Monday, February 27, 2017

Teens in Tight Situations

Teenagers get into trouble. This is news to no one. It is sort of a teenager’s job to get into trouble. They are at an age where they are finding out who they are and what they value. They remember lessons from their parents, but need to learn some of them all over again.

This is an age of taking risks and that is the hardest thing to watch as a parent. We know the consequence of the risk they are taking. They only see the fun. When teens take risks that put them close to trouble they may not see a way out. This is when they need to be sure that their parents have their backs.

This blog post has a great idea called the #xplan. The parents in this family have made an agreement that if their teen texts them an X they will call back and claim he needs to come home now and that he will be picked up. This allows him to leave an uncomfortable situation without social embarrassment. 

This is important because while teens remember what they have been taught, they have also moved into a world where peer opinion is more important than parent opinion. With an #xplan a teen can remember wise words of parents and follow that advice without social risk.

The blogger goes on to say that he and his wife have also promised to pick up their teen with no consequences or questions. I understand the promise to not express anger and to refrain from consequences. (Do you really want to punish your teen for following a bad choice with a good one?) However, I do encourage you to talk this situation through on the ride home. Make sure that the situation provided its own teaching lesson. Make sure your teen knows how frightened you were and how glad you are. Reinforce the good lessons you have taught.

God has rescued us time and time, again. Each time we come to Him in repentance He offers forgiveness. This is an important lesson for every teenager and parent. Life has consequences – parent love is forever.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Your Child's Brain on Music

Some fresh research from the University of Southern California is giving us a bit more evidence for the benefits of music on the development of a child’s brain. The researchers are two years into a five year longitudinal study and are already finding enhanced brain development in areas of the brain used for language development and reading for children involved in music instruction.

It is a small study (fewer than 40 students) but began with brain scans to show the starting point of each student in terms of brain function in specific areas. 

It will be interesting to see if the advantage is the same, less, or greater when the study has reached its five year term.

Studies like this do not “prove” that music instruction will make your child a better learner, but it does give us a picture of the connection between how our brains process music and language. 

Some families have the time and money for music lessons. Other families prefer different activities. You are certainly not damaging your child if you chose to spend money on sports instead of music. However, if you are trying to decide if music lessons are worth it – this research suggests they are.

Music is a gift from God and should be practiced and enjoyed simply because it is worth it on its own. This is especially true when we combine music and faith teaching. I remember saying memory work as a child when learning hymns for the Christmas service and feeling the need to sing it rather than say it. Music and language are strongly connected when it comes to memory. The liturgy sung in church, which is often Bible verses set to music, is a weekly reminder of God’s love for us and a beautiful peaceful way to nurture faith.  Likewise songs sung in Sunday school, youth group, or in preparation for a performance are providing double the benefit in terms of learning. 

What music can you add into your week with your children? What could be better than to close the day by singing a song of God's  love.? Can you sing easy parts of the liturgy during your family devotions? Or, the next time you  are traveling in the car pop in a CD of kids songs familiar to you and sing them with your children.

Music is an easy choice, for learning and sharing your faith. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Is Siri Smarter than a Parent?

At first glance it appears that this little girl is holding a conversation with a phone. She talks to Siri and is delighted when Siri talks back. She even understands what is said and responds appropriately.

It might be easy to assume that this child is developing language skills by interacting with a phone.


Take another look at the video. After each time she interacts with Siri, she tells her parents about it. She has to interpret what is said as if her parents didn’t hear. Her actions of playing with the phone fit into a separate world than her conversation with her parents. The phone may be amazing, but it is not worthy of real conversation.

Our children want, and need, our real conversation. The kind of conversation that happens when you are telling a story, answering  a question, analyzing the school day, helping with homework, reading or working together. 

This conversation develops language skills, social skills, and thinking skills. Not to mention the fact that you are building up serious relationship points that you will want to have banked for when your child becomes an adolescent. A teenager will be more likely to talk with a parent who has spent previous years in conversation. Talks between teenagers and parents can make all the difference on the trajectory of the life of an adolescent.

Voice command technology, such as Siri and Alexa have much potential to change the way we live our lives, but they will never replace conversation between parent and child. It's one thing to let Google Home answer a tough science question. It's a totally different thing to let Siri be the one to say "I love you" to your child. Nothing replaces a parent.

Talk to your child; even if you don’t know all the answers. This is how you share yourself. This is how you share your faith and your values. This is how your child grows into the adult he or she is meant to be.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Name That Emotion

From very early on children demonstrate and recognize six basic emotions: sadness, joy, disgust, anger, surprise, and fear.

However, children need a much bigger range of emotions in their tool box in order safely navigate the world. Appropriate actions and reactions require appropriate emotions. Wrong emotions illicit wrong choices.

Teaching emotions does not come with a lesson plan. There isn’t a top twenty list of emotions to teach your child that can be checked off one-by-one. Most children learn emotions they need in their environment. They learn emotions from interacting with friends and family. Here are some quick guidelines to remember:

Use your words: Young children are frequently reminded to use their words. Be sure your children know the words. When a child experiences an emotion, identify the emotion with one or two emotion words used in full sentences. Our brains use emotions to link to new learning so this is a great teaching technique.

Don’t prevent the emotion: As adults we can often see an emotionally charged situation before it happens. Resist the temptation to prevent these events. Let children feel sad, frustrated, confused, or hurt. These experiences are a part of life and learning how to survive them is an important skill.

Find emotions: Look for emotions in the world around you. Help your child to connect emotion words to the actions  of others. This works especially well when you a reading a story, telling a story from your childhood, or reading a Bible story. This helps children to see emotions in different contexts.

Turn off the virtual emotions: Young children do not learn emotions  from screens and for older children too much screen time eats into time  they could be  spending with real people. While there is no need to ban TV, computer, or game use, for most of us the time spent on these activities could be cut back.

God has blessed our world with many fascinating technologies. However, it is good to remember that He created us to be in fellowship with each other. That means we live, work, play, and worship together. When you put people together you get emotions – good and bad. Let God help you to teach your child to use those emotions for good.

Here is a Mind/Shift article on this topic.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Building Emotional Strength

Your child comes home from playing with friends and says she was bullied. Naturally, you are concerned and want to do something about it. But, before you go calling parents or teachers it would be wise to talk with your child and collect a bit more information.

When children are learning social skills they are faced with many upsetting and confusing situations. One or two lessons on bullying will not equip most children to deal effectively with upsetting behaviors.

Children need a strong sense of emotional literacy. They need to be able to read a situation and respond in the most effective way. And they need to know when to tell an adult and when to handle it child-to-child. The best way to help your child develop emotional literacy is conversation. The best time to have these conversations is after your child has had a negative experience with another child.

The first step is to help your child discern between rude, mean, and bully behavior.


Rude behavior hurts but is typically inadvertent. It can be poor manners, bragging, or unwelcome rough play. The best response to rudeness is “I don’t like that, please stop.”  Then turn away. Don’t expect an apology, don’t make a big deal of it, and don’t tattle. This is not an easy reaction but is one that shows emotional strength. Sometimes potential bullies and manipulators try rudeness first to check for a reaction. The child who cries or runs for help gives the message that he or she is a potential victim.


Mean behavior is a step up from rudeness because it carries intent and sometimes planning. Mean people are typically trying to elevate themselves by putting someone else down. The tricky issue for children is determining if someone did something “on purpose.” Most children who have been hurt assume that the other child performed the action on purpose; they also think their own actions are “an accident.”  The correct response to mean behavior is the same as for rude behavior with the additional encouragement to bring this behavior to your attention.  Spend time talking about what happened before the mean action and be sure that your child is not participating in mean behavior. If mean behavior occurs repetitively and is two-sided it may indicate an ongoing conflict.


Bully behavior is repetitive, one-sided, and involves an imbalance of power. Bullying usually requires some adult intervention. By maintaining conversations with your child with the goal of strengthening emotional literacy you will collect information regarding a bully situation that will be useful to the teacher or other adult supervising the situation. You and your child will have already eliminated simple behaviors that can be handled without adult help. 

Children do not become confident if we solve problems for them or if we inadvertently teach them they always need adult help. Talking, planning, and praying together will build a strong parent child relationship and also a strong child.