For the Thin Times

For the Thin Times

Recently I was indulging my inner nerd and took in The Lord of the Rings – since it’s on Netflix right now. There was a quote from Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of the movie right before he left the shire to go on his final adventure:

“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

These words can resonate with most people, and I could say many times in life would relate to this, but I felt an especially strong connection to the sentiment. It’s really a vivid description of what it feels like to have yourself pulled in multiple directions – you feel thin, stretched, incomplete, and a little scraped for extra measure.

Like so many others, we feel like there is not enough to go around. But for me, there is a deeper, more difficult issue at work. And, I think it was at work in Bilbo as well.

The context of the quote was Bilbo wanting to escape his hometown and not deal with the things he knew he needed to engage. He wanted to finish his book, do his own thing, and he perceived his hometown as an obstacle to any of that. So, he conjured up excuses so he could escape – in dramatic fashion to boot (I’d love to have a magic ring like that).

That’s the problem for so many of us. We get truly overwhelmed or overstretched because we are actually just avoiding the things we need to be doing. In fact I’d go so far to say a lot of the things we think are keeping us busy are not even real or true – just something that keeps us distracted.

You want proof? As I’m writing this blog I have found numerous ways to distract myself from actually getting this done. It’s not that I dislike writing, but to create something like a blog takes work, concentration, and dedication – all things that are easily neutralized by a peek at Twitter.

Ok, I’m back again. So what was I saying? Oh yeah – distractions….

You see, just like Bilbo, I do feel stretched but I need to be honest with myself about what that actually means. Do I have too much going on? Or are the things I have in my life all important enough to keep around? The truth is if I eliminated some of the things that keep me distracted, it would force me to actually engage in more important, meaningful work.

Bilbo probably needed to stay in his hometown, deal with his family issues, and just write his book. As Seth Godin puts it, maybe we don’t need more butter – we just need less bread to spread it across.

Teenagers are on the front lines of feeling thin. Many have 7-8 completely different subjects to deal with every day at school, let alone the social and emotional pressures of adolescence. And, they are kind of thrust into it. So many report feeling anxious and frustrated with their situation and will start to struggle.

So for them (and us), how can we feel less thin as we navigate a complicated world? A few ideas…

  1. Find your space – whether it is an outdoor walk, time to read and reflect, a good workout, or prayer time – and make it a priority. These are the times where priorities begin to shift because you actually have time to think.
  2. Quit or suspend one of your social media accounts. Wait, what? Yeah, give it a try. Don’t worry, it will be there if you have to break the glass and pull the lever. Those things never go away. See how it feels to live without a Facebook account for a while. You might actually like it.
  3. Examine what is actually keeping you busy vs. what actually needs to be accomplished. This takes honesty and time but would be worthwhile. Make a list, a Venn diagram, something that works for you.

As loving adults in the lives of teenagers, we need to communicate a sense of peace in the chaos. Yes, we have so much going on, but we also have the opportunity to model what it looks like to know what is truly important – for the thin times.

Chris Robey, Teen Life’s COO, has worked with teens for over a decade and strives to help students see the best in themselves.
The Dangers of Distracted Parenting

The Dangers of Distracted Parenting

Parenting is often described as one of the best, most stressful jobs that a person can take on in this life.  While becoming a parent may not always be a decision made or something that is planned, it is an incredible responsibility that comes with a new set of rules, never ending questions, and the need to constantly be “on”. So, what happens when parents go from being ‘on’ top of things, to just being ‘on’ their phone maybe a little too often?

The term for this phenomenon is “Distracted Parenting”. You may not have heard this term before, but I am willing to bet you have seen it. At a restaurant, an entire family on their phones, not speaking to each or even making eye contact. At the park when a child is behaving in a way that would likely be corrected if their parent was not on the bench completely immersed in their phone. At a school or church event and that one kid is running out of the door with no adult present and you think, “Where is the adult?!” The situations are too commonplace and have caused concern among pediatricians.

The American Pediatrics Association recently revealed that more children are being treated for severe injuries from playground accidents than in the past. They asked why this is occurring when the playground equipment is actually the safest it’s been in decades. Literally. The answer: Distracted Parenting. Parents were observed at playgrounds where they looked at their phones, talked to each other, and did ‘other things’ more often than they looked at their child. The researchers point out that children pick up on when they can partake in risky behaviors and tend to do so when they perceive that their parent is distracted. Some children take risks even when the parent is paying attention, so I can only imagine what those children do when they realize no one is watching!

Not only is there potential for physical harm when distracted parenting happens, it can also be emotionally damaging if a child or teen feels that their parent is too busy to talk or participate with them. Too often parents are sharing that perfect Instagram pic of their kid going down the slide rather than watching them in real life. Too often parents are more interested in posting about their “family” dinner rather than participating in a conversation at the table.

An article on Psychology Today shares that being distracted as a parent is expected, especially with multiple children in the home or with parents working, however it is the level to which the distraction occurs that matters. Children and teens are not always the most observant people, but they do notice when the important people in their lives are not paying attention and will take advantage by testing what they can get away with, whether it’s jumping from the highest point of a jungle gym, sneaking out at night, or skipping school among other risky behaviors.

This is why I encourage all of us to focus on putting the phone away and have actual conversations with the children, teens, and adults in our lives. Have a conversation with your teen at dinner, play with your child at the playground, watch your child so they don’t run out the door before you can catch them. I promise, no one will care if pics are posted after the fact, but your child will notice if you go down that slide with them in the moment, they will remember the conversations they have with you, and they will remember the times you give them your undivided attention to help them.

If you think you may struggle with being a distracted parent, leader, teacher, or caregiver, think about your habits and ask these questions:

  • When was the last time you played with your child or teen?
  • What was the last conversation you shared as a family?
  • Ask your child(ren) if they feel you are distracted. (Honesty can go a long way in opening up communication. Respond in kind and avoid responding defensively).
  • Think about the last conversation you had with an adult: were they on their phone? Did you make eye contact? Did you feel heard?
  • What makes you feel heard? (The same probably applies to the children and teens in your life. Have an open conversation about what listening looks like in different settings.)

 

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.

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