Entitlement: Keeping teens from becoming Veruca

Do you remember Veruca Salt in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? She was the spoiled, little rich girl that demanded that her father buy her the goose that lays chocolate eggs. When Wonka tells him that he cannot have it, Veruca begins to whine and sing a song about her many other demands. Her father passively smiles and says, “Anything you say dear.” I remember watching this movie many times as a young child and always being repelled by Varuca’s self-centered attitude.  Like other viewers, I was drawn to Charlie Bucket whose humble manner softens Mr Wonka and compels him to select him as the company’s CEO. Unlike Veruca, who perfectly portrayed entitlement, young Charlie depicted rare character traits like sincerity, humility and honesty.  Unfortunately, over 40 years after this movie was released, it appears we have millions of Verucas in our midst and a severe shortage of Charlies.

spoiled

Image courtesy of debspoons/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

From the toddler screaming at the big-box store to the teen storming away from mom when she said ‘no’ to another purchase to the group of kids who laugh and mock their friend for having an “old fashioned” cell phone. Entitled kids abound these days!  This problem is a big one to combat. Everywhere our teens go alluring ads compete for their attention. These images whisper and sometimes even shout, “You need me, you must have me, you will be delighted by me.” Because they are more digitally connected than any other generation before them, they are constantly aware of the things that other people around the globe possess. If they so much as search for that item on the internet then almost instantly, they will see ads appear on the sidebar of their social media sites or search engine results. Even if a parent tries hard to keep their kids from being entitled by placing reasonable limits on purchases, many admit that they must deal with the guilt that rises up when they see their friend’s kids with a new cellphone, game system, laptop or latest gadget. There is pressure from all sides to cave in to this entitlement beast and buy into the delusion that we or our kids ought to have what we want when we want it.

Over the years I have come across articles and books that attempt to address this massive problem in today’s youth.  There are many helpful suggestions out there that include things like delaying or denying instant gratification, practicing gratitude as a family, serving the homeless or underprivileged populations in your community together or even sending your teens on short term missions overseas. While these are all very important and helpful strategies, none of these really nips at the birthplace of entitlement. What will really determine whether  our kids resemble Veruca or Charlie will depend most on what they believe about who they are and who God is. These beliefs will powerfully impact both their internal dialogue and their external focus.

Entitlement germinates from a teen’s belief that they are utterly good and worthy. This belief perpetuates the idea that they are capable and should be in control of all things. While this may seem like a great message to send our kids, it is a humanistic message and quite contrary to Scripture.  God, our Maker, says we are depraved and undeserving because of our sinful nature. (Rom 3:9-18, Eph 2:1-5). This truth reminds our teens that He alone is worthy to be provident over all things.  Only in Christ are we considered righteous and justified.  And, only as we recognize that all things come from His hand will we humbly recognize our utter dependence on God and His provision. (I Chron. 29:11, Ps. 103:19, James 1:17)

A teen’s core beliefs impact their internal dialogue.

The voice of entitlement says,

“You deserve…”  or “They owe you…” or “Go get what you want/need.”

The voice of humility and dependence upon God says,

You don’t deserve…”  or “God owes me nothing”or “God will graciously provide you with just what you need…”

 A teen’s internal dialogue impacts their focus.

Teens who buy into the core beliefs of entitlement focus on their personal happiness, contentment, position and what they can receive.  On the contrary, teens who believe that every good thing comes from God alone find their contentment in Him as they gratefully receive and share the blessings He lovingly chooses to bestow upon them.  Because of this, they will defer praise to the only One who deserves glory.

So, what can a parent do to influence your teen to grow into an adult who demonstrates godly humility instead of earthly entitlement?

Reinforce godly principles by first examining your own beliefs. Ask God to reveal your inner thoughts and focus.

Model a life of humility by your response to blessings and in your decisions to make purchases.

Challenge your teen’s core beliefs through probing questions and regular discussions. Help them see the emptiness that comes from an entitled way of life.

Express gratitude to the One who gave it to you in the first place. Isn’t it so refreshing when you encounter a young person who acts more like Charlie than Veruca? Together, let’s commit to helping our teens move away from the lure of entitlement that ultimately robs them of knowing where true contentment lies.

 

Dealing with Our Weary Heart in the Midst of Unmet Expectations

The picture you see before you looks radically different from the image that was hung in your mental museum.  This wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out.  What you see barely resembles the beautiful canvas you meticulously planned out. The prayers and pleas begin. Please God. Change the scenery…the person…the situation…my heart.  Hope fades as the bridge connecting the gap from where you are to where you long to be grows wider and longer and steeper. Regroup. Reframe.  Remember. He  is able. Even, when you are not.

Nonetheless, sorrow, disappointment, and perhaps, even despair quietly creep in to the innermost cavities of your heart.  These emotions bring exhaustion and weariness along with them.  The burden grows heavier.  You’ve been here before and were not planning on returning to this place.  Yet, somehow the path brought you back here.  The unmet expectations once again form a weight you never thought you’d have to carry again.

Your spouse isn’t who you  thought they were.

Raising kids no longer brings joy or satisfaction to your life.

The path you dreamed and desired so deeply is so different from the path you are on.

The mundane tasks of life crowd away the hope that things will ever change.

This unwanted stone is your reality.  But, oh how I know you long for something else.  Our hearts feels the weight of it all. Our mind replays, recreates, reimagines. Our body begins to drag.  No one wants this heaviness. What will you do with the weight that accompanies this place? Do you hear the voices that rise up from the pack that you are carrying?  The deceptive one lures you to protect your heart, to shield it from feeling any of this?  It promises relief by rejecting what you feel. It warns that these emotions will cripple you and cause your soul to crumble? This voice speaks a message that provokes fear or shame or guilt to swirl within you as you wrestle with how to deal with your reality and the uncomfortable emotions that continue to rise. The more you engage with this dialogue the more you begin to believe that Christians, those who really trust in the Lord, aren’t supposed to be sad and weary.  The voice will keep sounding until you continue to suppress the emotions and form a smile on the outside.  Your heart will begin to hide and sink and disappear.  A dissonance slowly occurs. The outside no longer reflects the agony on the inside.  A war is being waged.  If you continue to give in to this voice, more of you will slip away as you frantically place your energy in protecting the inside and painting the outside.

Amidst the noise that accompanies all this construction, a gentle whisper persistently beckons you to a land where the heart can freely feel and the mind can be renewed.  You want to believe that this hopeful place exists.  Could it be as real as the place you are in?  You try to imagine this but fear strikes you and reminds you that more desire can mean more death. The invitation to this place of authenticity relentlessly surrounds you.  Could this be from God, the lover of your soul?  He continues to invite you to sit and wish and wail on one side of the gap while He sits with you with His eyes able to see the other side.  In the midst of the deepest disappointment, our Great God dares us to lean on Him, to trust Him, to rest in Him.  He offers His promises to us as we lay down our expectations, our fears, our facades and fix our eyes solely on Him. The walls inside begin to crumble in this resting place and our captive heart is set free.  Here we can glimpse the Father’s heart for us.  As we remain here, we are gently coaxed to courageously expect more, dream more, desire more…from Him alone. His promises are enough. He is able.

Living with expectations, with hopes and dreams and desires for our lives can be so difficult at times.  Over and over again, we confront the todays that we could not possibly foresee yesterday. What will you do with the pain that resounds in your heart?  Where will your emotions propel you?  A place of striving, of concocting, of building facades?  Or a place of rest and renewal where your heart is known and loved and set free?

May all that you feel propel you to His feet, to experience His gift of grace, of rest, of renewed hope. In this place alone,you will surely experience rest for your soul.

Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28

 

Creating Conversations with Teens: Personal Observations and Insights

Two weeks ago I shared a challenge I had given myself.  Recognizing that much of my conversations with my own teens revolved around COMMANDS, CRITICISMS OR CORRECTIONS, I decided I needed to be more intentional to create conversations centered upon creating a richer CONNECTION.   I invited my readers to join in this challenge to increase our efforts to create deeper conversations with our teens. Whether you were able to join me or not, I would love to hear about your triumphs as well as your struggles in this area.  And if you have any great ideas or insights , please comment on this blog.  My own observations and insights are listed below.

Before I say anything, I must say that God sure does have a sense of humor.   Because of winter weather, school was released early one day. The next two days were snow days and the final day of the week, they reported to school on a delay. The Lord definitely increased the amount of time I had to work on this area with my teens!  And while I absolutely love snow days, I am not a fan of the messiness that seems to be associated with these days in our home.  I think you know what I mean- wet snow pants, boots, jackets and gloves all over the place; empty cups, plates and snack wrappers; socks, blankets and pillows left in the family room from after they lolligagged on the couch for hours.   While their time at home was indeed a blessing, there were definitely moments where it was much HARDER for me to minimize the three C’s in conversations with my kids in order to increase the connection!  Throughout the last two weeks, however, I did learn a bit about what interfered and what added to my ability to remain intentional in our dialogues with each other.

Here are a few things that hampered my willingness/ability to focus on connecting conversations.

Amnesia: Simply put, I forgot what I was trying to do.  When this challenge was not on the forefront of my mind, I sadly found myself commanding, directing, correcting or even criticizing.  While my goal was not to completely avoid directive interactions, if I wasn’t consciously thinking about my desire to be intentional in my conversations, I often failed to create deeper dialogue.  Change is hard and it’s easy to forget about our goals.

Agenda/Activities: My agenda, my wishes, my needs.  These all trumped my ability to have deeper conversations.  Rushing from one activity to the next, wanting/needing something for myself and getting caught up in the busyness of my day kept my eyes and heart turned inward instead of outward.

Attitude:  Just like our teens, our own emotional state can interfere with our desire to discover what is going on in the heart and mind of our kids.  Exhaustion, anxiety, and irritability often made it difficult to move beyond the three C’s.  If I was not in the word daily and talking with the Lord on a regular basis, oh how I could become a big grump.  Lord, how I need you.

Despite the problems that hampered my ability to remain intentional, there were some things I noticed that really aided me in my challenge to be more intentional.  Perhaps, they will spur you on in your efforts.

Continual Prayer/ Surrender:  Constantly praying, confessing and leaning into the Lord helped me to stay present, focused and committed to creating a deeper conversation.  Thankfully, when I am weak, He is strong!

Communicating with a Confidant: Sharing this challenge with my husband as well as a friend helped me to work harder at minimizing my commando language and maximize my caring words.  God bolsters us up as our friends spur us on.

Connecting with their Friends: This may seem odd, but when my teens had friends in our home, it seemed easier to create dialogue with all of them.  The conversation with friends in the kitchen or family room seemed to offer me a bridge to my kids’ hearts. Even after their friends left, sweet conversations often continued.

Creating an Atmosphere: Snow days most certainly helped me in this regard.  A fire, bowls of chili, hot cups of cocoa, and delectable delights all seemed to foster connections in our homes.  With two teen boys at home, I was repeatedly reminded that good food or lots of food surely is a way to a young man’s heart!

Calling on their Expertise: I am a techno-dummy and my teens are techno-savvy.  When I asked my boys to help me out with anything to do with media or technology, they jumped in and longed to show me all that they knew.  This jump started conversation about their interests and passions.  I now have a Sound Cloud account and can tell you about “all the cool things you can find on there!”

Whether my observations and insights help you or not, remember that Jesus offers us the perfect example of selflessly interacting with others.  Read the Bible and study His example.  And, remember with Christ in us, we have the ability to deeply love and connect with our teens as well.   Romans 12:1 says,  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.”  I think it is awesome when we consider that listening and loving our teens well as a “spiritual act of worship”.   As you consider being intentional in your conversation with your teens, I pray that you will find streams of living water flowing out of you as you ask Him to help you move toward a healthier connection with your teen.

REMEMBER, share your thoughts by clicking the comment icon above.  We would ALL love to hear from you!

“Mom, you know I can hear you.”

Recently, my husband and I were talking and enjoying some alone time before dinner.  He was updating me on the events of his day and I was briefing him about the highlights of my day at home.  In the midst of my rather uneventful summary, I mentioned the name of one of our kids along with something amusing he’d done earlier in the day.  Immediately, we both heard “Mom, you know I can hear you,” coming from the next room over.  Although he was supposedly listening to music in the study, he was still able to hear what I had said about him.

I am always amazed by this.  Why is it that when I want my kids to fully listen to what I have to say, they often seem to tune me out?  And when I am not speaking to them at all, but happen to mention their name, they hear every single word?

This frequent scenario has had me wonder what lies behind our teen’s ability to listen incredibly well at one moment and totally tune people out at other times.  I did a little googling to see if there are studies about this phenomenon.   While I could not find any hard research, I repeatedly came across the oft repeated quote below from Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Remember that a person’s name to that person is the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

Although I cannot prove or disprove whether these words are always true,  I do know that my own kids don’t always act like their name is a sweet sound to their ears. 

Our kids hear their names many times throughout the day.  Unfortunately, many of the phrases or sentences that contain their name are often filled with commands, criticism or even correction.  Over time they begin to distinguish and even predict the tone of voice that is linked to these types of statements or requests.   The slightest detection of that tone from mom or dad and they begin to enter tune out mode.  But, when that particular tone of voice is absent or replaced with delight, their brain suddenly tunes into the “sweetest” sound they’ve known since they were an infant.  Curious to know what is being said about them, they listen well.

As a mom I must admit I probably do the very same thing.  When my kids were younger, I heard “Mommy” so much throughout the day that I often chose to delay my response until the demand became so desperate or determined that I could no longer ignore it.  That word, “mommy” had been such sweet music to my ears the first time I heard it uttered.  Nonetheless, over the years I somehow learned to tune out the mommy melody as well.

I can also think of moments, however,  when my name was used by a child, a spouse or a dear friend in the midst of statements that contained heartfelt words of encouragement, blessing or affirmation.   In those moments, I fully tuned into the phrases attached to my name.  The words were filled with blessing and deeply touched my heart.  

The Lord is kind to bless us in this way as well.  Quite often, the Holy Spirit will whisper my name followed by a word of Scripture or words of encouragement that I longed to hear.   Whether these gentle words of endearment, encouragement or even admonition included my name, they often washed over me like a gently, flowing stream.

Teachers, parents, siblings, peers and many other people speak my child’s name on a daily basis.   I wonder, however, how often their name is followed by life giving words that are intentionally spoken toward their heart and soul.   No wonder they seemingly tune out their name when they hear it; especially, when they detect “the” tone.   Like you and me, they can predict what will follow by the way their name sounds.  Could it be that they are so used to hearing requests or reprimands after their name that they stop listening?

We must remember how many adolescents feel torn down instead of built up during this season of life.  If the words aren’t coming from those around them, they are often beating themselves up in their own head.  I am certain that many are eager and ready to hear their “favorite word” in phrases or sentences that include kind, gentle, affirming and life giving words that will fill them.

What would happen if you intentionally said the name of your teen in conjunction with words of encouragement, delight, positive observation or love at least two or three times per day?

Together, let’s commit to do this over the next week.  I encourage each of you reading to become more intentional about the phrases or sentences that include your child’s name.  Of course, you will need to continue to give them direction, instruction and even correction.  But intentionally increase the amount of words, sentences, phrases that include words that build them up when you say their name. These can be directed toward him or spoken in front of him.  Pray that the Lord will fill you up with His perspective of your child so that you can speak to their heart in a special way.  Ask Him to give you the actual phrase or insight into how your words should be composed so that your teen can hear them well.  Moreover, take time to tune into Him so that you can hear what words He has to say to you.

If you are willing to try this for at least seven days, I would love to hear from you.  Please share your thoughts, observations, struggles and triumphs in the comment section below.  May God bless you as you speak the name of your child in conjunction with words that bring life to their soul.

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.    Proverbs 16:24

Resisting Resolutions and Seizing Today

For many parents of teenagers, the retrospection that characterizes this time of year does not seem as appealing as it did in years gone by.  Because parenting teenagers can often be chock full of trials, failures, emotional upheavals and turbulent transitions, I completely understand why many of us aren’t too interested in revisiting those moments all over again.  I also was planning on taking a pass on the tradition this year.  Oddly enough, something happened as I began to hear the resolutions of others and view the year end collages posted by friends on social media sites.  A mental flip-a-gram of sorts began to be fashioned in my mind- a myriad of memorable moments layered on top of personal perceptions and new found reflections.

belly busting laughter from spontaneous utterances
… flowing tears and fighting fears as the oldest leaves home

relentless rivalry between siblings
…regrouping as restlessness and angst begins to brew

kids inching higher and mouths open wider
…detecting personal growth while acknowledging room for more

sideline cheers as remarkable strides appear out of nowhere
…withdrawing, turning down the mental chatter to behold the whispers of my God

in town, out of town, running late, no time to waste
…desperately looking for another pause, to stop, breathe, behold

confrontations, attitudes and a home full of heightened hormones
…craving order yet allowing the mess to mold us

late night talks about everything under the sun
… overwhelmed by the gift of family

daily decisions, dilemmas and dark days
…recognizing my need for God, begging Him to move mightily in our midst

hand in hand, wearied gazes, spontaneous dates, quiet evenings with my love
…seeing them come, seeing them go

freedom increasing, resistance decreasing
…finding some peace, fanning the flame

basket loads of everyday moments
…struggling to absorb the extraordinary in the ordinary

After repeatedly replaying the extended version of this flip-a-gram, I realized that a mixed bag of sentiments was beginning to grow within me.  Sorrow, relief, gratitude, hope, joy, awe and a dozen other feelings were linked to each thought, image and longing that I recounted.  Not surprisingly, this heavy satchel of contradictory emotions did not compel me to make a list of resolutions.  Instead, the mayhem, marvels and “aha” moments that have come from raising my three teenagers over the last year coupled with the transitions and triumphs I have experienced as their parent reminded me of just one word.  The word is TODAY.  While resolutions can certainly lead to change, I believe this one word will move my attention to just the right place over the next year.

TODAY I will resolve to do what today requires of me.
TODAY is here now, full of possibilities, opportunities, and challenges.
TODAY’s moments are worth noting.
TODAY I can allow myself to be filled anew with God’s grace, mercy and love for me and for others.
TODAY is manageable, doable, bearable.
TODAY has great purpose.
TODAY offers me an invitation to shift my gaze from the horizon beyond me to the ground beneath me, the steps ahead of me.
TODAY, I get a chance to apply what I learned yesterday.
TODAY, I have just what I need to endure the unexpected challenges and to revel in the unearned graces.
TODAY, I can determine to love and encourage my family well.
TODAY, my teens are indeed, changing. TODAY, I am too.

Surely, 365 fully embraced TODAYS are certain to equal another year of layers on top of layers of instants and insights that God will again use to weave me, my husband and our house full of teenagers into people who will reflect Him, honor Him and love Him more and more as time goes by.

But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “TODAY,”
so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.       Hebrews 3:13-14

 

STOP and DIG: What’s Happening in Your Own Heart Today?

As an adolescent therapist, I have the privilege of listening to teens as they share their deepest and darkest secrets as well as their everyday complaints and concerns. In the midst of many of these conversations I will gently ask the teenager to “stop and dig” for just a minute. They quickly learn that this phrase invites them to stop talking about the dirty details of the dilemma in order to take a moment to purposefully explore what might be happening in the heart and mind beneath the surface. What are they (or even the other people in the situation) really wanting or needing?   What are their expectations of themselves, the others?  Could God be allowing this struggle for some greater purpose in their own lives?

In these pauses, kids are encouraged and taught how to tune into the deepest desires that might just be dwelling, bubbling and even burning in their heart.  I ask them to connect these longings with the unmet expectations they are experiencing and/or their own strategies, devices or demands to get these needs met.   When they begin to understand what their heart really longs for and how they lean on others or themselves to meet these needs, many begin to see critical patterns in their lives that are worth noting. These intentional moments often help many teens to begin to recognize and consider their constant need for a relationship with the Only One who can fully satisfy the needs of His children.

What about you mom, dad, youth worker?  What “above ground” challenges are you facing today?  What do you see happening around you?  I invite you to pause in your day, to take a moment to stop and dig.  What could be going on inside of you beneath it all?  What might your teen, spouse or even friend be experiencing as well?  As you consider whatever it is that lies before you, stop and think about what you REALLY long for?  What do you find yourself doing to satisfy those deeper needs?  Perhaps, it is a need for order, for healing, for safety, for change, for joy or maybe the salvation of your son or daughter.   As children of God, many of our desires definitely mirror the heart of God.  Still others can become idols that represent desires that are above God or come before God.  When we take time to sit before Him, God will use His Spirit and His Word God to unveil both the desires and deceits of our hearts.

Unfortunately, we often spin our wheels above the surface trying to attack, manage, or solve the problems on our own.  In the end we are left with very little fuel to dig up what lurks below.  Before today ends like it did yesterday and the day before that, I invite you, my friend, to take a moment and sit before God and His Word.  Think slowly for a minute about the problems and challenges that you are currently facing.  Then ask the Lord to expose what might be going on in  YOUR heart.  As parents of teens we often spend so much time tuned into the heart of our teens, that we neglect what might be happening in our own.  As you bring your heart before the Father, you need not fear the hands of the great surgeon.  He will lovingly listen to the cries that lurk in the crevices of your own heart.   He loves you so much and deeply longs for you to trust Him with your heart. Only He can satisfy the longings that you have, whatever they may be.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
 “I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.

Jeremiah 17:7-10

 

Pornography and Your Teen’s Brain

By the time most  children reach the age of 11, statistics show that more than likely they have already been exposed to some form of pornography.  While most exposures occur through emails, social media, or ads on the internet, many kids easily access pornographic images, movies and programs through the television.  With over 372 million pornographic webpages available through the Internet, it is abundant and readily available to children and teenagers with very little effort.  Because of the impossibility of being able to completely shield kids from ever seeing pornographic pictures or movies, more than ever before parents must be aware of its impact and begin to effectively address this problem.

Through the years  many have debated, downplayed, or even dismissed the possibility that pornography could negatively effect an individual and/or their relationships with others.  But as God continues to allow scientists to understand more and more about the human brain, we are now able to gain a clearer and more accurate picture of the negative impact that pornography has on the mind. Because the brain is involved in everything we do, whatever impacts the brain also greatly influences other areas in a person’s life.

Using fMRIs and other investigative measures, researchers are able to identify the powerful combination of sexual hormones and other neurotransmitters released while an individual views pornographic images.  These are very similar to the sequence that occurs in the brain when a person experiences heightened excitement and pleasure from substances like heroine and cocaine.  Because the brain is designed to record and remember pleasurable encounters, the individual begins to crave more encounters hoping to replicate the euphoric experience once again.  Similar to other addictive cycles, however, the brain slowly begins to become less satisfied unless the new experience is more intense, stimulating or thrilling than the one before.  Over time this neural pathway in the brain becomes reinforced and preferred which  leads a person to greatly desire this activity over others.  This is how the vicious addictive cycle slowly begins to control the heart and mind.

Aside from the research that is revealing how and why the brain becomes quickly addicted to pornography,  there is another critical dilemma that must be mentioned as well.  When an individual is watching any activity, specialized cells in the brain called mirror neurons store behavioral or motor  information that is later accessed to be able to mimic the previously observed behavior.   Because pornography offers the brain a perverted, immoral and often violent representation of sex and sexuality, this will now be a major part of the template the viewer will access and use  to powerfully shape and influence his/her own behaviors and attitudes related to attachments, sexuality, the purpose of sex, the value of women, and the nature of intimate relationships.  If this still doesn’t shock you or cause your heart to sink, consider this.  The largest consumers of internet pornography are between the ages of 12 and 17 years of age.  Think of the millions of pre-teens and teens whose brains have begun to daily crave pornography and whose minds now have a gravely skewed,  immoral and perverted imprint for sex and sexuality in relationships.

What I find most interesting about the vast majority of the research, documentaries and articles is that, for the most part, these inquiries are not being conducted by Christians or a moral majority who are intent on proving a point.  Instead, most of the neuro-scientific research, reports and documentaries are being completed by scientists, social scientists and journalists who are interested in understanding what may be lurking behind the exploding interest in pornography.  Pornography is a multi-billion dollar business worldwide ($57 billion)  with revenues in the US alone exceeding those of  ABC, NBC and CBS combined ($12 billion, with $3 billion solely from child pornography).  While it is difficult to gather sound statistics regarding the numbers of individuals who are reportedly addicted to pornography, the negative impact of  pornography is now being substantiated by an abundance of  research.  I am certain there isn’t a marriage therapist or pastor who wouldn’t agree that pornography is overwhelmingly linked to the problems and ultimate demise of many, many marriages and families, both in and out of the church community.

A few decades ago scientists were also very helpful in clearly pinpointing the effects of drug and alcohol use on the brain and the body.  In response to this information millions of dollars began to be poured into prevention programs to educate and deter kids and teens from using drugs and alcohol.  Proactive parents didn’t wait for their kids to hear this information from their local DARE program.  Instead, they knew this was ultimately their responsibility to have planned and spontaneous conversations with their kids about the risks and consequences of drug use.  While this problem may seem very different, the grave impact on the brain, body and quality of life also exists with regard to the problem of pornography.  Preventive and educational programs may never be implemented in the public school systems,  but if they ever are I am quite certain they will be not presented from a biblical world view.

Parents, I implore you to begin this critical conversation with your kids and keep it going throughout their adolescence and young adulthood.  Yes, we can safeguard our homes to make it difficult for our kids to access pornographic images through social media or other outlets.  That will never be sufficient.  We must have consistent and directed dialogue with both our sons and daughters to protect them and their future families from the serious impact that pornography has on the brain of both the young and the old. Regularly, take the the time to teach your teens that…

  • pornography can actually change their brain, increasing their desire for more and leaving behind a neurological template about sex and sexuality that is distorted, perverted and in complete opposition to God’s plan. 
  • pornography, like every other perversion, is one more byproduct of sinful man living in a fallen world.  (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 6:18-20)
  • they were created in God’s image, which means they will always have a deep yearning for intimacy in relationships. This desire stems from a deeper desire to know and be known.  (Genesis 1:26)
  •  their sin nature will lure them away from God’s design for anything, including sex. (Galatians 5:16-21)
  • they are in a spiritual battle every day against an Enemy who desires to destroy their body, heart, mind, and soul and that pornography is one of the many ways he is attempting to do that.  (Ephesians 6:11-17)
  • God is faithful to convict His children when they are tempted and will always provide them with a way of escape if they yield to Him. (I Corinthians 10:13)
  • pornography offers only a  false sense of intimacy, which always leads to increased emptiness, loneliness, guilt and shame.
  • if they do succumb to the temptation to view or even participate in pornography, they are not neurologically doomed and God can set them free from their addiction but they must confess their sin and consistently yield to God and His plan for their life.  (I John 1:9)
  • they will never be fully satisfied when they seek anything apart from God and His will for their life. (John 4:13-15; Philippians 4:19)

 

I don’t know about the teens in your life,  but mine need to hear things repeatedly so they can wrestle, debate and hopefully absorb what is being said to them.  In order for teenagers to truly assimilate these and other related biblical truths, one conversation will just not cut it.  We must engage in ongoing conversation about this and equip our kids to resist the temptation to minimize and/or engage in pornographic activities.

The truths about pornography and its destructive effect on the mind, body, heart, and soul are not being taught in their school.  Most of your teen’s peers are ignorant of these truths and for many different reasons most churches tend to avoid discussion about this problem as well.  So, who will tell your sons and daughters about God’s perfect plan for life, for intimacy, for relationships?  Who will fight for their minds and hearts so that they can be shielded from the devastating effect of pornography?  

Pray, ask the Lord for guidance, for opportunity, for spiritual insight and for compassion as you take the initiative to begin a conversation with your teen about a toxic problem that is daily impacting the brain of millions of young people and as a result destroying lives, marriages and families around the globe.

For other helpful articles on this topic, click on the links below. 

http://www.familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html

http://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/sexuality/when_children_use_pornography.aspx

http://www.equip.org/articles/the-effects-of-porn-on-the-male-brain-3/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2432591/Porn-pernicious-threat-facing-children-today-By-ex-lads-mag-editor-MARTIN-DAUBNEY.html

Raising Teens Might Prompt You To Run For The Hills!

Everybody has their ‘thing’.  You know the something you run toward when life is difficult, stressful, exhausting.  And even if you habitually run to the Lord when you’re weary, your ‘thing’ will always remain a close second.  My thing is the mountains.  When I am feeling pecked at by kids, beaten down by the daily grind, and sucked dry by stressors of all sorts, the urge to get in the car and drive away from my troubles toward the nearby peaks, often consumes me.  It’s no wonder most of my closest friends also share the same ‘thing’.  Sometimes, we feed each other’s desire to run to those hills and desperately look through our weekly appointments and demands to quickly find a “free” day to be set free.

The mountains somehow invite my soul to begin breathing more rhythmically, peacefully once again.  And if I meander down a perfect trail-the kind that runs along a creek, through dense forests of trees changing colors-where a rock and a view await me at the finish, then for just a moment I often feel as if I have literally ascended into heaven.  There is nothing like it.  On the rock at the top I find deep rest.  Whether the skies are full of clouds or beholding the deepest blues, soaking in the marvelous beauty somehow soothes places I didn’t even know were aching.  Here, I calmly reflect and reconsider what really matters down below.   I never want to leave that rock once I sit down.  More often than not, I stay a little too long, think a bit too hard and wonder a tad too much.   Eventually, the stuff from the valley begins to find its way back into my mind and beckons me to mosey back down the trail and head home.

Like a child who collects stones during a nature walk, I often wish I could bring that enormous boulder with a magnificent view at the top home with me as well.  Then when this tired mama needed her ‘thing’, I could step out into my backyard and find relief by just sitting on my huge rock.  I truly think my husband and my teenagers would want me to have this as well.   As I continue to amble down the trail persistently pondering the impossibility of lugging a huge rock home with me, a whisper in my spirit reminds me of  THE Rock that dwells within.  Jesus, the Cornerstone, has provided me with the precious, indispensable foundation upon which God has made me a new Creation. Because of Christ, I am daily walking on a path that leads to the most incredible view that exists at the Summit.  While I spend my days on the trail leading homeward, the Rock that is my God invites me to sit, stand, rest, gaze, wonder and hide in Him along the way.   Like the Israelites whose daily needs were satisfied by the rock, my Rock daily refuels me by His Spirit and His word.   I too, can find refuge in my Rock when life is full of trouble just like David who experienced God’s safety and security by hiding in the rocks.  And when the forecast for today is foggy and the visibility is low, my Rock bids me to cling to Him until the haze wears off and I can see life around me once again.

In all honesty, raising teenagers has increased my desire to run off to the mountains more often.  Somehow I am sure that the trail that runs beside the creek that meanders up the mountain leading to that rock with a limitless view will definitely give me what I need for the day.  How thankful I am that it in actuality it is His creation that reminds me so deeply of what I can only find in Him.  As a mother of teens, a counselor of teens and a friend who is passionate about encouraging others to love teens well,  how blessed I am to know that whatever we face today,  He is our present help, our firm foundation, our fortress, our  deliverer, our dwelling place and so much more.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.  I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies. In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.

Psalm 18:2-3, 6

When A Teen is Hurting

Skinned knees.  Bee stings.  Bicycle wrecks.  Sibling spats.  These are just a few of the many circumstances that compel a child to seek out their mom and dad for comfort and relief.  But as kids enter the teen years the struggles they face will often take more than a band-aid, a hug and a few simple words of reassurance or redirection.  Before teens reach adulthood, most will likely encounter broken relationships, academic challenges, friendship problems, personal failures, sudden losses and bouts of loneliness.  Anyone of these can emotionally pummel even the most resilient and well-adjusted teen.  Yet there are other teens who will seemingly glide through problems like these with little fallout.

Regardless, of how teens handle pain parents must be ready to walk beside their teens as they face the varied storms that frequently rise up during the teen years.   Most of the challenges a teen faces will not require the help of a professional counselor.  But unfortunately many parents initially doubt their own ability to help their teens when they are emotionally hurting.  As a licensed counselor I certainly believe that seeking professional help is in order when a teen is quickly decompensating, engaging in dangerous or life-threatening behaviors or unresponsive to a parent’s efforts to walk beside them and help them.   Otherwise, parents must remember and trust that God placed them in the best position to help their kids when pain comes their way.  Just as He guides the Christian counselor who surrenders each client before Him, so too will He offer wisdom, direction and insight to a parent who regularly yields their teen and the tough stuff they encounter to Him as well.

Yes, I know.  Dealing with the depth and complexity of problems that kids are dealing with these days can certainly be a daunting task.  Not only that, a teen’s emotional displays can compel any sane parent to suddenly become emotionally unstable as well.  Nonetheless, a parent’s willingness to enter in, stick beside, and commit to see a teen through life’s challenges will accomplish far more than any paid professional could do for a teen or their family.  Why?  Because whether they say it or show it or ever disclose it, most teens want their parents to be the one who guides them to the other side when the waters become rough.  So roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath and soak up a few tips that may help you as you personally counsel your son or daughter through impending storms.

Enter In:  Sometimes parents forget that teens are still comforted by their parent’s presence when they get hurt.  Teens still lack key emotional and relational skills necessary to cope with big problems.    Entering in does not mean you own the problem, fix the problem or rescue them from the problem.   Instead, it means you remain face forward in your relationship with your teen and commit to check in, be available and offer guidance as you walk beside a teen who is hurting

Remain emotionally and spiritually anchored: If you are standing on a slippery rock, the last thing you reach for is something that is not tightly tethered or firmly planted.  Sadly, that is what many teens have available to them when they are in distress.  Commit to remain a parent who is emotionally and spiritually firm so that you can give them the security they desire.   This means that you consciously separate yourself from their problem and remain a separate individual.  A spiritually anchored parent is praying, seeking God’s wisdom and strength and remains confident of His provision to help them see their teen through.  Your ability to remain emotionally safe, calm and confident in the Lord regardless of the crisis will be one of the most powerful testimonies you can offer your teen about living in Christ.

Actively Listen: Listening well requires an enormous amount of patience, impulse control and emotional energy.  When you actively listen you are not only tuning into both the spoken and unspoken expressions coming from a teen but as a believer you are inviting God to speak to you in the midst of  your conversation.  Discover what lies beneath their words.  What is the focus of their emotion/ pain?  What do they long for?  What do they want/need and what are they doing to get those needs met.  Is there a deeper struggle going on?  As you listen ask clarifying questions that will help you and your teen begin to uncover some of these bigger problems.

Teach:  When emotions are regulated, allow these difficulties to be opportunities to teach your teen.  They need to know how to effectively manage emotions, solve problems and most of all seek the Lord in the midst of their pain.  Counselors use presenting problems as a way of assessing deficits and strengths.  Do the same.  Through it all your own ability to model all of these to your teen will offer the most powerful instruction.

Look Beyond: Be a hope giver.  Most teens have difficulty seeing beyond today’s problems.  When parents can’t see past their teen’s emotional struggles, they can actually thicken the emotional quick sand in their midst.  Offering hope does not mean making false or trite promises.  Instead, it is an opportunity to demonstrate confidence in the Lord and his ability to rescue, resolve and relieve as we lean into Him.

Counseling your teens can be one of the most difficult yet rewarding tasks as a parent.  In Proverbs 4 Solomon tells how his father David encouraged him to seek wisdom when he was a young man.  The Christ-centered instruction and counsel you have to offer your teen offer them far more than anything the world can give them.  May we lean into Him as we love well, lead well and listen well to the teens in our midst.

My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; Keep them in the midst of your heart.  For they are life to those who find them and health to all their body. Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.  Proverbs 4:20-27

STAND CORRECTED: Why our posture as a parent really matters

Do you ever casually check yourself out as you walk by a window?  Come on now, be honest.  I think we all do the occasional check over to make sure our hair, face or clothes are looking acceptable.  Recently, while strolling from one end of a shopping plaza to the other, I took a moment to coolly turn my head to the left so that I could get a quick glimpse of myself.  I think a little ‘eek’ actually slipped out when I caught sight of my image!  No, my hair wasn’t sticking up and my clothes weren’t revealing anything.  And, thankfully my face did not seem to have any glaring makeup hitches either.  What grabbed my attention was my horrible posture!  My frame looked like it belonged to a weary, elderly woman with her shoulders hunched forward and her head aimed downward.  “Wow, could that be what I look like all the time?” I thought to myself?  Determined to fix my unattractive posture, I quickly adjusted my spine, rolled my shoulders back, lifted up my head and continued walking.   I’m not going to lie.  I did check myself out several more times on this particular stroll, just to make sure that I was maintaining my corrected posture.

When I returned home I decided to do a little research to help me continue to address this potentially chronic problem.   Like any mom looking for help with a medical condition, I went straight to the internet where I read some helpful tips on maintaining good posture.  One of the first pictures that appeared showed silhouettes of common posture profiles.

Immediately, I recognized the stance I had seen in my reflection earlier that day. Eager to make sure that I would remain in the “correct” position at all times, I made a list of exercises I could begin to do that would help strengthen my core.  As I read about the relationship between the core and posture problems, the Lord allowed me to see a powerful parallel between our physical posture and our parenting posture.   Each of the spinal postures seemed to be readily associated with parenting styles I had seen in myself and others over the years.  Even though correcting our physical posture prevents many problems down the road, our posture as parents impacts not only ourselves but also our entire family.

We live in a world where sadly there are too many parents whose parenting posture is indeed a hollow posture.  They are spiritually empty inside and in many ways do not know who they really are as an individual.  They may appear grounded but they parent from a perspective that wavers and changes from day to day or mood to mood.   As a counselor, when a parent like this is resistant to inviting God into their life, they are difficult to guide.  Any tips, strategies or insight offered become nothing more than pieces of debris floating within them rather than buoys or principles anchored in God and His word.   As a parent of teens, this parent is often open to everything and anything and allows the wisdom and trends of the day to be their primary guide.  They are, as Paul describes in Ephesians 4:14,  “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine”.  A hollow parenting posture will negatively affect the moral and spiritual foundation that is best constructed in an individual during their childhood and adolescent years.

Other parents have more of a slumping posture.  This parent has a relationship with God but is often unwilling to allow that relationship to be applied to everyday life and the  battles we face as parents.  They have difficulty leaning into the Lord and instead rely more on the opinions of others when it comes to raising their teenager.  As a result their stance is not always firm; it’s actually quite slumpy.  Slumping parents are easily manipulated and their kids and their friends recognize this as well.  These parents may “correct” their posture for short periods of time but all too often slip back and slump when the demands around them become unbearable.  These parents lack the internal security and confidence that comes from continuously depending upon the Lord for their guidance, strength and support.   They long for the quick opinions they can receive from  peers, publications and even parenting experts instead of the slow brewing wisdom that comes through prayer and spending time in God’s Word.  As a result slumping parents often appear anxious or restless as their internal insecurity is not grounded in God and His spirit within them.   Kids and teens whose parents slump quite a bit often grasp at things outside of themselves as they strive to experience resolution and peace within.

The parent with a military posture is determined to never appear like a slumping parent.  This parent is often over controlling, rigid and takes great pride in having complete command of the ship they call “home”.  The members of this vessel know who is boss and make sure they never rock the boat.  This parent responds to the ups and downs of the teen years by tightening up security measures and punishing anyone who crosses the line.  While this might seem to be just what adolescents need, the heart behind a parent with a military posture is one of fear.   In fact, their internal stance differs little from the parent with the slumping posture.  They spend inordinate amounts of time making sure that they are doing everything right yet often do that at the expense of maintaining a healthy relationship with their teenager.  When this parent hits the unpredictable or stormy waters of adolescence, they are often easily angered and even bitter that their perfect parenting posture did not prevent the mess they face.  Too often parents with a military posture forget that God is the captain of their ship and surrendering to His perfect plan in all things (even parenting teens) is the only way to make it through the storms we will face.

Finally, there is the parent with the rounded posture.  As you can see in the image above, this parent appears to be physically giving up.  This parent may have a relationship with God but appears to live life more like the hollow parent.   I meet many rounded parents in my counseling practice.  Some are spiritually going through the motions of walking with the Lord, but in reality they are going around and around the same battles and problems again and again.   As a result their hope is diminishing and their hidden feelings of despair are often quite high.   Sometimes these parents have faced repeated struggles that have led to feelings of disillusionment and disappointment in their walks with God.  They circle Him, looking for hope but often resist the deep healing connection that He desires to have with them.  When their kids act out during the adolescent years, these parents are often so weary and hopeless as they view their kids’ problems as one more thing that has gone awry.   Unfortunately, many parents with rounded postures unintentionally detach themselves from their kids during the teen years to shield themselves from more discomfort.  Sadly, these teens will often be left to navigate themselves on their own because of premature emotional and/or physical abandonment.

All four of these postures clearly differ from the corrected posture or better yet, “correcting” parent.  From a biblical perspective, this parent would be considered a shepherd.  They are grounded in the Lord and define themselves as an individual and as a parent by standards set forth in His word.  This parent is not perfect and knows that.  As a result they regularly seek out the help and wisdom to raise their teenagers that can only come from personal time spent with their God.  A parent with a corrected posture knows that there is nothing like the dwelling place of the Lord and firmly believes

 The Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk
uprightly.
How blessed is the man who trusts in You
. Ps. 84:11-12

Parents who shepherd their teens walk uprightly and rely on the Great Shepherd to daily correct, lead, guide, strengthen and sustain them in their role as a parent.

Parenting teenagers can certainly challenges the posture we carry throughout the day.  For many of us, this season of life jumps into our lives before many of us are really ready for it.  It seemed that yesterday we were changing diapers and organizing play dates while today we are guiding our teens as they deal with their own messes while they are dating!   If we don’t take a moment to catch a glimpse of who we have become as a mom or dad during this season of parenting, we might be very startled and even caught off guard by our current parenting posture.   Take time to use the mirror of God’s word to determine what kind of mom or dad or adult friend you are in your relationship with your teenager.   Allow Him to regularly adjust your posture and strengthen your core so that you can become the shepherding parent you were created to be.

 

 

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