parenting

Parenting In a World Full of Porn

Parenting in a world full of porn makes protecting our children even harder than it already is.

As a parent myself, I can sometimes feel like I have already lost the battle against protecting my children against all the ways the internet can negatively impact them.

 

But then if I am honest with myself, even though the internet seems larger than life, and even though porn is everywhere on the internet, I can still take control of when, how, how much, and if my kids have access to it.

Avenues Counseling

I read a blog post today by Tim Challies that I found extremely helpful to me (and hopefully you) as I am parenting in a world full of porn.  Here is his post in its entirety:

The Porn-Free Family Plan

I am a father of three children who are fully part of the digital generation. They are as comfortable with iPods as I am with a paperback and have only ever known a world where almost all of us have cell phones with us at all times, where Facebook is a teenager’s rite-of-passage, where every home has five or ten or twenty devices that can access the rest of the world through the Internet. Yet I know of the dangers that are lurking out there, waiting to draw them in.

I want to protect my children in a world like this, but I want to do more than that. I want to disciple my children to live virtuously, to use these new technologies for good purposes instead of bad ones. I believe this is a crucial part of my calling as a parent. To address this great need, I have put together what I call The Porn-Free Family Plan. It is a plan designed to protect my children from online dangers so that I can train them to use their devices and technologies well.

THE PORN-FREE FAMILY PLAN

A thorough plan needs to account for three types of device:

  • Fixed devices. These are the devices will only ever be used in the home. Here we have desktop computers in the home office or Internet-enabled televisions and gaming consoles. Parents can have a significant level of control over these devices.
  • Mobile devices. These are the laptops, tablets, smart phones and other devices that can be used in the home but also carried out of the home and used elsewhere. Parents can have as lesser degree of control over these devices.
  • Other people’s devices. These are the computers children may use at another person’s home or the tablets other children may show to their friends. Parents can have no control over these devices.

In all of this there are two broad goals: To prevent those who want to find pornography and to protect those who do not want to find it but who may otherwise find themselves exposed to it, to confound those who want to see porn and to shield those who don’t. And while the plan is geared specifically to combat pornography, it will also help battle other online dangers.

The Porn Free Family Plan has four steps: Plan, Prepare, Meet and Monitor.

PLAN

You’ve heard the old maxim: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The maxim applies well to what we are attempting to accomplish here. A successful plan will need to account for every device in your home that combines an Internet connection with a screen. So let’s get to work.

Step 1: Inventory
You need to know exactly how many Internet-enabled devices you have in your home. To do this, you will need to take an inventory. Make a list of all your Internet-enabled devices: desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones. Don’t forget the Playstation 3, Xbox, smart televisions, Apple TVs, iPods, and e-reader tablets. Even a Kindle reading device has basic web-browsing capabilities. A family recently reported that after doing this they were shocked to learn they had 22 devices to account for!

Step 2: Budget
Decide whether you are able to make Internet security a regular and recurring monthly expense. Where it used to cost money to access pornography, today it often costs money to avoid it. While there are free options available, the best services have a cost associated with them. A budget of $20-$25 per month will allow a family to take advantage of the premier options.

Step 3: Learn
Now that you have taken your inventory and have a better grasp of the devices your plan needs to account for, it is time to learn about the options available to protect those who use them. There are four broad categories of protection we have available:

  • Filtering. Filtering proactively detects and blocks objectionable content. (Examples: If your child does an Internet search for “naked girls,” it will block the search; If your child mistakenly clicks a link to a pornographic web site, it will block access to the site.)
  • Accountability. Accountability software tracks web sites visited from different devices and then prepares and delivers regular reports. (Example: If your child visits a pornographic web site or performs a search for “naked girls,” the accountability software will note it and include it in a report emailed to you.)
  • Parental controls. Parental controls block certain functions of modern devices (Examples: Preventing the use of the Internet browser on an iPod Touch; preventing the use of the Facebook app on a tablet).
  • Communication. We cannot rely on technology to solve all of our problems, so the plan must also involve regular, deliberate and open communication.

Because none of these offers complete protection, the wise plan must use some combination of all four. The Porn-Free Family plan uses the following tools:

  • OpenDNS. OpenDNS uses filtering to automatically block objectionable web sites for every device connected to your home network. It is activated by making a small change to the settings on your existing router.
  • Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes tracks the web sites visited by your computers and mobile devices and sends regular email reports; it also offers optional filtering that can be configured specifically for each member of your family.
  • Parental Controls. Parental controls allow parents to disable certain functions on devices.
  • Meetings. The most indispensable tool is regular, open, deliberate communication between parents and their children.

Step 4: Discuss
Before you begin to implement the plan, it may be a good idea to meet with your family to explain what you are about to do and what you hope to accomplish by it. You will be inconveniencing your family and putting rules in place that will impact them, so it may be wise to discuss these things with them.

PREPARE

Let’s get started in putting that plan in place. This will take a couple of hours, so set aside the time, brew yourself a coffee, and get to it!

Step 1: Create Passwords
Master password. At the very top of the list is creating your master password. Your whole plan may fail if you choose a bad password or fail to protect it. Make it good (something that is difficult to guess and combines letters with numbers) and make sure you store it somewhere safe if you are not certain you will remember it. You may also need to create a 4-digit master password for mobile devices.

Family passwords. You also need to create a password for every other person in your home. Create passwords that will be easy for them to remember, but hard for others to guess. Every child needs to know his own password and only his own password. Make sure you record these passwords somewhere safe. If your children use mobile devices, you may also need to create mobile passwords for your children—usually 4-digit codes. Once again, make sure you know these codes and make sure you store them somewhere safe.

Step 2: Sign Up & Create Accounts
With your passwords in place, it is time to sign up for the services you will be using.

OpenDNS. We will begin by signing up for OpenDNS.

  • Visit OpenDNS (www.opendns.com) and look for their Parental Control Solution. OpenDNS Family Shield is a great place to begin (Alternatively, OpenDNS Home VIP is the optional, premier solution and costs $19.95 per year).
  • Create a user account for yourself using your master password.
  • Take a look at the different filtering options and set the ones appropriate for your family. Whatever you set here will apply to every device that accesses the Internet through your home network.
  • Note: It would be best to set the filter to block more rather than less, and to loosen it if and when you find that it is blocking too many sites.

Covenant Eyes. You have signed up for your filtering; now it’s time to sign up for the accountability software.

  • Visit Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com) and create an account using your master password.
  • Add each member of your family as a user and assign the password you created for each of them.
  • Sign up each user for accountability monitoring and have the reports sent to your email address every 3 to 7 days. Choose an accountability level appropriate to their age and maturity.
  • If you would like to have user-specific filtering in addition to the general filtering with OpenDNS, configure that as well. Choose a filtering level appropriate to each person’s age and maturity. It may also be wise to disable Internet access during certain times (Example: Disable all Internet access for your children after 9 PM and before 7 AM).
  • Note: It is best to set the filter and accountability to block and report more and to relax the filtering levels only if and when it is proving cumbersome.

Computers. Now you need to create user accounts on each of your computers and laptops (and tablets if they allow multiple users).

  • For every computer in your home you will need to create an account for each person who uses it. This means that if there are five people in your family and they each use the family computer, you will need to create five accounts—one for each of them.
  • Create an account for yourself using your master password and ensure that you have administrator privileges.
  • Then create a user account for each family member using the password you created for them; make sure that they do not have administrator privileges.

Let me offer a warning: This step can be laborious, especially if you have multiple computers. Persevere!

Step 3: Install Software
Now that we have created our accounts, we can install and activate OpenDNS and Covenant Eyes.

Install OpenDNS on your router. OpenDNS is activated with a simple change on your home router and managed through an online interface at www.opendns.com. You will need to refer to OpenDNS to learn how to change the appropriate settings. As soon as you do this, your filtering will be activated. Just like that, you are already beginning to protect your family.

Install Covenant Eyes on every laptop and desktop computer in your home. Visitwww.covenanteyes.com, log in to your account, download the appropriate software, and install it. Log in to each account on each computer and ensure that the Covenant Eyes software is running properly (look for the “open eye” icon).

Mobile Devices. If you have decided to allow browser access on your mobile devices, install the Covenant Eyes browser on those devices (typically by visiting an app store and downloading the app). Note: If you wish to have Covenant Eyes on your mobile devices, you will also need to use parental controls (see below) to block access to any other browser on those devices.

Gaming Consoles. Remove Internet browser access on all gaming consoles. Also consider removing access to YouTube, Netflix and other video sites.

Other Devices. Return to your inventory list and see what other devices you need to account for. Your plan will only be as strong its weakest point.

Step 4: Apply Parental Controls
Set parental controls on all mobile devices. To make this effective on devices owned by your children, you will need to set a parental control password and use this password to ensure only you have access to the parental controls. Here are the settings I recommend for devices used by children:

  • Ensure devices lock as soon as they are no longer in use.
  • Turn off web browsing. If your children need web browsing, install the Covenant Eyes browser and use parental controls to block access to all other browsers.
  • Turn off the ability to install new apps without inputting your password.
  • Turn off the ability to change their own password or account information.
  • Consider turning off Facebook, Twitter and other social media apps (since these apps often have a built-in browser that will allow them to visit web sites while bypassing all accountability software).
  • Consider turning off the camera access if you are concerned that your child may misuse. Be especially cautious with applications that combine social media with a camera (Snapchat, Instagram, etc).

Congratulations! You made it through. You know what devices are in the home, and you have accounted for each one by installing filtering and accountability software. There is just one problem: Everyone in your family is upset with you! So now it is time for that family meeting.

MEET

We tend to believe that problems caused by technology can be solved by more technology. However, what is stronger, better, and longer-lasting than even the best technology, is character. The family meeting is where you discuss and emphasize the importance and the growth of character.

I suggest having an occasional family-wide meeting to discuss the system, and regular one-on-one meetings with your children to ask them specific questions and ask for specific feedback.

Step 1: The Family Meeting
The actual content of the family meeting will depend to some degree on the age of your children. Here are some ideas for talking points:

  • Concern. Because of your concern for their well-being, you have taken actions to protect them as they use the Internet. Explain that you do not view your children as criminals or porn addicts, but that you do wish to protect them from online dangers. Depending on the age of your children, this may be a good time to explain that there are so many people who struggle with pornography that they may need to expect that some day they will face the temptation as well.
  • Privacy. Your children—and especially young children—should have no expectation of privacy when they use their devices. They should know that you will have liberty to check their devices without their permission and that their online actions will generate reports that you intend to monitor. You are doing this in order to love and protect them.
  • Passwords. Everyone needs to know the importance of passwords and that you expect them to protect theirs. They may not share their passwords with their siblings or their friends.
  • Readiness. You need to speak to your children about Internet safety outside the home. Talk to them about what to do if they are accessing devices in other people’s homes. Explain to them what they should do if someone shows them pornographic or otherwise inappropriate material.
  • Mom and Dad. If you have decided to hold yourself to the same standards—to use filtering and accountability software (something I recommend!)—this is a good time to explain that to the children.

Step 2: One-on-One Meetings
Parents and their children will benefit tremendously from having regular discussions about online dangers and concerns. The conversations will vary a great deal depending on the age and maturity level of the child. Here are some questions you may consider asking:

  • Are you able to access everything you need to access online?
  • Are you feeling tempted to look for things online that you know you shouldn’t look for?
  • Do you know if your friends are looking at pornography and talking about it?
  • Have you looked at pornography since the last time we met?

I trust you have prepared yourself for some push-back and some frustration, especially at the beginning. Your children will probably find that they cannot access certain sites or that they need to input passwords where before they did not. Your spouse may find that she cannot access certain sites she wants to. Persevere, and address each issue as it arises.

MONITOR

The plan is in place, and your family is now benefiting from some level of protection. But this not a plan you can set in place and simply leave to run its course. It requires monitoring and maintenance.

  • Covenant Eyes Reports. Covenant Eyes will send you regular reports. Do not expect these reports to be as helpful as you want them to be. You will need to take some time—two or three minutes—to look carefully over the report looking for anything that seems amiss. Follow-up with any of your children whose report shows a red flag.
  • OpenDNS Reports. OpenDNS also collects reports, including pages and searches it has blocked. While you will not know who is responsible for these blocks, you would do well to keep an eye on them, to look for patterns, and so on.
  • Adjust. As your children grow older you may find that you need to adjust their privileges. You may also find that as they grow older they face greater temptations which will require fewer privileges. Be willing to adjust accordingly.
  • Maintain. Covenant Eyes updates their software on a regular basis. As they do this, you will want to install the new updates.

CONCLUSION

And that’s the Porn-Free Family Plan. It takes a couple of hours of hard work to set up, but it is time well-invested. Even then, this plan is not fool-proof—no plan is completely fool-proof. There will be ways around it for those committed to finding those ways. Covenant Eyes will occasionally block something harmless; OpenDNS will sometimes fail to filter something that obviously ought to be filtered. Yet the plan will suffice for most families in most circumstances. You are well on your way to training and protecting your children.

(visit his blog by clicking here)

I hope you found this post as helpful as I did.  -Lianne Johnson, LPC

Parenting Our Children

Parenting my children has been one of the hardest things I have ever done.  The role I have taken on as “Mom” is daunting at times when I realize that it’s my job to teach them how to be people – regular ole’ human beings, it can often feel like one of the hardest tasks I have been given.

 

This is why I am extremely thankful for people like Brene’ Brown and Glennon Doyle who often put into speech or writing things my mind and heart very much need when it comes to parenting.  After re-listening to Brene’ Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability, and making my way through Glennon Doyle’s book, Carry On, Warrior, there were some commonalities in what they were saying that I believe is something to keep in mind as we parent our children – We are human beings, they are human beings, and we’re all in the same boat.

Here’s what I mean…if you are reading this blog post then without even knowing who you are I know some things are true of you – you are a human, you make mistakes, you are not perfect even though you may want to be, relationships are hard, life is hard, and if you’re honest with yourself you worry about how your kids will grow up in light of your imperfections.

It seems important that we begin to realize (and live as though it is true) that our children will invariably experience life as we do. After all, you are human and they are human, and being human means we naturally have limitations of which we have no control over.

Avenues Counseling

So as parents/caregivers should we approach this reality by trying our hardest to perfect our children as best as we can?  Do we really think we can keep them from experiencing the realities of what it means to be alive?  The truth is that no matter how much time and energy we put forth for our children, or high expectations we place on them, our desire to make our children perfect will never reach perfection.

When it comes to our children (and really just life in general) we need to stop trying to make the uncertain things about life certain.  We will never be satisfied and we will never be perfect.

Consider what both Brene’ Brown and Glennon Doyle share with us when it comes to parenting:
Here’s an excerpt from Brene’ Brown’s TED talk entitled, The Power Of Vulnerability (to listen to her entire talk click here).  She spends about a minute talking about the topic of parenting:  “We perfect most dangerously our children.  Let me tell you what we think about children – they’re hard wired for struggle when they get here.  When you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her she’s perfect.  My job is just to keep her perfect.  Make sure she makes the tennis team by 5th grade and Yale by 7th grade.  That’s not our job.  Our job is to look and say, “You know what, you are imperfect and wired for struggle but you are worthy of love and belonging.  That’s our job.  Show me a generation of kids raised like that and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today.”

In this excerpt from Glennon Doyle’s book, Carry On, Warrior, she is talking about the two things she tries to keep in mind when parenting.  Here’s what she shares with us, “First, I remember that I am a human being, and human beings make mistakes.  Almost constantly.  We fall short of what we aim for, always.  We get impatient.  We get angry.  We get selfish.  We get extremely sick and tired of playing pet store.  That’s okay.  It’s just the way it is.  We’re human.  Can’t fight it.  Elephants gotta be elephants and people gotta be people.  Then I remember what my most important parenting job is, and that is to teach my children how to deal with being human.”

What if we banded together as parents and caregivers and made a pact to no longer try to perfect our children?  What if, instead, we chose to spend our time and energy teaching our children what it means to be human?  Let’s make them experts on what it means to be human and equip them to thrive within their human limitations.

 

-Lianne Johnson, LPC

 

How Are You Coping As a Parent?

By: Katy Martin, LPC

“You know, pull ups and training potties should come with a Xanax prescription.”

This is what I texted a friend a few weeks ago while I was in the throws of potty training my almost 3 year old.

(Side note: that statement in no way is trying to make light of medication. It can be a powerful tool when prescribed and taken appropriately.)

Raising children is hard work whether you stay home full time, work part time, or work full time. No matter where you are, those kids are yours ALL THE TIME.  Sure, it sometimes sounds easy and fun (can I get an Amen for nap time!) but these small people are reliant on you all the time. And there are a lot of really wonderful moments and seasons, but it’s a 24/7 job that can also be overwhelming.

How do you react during those moments of incessant whining, crying, fighting, or boredom? Maybe it’s your sweet new baby with acid reflux. Those moments of feeling utterly useless to make your baby or child feel better. Or the seasons when it just seems impossible to get a moment to yourself. Or the questions, the millions of questions, from your toddler.

Self-care and coping are so important in these situations. You can only give what you have, right? If you’re spent, overwhelmed, at the end of your rope, you just don’t have anything else to give. Sometimes we can muster up something to get by, but why should we settle for just getting by?

Here is a self-care list I came up with to start you and I out. Maybe you could add to it. Maybe you could tailor it to your personality or to your phase of life.  Consider what this would look like in your life.

*Connect with other people your age. Regularly. Play groups, church, work, time out with friends, etc

*Reach out via text, email, phone when you need it. This is where social media is on our side. Vent to a friend instead of taking it out on your spouse or kid. Talk to you someone so you’re reminded you’re not alone.

*Take a break. Turn the TV on for your kids for a bit without feeling guilty. Put yourself in time out for a few minutes to breathe, calm down, have one complete thought. Take a shower. Go outside.

*Practice mindfulness: take deep breaths, count to 10, direct your thoughts to the present moment and not the craziness.

*Eat healthy, get your body moving, and get enough sleep.

*What do you enjoy? What energizes you? Find a way to do those things even if it looks different than before you had kids. You are still YOU.

*Don’t compare yourself to other parents. Just don’t do it. We are all different and unique. Learn from each other but own your own decision and beliefs.

*Date your spouse. Your kids need this from you.

*If you mess up, lose it, or have a bad day, just start again. Apologize to your kids if you need. Don’t beat yourself up.

*If you start to feel completely out of control or that you just can’t manage, seek out a mentor, a therapist, a friend, or pastor. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or investigate your feelings. Maybe more is going on.

You’re not alone, parents. In the moment I sent that text to a friend of mine, I felt better because I invited someone into my chaos which made me feel less alone, less crazy, and I was able to laugh at the tower of antibacterial wipes on my counter and the growing pile of laundry. I’m definitely not prefect at this but we all have to start somewhere.

What are you going to start today?

Raising a Superhero

by: Andy Gear, PLPC

“Since teaching college I’ve been amazed at two things: (1) how deeply young adults want their parents to be proud of them, and (2) just how deeply parents communicate, directly or indirectly, that their kids are not good enough. . . . I may invest in a dry/wet vac for my office. They believe their parents love them but don’t believe their parents are proud of them.” –Dr. Anthony Bradley

My wife and I are having our first child in less than a month, and we are very excited to meet her! Awaiting her birth has stirred up all sorts of emotions in me. I have so many hopes, so many fears, and so many desires for this little person.

I want to have a happy and healthy baby, as all parents do. But I have other hopes and desires as well. My wife and I often lie in bed at night and dream about what our little girl will one day be. We dream of her being a special person: smart, funny, sensitive, doing something we think important (becoming a doctor, a professor, or the President of the United States).

But where do these desires come from and are they good for our developing child? We think she should do special things because she is special to us but also because of our own unfulfilled desires. If we are disappointed with how our life turned out we might desire that our child do what we were unable to accomplish or be the person we wish we were.

The problem is that this completely ignores the humanity and uniqueness of our child. Shouldn’t she have a say in this? This may not be who our child is. She is a little person, not a vessel through which to meet all our unfulfilled desires. It is normal to have dreams, but it can be harmful to have goals or expectations for another human being.

The professor (quoted at the beginning) made the point that well-meaning parents place too much weight on their child’s performance. We put subtle pressure on our children to be an academic, spiritual, athletic, social, or financial success. We make our child’s performance part of our own identity. So we send subtle messages to our children about the conditions for their acceptability.

Our children begin to sense that we are only proud of them when they meet the expectations or goals that we have for them. So they often try to become what we want them to be—to varying degrees of success. But this is done at the expense their own identity and happiness. When they don’t fit the mold we set for them, they feel as though they are failures and are not free to pursue who they truly are.

Just because our child is special to us, doesn’t mean that it is not acceptable for them to be ‘ordinary.’ Not everyone has to be a doctor, a CEO, or the President of the United States. It is enough for them to be themselves. Of course we want to nurture them and provide an environment where they can flourish. But we must be ok with them being who they are. If we are not, they probably won’t be either. They will go through life believing that they are not good enough, don’t have what it takes, or are defective. They may suffer from low self-esteem or anxiety about their performance. Our expectations may rob them of the joy of enjoying who they are.

The messages we send our children, as parents, are extremely powerful. Our words and actions can send the message that they are acceptable because of who they are, not what they do. Or we can subtly poison them with the message that they are only acceptable if their performance matches our expectations. 

Though I may not dream of my daughter being an emotionally reserved janitor, what if that is who she is and chooses to be? Would I celebrate who she is? Or would I subtly communicate that she needs to change in order to make me proud? When I expect her to be someone else I am doing violence against her own unique humanity. She is her own person, and I want to help that person flourish.

I don’t want to create an environment for my daughter that leads to her crying in her professor’s office because she doesn’t think she is living up to my expectations. Though I have hopes and dreams, it is unfair for me to have expectations or goals for another human. She gets to decide who she wants to be, and I have the privilege of helping foster her unique self. I want her to flourish, but I don’t get to decide how she flourishes. She doesn’t have to be the best at anything to make me proud. She will make me proud by just being who she is.  

Video Games and the Art of Conversation with a 9 Year Old

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

As I was listening to the 45-minute symphonic sound track audio CD that came with one of the Wii games that my son received for Christmas, I thought, “Music for video games has come a long way from “Mario Brothers”.  the honking, hooting electronic melodies have been replaced by full orchestral productions and often accompany full chorus vocals and soloists.  Pong didn’t even *have* music.

The truth is, a lot of things in video games have come a long way.  Graphics engines and technology can paint lifelike and often breathtaking scenery and even weather, match body movements with environment and mouths with voices, simulate the passage of time and create a virtual world that is so realistic that it can pull you in.  There is some high-quality artwork being done for some of these games (and some of the work is crap, so don’t take this as a blanket statement!).

What becomes a challenge is when the realism of the games lines up with reality.  Many of the most popular games out right now (Modern Warfare, Battlefield, Skyrim, to name a few) are visually VERY realistic – and gory.  They are probably too intense for your grade-school or even your middle-school student.  R-rated movie language, blood splatters, and the psychological effect of “doing” the actions oneself earn these games a rating of “M”-for “Mature” or 17 years old and up.

I became sad and confused when my 9 year old came home from school sad and upset that when his friends were talking about these games, he had no frame of reference.  He felt left out and “lame”.  I wanted to help him, and I considered getting one of these games for him so he can be “cool” again.

And then I woke up.  There is no way I would let me son watch a violent action movie like “The Expendables”, so there is no way I am going to knowingly expose my son to the violence and blood of “Modern Warfare”.  He is not ready to interpret and process witnessing scenes like those, much less the mental and emotional training that enacting the scenes would create even if in a limited fashion. He’s 9.  He does not need to be knifing people or going for the “head shot”, even if they are “just” pixel people.  This ain’t “Super Smash Bros.” anymore.

We developed a compromise.  I sat and talked with my son about my concerns regarding the games, and explained why Mom and I wouldn’t allow him to play them.  We talked about the importance of “cool” and of feeling accepted or left out, and what it was like for him, and offered some ways to think about it differently. Then we talked about finding some “cool” games that he could play and not feel as left out when he was hanging with his buddies.  We looked online together and researched some newer games (within his age range), and then added them to the Christmas list.

We also talked about the differences between families.  Some families allow their 9 and 10 year olds to play these games, and some (like ours) don’t.  We can’t make anyone else do things differently, nor in this case is it our place to tell them what they should or shouldn’t be doing.  This subject is not a question of right and wrong, it’s a question of wisdom.  Mom and Dad are responsible to make wise decisions for our children, and to teach them how to make wise decisions for themselves.

We can only do this by modeling it and talking about it together.  We have to make the decisions, and explain the why behind it in a way that the kids can understand.  This takes (gasp) work.  It takes time. It takes Mom and Dad staying connected and involved with their kids.  We have to work at creating a language and a pattern (context) with our kids that makes reasonable conversations possible.  Training our kids takes more than “Because I said so!”.

So start small.  If you don’t have small conversations with your kids you won’t be able to have big ones.  Ask them questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”.  Practice really listening to them. Have a LOT of positive, interactive conversations about what seems like nothing.  Enter their world and be a part of it.  Be interested.  What their character did in “Zelda” might not matter to you, but it does to them.

If your kids get the feeling that you are just nodding and grunting a response at them but not really listening, the context for conversation will wither.  They will stop talking, and you will stop knowing them.  If they know you are interested in them (even when you’re not terribly interested in the subject), it will be easier to talk about the “heavier” subjects when the time comes.

So keep the conversation going with them, about them, on their level and about their thoughts, feelings, desires, and dreams.  And yes, about video games, too.

(For some more good thoughts on video games and compromises, check this out: http://www.allprodad.com/blog/2012/01/05/a-good-compromise-on-video-games/)

Guilt or Shame?

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Guilt and shame are powerful feelings.  Many people experience them on a daily basis.  For some, they are feelings to be avoided as “inappropriate” in our current society. For some, they are tools or weapons used consciously or unconsciously to get children or adults to behave the way we want them to. For some, they are  ever-present and smothering.

I distinguish between guilt and shame.  Guilt, when internally experienced and heeded, is a productive emotion that leads to a change in negative behavior patterns. It is the “Godly grief” that 2 Corinthians 7:10 describes as leading to the genuine understanding that I have done wrong and hurt myself and others, and that I need to behave differently. Guilt says, “I have done wrong.”

Shame is a feeling that says, “Something is wrong with me”.  It is a statement describing identity rather than behavior.  It cannot lead to a change in behavior because the problem is “all of me”, as the character Hiccup says in the wonderful movie, “How to Train Your Dragon”.  The language of shame says, “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why can’t I …”, “I’m always/never…”, “I am (a screw up, a goof ball, a fool, fill in the blank…)”.

Shame speaks with the language of identity (“I am…”) rather than the language of deeds (“I did…”). As such, it makes change nearly impossible to conceive, much less execute. If the problem is who I am rather than what I did, there is no hope for change.

Think about the language you use on yourself.  Think about the language you use on others, or on your kids.  If you say things like “What’s the matter with you?!”, or “You are such a …” as you correct your child, you are very likely shaming them rather than reproving them productively.  Rather speak to their deeds: “That was inappropriate to do.”, or “You hurt your sister. That was wrong.”  In this way, you help train the child’s moral compass and help them to learn how to define right and wrong accurately.  You also make the problem a fixable one rather than a permanent one; the problem is outside the individual rather than the individual themselves.

We can do this for ourselves as well.  When you hear, “Agh!  Why can’t I ever get this done?”, or “I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I …”, you are using shame language.  Try shifting from statements of identity to statements of action: “I made a mess of that situation.  I will try to do it differently next time.”, or “I’m sorry I hurt you.”, or  “I see what I did, and I don’t want to do it again.”

Shift your language into language of hope rather than hopelessness.  When you describe genuine wrongdoing, make sure you use the language that describes it as wrong-doing, not wrong-being. It can take work to set the oppressive and impossible weight of shame aside, but it is worth the effort.

Microwave Restoration

Relationships and the Culture of Instant Gratification

by Jonathan Hart, LPC
As I write this, I have leftovers from last night’s dinner warming in the oven.  I am doing this because our microwave blew up a few days ago, and we have yet to replace it.  I am struck by how dependent we have become on the speed and convenience of the microwave.  This is going to take half an hour rather than two minutes.

Even trying to figure out how to do something as simple as warming leftovers feels like rubbing two sticks together to make a fire. I can’t put the plastic container in the oven, so what do I use?  Oh, yeah, that shiny metal paper stuff that we used to use all the time forever ago before microwaves!  It takes more planning and foresight this way as well.  I have to start thinking about making lunch earlier in order to have food ready when I am hungry.

As I stood pacing by the stove, I was struck by how this principle of having it done now invades everything from our kitchens to our relationships.  In life and relationships we want problems to be resolved, and quickly.  I see this frequently when I sit with a couple when there has been a breach of trust between the partners; anything from an exposed lie to an affair.  The offending partner, though they are often very sorry and working hard to rebuild trust, can become impatient when that trust is not rebuilt within a few weeks.  Because they are working hard, they begin to take offense when their mate has “bad days” when the hurt flashes back into their minds and the distrust resurfaces.

Our culture, and I think our human nature in general, has little patience for long-haul relationship maintenance. We have a tendency not to allow for the fact that we are all in process.  We expect that when we communicate to someone that they have hurt us, they should immediately be able to rectify their behavior.  We do not often leave room for the idea that the other person may need time to grow into a new way of being.  When they fail, as most people will when they are attempting to change significantly, we brand them as incapable or unwilling, and keep them at a distance.

We especially need this patience when we are helping our children grow up.  The way they learn how to be patient, responsible people is by seeing and living with patient and responsible adults.  They will of course demonstrate poor behavior.  Most often this is not because they are defiant or rebellious, but rather because they are trying to figure out how to manage in that circumstance.  They need a good model to learn a better way than what they can come up with as a child. And they need to see that good model over and over and over again before they can understand and implement it themselves.

Every relationship takes time and effort in order to maintain and grow it, whether with adults or children.  To get a tiny glimpse of what is required, try unplugging the microwave for a week.

Our Kids’ Body Image

 By: Katy Martin, LPC

Food and body image can be intimidating topics to bring up with anyone, particularly with our children whom we want to protect.  I believe that it is important to be proactive with our kids in speaking praise to their uniqueness and gifts before the world can make them believe otherwise.  We have the opportunity to prepare them for what they may encounter at school, in the media, and elsewhere as they grow.

The book, “I Like Myself!” by Karen Beaumont is such a wonderful children’s book that I highly recommend.  It celebrates uniqueness and embraces who we are in a silly way.  It is a fun book to read but can also present great opportunities for further discussion about who we are and how we look.  And it’s a great resource to begin to plant positive “seeds” of encouragement and acceptance of self at a young age. 

This book is just one small tool in the midst of God’s Truth, wisdom from others, many more books, and so many other resources we can rely on.

How are you planting positive “seeds” of encouragement in your kids?  Are you intentional?  Is this something new to think about?


This is just one in the millions of battles we will have with and for our kids.  God, give us strength to raise our kids in love and Truth.