3 Ways to Help Your Kids Give This Christmas

give Christmas

 

I still remember the first time I gave a Christmas present as a child. I had carefully chosen a few things from the school book fair that I knew my siblings were just going to love: a pink fluffy pen for my sister and a small teddy bear figurine for my little brother. While the gifts were simple, I was excited to share some things I liked with people I loved.

Though I really loved giving gifts, at first my Christmases were all about getting. And with all the wish lists for Santa and Christmas ads on TV, it’s easy for children to focus on themselves. But how can we help our children get excited not just about getting, but also about giving? Here are a few ideas.

1. Give to the community.

There are so many needs all over the world that it can be hard to know where to start. But a great way to give is to serve close to home! Check out www.justserve.org for ideas on how to help out in your communities. Whether it’s volunteering at your local soup kitchen or helping out at the animal shelter, serving as a family in the community can really help your kids learn to give this Christmas.

2. Give to individuals in need.

Sometimes we may feel overwhelmed by big service projects. But giving in small ways can be just as meaningful! Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd teaches that parents can help their kids expand their circle of concern by teaching them to find people who might need help, such as a lonely classmate or a kid who is bullied. As you help your kids find people in need and then serve them, your children will think a little more about giving and less about getting.  

3. Give to each other.

Sometimes we forget that one of the best places to practice giving is in our homes! Kids can practice giving every day as they interact with parents and siblings. And as Dr. Weissbourd explains, that daily practice is vital: “Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition . . . makes caring second nature.” Whether it’s giving a small gift to a sibling for Christmas or having a *family service advent calendar, serving each other will help your kids focus more on what Christmas is really about.

‘Tis the Season to Give!

This Christmas time, take the time to teach your kids to give! As you help out in the community, reach out to individuals in need, and serve each other with love, your kids will learn that Christmas is about more than just getting.

 

*Every December, we created a special advent calendar. We would each draw 4 names randomly (there were 6 of us total, which worked out well) and write down a special act of service for that person. Maybe they would get breakfast in bed, maybe we’d do their chore for the day, or maybe we’d play their favorite game with them. Then all the papers were mixed up and pinned to the advent calendar. Each day, it would be someone’s turn to open a paper and see the special service promised. We were always so excited for our simple but special advent calendar!

 

Elizabeth Warner is the content manager for Family Good Things, just gave birth to her first child, and will graduate in December 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. For more articles by Elizabeth, Dr. Rob, or Dr. Tim, check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

Me Too: Why Sexual Freedom Isn’t Free

sexual freedom

I check my watch again: 3:45 am, and I’m wide awake. Exhausted, but awake.

Part of it is because I’m 8 months pregnant and my body hurts all over. (I think my body is practicing the no sleep thing for when the baby comes. 😛 )

But part of it is because I can’t stop thinking about my Facebook feed yesterday.

At first, I was confused by the two word status updates popping up everywhere: “Me too.” But then one friend wrote a little explanation along with it. She said, “If all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too.” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Please copy and paste if you feel so inclined.”

As more and more of my friends joined in with their “Me too,” my heart ached. I didn’t know whether to click like, love, or sad. I was so proud of these brave women for speaking out, but so sad that we live in a world full of so much sexual harassment.

Sexual Assault

While sexual violence has fallen significantly since 1993, it’s still a huge problem today. In fact, statistics show that every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And if you’re a woman, you have about a 1 in 5 chance of being raped at some point in your life.

Everyone is affected by sexual harassment or assault a little bit differently. But often there are both physical and mental consequences. In addition to the risk of STIs and pregnancy, victims of sexual assault often struggle with PTSD, depression, and even suicidal thoughts. It can also cause more general emotional challenges, like difficulty trusting others or feelings of fear and helplessness.

One month from today, our baby girl is due to come into this world. I can’t help but worrying, will she have to post “me too” one day? Will she end up being part of the almost 20% of women who get raped in their lifetime? Will she have to struggle with the fear and pain that comes from being a victim of sexual harassment or assault?

I sincerely hope not.

While I’m grateful for the many women and men who are fighting against this plague of sexual violence, there are some aspects of our society today that seem to contribute in a negative way.

Sexual Freedom

Many people are pushing back against sexual violence, but some of these same people are also advocating strongly for sexual exploration and freedom. This March while visiting the UN Commission on the Status of women, I heard many voices advocating for sexual rights of all kinds.

And to some extent, I’m grateful for the work that’s been done so far. I’m grateful that I can decide when I want to marry and have children, that I have control over my sex life.

On the other hand, it seems that the push for sexual freedom has had some unforeseen consequences. Dr. Leslie C. Bell explains it well:

“Today’s 20-something women have more freedom than their grandmothers could have imagined – educational, professional, and personal. But while this freedom has engendered a great deal of opportunity, it hasn’t necessarily resulted in women having good sex and satisfying relationships in their twenties.”

Much of the push for sexual freedom has placed an emphasis on our own personal fulfillment. Do whatever you want, whatever makes you feel good physically. Sex is about you, not about anyone else, today’s media seems to say.

Unfortunately, that emphasis on personal fulfillment may have had the opposite effect.

Sexual Fulfillment

With all this sexual freedom, pursuing whatever you want physically, you may think it would lead to better sex. But according to research from Dr. John Gottman, perhaps the biggest key to sexual fulfillment is your friendship. While casual sex can be fun and exciting, one survey found that the happiest couples are those who communicate and build up the intimacy that is foundational for fulfilling sex. When sex is about your relationship, not just about you, it becomes a whole lot better.

So in actuality, it turns out that sexual fulfillment isn’t just about the physical. And it certainly isn’t just about you.

Sexual Selfishness

If we aren’t careful, the way we promote sexual freedom can also promote sexual selfishness. This selfishness will not only lead to less fulfilling sex, but it also can be dangerous. This line of thinking that says “Sex is all about me” is one that ignores the other person involved.

I’m sure those who rape or sexually assault others are, in a twisted way, seeking their own sexual pleasure. They have decided to use their sexual freedom selfishly. And unfortunately, they do this at a great cost to those around them.

Sexual Freedom Isn’t Free

In teaching our kids about their sexuality, we must help them realize that sexuality isn’t just about them. Other people are involved, people who deserve to be loved and respected.

As we push not just for sexual freedom but for mutual love and respect, we can achieve sexual freedom without promoting sexual selfishness. We can help our kids see that sexual freedom isn’t really free, because with these rights come great responsibilities.

Getting ready to welcome our baby girl into the world has put this all in a new light for me. I hope the numbers of sexual harassment and assault can continue to decline. I hope sincerely that she doesn’t become a part of the statistics. And I hope that one day, nobody has to say “Me too.”

 

 

Elizabeth Warner is the content manager for Family Good Things and will graduate in December 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family studies. For more articles by Elizabeth, Dr. Rob, or Dr. Tim, check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

A Message to Imperfect Parents

imperfect parent

You’ve probably already figured this out, but parenting is hard work!

Before I go any further, I want to get one thing straight. I love being a parent. My wonderful wife and I have been blessed with 6 talented, beautiful, and sweet children. No, they are not perfect. But, I genuinely believe that they are much better children than I was at their age. It’s really a privilege to be their dad. And more than that, it’s a lot of fun!

That said, not every day is just fun and games. While being a parent brings many joys, it also brings its fair share of challenges.

No Excuse

While I do love being a dad, sometimes I get down on myself because I long to be a better parent. And the harsh reality is that I really have no excuses! I have two degrees in Family Studies (including my PhD), and I have taught family classes at the university level for the past decade (including parenting classes).

I really do know what I’m supposed to be doing. So why do I mess up so much?!

Some of My Frequent Mess Ups

  • I am often too impatient with my children. (Honestly, I didn’t even realize that I struggled with patience until I became a parent!)
  • I’m too quick to correct a child in front of other family members. I know this is wrong, I really do – but in the emotion of the moment, it’s easy to make the wrong choice.
  • I sometimes mishandle children’s emotions. As my oldest child entered adolescence, words like “this really isn’t something to cry about” would sometimes escape my lips – which isn’t exactly following the counsel that Dr. Tim provided here.

Hang in There!

Unfortunately, wallowing in my weaknesses will never help me be a better parent. Sometimes we simply need to get up one more time when we’re knocked down and recognize that our children will generally forgive us of our “humanness” – especially when they know we’re trying our hardest.

As you honestly assess your own parenting deficiencies, please also remember the many, many good things you are already doing for your children. The fact that you would read a blog article like this speaks volumes to you as a mother (or father). Yet for many of you, especially women, it can be hard to notice the good things that you’re doing; it’s so easy to be blinded by our feelings of inadequacy!

As a scholar, a teacher, and a father, I assure you that there is no greater cause than helping our families successfully navigate life. And in my opinion, there is no other job, duty, or task as important as being a parent.

So the next time you’re having one of those not-so-fun parenting days, hang in there. You’re doing better than you think!

 

 

Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! For more of Dr. Rob’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Tim), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.

Scrolling Our Way to Addiction

technology addiction

We’ve all heard the jokes about how short a child’s attention span can be, but is an adult’s really that much better?

Have you ever thought about how many times per day you use your phone? On average, that number is somewhere around 2,617 times a day.

I can’t even tell you how often I have reached for my phone while doing homework, or looked up from my beloved screen to notice that everyone around me is also staring at theirs. When was the last time you went out to dinner with a group of friends and no one touched their phone? Or the last time you played a game with your kids without also mindlessly scrolling through Facebook?

It’s like we think we deserve a break from life, or a reward for our 5 minutes of effort. But the question we really need to ask ourselves is, are we rewarding ourselves because we think we deserve it, or because we literally can’t help it?

Technology Addiction: Is That Even a Thing?

You bet it is. Addiction was once only considered relative to substances, but now it includes things like internet and smart phone usage, too. In a survey of 200 college students at Stanford University, 10% reported being fully addicted to their phone, and 34% considered themselves almost addicted.

In the same survey, 75% reported that they slept next to their phone, and 69% felt that they would forget their wallet before their phone. Almost half said they would consider losing their phone to be a “tragedy.”

If we take a look into the homes of Americans, we will see that 90% of households have at least one smartphone, desktop/laptop, tablet, or other media-streaming device. While this may not come as a surprise, nearly 20% of households have at least 10 of those devices. In some cases, that means there are probably more devices than people. Let that sink in for a moment…

What Technology Addiction Looks Like in Romantic Relationships

Dating in today’s world is a little different than it was 20 years ago. Sadly, too many of us have had those awkward conversations where we had to repeat ourselves because our date was distracted by his or her phone. It often feels like we can’t even carry on a regular conversation.

If you can relate to this, you’re not alone. There’s even a term to describe it! “Phubbing” is when a person ignores or snubs someone in a social setting by paying more attention to their smart phone than the person they’re with.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior has become the norm. When we walk into a restaurant, it’s not uncommon to see couples physically sitting together but mentally existing in completely different worlds. We seem to be losing the very human connection that makes our relationships meaningful.

What It Looks Like in Families

In a poll of 1,240 U.S. parents and children, about 60% of kids ages 12-18 reported that they could not give up their smartphones, and 1/3 of parents reported that they argue about screen time with their children on a daily basis.

Spending 6-9 hours per day using digital media, kids and adolescents feel pressure to stay connected, incessantly check for notifications, and respond quickly to texts for fear of missing out (FOMO).

What kind of effect does all this screen time have on families? Sadly, not a positive one. Family relationships are weakening. Teens are isolating themselves even more than they were in the past. Children and parents alike need instant gratification and are becoming more concerned with self than with family.

Speaking of parents, if mom and dad are constantly on their devices, why shouldn’t their kids follow suit? The old saying “Do as I say, and not as I do” isn’t nearly as effective as we sometimes wish it was. We have to be careful and think about the example we’re setting for our little ones.

What It Looks Like in Society

At this point you might be thinking, “Yeah, yeah I get it. Technology addiction is bad for me. But is it really affecting society?”

Actually… yes. Addiction to smart phones and other devices are causing us to have shortened attention spans. Kids are having a harder time focusing in school, and adults are experiencing the same problem at work.

A more obvious issue is texting and driving. In a survey given in 2012, 75% of teenagers said that they text and drive, and 56% of parents also admitted that they check their phone while driving.

Lastly, we cannot ignore the effect that technology addiction has on mental health. Those who struggle with a technology addiction experience a high increase in anxiety and depression symptoms. Naturally, this affects their educational, professional, and family life.

What can we do?

Before you get too worried that I’m going to ask you to burn all of your smart phones and other devices, I want to be clear: I’m not saying technology is inherently evil. Technology is amazing and can serve many useful and wonderful purposes. The important thing to be aware of here is the danger of addiction that comes from using it too much.

So knowing what you now know, here are 3 simple things you can do to make a change:

  1. When you go on a date with your loved one, turn your phones off. You won’t believe how much more connected you will feel even after just one uninterrupted hour together.
  2. Set a limit on screen time for your kids AND yourself. Find more quality activities for your children instead, and be a good role model by abiding by the same rules as much as possible.
  3. Leave your phone at home and go for a walk or a jog. Regular exercise is not only great for mental and physical health, but it helps with concentration, as well.

Technology addiction is real and very much alive in the U.S. today. If we can pay attention long enough, we might just be able to improve relationships, strengthen families, and better society as a whole without ever touching a smart phone.

 

Paige Gibbs is a student at Brigham Young University – Idaho studying Marriage and Family Studies with a Professional General Emphasis. She is from Soda Springs, Idaho and is the youngest of 5 daughters. Paige and her husband, Bracken, are high school sweethearts and have been married for almost 3 years. She is passionate about protecting marriage and the family and also loves sports, outdoor recreation, and trying out new recipes. 

Did You Really Turn Out OK?

stubborn

If you’re like me, some of your most difficult moments have come from raising children. No matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you invest, you may always feel inadequate and imperfect. Because you’re reading this, I’m sure you want to improve as a parent (as do I).

Yet even with our pure motives and diligent efforts to improve, I have noticed a disturbing trend among us parents. Too many of us say we want to improve and change — but only if it fits into our assumptions and experiences. However, the number one thing you can do for your children is to seek truth and then parent accordingly. Yes this is simple, but not at all easy. It will be the hardest thing you will ever do.

Let me share a few of the many ways in which this occurs.

I Turned Out Okay!

Every semester I hear the same thing from several students who challenge a parenting idea that they personally disagree with. They may take issue with the fact that traditional time-outs or bribes are counterproductive to character building. Or that you don’t have to punish to discipline a child. The rebuttal comes in many shapes and sizes, but it usually comes down to one idea:

“But my parents did ____________ with me growing up (fill in the blank), and I turned out okay!”

Even if we don’t say it or think it, we’ve probably fallen victim to this philosophy more than once. Research and common sense have made it pretty clear that—for better or for worse—the way we were raised will be the primary source for how we will raise our children. Too often these built-in biases go undetected.

I get the “I turned out okay” challenge so often from students and parents that I preemptively address it by inviting them to seriously reflect on four questions:

  1. How am I defining “okay”?
  2. Am I really okay, and could I have been better than okay?
  3. Don’t I want better than okay for my children?
  4. If I am willing to dismiss research and doctrine because of my own biases, am I really as okay as I think?

Before I go further, I need to offer two important disclaimers. First, I believe that the majority of parents love their children completely and second, they are doing their very best with what they know. I believe that’s true for both you and your parents.

Conscious & Unconscious Traditions

In her book For Your Own Good, the psychoanalyst, Dr. Alice Miller observed: “Many people continue to pass on [false ideas, unhealthy attitudes and parenting practices] to which they were subjects as children, so that they can continue to idealize their parents.”

She goes on to say that we have a powerful, unconscious need to believe that everything our parents did to us was based in love, informed, and in our best interest. We often use the same parenting strategies with our kids to ensure the truth of our assumptions.

However, there are traditions and are based in truth and their are false traditions based in habit.

Case in point:

The Power of the Anecdote

Another barrier to accepting truth is the almighty power of the anecdote or personal experience. In the documentary Minds of Our Own, recent electrical engineering graduates of an Ivy League school could not solve a basic electrical problem in trying to light a light bulb. The reason is simple: their personal experiences and assumptions had overridden 4 years of training. They were ultimately unwilling—consciously or not—to let go of those assumptions.

Frankly, I get a little tired of debating with students who reject research simply because it doesn’t fit into their personal experiences. Even more frankly, although this seems to be part of human nature it can be somewhat egotistical.

When the opinions others conflict with our own, we often assume that the other person is misinformed, crazy, or even purposefully trying to deceive. We fail to consider the possibility that their ideas could actually be useful! Unfortunately, this tendency can spread to all areas of our lives—anywhere from sports to family relationships.

Now you may be asking, “Dr. Tim, aren’t you egotistical because you think that you have the truth and most parents don’t?” Although I’m passionate about learning and living truth, I am also flawed and human. I have to constantly work through my own misconceptions!

If we really want to improve as parents, we have to be willing to throw out tradition or personal experiences that aren’t evidence-based. That is the challenge!

Truly we can resist the change that we need most without even being aware of it. So I have to ask a question. Are we causing unnecessary problems and pain because we fail to see our parenting biases clearly?

Doctor, is There a Cure?

I hope that none of us wait until our children are grown to be humbled by our false beliefs about parenting. Just like our food choices, let us go after healthy sources for our parenting nourishment.

May each of us have the heart and the courage to change what is necessary. Let our traditions, upbringing, and experiences be held to the candle of what is best and proven rather than what is automatic and comfortable. I know this is within the reach of every parent because this is the most important work you will ever do.

While it may be uncomfortable, carefully examining your parenting practices can make all the difference. After all, your kids deserve to turn out better than just “okay.”

 

Please help us strengthen families by sharing this article with your friends and family! Likewise, to see more of Dr. Tim’s articles (as well as articles by Dr. Rob), please also check out the rest of our blog and our Facebook page.