Roger is an emotionally healthy,  growing Christian husband.  I still marvel at the way God allowed me to be part of that turning point in his life.

I wanted to share this story because it proves something very important:  parents mustn’t assume that simply having the computer in public view is enough to keep them safe.  Relying on that gives a false sense of security.

But perhaps my point is moot.  With today’s proliferation of computers at school and friends’ houses–in addition to tablets, ipads, smart phones, laptops, etc.–it would be nearly impossible for parents to monitor 100% of their kids’ computer use.

And even though I am in favor of them we can’t rely solely on filters, keystroke loggers, and accountability software either.  One couple recently told me how their teenage son builds and refurbishes computers with parts he keeps in his bedroom.  He knows way more about circumventing filters and firewalls than they do!

So is there any hope for protecting our kids from online dangers?   Four thoughts.

  • We need to be reasonably attentive to what’s going on in our kid’s world.
  • We need to find out what’s going on in our kid’s heart.
  • We need to recognize that Parental Control has serious limitations.
  • We would be wise to figure out how to have strong Parental Influence.

I’ll write my thoughts about the difference between Parental Control and Parental Influence in my next blog posts.

Thanks for reading.

Engaging your child’s heart with five simple words.

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Here’s a repost of a blog I wrote nine years ago today that is even more important in today’s digital world of relational distractedness…

The other day my 14 year old Bren and I were essentially stranded in our mini-van for an hour, fully expecting to be bored.  On a whim, I said five words that transformed our time into one of our most meaningful conversations ever!

“Let’s ask each other questions.”  

It was that simple.  What followed was a journey through our private worlds that built a bridge between us.   For a solid hour we took turns asking each other questions that we were curious about.  We both came away so excited about our conversation that we told the rest of the family what happened.  Since then, I tried it on a car ride with Lexi, my 11 year old with equal success.   Here are some samples of the kinds of questions we shared and that you could share with your kids…

“What was something fun that you did in college?”

“What’s one thing you’re not so good at?”

“What do you think of dating?”

“What’s do you think is one of Mom’s greatest character qualities?”

“What do you like most about being a pastor?”

“What is it about track that you like?”

I encourage you to try saying these 5 powerful words to your kids (or maybe your spouse!) when you have a little spare time together.  

2017 update:  

We used these five words often over the past nine years, but always in one-on-one settings.  Recently, Cindy and I tried using them with a student who is staying with us –a threesome!  We each took turns asking the other two questions for the good part of an hour.  So we discovered it also works in groups of three (presumably more as well!)  It was super fun and even Cindy and I learned things about one another we hadn’t known.  

In today’s digital age, let’s not default to social media consumption or electronic entertainment.  There’s a lot we can learn from each other through such face to face inquisitiveness!

Love Fails

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For many years I’ve been reflecting on the topic of love within marriages, families and friendships — and my profound conclusion is this:  Love Fails!

“Forstrom’s a heretic!” the Bible scholar will contend. “He’s 180 degrees off-base!  1 Corinthians 13:8 clearly instructs us that “Love never fails.”

Others will call me a pessimist. “Shouldn’t he be upholding unfailing love as the foundation on which to build healthy relationships?   What’s gotten into this guy?”

Let me explain.

Unconditional, pure, selfless love is certainly the biblical ideal — and at times it is achievable — but it’s never sustainable.

Human love always falls short. It’s unreliable. Limited. Lacking. Temporary.  Incomplete. Eventually, love always fails.

This is important to understand because if we don’t concede that others’ love will inevitably fail us, our expectations of them will be unrealistic and we will be needlessly — and perpectually —  offended.

Let me illustrate from our own lives with reference to Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages.

  • I am very aware that Cindy’s primary love language is “Acts of Service”, and yet here I am blogging instead of scrubbing the shower.  In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that I spend an average of about 23.5 hours a day not doing acts of service for her!
  • As for me, my primary love language is “Touch” — and you can be sure that I have made my wife Cindy very aware of that fact!  But at this moment as I write this she is not touching me.  She’s working on her “pile.”  She could be rubbing my shoulders at this very moment but she’s not — to my chagrin.  In fact Cindy spends about 15+ hours every day not touching me. (Note: I’m giving her full credit for all the time we spend sleeping–we share a “super single” sized waterbed so not touching me is not an option for those 7 or 8 hours!)

The point is this:  Cindy and I will never love and serve one another as much as we could.  There will always be one more honey-do project I could have done today.  Every backrub she thinks to gives me could have lasted 1 minute longer.  Or an hour longer.  Our love for each other always falls short of what it could have been.

Of course loving others involves much more than Touch or Acts of Service — there are multiple expressions of love.  But the reality is that the time and effort we spend intentionally and actively loving each other is quite often interrupted by other things.  Plus, we’re forgetful, we get distracted, we get overloaded, we’re unaware of needs, we lose momentum, we lose focus, we misprioritize, we run out of energy, and sometimes we get lazy.

Many people live their whole lives perpetually offended by this.

Instead of wallowing in feelings of neglect and resentment let’s put the failing love of others in perspective.  Here are seven ways:

  1. Cut them some slack.  Concede that others are simply human and prone to fall short.  Except by the grace of God, there go I.
  2. Recognize that life pulls people in many directions.  As I blogged about earlier we shouldn’t require others to do their best all the time.  Let’s not expect them to do as much for us as they could, instead let’s keep our expectations realistic.
  3.  Admit that we’re not the only recipient of someone’s love.  We have to share our loved ones with others. To not share them is to be controlling, manipulative, and selfish.  It it important to remember that we don’t need them.
  4. Recognize that our felt needs do not necessarily define what is best for us.  If Cindy gave me backrubs 16 hours a day the bills wouldn’t be paid, the house would be in disarray, etc.  If I did acts of service for Cindy around the house 16 hours a day I wouldn’t bring home a paycheck and we would no longer have a house!  My felt needs are not all that matters.
  5.  Humble yourself and admit how much you yourself also fail at loving others.  When I start to feel neglected by others an instant cure comes when I recognize how much more I’ve neglected them.  Take the log out of your own eye first, adopting the attitude of Brother Lawrence, “When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, “I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself.” (The Practice of the Presence of God).
  6. Remind one another that your love is guaranteed to fail them.  Make it very clear that they can expect this from you.  Not that you’ll willfully harm them or spitefully neglect them, but that your love will ultimately fall short of all it could be.   “I promise to neglect you,” is a phrase they ought to hear you say, knowing that this will never be intentional, but that it will be inevitable.
  7. Trust in God’s unfailing love rather than man’s.  Allow the failings of human love to be useful in giving us a thirst for that love which never fails.

Guaranteed to fail you,

Mark

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