A Quick Pokémon Go Guide for Parents

Stretching Their Limits

Stretching Their Limits

stretching-their-limits (1)Last year, as our church planned its annual youth trip to Mexico, one dad took me aside. “I’m thinking about letting my 15-year-old daughter go, but I have one question. Can you guarantee it’s going to be safe?”

I looked him straight in the eye and said, “No.”

He was shocked.

“I can’t guarantee her safety,” I told him. “But I can guarantee you this. It’s going to be much safer for your daughter to travel to Mexico and go public about her faith, learn to serve, develop a heart of generosity and actually depend on God, than it will ever be for her to grow up in our community without stretching her faith or learning to take risks and follow the same daily routine where she thinks she doesn’t need God.”

As parents, we’re often concerned about our teens’ safety. That’s one of the reasons we give them appropriate boundaries. But here’s the problem: Teenagers love to test boundaries. If we try to keep a lid on our teens, they’re going to test the lid. But if we expose them to real life, where they have to act on their values, exercise their gifts and depend on God, they’re going to have far deeper convictions and much stronger character.

The age of testing

A Christian school tells a young man he can’t choose his own hairstyle and is surprised when the boy wears a wig to cover his hair. A Christian father tells his daughter not to see a certain boy, and the parents are shocked when they learn she’s sneaking out after bedtime to meet him.

The only surprise in these scenarios should be that they surprise us at all. Once children are about 13 or 14 years old, they’ve moved past a “discovery” age and they’ve launched into a “testing” age (an important part of their development). They pretend they have no parents, ask to be dropped off a block away from school and perfect the nonverbal communication of eye rolling. During this stage, a parent’s reaction is usually to tell them not to test. We batten down the hatches until they hit college. Then after one semester when some come home with failing grades, an unplanned pregnancy or a criminal record for drug possession, we wonder what happened.
When we tell our teens to follow our way and present it as the “only way,” we dare them to test us. A better plan is to channel their testing into positive behavior.

The shape of testing

Keep in mind that even as parents let their teens make decisions, they still need to implement boundaries when “testing” involves any at-risk behaviors. That said, many parents have found creative, healthy ways to shape their teens’ testing.

My wife, Carol, and I never made a decision for our teens that they were capable of making for themselves. I’d say, “What do you think about _______?” and launch a conversation. This built their confidence and helped them test the waters in a more controlled setting. And if their decision making drifted in a potentially unhealthy direction, I was able to help steer them back on track.

I know parents who gave their 16-year-old a budget and the responsibility to pay all the household bills. The teenager discovered that she was financially capable, and she learned that turning on the lights and television actually cost money. As her confidence and sense of responsibility grew, she became less interested in testing so many boundaries with her parents.

As we raise our teens, our concern is really whether they will follow us in the faith. One of the best things we can do is let them see the values we hold. If they see our values through our actions, we can better guide them to test their own spiritual gifts, their faith in God and their individual abilities.

So what about the dad who was contemplating the youth trip to Mexico? With his encouragement, his daughter did go on the trip. And she has never recovered — in the best of ways. By offering her something to test, this dad shaped how she developed her convictions and character. We can do the same for our teens. And that is the best way to keep them “safe” as we direct them toward a mature faith in God.

Ray Johnston is the pastor of Bayside Church in Granite Bay, California.

Curbing the Blame Game and Getting Rid of Excuses

Curbing the Blame Game and Getting Rid of Excuses

curbing-the-blame-game-and-getting-rid-of-excusesIt was driving me crazy. As a dad, I couldn’t stand hearing one more “But she . . .” from my girls. If I would say, “Don’t do that to your sister,” I could pretty much count on hearing, “But Daddy, she kicked me,” or some other excuse. It bothered me partly because I hate blame, but more so because, as a psychologist, I know that failure to accept responsibility can lead to an unproductive life.

Our kids are maturing amid a culture in which people no longer own their choices, words or actions — a culture in which there’s always someone to blame for why they do what they do. From sibling aggravations at home to classroom conflict at school, kids increasingly take less responsibility for their actions and find themselves growing into young adults who fail in the workplace because they are unable to take correction.

Are blaming and excuses becoming too common in your home? If you’re like me, you want to end them as soon as possible and keep them from taking root.

Teach kids to take ownership

Here are two strategies I used to help my kids avoid blaming others.

First, I came up with a silly game that taught my kids to take ownership of their behavior. I began by explaining that winners admit when they’re wrong and make changes while losers blame others or offer excuses. Then we initiated a sign that we used whenever we heard someone making an excuse or attempting to blame — an “L” (made with the thumb and forefinger) for “loser.” In the same way, whenever one of us took responsibility and owned up to something, we used the “W” (made with three fingers) for “winner.”

It was amazing how effective and amusing this game became. As soon as family members, including myself, began to blame anything or anyone, hands would immediately go up, and we knew we were caught. I could tell this game really worked when my youngest daughter, Lucy, developed a sly “I just got caught” smile whenever she began to blame or make an excuse.

The second strategy I used to curb blaming was Daddy Court, where I was the judge and jury. I told my girls they were welcome to come to me with disputes, and I would gladly hear their testimony to decide who was right and who was wrong. I explained that if they had a complaint, it better be one with merit. If it proved to be mere blame shifting, the loser would pay the court costs — and they were not cheap. I found that most accusations were accompanied by some provoking behavior on the part of the accuser, so this policy really cut down on frivolous lawsuits in Daddy Court. My girls proved to have an amazing ability to work most things out on their own.

Although these were fun interventions, blaming and excuses are no laughing matter. I’ve seen these behaviors at the heart of most character problems. Ever since Adam tried to blame Eve, and Eve tried to blame the Serpent, blame has been a part of human nature. In fact, the book of Proverbs teaches that accepting correction is a key component that differentiates between the wise and the foolish (Proverbs 12:1; 15:5).

Children don’t just grow out of the natural tendency to blame and shirk personal responsibility. In fact, those character traits tend to worsen when not addressed. Consistent discipline is the best way to refine a child’s character. Parents need to clearly explain to their kids that taking responsibility for one’s feelings, attitudes and behaviors are not optional. Ownership is expected.

Define choices and consequences

So, how can you encourage your kids to take ownership of their feelings, attitudes and behaviors? Make sure that responsible choices cause good things to happen for your children, whereas blaming or making excuses brings them some kind of pain or loss. If the pain of blame is consistently greater than the weight of responsibility, you will see increased ownership from your children.

The first step is getting rid of parental anger and the tendency to overreact. A lot of blaming and making excuses is inspired by children trying to ward off what feels like an attack or an onslaught of shame from the parent. When you keep your cool while correcting your kids, it helps them keep their focus on their own behavior, rather than on your reaction.

Explain to your kids that they control their quality of life. It’s in their hands, not yours. Give younger children the freedom to make choices, clearly stating what the reward or the consequence of their choice will be. Link the consequences to something they really care about (play, privileges, toys, bedtime).

Your explanation can be as simple as, “If you do this or that, then you will not get to play with your games.” If your children use their freedom to make wrong choices, do not nag or give excessive warnings. Instead, take an emotionally neutral stance and follow through on the consequences.

Next, explain to your children why they are experiencing consequences. This will make it clear to them that they are responsible for the consequences, not you. Your dialogue should make ownership clear. Consider this example conversation:
“Can you tell me why you are in timeout?”

“I’m in timeout because you told me to stop yelling at Joey but I didn’t stop.”

“What do you think about the choice you made?”

“It’s not a nice thing to do.”

“What are you going to do next time?

“I’m going to be nice and not yell.”

“OK, that sounds good. And what do you want to say to me?”

“I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you.”

If your child protests or is insincere, set a timer and tell him you will try to talk to him again when it goes off.This technique further emphasizes that your child is in control of his choices. It gives him time to calm down and consider his behavior.

Train teens to accept responsibility

Teens, too, can be encouraged to take ownership for their decisions. Tell your teen that you want her to have appropriate privileges, including driving, using technology, being with friends and enjoying activities. The more responsibility she shows, the more freedom she earns; the more irresponsibility she shows, the less freedom she will enjoy. Connect the control she has over her choices with her quality of life. Then let her make the choices and either enjoy the rewards or pay the consequences.

Make sure your expectations also address your teen’s attitude. Explain, “It is not OK to obey me while you roll your eyes and mutter something disrespectful. That will also result in a negative consequence.” Coach your teen toward accepting responsibility by expecting her to clearly vocalize what she did, how it was hurtful and that she is sorry.

The apostle Paul writes that we are to take off the “old self” and “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Parenting involves helping our kids identify their old behavior as unacceptable and teaching them new ways to take responsibility for their choices.

The good news is this: There is hope for raising kids who take responsibility in a culture of blaming and excuses. The Bible promises that even though this kind of discipline can be painful for the moment, in the end, it produces “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Let’s not settle for the classic response “It’s not my fault” in our homes. Instead, let’s teach our kids to own their choices and pave the way for them to thrive. Instead, let’s teach our kids to own their choices and pave the way for them to thrive.

Dr. Henry Cloud is a psychologist, a radio co-host, and an author.

Missions to Manhood

Missions to Manhood


By Jonathan Catherman

One summer evening, I was driving through South Texas after finishing a speaking engagement at a university. The speech had gone quite well, and I was still feeling the adrenaline high and reliving a wonderful experience in my memory.

I didn’t see the accident coming. In a split second, I went from cruising happily down the freeway at 75 miles an hour to being absolutely certain that I was about to die. And as the car spun, air bags deployed and the glass shattered around me, another thought raced through my mind: Who is going to teach my sons to be confident men?

I wasn’t too worried about my wife. She’s a great mom. She is book smart, street sassy, and truly beautiful. There would probably have been a line of guys at my memorial service giving her condolence and wanting to ask her out. But what about my two boys? Who would provide for them what only a father can provide?

Obviously, I survived. And as I stood on the side of the road with a painful bruise on my hip and a totaled rental car, I promised myself that I was going to go home and be a better dad. I was going to go home and purposefully raise my sons to be good men.

The two desires of every man

How does a boy become a man? As a guy, I know that every other guy wants the same two things. No, I’m not thinking “women” and “food” here, but something more foundational: At his core, every man wants to gain respect and avoid embarrassment. I think God has wired these two qualities into our DNA to help us in our biblical role of honoring, protecting and providing for our loved ones. So as I lead my boys, I remember that Reed and Cole will always have these two primary needs—to be respected by others and avoid being embarrassed.

A big way those two needs are met is through performing all the skills of modern life with confidence and humility. Shaking hands. Looking someone in the eye. Shaving. Checking the oil in a car. Mowing the lawn. Mowing others’ lawns to make a few bucks. Talking to a girl. Talking to a girl’s parents. As fathers, one of our most important jobs is to help our boys learn to perform these and so many other life skills with confidence.

In our family, my boys and I started doing little missions together. Think of them as small incremental rites of passages that help them grow in their confidence to face the world. We named them CatherMAN Missions, a little play on our last name. Keep in mind that a CatherMAN Mission isn’t about beating our chests, heading off into the woods and coming home covered in mud. (Well… sometimes it is.) But mostly, our “missions” are just a way for me to intentionally include my boys in performing the tasks of everyday life. The missions can really be anything—running errands and pumping gas, fixing the lawnmower, learning how to tie a Windsor knot. We’ll plan meals and go to the grocery store to get the shopping done. These men in the making need to know how to budget for burger over steak, just as much as they need to know how to unclog a toilet or change a flat tire.

All of these tasks of life require practice, and while practice doesn’t make us perfect, it does make us better. As I lead my boys, I remember my own experiences growing up and how many times I had to keep practicing before getting something right. As dads, we must see boyhood as the training ground for manhood. Better to learn how to change a tire in the driveway, then to practice first on the side of a freeway. So my boys and I jack up the car and have a little fun on a Saturday afternoon, even though the tire’s not flat. Practice makes us better.

Confidence and maturity

But performing the tasks of life with confidence and humility is only half of the equation. This ability must be paired with a mature character. Becoming a man has little to do with age, size of muscles or if a guy can grow a beard. The world is populated by lots of “manly” guys who still act like immature boys. As my sons observe our culture’s view of manhood I tell them that real men live by different standards—higher standards. It is maturity that transforms boys into men.

I’ve often thought that maturity and integrity are best demonstrated when a man knows how to do the right thing, the right way, at the right time, for the right reason. Even when nobody is looking. I also believe maturity is a practiced skill, just as is throwing a spiral or grilling a steak. So on our CatherMAN Missions, I try to remember that my boys are not only learning about how to perform life skills, but to reflect a wise and mature character to people around them. We open doors for people. We smile and look others in the eye. We respond to rudeness with gentleness and politeness. We talk about how others want to be treated—how we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes.

Our boys’ coming-of-age starts with practicing and mastering life skills, yet it is just as important that they reflect the mature character possessed by only the best of men.