Let’s Go On An Adventure

Over my years as a therapist I have spent many hours talking with teenage boys.  One of the phrases that I have heard over and over again is, “this is boring.”  I have heard parents complain about children who have bins full of toys, yet describe themselves as bored.  How is it possible that in our society of 24/7 entertainment anyone would be bored?

I recently listened to the White Horse Inn podcast that argued boredom in our culture stems from the over abundance of entertainment.  They argued that our desire to have every experience be “THE” experience cheapens the value of all experiences.   Even in churches and youth ministries we are constantly searching for the next big thing.  The next exciting program or activity that will draw in more kids or parents so they can know how exciting Jesus is.  We take high school students to camps and mission trips filled with emotional worship, funny speakers, and really gross games.

The problem is, this is not real life.  Real life is mundane, it is getting up to go to work or school everyday, it is doing the dishes, laundry, and homework.  Faith is hard, church can be normal, and even Jesus was not exciting all of the time.  In my opinion the problem with the “bored” children is that they have never learned to imagine.  Toys don’t require imagination these days.  Computer graphics create vast worlds in infinite detail, none of it imagined by the players.  It is nearly impossible to find a plain lego set that can be formed into whatever a child imagines.  They are all movie themed and designed to be built into some specific object.  Even infant toys are full of bells, whistles, lights, and buttons.

I was pleased to sit and observe some kids developing their imaginations the other day.  I felt like one of those nature photographers catching the final footage of an endangered species.  I sat very quietly hoping they would not notice me, so as not to disrupt their play.  They played for about an hour with nothing more than a bucket tied to a rope and water.  I am not sure what they were doing but they were all fully engaged and involved.  Somehow they all had a role to play but no one told them what it was.  There was yelling, laughing, jumping, and running; it was great fun.  They were having a true adventure.

A true adventure is not some overhyped, artificially produced experience of which we are spectators.  A true adventure is something we are actively involved in.  It is a path that unfolds before us based on the shared experience of family and friends.

This was not the latest and flashiest toy.  It was a white bucket tied to a rope, but it lead them on a wild adventure full of excitement and joy.  I hope parents will say, “let’s go on an adventure” by giving their families the time and space to imagine.  Let’s cut down on some of the adult organized “exciting” activities, and begin to create our own adventures in the backyard.

How does your family find true adventure?

What toys helped you to imagine as a child?

How to Halt the Entitled Generation: I Need Your Help

Ephesians 4:12 “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”

My children are growing up as part of the “entitled generation.”  I have read several articles recently discussing this generation of youth as lazy, entitled, coddled, and narcissistic.  One article written by Brett Mccracken from relevantnetwork.com describes the entitled generation as,

“raised on the notion that we deserve things, that the government owes us something, that everything we want should be accessible and that somehow we are not responsible if we don’t end up quite as successful in life as we’d hoped.”

Several years ago a colleague and I were sharing with a group of parents about Shelterwood, the teen-counseling ministry that we worked for.  At the end of our presentation a parent asked us what we saw as the most troublesome problem facing teens today.  Thankfully my colleague answered the question, however his answer surprised many of the parents.  They expected to hear an answer of online pornography, drugs, texting while driving, or peer pressure.  Instead, he described a sense of entitlement as the number one problem facing teens today.

How does a parent raise children that are thankful for the smallest of blessings?  Is it possible in this day to raise children that view their purpose in life as serving others rather than accumulating possessions?  If they are willing to serve others will they do it to please God or to gain some sort of notoriety?  How can I do as Ephesians 4:12 says, “prepare God’s people for works of service.”

I witnessed an impromptu class in teaching the “entitled generation” about service during a family retreat while working at Shelterwood.  All the parents and families had come to town for the weekend.  This was our time to meet, encourage, support, and get to know the families of the teenagers that lived in our care.  We were serving them right?  After dinner one night the staff were to stick around to help clean up so that the families could leave to spend some quality time with their teenage child.  One father had a different plan.  As the families began to leave for the night he began picking up tables and chairs with the rest of us.  He didn’t say anything, he just started pitching in and offering a hand.  The class began when I witnessed his two pre-teen sons jump up behind him and mimic their father’s actions.  I thought in my mind that this could not have been the first time these boys saw their father standing up to serve others.  They must have seen him helping others over and over and over again.  They desired to be a man, and from what they saw, men were servants.

I was convicted and inspired by this lesson on preparing my kids for works of service.  I confess that many times my mind is set more on preparing my kids for college, a good job, or responsibility, rather than serving others.  I often find myself losing sight of God’s mission of service for my life.  I find myself desiring money, possessions, and notoriety.  Like the lesson I witnessed first hand has taught me, the best way to halt the entitled generation is to be a servant myself.

I have been challenged to say to my children, “come on, I need your help” when I have opportunities to serve others.  I hope that when my boys think of “manhood”, they picture a servant who is quick to pitch in, take out the trash, and stack up the tables and chairs.

Start the conversation below

In what ways can a family serve together?

How have you taught your children that serving others is important?

What are some other ways to Halt the Entitled Generation?”

Stuff Dads Say

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding.

Proverbs 4:1

I am always a little shocked by how much my children actually hear what I say.  It is even scarier to realize how much they watch what I do.  Several years ago I had picked our boys up from school and was driving home when from the back seat I heard my oldest say the word stupid.  I quickly turned around and said,  “Hutson we do not say stupid.”   Later that same evening the boys and I ventured into the back yard to play in our sandbox.  As I dragged off the cover, designed to keep the neighbors cat from pooping in our sand, I discovered a nasty deposit.  I scooped out the poop and said under my breath, “stupid cat”.   Hutson came running over from about 15 feet away, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Dad, we do not say stupid!”  Ouch, the painful humility of realizing my own hypocrisy.  I was reminded of how powerfully the words and actions of a father impact the lives of their children.

I strongly believe that the messages fathers send, stated and unstated, have a profound impact on how their sons (and daughters) come to view the world, God, themselves, and others.  I have compiled a list of the top ten most important messages all boys need to hear from their fathers.  I believe these messages should be sent over and over again throughout a son’s life.  They are paying attention and will gain understanding.  The question is, understanding of what?  Over the next several months I will be expanding upon each point with one or more posts dedicated to each message.

The most important messages every boy needs to hear from his father

  1. No Kicking in the face
  2. Where does it hurt?
  3. Come on, I need your help
  4. Let’s go on an adventure
  5.  Oh, Let’s try that again
  6.  Let’s go help mom
  7.   How are you going to handle that?
  8.  I’m sorry
  9.   What do you think about that?
  10.  How do you ask nicely?

I have caught myself saying each one of these phrases.  Before having kids I never imagined that they would become part of my parenting vocabulary.  I am excited to share with you how they have shaped my journey as a father and how I believe they continue to shape the way my sons view the world.

What messages do you think should be added to the list?
What messages did you hear from your dad?
How do “father” messages play a role in how children view God?  

Parenting in Community

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” Hebrews 12:1

I recently read an article by Ross Taffell entitled “The Decline and Fall of Parental Authority”.  This article was nothing I expected it to be.  I expected the author to argue from national statistics and personal anecdotes that today’s parents were not strong enough.  I anticipated that he would describe teenagers run amok, parents providing alcohol at parties, and 7 year olds with I-phones.

I was surprised when, instead of heaping guilt on parents who were working very hard to raise their kids, he offered an old solution to the new problem of the decline of parental authority.  The author notes that arguably the most damaging thing to parental authority today is the fragmentation of society.  Taffel believes that a parent’s authority is attacked from every corner of the world.  Children are bombarded with alternative voices of authority from the online world, television, school, friends, and advertising.   Each system sells its values as the most important part of leading a “successful” life.  Friends say it is being “cool”, TV says it is having the right stuff, school says it is getting all A’s, and the Internet says it is having all the right information.  Each of these systems preys on a parent’s fear that their child will not “measure up”.

The solution offered by Taffell is to raise children in community rather than isolation.  The technology that fills our lives and was intended to connect us seems to actually separate us.  Families are so busy with activities that little time is left to socialize with neighbors and connect to one another.  Taffel says, “what most overwhelmed parents of out-of-control kids need… is a strong, vibrant community that includes other parents, parents need help and encouragement in authority building.”  I am reminded of Hebrews 12:1a “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.”  I imagine a group of parent’s who “by faith” raise up their children to honor and serve the Lord.  I pray for a community of parents standing a long the edges helping to steer and direct the development of my family.

When I was growing up my parents personally knew each of my friend’s parents.  If I did something stupid they would hear about it.  The other parents helped to support and enforce the values created in my home.  Taffel challenges parents to build communities of authority in which to raise their children.  He encourages us to build partnerships with schools, to support other parents, and to be active in our neighborhoods.  I am inspired by his suggestions yet overwhelmed by the task.  To build community requires risk and sacrifice.  It requires slowing down and intentionally connecting with others.  I am hopeful that as my children grow, I will also grow in my ability to assemble a “great cloud of witnesses” to cheer them on as they run the race marked out for them.

What’s The Point?

I mentioned in my last post that when 830 mothers were surveyed regarding their level of outdoor play compared to that of their children, the only outdoor activity that their children did more than they was adult organized youth sports.

Many parents take organized youth sports very seriously.  I recently read an article about a standout Jr. High football player dominating his league.  I was surprised when the letters N-F-L appeared prominently in the article.  Several months ago I read a sports illustrated article about a youth basketball team that travels from coast to coast (literally) knocking off their rivals.  Apparently, coaches hand pick talent out of elementary school and promise parents scholarships to big name schools and millions in signing bonuses.  For some parents every thought and decision is devoted to the dream of their child turning pro.  This single-minded commitment to excelling in sports does not in my opinion meet the needs of a developing child let a lone that of their family. Have we missed the point of having our children in adult organized youth sports?

The point of organized youth sports is to develop character.  Children learn the valuable lessons of following rules, impulse control, and teamwork.  They also learn a valuable past time that, depending on the sport, can be enjoyed for the rest of their lives.

Many children are no longer encouraged to play sports solely for the pleasure of the activity.  The point of youth sports has become, winning, earning a scholarship, becoming famous, and signing an endorsement deal.  For some it is no longer about life skills and life enjoyment it is about money, competition, and self-aggrandizement.

I have nothing against youth sports.  I thoroughly enjoyed playing organized sports for many years, and I was even a coach for several teams.  I advise parents however, to focus on the overall character development of their children, rather than the development of their jump shot.  Character is life long, but all athletes have to retire, some more than once.