parent-child relationships

Connecting with your kids through cell phones

Let’s face it: cell phones get a bad rap. I’m the first one to line up and criticize the addictive behaviors kids are learning through over-dependence on cell phones. Kids exhibit withdrawal-like behaviors when they’re not plugged in for over 15 minutes. And let’s be honest: moms and dad are sometimes worse.

Electronic devices such as cell phones can distance us from meaningful relationships. They entice us to live in a virtual world, to disrupt healthy sleep patterns, to introduce electronic bullying, stalking, and predatory opportunities, and might even expose young children to harmful levels of radiation.

Okay, now the good news. Like all technology, cell phones are amazing if we tap into the good stuff and manage the bad. After raising 5 teenagers, these are the ways cell phones have enriched our family relationships:

  1. Wonder where your kid is? “Find My Friends” is an app that lets you see your kid’s precise location. No way to lie about where they are. If your kids balk at the “stalking parent” approach, make it a condition of having their phone in the first place. They have nothing to hide, right?
  2. Speaking of finding friends, there are so many times when I need to find my child to pick them up at school, or find them in a crowded public place. Finding them via text or calling saves me HOURS of wasted time. I remember years ago, before cell phones, my family went to Disneyland. We split up and had one Walkie Talkie per group. We thought we were so cool!  So did everyone else at the park who couldn’t find their group. Cell phones have made everyone go a little less crazy finding their kids.
  3. Cell phones offer some really fun games. We love group games like Headbandz or Charades, but any solitary game can pass the time waiting at the doctors, or attending a sibling’s LONG and BORING musical Jr. high concert.
  4. Speaking of games, there are tons of educational benefits awaiting on a cell phone. When my kids had to memorize a huge list of words for school, we used a flashcard app, and I’d test them on it. Educational games are great, but be careful to limit their time and not let the games replace human contact. We tend to justify “learning” games, but human-to-human interaction has been proven as the best learning relationship.
  5. Safety and escape plan. There was an interesting blog post that highlighted the need for kids to have an emergency plan in case they got in over their heads with social pressure. He called it their “x-plan” which means an escape plan using their cell phones. Teens can type “x” to their parent’s number which is a secret code for “help me I need to get out of here.” If you get that “x” text, you call your teen back immediately with a bogus story. “Hey something has come up and I need to pick you up right away.” The teen can feign disappointment, but he’s secretly relieved to get out of a party that has turned into drinking, sexual activity, or anything he’s not comfortable with.
  6. Speaking of safety, I  have such a peace of mind knowing that if my teen was on an outing and got lost, perhaps even where it would turn into a critical situation like in the mountains, he would have his cell phone with him to dial 9-11 or phone a parent to help rescue him. My daughter did just that on a side of a road in the middle of Nowhere, Idaho after hitting a deer.
  7. The camera function on a phone is indispensable! Teens have become genius at capturing important information and images using their cell phones. It might be written instructions, a map, or a recipe that they can pull up later to easily reference. It’s the best! If you have a child who has missed a family event, like dinnertime, you can take a picture of the plate of food, text it to them with the message, “We missed you at dinner. Hope you can make it tomorrow.”
  8. Google Maps. Needs I say more? Never get lost again. For someone who is directionally challenged, this would have been a life saver as a teenager.
  9. Send your kid “love notes” via cellphone. Emojis are the new adolescent language. Teenagers can turn cold and prickly during their pubescent years, but will still accept texts with happy, loving messages.
  10. Another spin on #9 is to set up a family group text and send daily inspirational messages. You can do this through “Messenger” as well to include videoclips. These are private messages to your kids with a scripture of the day, an inspirational quote or meme, or anything that brightens their day.
  11. Put on music or podcasts while you and your kids are cleaning the house. It makes a huge difference to take your mind off the drudgery of cleaning by singing and dancing along or learning interesting stuff from a podcast.
  12. Now that I’m a grandma and have kids around the country, can I just end on this major point? Face time, Google hangout, or Skype on my phone is a way for us all to stay connected no matter where we are. I love technology when it melts the miles between us. You can even prop up the phone while you are playing a game or eating dinner to have the faraway child feel like part of the family, if only for a while. For free!

My husband and I were very careful to monitor our kids’ cell phone usage, as well as other electronic devices. We even started them on phones that were call and text only, no WiFi. But as they grew older and learned responsibility, the world opened up through these devices and became a tool for connection. The trick is to be ever-vigilant and in control rather than the other way around. Parents should be their kids’ best examples of putting away devices when a real face time is needed.

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School Success: BYU radio interview

School started today. *Sigh* It’s a bittersweet time.

Bitter:
No more relaxed, sunny days by the pool.
No more PBJ picnics.
No more late night star gazing and movie watching.
No more spontaneous UNO card games.
No more vacation from homework, alarm clocks, carpooling, and science fair projects.
No more shorts, T-shirts, flipflops and bedhead worn every day.

Sweet:
Adult alone time!
One word: schedules!
Mushy brains turn into learning brains again.
Not hearing “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom” 868 times a day.
As my neighbor sang in a lilted, Christmas-y tone yesterday: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

But the transition from summer to school can seem abrupt at best and often very difficult. It’s like living on planet Earth all summer and then being shipped to Mars. How can we help kids adjust easier and outfit them to thrive in that harsh climate? Here’s the BYU radio program I was interviewed for about preparing kids for school success.
https://www.byuradio.org/episode/bef82490-c5ad-4fa2-8453-0340424735f6/the-matt-townsend-show-public-space-crisis-smartphones-and-adhd-back-to-school?playhead=6518&autoplay=true

Behind every great kid is a pushy parent

Here’s a link to a revised version of this article that was published by ksl.com

When I was young, my mom required that all 5 children learn to swim until they could pass the Jr. Lifesaving class. I hated it. I hated water and the smell of chlorine. I hated diving for those weighted rings.

I looked up at my mother sitting in the spectator balcony and glared at her whenever I could. My body language clearly stated, “I can’t believe you are making me do this. You are the meanest mom in the world.” She just smiled back and waved at me.

About the time I was enrolled in the Jr. Lifesaving class, the movie “Jaws” came out. By today’s movie-making standards, the special effects are cheesy, but to my 11-year-old, fearful-of-anything aquatic, impressionable brain, it was horrifying. I couldn’t put my head under water (let alone take a bath) after seeing the film. When the swim instructors lined us up behind the diving board and it was my turn to arch over the horizontal bamboo stick to dive into the water, I couldn’t do it. I stared into the deep, blue abyss and could only see a set of teeth on a open shark’s mouth, waiting for me to dive into its hungry cavity.

I couldn’t do it. It was humiliating and traumatic.

But my mom didn’t seem to care no matter how much I whined and crumpled on the floor. She wanted me to pass the class since she had almost drowned as a girl and her lifesaving skills saved her. I eventually passed the class and never looked at another swimming pool for a long time.

Fast forward.

I now swim multiple times a week for exercise. You heard me right. I choose to swim for fun. I love it. Every time I get in the pool, I look up into the empty balcony bleachers with a smile and think, “Thank you mom, for not giving up on me.”

Being  a “pushy” mom or dad requires True Grit. Courage. Fortitude. A Backbone. When life gets hard, kids tend to give up. If we insist they stick with it, we are called “mean.”  Someone wrote, “My kids just told me I’m the meanest mom in the world and I’m freaking out. I don’t even have a speech prepared.” Parents! If your child hates you for something that is really, really good for them, take a bow, accept the nomination, and thank your audience. 

Parents raise successful kids by being pushy in these three ways:

Push Toward Good.

I once knew a parent who buckled under their 5 year old who refused to take his prescribed medicine. Some things are hard, some things don’t taste good, some things are boring (like brushing our teeth), and some things hurt (like getting immunized) but we insist our children do it anyway because it is good for them.  

My sister has taught voice and piano for 30 years and out of the hundreds of students, only two loved to practice. The rest think it’s hard and boring. Many kids dropped playing the piano after the first year. Those who became good were not prodigies or genius musicians; they had pushy parents who made them practice 5 days a week, year after year.

Recently, I helped my daughter register at a university. However, she became anxious and lacked confidence to navigate a new campus. As we sat with her adviser, fear took over. I realized I needed to not only reassure her, but to push.

Adviser: So what is your major?

Daughter: (shoulders slumped, eyes down) I don’t know.

Me: Integrated Studies.

Adviser: (wondering who is this pushy mom) So what will be your two areas of emphasis?

Daughter: I’m not sure.

Me: She declared Spanish and Business.

Adviser (looking directly at my daughter so I didn’t butt in) Will you start Summer of Fall?

Daughter: I don’t know.

Me: (pausing first before butting in) She’ll start Summer.

Adviser: (giving me the stink eye and then turning to my daughter) Do you have your transcript?

Daughter: Yes, but I don’t know how to download it.

I stayed out from that point on, but I’m telling you, we sometimes have to hold our kids hands and baby step them toward the unknown, scary future.  To that adviser: Don’t judge.

Push Away from Bad.

Children have a lot of choices these days and they’re not all good. Some may seem good  but turn into problems if there are not diligent parents afoot. It’s okay to tell your young child they don’t need a cell phone with Wifi or unlimited data. It’s okay to push away bad media programming that infiltrates our homes and electronic devices. A wave of filth is threatening families but we can push it away. Say “no” to children who tell you everyone else’s parents are letting them do it.

Tell them you love them more than that.

Push Back from Pressure.

Unlike many children, there are superstar kids who excel at everything and want to do it all. They overbook their lives, or their parents overbook it for them, to achieve greatness and an impressive resume. There is so much pressure to raise trophy children and compete with over-achieving friends.

Raising a great kid who is successful means they lead a balanced, happy, well adjusted life. Children need a childhood. They need play time, laugh time, creative and social time. If your child wants to be the drummer in a rock band, be on the high school basketball, swim, and baseball teams, be student body president, and sing in the prestigious school choir, it’s time to push back. Life is full of great things to do, but we need to teach our children that it’s not realistic or healthy to try to do it all. We all need to learn how to choose and prioritize.

 

So if you are a pushy parent, take it as a compliment. You know that you’re doing something right and you’re in good company.

6 ways parents can improve their listening skills

This was my first time being interviewed by someone from Utah Valley 360 magazine. It’s always cool when someone calls you up out of the blue, unexpected, and says they want to interview you for their upcoming article.

Well, here it is. And I think Natalie did a nice job with the article. Published on February 29, 2016

If you feel like your kids hardly listen to a word you say, take heart. Children and teens ignoring their parents is a universal problem as old as parenting itself. But before you put all the blame on your offspring, consider whether your listening skills could stand to be improved. Try these six tips for improving your listening ear:

  1. Stop multitasking and pay attention.

Our brain doesn’t have the capacity to fully attend to two things at once, so it’s difficult to listen well when doing another task that requires your attention. Doing the dishes and helping a child with homework? Sure. But scrolling Instagram while listening to your daughter explain her school project? It’s likely you’ll miss important details. “It’s really important that we select moments of the day where we close all those tabs we have open in our brain,” says Julie K. Nelson, an applied parenting instructor at UVU and author of two books on parenting, including “Keep it Real and Grab a Plunger: 25 tips for surviving parenthood” (Cedar Fort, March 2015). “We need to say to our child, ‘Right now, you are my world.’ Half listening will not build trust or confidence in coming to us when they need to talk.”

  1. Take it one kid at a time.

Do your best to listen to one child at a time. If interrupting and talking over each other is a problem at your house, Nelson suggests telling your kids that you are going to listen to all of them but only one at a time. “Put your arm around the child and say, ‘I’m here for you but right now we are going to listen to Stacey first and it will be your turn next,’” she suggests. Give them a physical cue, such as holding their hand or putting a hand on their shoulder, to let them know you see them but give your full attention to the child speaking. If a child whines or demands attention, ignore it as best you can. “When you are finished listening to one child, turn to the other child and say, ‘Thank you for being so respectful. Now it’s your turn.’”

  1. Listen on their level.

Adults appreciate eye contact during an conversation, and kids are no different. Nelson suggest talking to kids at their level for the most effective communication. “If we do want to get a child to listen to us, it’s so important there is not an imbalance of power. At your full stature, children don’t listen to you when they are looking at your navel.” Younger kids appreciate when you get down on one knee to hear and see what they are saying. For teens, try sitting on a couch to chat.

  1. Go on sabbatical from offering your opinion.

If it’s a challenge to keep your mouth shut when you should be listening to your child or teen, try this challenge: For one week, resist the urge to offer your opinion unless expressly asked for it. Listening with the intent to simply listen, instead of listening with the intent to reply, Nelson says. “When we do listen to someone we should be very careful that we don’t try to finish their sentence for them or come up with a rebuttal or response,” Nelson says. If they do ask for an opinion, let them know you’ll think about it rather than jumping in with your expert advice.

  1. Practice active listening.

If you need to clarify what someone is saying, repeat what you heard back to them. Try, “What I’m hearing you saying is this; is that correct?” Let the speaker validate whether or not you got it right. Then continue listening without judgment or fixing. Most of the time, people just want to be heard.

  1. Quit topping the story.

If your child is complaining about their struggles at school, it can be tempting to hijack the conversation with stories of your childhood success or examples of what other siblings have done. They don’t really need to hear about everything you did when you were a kid, Nelson says — even if you’re commiserating —  they just want to you listen to them. So stop topping their stories and simply offer yourself as a resource. “Tell them, ‘I’m sure you’ll come up with a great solution to that.’ Empower them … let them come up with solutions on their own. They need to know you’re not the higher power in their life that always sweeps in and solves things,” she says.

For a link to the origional article in Utah Valley 360 magazine: http://utahvalley360.com/2016/02/29/6-ways-parents-can-improve-their-listening-skills/

Evolving Family Relationships: Parenting Adult Children

There isn’t a handbook for this.  Being flexible and open to learning, adjusting, and growing up is part of a long-term relationship between parents and their children. How do you continue parenting throughout the life spectrum? I suggest you reestablish inter-generational relationships in these 3 ways: Establishing a Lifelong Interdependence Appreciation for one another as adult people Forgiveness I follow the first interview that lasts 1 hr. on “What Parent Handbooks Don’t Tell You” on Dec. 12, 2013 on the Matt Townsend show. After that topic, Matt and I talk about parenting adult children. Listen now. http://www.byuradio.org/episode/5981b984-cd75-4709-9360-fe66e9242900/the-matt-townsend-show-what-parent-handbooks-don-t-tell-you

Seeing Two Sides of the Issue in Parenting

Here are some issues I review in this BYU radio interview. I am interviewed in the 2nd segment of the Matt Townsend program:

Context matters.
Widen your perspectives and hear your child.
Take off your filters.
Establish a pattern of trust.
Compromise and negotiation.
Listen, listen, listen.
No reactivity or control freaks.
Problem solve together with your child.

These ideas work when you confront a parent-child conflict. Listen now:

http://www.byuradio.org/episode/2e8b3c1f-fa64-43b6-8b06-f1ea3e3fba5e/the-matt-townsend-show-context