Parenting in a Material World

Cover for the book Material World
Material World is the work of several photographers to capture the contrasts between families around the globe.

After the last blog, I started thinking about how parenting in America today means parenting amidst an onslaught of materialism. Not only do we fight our own temptations (I have to own a house that looks just so), we have the task of teaching children to become aware of something that they have been swimming in since birth. How do you teach a fish to be aware of water?

I certainly don’t have all the answers. In fact, as a parent myself, I’m often hoping that the things I try will work at least a little bit. But I read, I research, I look for what works for others and I think about what has worked for me. Here are a few of my ways to try to combat the materialism around us:

  • Manage the amount of advertising coming into the house. One option is to reduce junk mail, catalogues, credit card offers, and other ads being mailed to you. The Federal Trade Commission highlights three websites that can help you do just that.
  • Encourage generosity. Make it a point to model generosity, whether that’s donating a bit to the Salvation Army bell-ringers at Christmas, or working with your children to pick a charity and sending them a donation.
  • Educate your family about social causes. Pick one or two books or other resources to use as a family. Some of my favorites are Everyday Justice and Material World: A Global Family Portrait.
  • Reduce overall media consumption. While I love being entertained as much as the next family, it is undeniable that almost all forms of media come with strings attached. Try an experiment with your family to replace some of your entertainment time with a creative or recreational hobby – a sport, craft, board or card game.
  • Teach financial literacy. There are a host of resources online that can be used to educate kids about better ways to use their money. Investopedia has a series for kids, tweens and teens. Here is a link to a nice lesson for kids on the difference between needs and wants. And for adults, I strongly recommend this book that has a little something for everyone. Understanding how to use money as a tool may help a family avoid being driven by the need for more and more stuff.

What works for you? Especially as we approach the holidays, how do you parent in a material world?

Repost: Raising Expectations

When it comes to sexual choices, do you know what our kids need the most from us as parents? t’s not our friendship. It’s our confidence that they can say “No” to sex when confronted with hormones, peer pressure, and the desire for a relationship. Many voices in our culture say, “They’re going to do it anyway, so let’s help them protect themselves.” But if we give them condoms or get them a prescription for the pill, are we really protecting them? Let’s consider some sobering facts:

  • The 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, supplemented by data from other sources, showed that 48% of women with an unintended pregnancy said they were using birth control during the month they got pregnant.

  • Some of the most common STDs (HPV, genital herpes, trichomoniasis, and syphilis) are contracted through skin to skin contact or through contact with an infected area. Condoms do not cover the entire genital area and are therefore much less effective in preventing the transmission of these diseases than they are in preventing other less common STDs.

  • No condom or pill can protect the hearts of our children. Sexually active teens are more likely to commit suicide, be depressed, struggle in school, and abuse drugs and alcohol.

The American Medical Association reported on a recent study that showed that children whose parents had higher expectations for them had higher school achievement and exhibited less risk-taking behavior. Also, children whose parents disapproved of early sexual activity postponed sexual intercourse. So, because we love them, we need to communicate that we expect them to make the healthiest, safest choice…to say “No” to sexual experimentation, and “Yes” to the future they dream of.

Teens Less Likely to Smoke When Parents Set Limits

If you sometimes feel like you don’t know how to guide your teen through the various minefields they face, then you are not alone.  Am I being too strict?  Will they rebel against too-tight boundaries?  Or am I too lenient, and will they take advantage of opportunities to stray? In the area of teen smoking, a Chicago Tribune article offers advice based on a new study showing that “parents who set limits are less likely to have kids who smoke, regardless of their ethnic and racial backgrounds.” Apparently, a style of parenting “associated with rule enforcement, curfews and set bedtimes, was more likely to go hand in hand with so-called anti-tobacco parenting strategies.”  The article reported that this type of parenting was linked to a lower chance the teen would initiate smoking at all.  Specifically, the anti-tobacco strategies included things such as:

  • Punishing a child if he or she has been caught smoking
  • Discussing with the child the motivations behind smoking
  • Talking about the dangers of smoking

Questions Teens Have About Sex

Perusing the internet for ideas for this blog, I could’t help but notice how MUCH interest teens have in sex.  Not like it’s a surprise or anything…but they certainly are curious!  So, parents, who’s going to fill them in?  Their peers are certainly giving advice, much of which you wouldn’t agree with.  TV shows aimed at teens tell them what’s “supposed” to be normal…often not messages you’d like your teen to absorb.  Or they may look online, and that would open up a whole world of mostly bad ideas.  SO…how about YOU giving them some answers?  You could wait forever for your teen to approach you.  So be proactive.  As always, look for opportunities, and be prepared by thinking through how you want to address questions you teen might have about sex and dating.  Here are some questions teens have, according to National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy:

  • How do I know if I’m in love?
  • Will sex bring me closer to my girlfriend/boyfriend?
  • How will I know when I’m ready to have sex?
  • Should I wait until marriage?
  • Will having sex make me popular?
  • Will it make me more grown-up and open up more adult activities to me?
  • How do I tell my boyfriend that I don’t want to have sex without losing him or hurting his feelings?
  • How do I manage pressure from my girlfriend to have sex?

It wouldn’t be too hard to think of a LOT more questions teens have, but this is a good start.  Remember, expressing a strong expectation that your teen will wait to have sex, makes it more likely that he or she will!  But helping teens think through the reasons WHY waiting is healthier is the best way to make your advice hit home.

Helping Teens When They Fail

I just drove two teens to their third ACT test.  They are on a quest to eek out a few more points in hopes of getting into the best schools.  I remember taking the test just once, and not worrying much about it.  Today’s teens seem to fear failure more than previous generations.  And who can blame them?  Failure, in the teen world, can be associated with being a “loser” or being “stupid.”  John Eliastam writes in that two trends make it especially hard for teens to deal with failure (which, after all, is inevitable).  First, “Teenagers are especially prone to the instant gratification mentality and this can tempt them to give up if success doesn’t come quickly and easily. ” Second, parents can add unbearably high expectations.  Says Eliastam, “From preschool, children are pushed to achieve, with competitive parents standing on the sidelines keeping score. This makes failure an almost impossible burden for a child to bear.”  His article gives many suggestions under 5 categories for how a parent can be a “life coach” who helps his or her teen learn how to handle failure, learn from it, and persevere:

  • Getting Perspective
  • Developing Persistence
  • Learning Patience
  • Redefining Success
  • Avoiding the Comparison Trap

Stay Focused! Helping Your Teen Work and Study

I have two teens in my home again, and I love it!  My two international students are diligent students, and quite put to shame most American kids I’ve known.  That got me thinking about how I would help distractible teens stay focused with all the competition for attention from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, texting, etc.

First, I’d probably have them park their phones in an attractive basked or pretty box on the kitchen counter during a regular (set in stone) “study time.” Then I would make use of technology to get control of technology!  It didn’t take me long to find some great helps for students who procrastinate (I had one of those) and who are so social (I had one of those too) that they find it hard to disconnect long enough to focus on their  studies.  One I found is called StayFocusd.  This add-on works with Chrome (a browser like Firefox or Internet Explorer), and allows you to limit the amount of time you let yourself be on certain websites you choose.  For instance, if your child is tempted to check out Facebook constantly, set a time limit.  Once it’s up…that’s it for the day.  Self-Control for Macs lets you set a timer blocking sites for a prescribed amount of time (while you do what you’re supposed to be doing).   Self Control for Study is an Android phone app that does similar things.  Finish is an anti-procrastination app designed by two 16-year-olds.  It would be best to help your older teens learn how to use these tools themselves, so it’s not just another restriction imposed by mom or dad.

The Messy Room

I am visiting a relative right now, and was surprised to see my nephew’s messy room through an open door.  My nephew is an outstanding guy in every way.   And yet…that ROOM!  It brought back memories of my own daughters’ rooms, which looked the same in their adolescent years…in between times when their dad and I went to war with them over their messiness.  So what’s going on with this?    I found an excellent article from Psychology Today, describing the phenomenon first, and giving wise advice next.  Says psychologist Carl Pickhardt “Usually beginning in early adolescence (years 9 – 13) as a function of personal disorganization brought on by more growth change than the young person can easily manage, this state of internal confusion and external disarray quickly attracts parental attention. So to begin with, parents need to understand that early adolescents are honorably disorganized. Their life in childhood has begun to fall apart…. And they don’t know where they grow from here.”

After helping the parent understand how adolescent internal chaos leads to external disorganization, I expected Dr. Pickhardt to advise just closing the door and letting your son or daughter be.  But NO.  He recognizes that the messy room can become an environment that is hard for the teen brain to work in, or (more critically) a battleground for a power struggle.  If so, it may be unwise to relinquish what he calls “a supervisory role” for the parent.  He advises: “Remember,if your child knows you will keep after the small responsibilities, like cleaning up a messy room, he or she also knows this shows you will be keeping after big stuff like obedience to major rules. So cleaning up the messy room is in fact an issue to keep fighting for.”

He even goes on to give specific answers to these objections: “Just close the door and keep out and the mess won’t bother you,” and “This is my room and you can’t come in without my permission.”  Read HERE for suggested responses and more ideas from Dr. Pickhardt.

Fathers’ Attitudes and Teen Sex

Until recently, most studies focused on how mothers affect teens’ decisions about sex.  But now, a researcher at New York University confirms what we might suspect…that dads make a difference too.   An October 22 article in the Washington Post reported on the results of a study with this conclusion:   “A new review of studies suggests that fathers’ attitudes toward teen sex and their relationships with their teens can substantially influence their teens’ sexual behavior, separately from the influence of mothers. The review demonstrated that fathers’ attitudes toward teen sexual behavior were linked to the age at which teens first had sex. According to studies included in the review, those teens whose dads approved of adolescent sexual activity tended to begin sexual activity earlier than those teens whose dads did not approve. An additional finding was that teens that were closer to their fathers tended to start having sex later.”

For my female readers, consider forwarding this on to the men you know who can be encouraged with the news that they CAN make a difference for the better in the lives of their children.

Teens Empowered

Move over Lady Gaga; hello Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber.  As reported on E! News From London, “According to the IOC, NBC’s ratings for the London Olympics among teenage girls is a whopping 89 percent higher than those for Fox’s smash hit Glee. ‘The younger demographic has come back,’ IOC marketing director Timo Lumme said in a press conference Tuesday. ‘Teenage girl viewership is up 54 percent.'”

In an age when media role models are appallingly scarce (at least good ones), it’s heartening to know that girls have athletes to look up to.  These are strong, fit, girls with character, who also have handled disappointment (in Jordyn’s case) with class and grace, and success (in Gaby’s case) with humility and thankfulness.  I’ll bet, behind each young woman or young man, is a mom and/or dad who encouraged and supported their child to dream, and to achieve.  Let’s remember that even if our son or daughter isn’t destined to be an all-star athlete, we can be their best cheerleaders as they move through adolescence into adulthood, becoming the people we know they can be.