Monday, February 18, 2019

A Safe Place to Grow Up

Think for a minute about the process of shopping for clothes. When you go shopping for clothing, you probably look through the racks, select several outfits of varying styles that you think you might like and then take them to the dressing room. There are several questions you are asking of each set of clothes you try on. While you are looking in the mirror, you consider: Do I like it? Does it fit? Is it my style? And then, if you are shopping with another person, you will probably step out of the dressing room and ask the person you are with, "What do you think?" You want to know how they will react to seeing you in that particular outfit.

As kids and teens grow up, they work through a very similar process with their personality and identity. They will "try on" different characteristics, attitudes, opinions and ways of thinking and acting. As they do, they will consider, perhaps subconsciously, Does it fit? Is it me? Do I like how I feel when I wear it? And one of the biggest questions of all, What reaction do I get from others? Do people accept and affirm me when I "put on" that particular aspect of personality?

As parents watching teens figure out and discover their own personality, this can be a confusing and perhaps difficult time. Some parents are surprised or shocked when their teen begins to act or talk in ways that they have never seen before, or they cannot explain. Teens will sometimes announce things that seem to come out of nowhere. Your straight-A student may announce "I don't like school anymore." The kid who never liked sports may say, "I want to try out for football." The child who used to love Sunday School may proclaim, "I don't believe in God." Often the shocked parent will try, with numerous strategies, to convince their teen that they don't really mean what they are saying. They may encourage or push their son or daughter to go back to the way they were before. This usually does not go well and can create tension or cracks in the once peaceful and harmonious parent-child relationship.

What the parent may not realize is that this "trying on" of different personalities or opinions is actually an important part of growing up. And a deeper, underlying question that the teen may be asking is: Will you still accept and love me if ... fill in the blank.

The question that parents should consider during the teen years is, Do I want our family to be a safe place for my teen to grow up? Do I want my teen to feel the freedom to share their thoughts and feelings while they work through the process of developing their own identity and personality? Many teens who feel rejected by their parents will retreat from them, and find other places and circles in which to process this journey. Often, very well intended parents inadvertently send a message that acceptance and even love is based on the teen acting and living up to certain expectations.

Those parents who want to nurture a positive relationship with their teen must often take the difficult step of holding back their shock or disapproval (which are often interpreted as rejection and shame) and entering into a new phase of their relationship in which they allow for a greater freedom of thought and expression. This parent takes great steps to communicate unconditional love for their teen, while inviting him or her into an ongoing conversation about life that is characterized by warmth and safety rather than judgment and control. This is not an easy task, and requires a tremendous amount of faith in the power of love and truth, and ultimately God.

As parents, we can set the tone and create an atmosphere for our home as a safe and positive place for teens to work through the task of figuring out their own views, beliefs and personality. If we believe that our worldview and way of life is based on what is good and true and life-giving, then we can be open to questions and challenges without taking it personally. We can enter into a respectful and robust dialogue about values and beliefs, and create a safe place to discuss the important issues of life. When our teens feel acceptance and safety, they are more likely to share their journey. When they become convinced that you love them unconditionally, they will be more likely to view you as an ally, and allow you the privilege of influencing them as they discover and develop their own identity.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What Do We Teach Kids About Handling Conflict?

A lot of kids are taught that getting an adult during conflict, is tattling.  It is very common for parents to require children to solve problems among themselves.  This method doesn’t lead to positive conflict resolution skills; it leads to the opposite.  When children are left to themselves to stop a conflict and the other child won’t stop, or share, or cooperate, violence and retaliation are really the only option they have.  Older siblings and bigger kids have a lot of power and they don’t know how to use their power in a benevolent way.  They are self-centered and haven’t learned how to use their power for good yet.  When kids are left to fight it out, the youngest ones can be subjected to emotional and physical abuse.  They learn that there is no such thing as justice, and that violence and retaliation are their only option.  The youngest also learn that they are not valuable enough for even their parents to care when they are being treated unfairly and even abused.  And the older kids learn to practice the abuse of power over the weak. 

An alternative to this would be to help kids learn to utilize authority as a resource.  When our kids were young we always had the 3 steps of “how to stop a fight”, posted on our wall.  The first step was: If someone is doing something you don’t like, tell them to “stop” in a nice voice.  Or, if the fight is about a toy or game, agree on a way to take turns.  Set a timer and do rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first.  The second step was: If they don’t listen, tell them that if they do it again you will have to get an adult.  The third step was: If they still don’t listen, get an adult.
When adults get involved it is not for the purpose of finding out who “started it” and to punish them.  The role of the adult is to remind the children of the tools like rock, paper, scissors, and the timer, and to ensure that everyone is treated with value and respect.  The adult teaches and enforces the biblical principles of #1 we respect and honor others because they are made in the image of God, #2 we don’t repay evil with evil because evil does not defeat evil it perpetuates it, #3 always confront in love, and #4 that they deserve to be protected because they are valuable.  Children need to be taught these principles on an ongoing basis because they aren’t born with this knowledge, they need repeated instruction. The way that children learn to treat other people, how they allow themselves to be treated, and how they handle disputes at home, will go with them into relationships at school.
One of our roles as parents is protector.  God has put authority in place to protect us and enforce the laws (Rom.13), we need to model this order at home.  A healthy view of authority is that authority is good and can be called upon to enforce justice. Children should be learning that they can turn to authority for justice rather than getting revenge. If a child genuinely needs help, he needs to be able to get it.  Children need to know that it is not weak to refuse to hit someone, it is strong to manage our anger and appeal to the proper channels of authority rather than solving a problem through violence.

When children are taught that parents are not interested in helping them with their problems, they find their own means for survival. They learn to only interact with their peers, and exclude the adult world, because adults are believed to be unavailable, unhelpful, unjust, and unconcerned. They don’t go to teachers when someone is picking on them, and this either results in them being severely abused by others or it results in built up anger which, as we have seen, can result in violence as gruesome as school shootings. 

recently I was taking a class and the school principal that was teaching the class said that when he sits down with jr. highers that got into fights at school and asks them why, they say “I just couldn’t take it anymore,” and when he asks why they didn’t tell anyone that they were being picked on, they say “I didn’t want to be a snitch”.

This is a letter sent recently from the superintendent of Bethel schools to all Bethel staff:

For the safety of our students, we need to foster and nurture a culture where students feel safe to come to an adult and talk about threats, or students that are having difficulty coping, etc. This is what a "caring culture" nurtures.  The old concept of seeing students that ask for help as "tattle-tales" or "snitches," must be replaced by compassionate concern.  Developing a culture where it’s OK to ask for help is essential. We are all in this together, we are not an island onto ourselves.

And that's a good word for all of us to remember!