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Serving As A Family Through Causes Your Kids Are Passionate About

Last night my wife and I had the opportunity to speak at our church’s discipleship/family worship event. We talked about the importance of serving together as a family. It was a great experience. (And it was really fun speaking with my wife.)

I started by defining service, just so we were all on the same page. I defined it as “work done on behalf of others for the sake of God’s glory.” We then looked at how we can see service as an integral part of God’s character (looking at how He demonstrated a heart for service through His interactions with people and His commands), as well as examining how Jesus perfectly exemplified service and challenged us to do the same. My wife then followed up with some practical examples from our own experiences, as well as a few suggestions on more creative ways to serve with our kids.

One of her points really struck home with me. It was cool to hear her articulate something that our family kind of does by default, but maybe not something I had put into words yet.

As she was talking about ways to serve with our children, she challenged the audience to serve as a family in ways that allow our children to pursue their passions.

This was cool to hear her put to words something we do, and yes, something we might have stumbled in to. (Sometimes you’re intentional about things. Sometimes you just get lucky. Whatever works.) As parents, we can often serve in ways that meet our own needs, through organizations or causes that we’re passionate about. This isn’t a bad thing. Anything that gets your family serving together is a good thing.

But when we operate like this, we miss an opportunity to let our kids steer our service efforts in ways that line up with their passions and personalities.

Looking back at how we’ve been able to serve with our kids, we’ve been able to do so in ways that line up with things their passionate about. We’ve done lemonade stands the past three summers that raised money for causes my kids care about. One supported a local ministry that works with children who have cancer. (My middle daughter has always been drawn to those who are suffering.) One supported a clean water initiative. My kids have a real heart for children affected by poverty (thanks in no small part to our longstanding involvement with Compassion International.) Furthermore, my oldest daughter has an entrepreneurial streak in her that comes alive when we do a project like a lemonade stand. It’s the best of both worlds.

There are many other examples . . . working with a local homeless ministry, volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House, raising money for the local Children’s Hospital . . . Whatever the cause, we try to make sure they encourage our children’s passions in a way that expands their worldview and grows their empathy for others.

If you’re already serving in a way that is in line with your child’s passions, awesome. If not, maybe considering engaging him or her in a conversation about how you can spend your time with a charity or organization that lines up with his or her interests.

Serving together is a vital part of shaping our children’s character and faith. And serving an organization they can be passionate about is even better.

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Infographic: What Is Digital Parenting?

I ran across this infographic yesterday on digital parenting and thought I’d post it. I thought it tied in well to the post I wrote last week (The 10 Commandments Of Technology And Children) and contained some good advice. It’s directed at parents of teenagers, but I found most of the advice to be very relevant to tweens, as well.

So, check it out. Let me know what you think. Pass it along. Most of all, put it to use!

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It’s Easy To Do The Wrong Thing As A Parent

Last night I took my oldest to make the grocery store run. We were hustling. Why? Because our beloved Red Sox were facing Tampa Bay in the American League Division Series. If Boston won, they’d be moving to the Championship Series. We wanted to be able to watch as much of the game together before she had to go to bed.

Thanks to the joys of modern technology, she watched the first inning or so on my phone while we were wrapping up our shopping trip and driving home. We raced in to see Boston hit with bases loaded and one out, then quickly unloaded the groceries during the commercial break between innings.

By the time we had settled in, I figured we’d get a half hour, maybe an hour of sitting together watching the game. (My wife and other two daughters happily cede this time to us as watching the game would be a form of torture to them.) It was great.

And then everything changed.

It started innocently enough, with a simple request from my wife: “Y’all go over her vocabulary words for her test tomorrow while you’re watching.” I was handed a list with 50 words and definitions. Easy. We’ll work through them and then back to the game.

Except, not quite.

You see where this is headed, right? After it was obvious that my oldest didn’t know her vocabulary words, I was faced with a tough choice. And in the tough choice, a lesson to her.

It’s almost always harder to do the right thing.

And so amid tears (from her, not me, though I was tempted . . . ) we turned the game off and trudged to the kitchen to make flashcards and go through the list until she got it. What was supposed to be a night of bonding over our favorite team was a night of studying for a big test.

It’s easy to do the wrong thing as parents. It would have been very easy to talk myself into watching the game. After all, it’s bonding time. And she knew most of the words. She would probably have done alright with multiple choice. But, I did the right thing. It cost us both a little. But it was the right decision.

Parenting is hard. It just is. But the stakes are too high to take the easy road out. And as they get older, “easy” has consequences much bigger than a poor grade on a vocabulary test.

Doing the right thing as parents is often hard. But it’s always worth it.

(Oh, and the Sox won. Which means more baseball to be watched with my daughter. Now to make sure the vocabulary is done BEFORE first pitch . . . )

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5 Online Resources To Help Parents Track Youth Culture

I spent Saturday afternoon leading a workshop at Youth Specialties National Youth Worker’s Conference. The workshop was an iteration of one I often lead in which we look at the major trends in youth culture and how these trends impact spiritual growth in teenagers. As I often do, I got asked afterwards what resources I use to stay up to date on youth culture.

I thought it would be helpful to pass along my top 5 online resources to all the parents out there of teens and tweens.

Check these resources out and if you like them, bookmark them or add them to your RSS feed. They’re part of the way I stay informed with what’s going on in the world our children are growing up in.

1. The Center For Parent/Youth Understanding

CPYU.org is a fabulous resource. Walt Mueller and his team have for years been on the forefront of tracking how youth culture affects spiritual growth in teenagers. In addition to checking out the “Youth Culture News” on their website, you can sign up to get their e-update. BONUS: Walt’s personal blog, “Learning My Lines” offers his own personal reflections on culture and spirituality.

2. YPulse

YPulse is a site devoted specifically to millennials (the 80 million roughly 13-30 year old demographic in our country), though they are poised to track the next generation as well. YPulse is not a faith-based site. They view trends with an eye toward a marketer/advertiser audience. But I find their daily “Essentials” feed a great source of youth culture insight.

3. The Youth Culture Report

The Youth Culture Report is one of the best sources of trend spotting on the Internet. The folks at TYCR aggregate articles that focus on youth culture, youth ministry, and research. It’s a daily source of content for me.

4. Youth Worker Journal

The Youth Worker Journal is a great youth ministry magazine. They have a tab on their website called “Youth Culture And News.” They routinely update it with very timely trends and culture updates. I have their RSS feed feeding content to my Feedly account. But simply bookmarking the site and checking back every so often would be a good way to stay up to date with cultural trends.

5. Buzzfeed

Buzzfeed represents the real identity of what the Internet has become. It is a collection of memes, viral videos, articles, and goofy opinion pieces. It is not faith-based and some people may find some of the content objectionable. But, if you want to know what your teenagers or their friends are tracking, it’s on Buzzfeed.

These some of the online methods I use to stay up to speed with the world our kids are growing up in.

Consider utilizing these sites as a way to know what your tweens or teens are encountering in their day-to-day lives, and to better be able to engage them in relevant conversation about the factors influencing their personal and spiritual identities.

 

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Giving My Daughters Time When I Don’t Have Any To Give

I was working from home when she knocked on my door. My youngest daughter came in and in her cutest voice (reserved for when she really wants something) asked me this:

Caroline: Daddy, are you going to be upstairs for a while?

Me: Yes.

Caroline: Will you help me dress my doll?

Here’s the truth: I didn’t have time to do this when she asked. I truly didn’t. I was actually right in the middle of something pretty important. My schedule had changed. I was pressed for time. I could have and maybe even should have said no.

But I didn’t. I said yes. I made time. I took 10 minutes and I truly engaged with her. I gave her my full attention. And I helped her dress her doll.

Now, if you’re looking for the overly sentimental tidbit on how much the act of dressing her doll impacted me, you won’t find it here. Not that I don’t have those moments. I have many of them with my kids. But the point of this post is a little different. Ready? Here it is:

There are times as a parent where giving our children our full attention may be costly to us. Which is exactly why we should give it.

It’s true. There are times when stopping and giving our full attention to our kids is more of a sacrifice than a joy. And I think that’s what makes these moments so important. After all, it’s easy to make time for our children when it’s convenient for us, on our agenda. But the issue is that most of the times, our children’s needs don’t line up with our agenda.

And so, in those moments where giving is the most costly, it’s most important that we give.

Why? Because it reinforces our own priorities. The seven minutes I spent dressing my daughter’s doll didn’t derail my day. I didn’t miss a deadline. By hitting pause on my day, I was reminded that family trumps work. Always. But more than a priority realignment, making time for our kids (in those moments when time is scarce) tells our children that they matter. We tell them that they are important to us.

Life is busy. And we all have responsibilities that demand our attention. But there are truly very few of them that can’t be put on hold for the three, or five, or ten minute “time out” to be with our kids when they need us. There are few things more important than investing meaningful time and attention in the lives of our children. 

Our time truly is valuable. That’s why giving it to our kids is one of the most meaningful things we can do.

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The 10 Commandments Of Technology And Children

As part of my role with youthministry360, I spend a lot of time immersed in youth culture. As someone who works with youth workers, this gives me insight into how culture shapes spiritual development. But as a parent, it’s allowed me to think about how we equip our children to successfully navigate the digital world we live in.

In light of this, I put together the 10 Commandments of Technology and Children, a short guide that will help you think about how you lay a healthy foundation for your children’s interaction with technology.

(Note: These are probably most applicable to tweens and young teens. Ideally, older teenagers should already be practicing healthy habits with social media. My concern here is with laying a good foundation while they are young.)

1. Thou Shalt Engage In Open Dialogue About What Your Children Encounter Online
Over and over again, remind your children they can always talk to you about anything they see online that is disturbing, funny, weird, scary . . . whatever. You can’t overemphasize this. Create the expectation early that you are going to be engaged with what they are doing Online.

2. Thou Shalt Give More Freedom As Your Children Earn It
If you start out with no boundaries, it’s hard to put them in place when you need them. Start out on the strict end of the spectrum. Create the understanding that technology is awesome, but it has to be handled responsibly. As your children get older and prove they are more responsible, relax your rules appropriately to their level of responsibility.

3. Thou Shalt Put Limits On Screen Time
We limit total screen time, which includes TV and iPad/Kindle usage. We let our girls choose how they want to spend it. The amount of screen time you choose is up to you. But a good rule of thumb is to limit screen time in such a way that it creates blocks of time where the family is together but not engaged in technology.

4. Thou Shalt Unashamedly Monitor Your Children’s Activity
Tell your kids up-front that you will routinely be monitoring their activity, whether it’s their browser history or their text messages. For tweens and younger teens, this is a must. As your children get older and show more responsibility, you can and should back off on this. Some. But set the ground rule that at anytime you can and will check their phone or tablet. Which leads me to the 5th Commandment.

5. Thou Shalt Have A “No Deleting” Policy
This is kind of related to the 4th Commandment. I advise parents to have a standing rule with their children: no deleting. No deleting texts. No clearing browser history. The thought behind this is simple: if you’re deleting texts or browser history, you’re hiding something. It’s pretty easy to look at a thread of texts and figure out what’s missing. Same with your device’s browser history. If there’s nothing there, it’s been deleted. Not cool.

6. Thou Shalt Use Filtering/Parental Control Software
Find a filtering/parental control software that fits your budget and purchase it. Use it. You’re not doing this to be an overbearing ogre. You’re doing it to protect your children from accidentally going places they don’t intend.

7. Thou Shalt Not Place All Your Trust In Filtering/Parental Control Software
There are ways to get around this software. And there’s not a one I have ever used or demo-ed that is perfect. Don’t think filtering software means you don’t have to monitor your kids’ activity. You do.

8. Thou Shalt Have Your Children Check In Their Devices At Bedtime
This great idea came from my friend Adam McLane (who blogs HERE with a great perspective on technology and family) and I love it. There’s a lot of reasons why it’s bad for your kids to go to bed with their phones or tablets in their hands. Have a standing rule that sometime before bed time, they check-in their devices in a preselected place, where they will stay until the morning.

9. Thou Shalt Know The Apps Your Children Purchase
The parents I know who are the most savvy about technology have their children’s devices synced with the parent’s account. That way all purchases come through you. If my kids want an app, they have to come ask me. If you want to give your children your password, that’s fine. You should still look for the email that tells you what they buy and make sure their activity is inline with your values.

10. Thou Shalt Model Healthy Technology Behaviors Yourself
I swear I’m going to punch the next dad I see at a restaurant with his head buried in his phone while his family goes about their dinner. (I mean, I won’t, but I will want to!) Parents, please stop being so crappy at this. Do the right thing. Put your phone down at dinner. Seriously.

Those are my 10 Commandments. What did I miss? What Commandment would you add?

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Guest Post: 3 Ways To Love Your Children Unpredictably

(This is a guest post by my lovely wife, Brendt. She’s a great mom. She’s also Marriage and Family Therapist, which leaves no doubt where the real brains in the family reside. Hope you enjoy her thoughts here–Andy)

When I think about showing love to my children, it’s easy to start with the things I do, the many things I do associated with my role as “mom.” Of course, I verbally express my love for them often. And this is often accompanied by physical expressions, a hug or a kiss. Showing love to my children in these ways is good. It’s necessary. It’s healthy.

But it’s also predictable. Not that predictable is bad. Predictable love is consistent love. And that’s good. But predictable can be easy for our children to take for granted.

How do we love our kids in unpredictable ways? How do we surprise them with our love? How do we go above and beyond? I thought about this and came up with a few thoughts. (I wonder what you might add to this list?)

Here are 3 ways to love your children in unpredictable ways today:

1. Play

Playing comes in so many forms, and is a huge part of children’s lives with one another. Yesterday I sat down to do homework with my youngest daughter, but she had different plans. She asked if I’d color paper dolls with her instead. And so I did. We sat side-by-side coloring paper dolls. This playtime was a bridge, a connector, into her world. We didn’t color a long time; after all we did have homework. But the brief time we spent drew us together.

2. Perform

What is one of your talents? Have you shown your children this talent before? Or was it left in the High School art room years ago? Focus on a talent of yours as a mom, and then do it with your kids. Get out the dusty guitar from your closet. You don’t have to perform like your own your way to Nashville. They don’t care! Let this lead into a conversation about how your talent boosted a belief in yourself as a child or teenager. Then what can naturally follow is an encouraging conversation of the talents your children have and how their talents can boost their own self-esteem.

3. Pray

This is the most important and powerful one to me. As a child and into my adult years, I’ll never forget the power of my grandfather praying for me. He did this often. He prayed aloud for me, and I would leave his presence feeling loved and encouraged. Do this with your children! Pray over your children in the carpool line, letting them hear you pray for them. Pray with them on the way to the ballgame. Pray before bedtime. Speaking their name aloud to the Lord in prayer, focusing on their needs, hurts, concerns, and praises, shows them how to pray for others. Spending time in prayer creates an intimate closeness with your child and the Lord, and is the main way we can share the power of our own personal relationship with the Lord.

Those are three thoughts for how we can love our kids beyond the predictable ways.

What would you add?

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A Surprise Parenting Lesson From An Unlikely Source

I stumbled on a surprise parenting thought in the most unlikely of biblical narratives. It’s pretty profound (or at least it was to me), so, bear with me for a moment . . .

The narrative is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in John 11. (Told you it wasn’t your typical parenting passage!)

Let me briefly remind you of the details.

Jesus heard that His close friend Lazarus was dying. Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, sent a message to Jesus implying that He should come quickly to save Lazarus. And yet Jesus intentionally (and interestingly) waited two days, allowing Lazarus to die in order that He might have the opportunity to raise Lazarus from the dead. Jesus gave the reason why He did this: He wanted to demonstrate His power over death, both healing Lazarus and compelling people to believe in Him. Which He did.

Here’s where it gets interesting: When Jesus got to Bethany, the city where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived, He was confronted in turn by the sisters. Their brother was dead, and they were expressing their grief to Jesus. Check out this exchange:

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept. — John 11:32-35

Don’t miss how important this passage is for us as parents.

As God, Jesus knew how this would end. He had the foreknowledge that Lazarus would live. All would be well. There was, in a sense, nothing to be sad about. Jesus could see the outcome based on His identity. And yet, in the moment, He still grieved with the sisters. He still felt their pain. His knowledge that their pain was only temporary didn’t dull His empathy for them.

I think of how I react to my children’s sadness or disappointment and I realize I sometimes allow my perspective as an adult make me less empathetic. Because I know their pain is temporary, I can be in a hurry to move them through it.

This is especially true for scraped knees and bruised elbows. But it’s also true for disappointment over not making the team, or hurt feelings from a mean friend. Let’s face it: tears and sadness stink. And I can be overzealous in trying to move past the tears to the “fix it” stage. I too often want to push through the “yeah I know that hurts” to get to the “But it’s going to all be alright in the end.”

Jesus shows us that just because we know it will all be alright in the end doesn’t mean we shouldn’t genuinely share in our children’s pain and sadness.

When we share our kids’ pain, even though it requires us to slow down and really be in the moment, it teaches them that their emotions are healthy (something I often need help remembering myself), and it shows them what empathy looks like (a tremendous gift to give our kids). And the cool thing is that when we share their emotions in the small things (the scrapes and bruises) we establish trust for those moments when they need to bring us the big things (like, say, jerky boyfriends).

This is one I REALLY need to work on. But I’m thankful for the parenting lesson from an unlikely spot in Scripture.

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Parenting Thought For A Friday: Embrace Cheesiness

Here’s a quick parenting thought for a Friday . . .

Don’t be too quick to dismiss cheesy activities your kids suggest. Be OK with embracing the cheese.

Case in point. Yesterday my oldest and middle daughters were with a grandmother and at gymnastics, respectively. That left my wife and me a little one-on-one time with my youngest daughter. We ate supper and then she asked if we could walk to the park in our neighborhood. Of course, this suited us just fine. We walked to the park, played on the swings, ran around a bit, and so on.

Then, as we were getting ready to leave, my daughter looks at me and says, “Daddy, can we lay down and look at the clouds.” Now, I wish I could tell you that in that moment, I heard a symphony, my eyes moistened, and I immediately fell to the ground to gaze at skyward with my daughter. I wish I could say that was my first thought. But it wasn’t.

My first thought was something like, “Seriously?” Of course, I didn’t say this out loud, but that’s what I was thinking. I can’t say that it has ever crossed my mind to look at clouds. I don’t know that I knew exactly what that even entailed. Honestly, it seemed kind of cheesy. I put up a little fight at first. I think I said something about needing to get home before it was dark. But, she insisted. She asked me again if I would lay down and look at clouds.

And so it was that I found myself laying down in the grass with my little one while my pregnant wife joined us from the comfort of the park bench. And I was immediately glad I did.

I don’t know if these things are graded on a curve or what, but I would be willing to put my daughter’s cloud watching skills up there with the best of them. 

She spotted one cloud that looked just like the face of a poodle. It took me a second, but I realized she was right. It did. She spotted a helicopter, a guy driving a race car, a ship, and more. I soon found myself completely engaged in this game. It wasn’t long before I spotted a superhero flying through the sky and a slice of pizza. My wife joined in. We played this for longer than I imagined possible. As the clouds shifted, we found new shapes. It was truly fun.

As we walked home under the streetlights, I realized how thankful I was that I didn’t listen to the voice inside me that said, “No. This is cheesy.”

Let’s face it: Cloud watching IS cheesy. But, for a few minutes life was quiet, and peaceful, and fun. And I had the rapt attention of a little girl who will not be little much longer. And for that I am thankful.

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The Right Motivation For Our Children’s Good Behavior?

I watched a TED talk not too long ago by Barry Schwarz. It was an older talk (from 2010) entitled “Using Our Practical Wisdom.” Schwartz was talking about how we attempt to compel right behavior in institutions and people. Schwarz’s thesis was basically this:

There are two ways we attempt to motivate right behavior in institutions and people:

  1. Create more rules.
  2. And, come up with new, clever incentives.

Rules and incentives, says Schwarz, are “sticks and carrots.” In other words, rules and incentives are meant to motivate right responses. But, the problem is that these are pretty crummy ways to go about motivating anyone to do the right thing! According to Schwarz, they simply don’t work.

As I was listening to the talk, I immediately realized that at my worst, I can fall into these same patterns as a parent.

As Christian parents, we can be guilty of communicating to our children that the more rules you follow, the more “good” you are. We make living out their faith nothing more than a list of do’s and don’ts. The motivation for right behavior is keeping our list tidy: Do the “do’s,” and don’t do the “don’ts.” Of course, this is the same brand of legalism for which Jesus roasted the Pharisees. Following rules for the sake of following rules is a poor motivator.

Here is where the idea of incentives, comes in. We can attempt to incentivize our kids in how we lead them in developing godly character. The incentive? God’s happiness. We imply that God is more pleased when they behave well, even if we know better.

Unfortunately, this is a terrible motivator. And it doesn’t take much to realize why.

First, it’s just flat out wrong; we know that God is pleased with us only because He sees us through the lens of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross, not by our ability to meticulously keep rules. But second, this kind of broken motivation can lead our children into a pretty crummy cycle. If we equate God’s favor with good behavior, they’ll assume God feels good about them as a result. But what happens when they inevitably don’t act rightly? Then, they must assume God is not pleased.

This false understanding creates a roller-coaster effect, where God’s affection toward our children rises and falls on a whim. It can lead to feelings of shame when they fail. As they get older, this shame can lead many teens to fall further away from their faith.

So, what is the right motivator for holy living? At the end of his talk, Schwarz says that the ideal motivators for doing the right thing is for people to simply WANT to do the right thing. There’s a great parallel here for Christian parenting.

As I see it, the only motivator we can use to teach our children to live godly lives is to help cultivate in inward desire to do what God calls them to do out of love for Him.

Rule-following and the incentivizing will not motivate our children to live for Christ. The only real motivation is internalizing a love of Christ, and an understanding of the fullness of His love for them. The more they love Jesus, and the more they internalize His love for them, the more their lives will reflect His character.

 

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