Hey Mom, Put Down Your Phone!

Hey Mom, Put Down Your Phone!

I had an interesting conversation in my group the other day. We got to talking about the students’ relationship with their parents, and it quickly turned into a discussion on family time and phone distractions. For probably the first time in one of my Support Groups, every single group member was on the same page! Here are some of the things I heard around the table that day:

  • My mom makes us have “family time” and watch a movie but stares at her phone the whole time.
  • My parents are constantly on Facebook or playing Candy Crush when we are together.
  • Why do they say I’m always on my phone when they are even worse than I am?
  • My dad always sends emails at the dinner table, but I get in trouble if I look at my phone.
  • I tell my parents “family time” doesn’t count if they are on their phones but they say all that matters is that we’re in the same room.
  • Were your parents always on their phones too?

First, let me just admit that I am not yet a parent, but I struggle with this as well. When I sit down to watch a show with my husband, it is easy to mindlessly scroll through Instagram or Facebook out of habit. Sometimes I don’t even notice I’m on my phone until he points it out! Second, it is never fun to get called out by teenagers, but my group issued a challenge that I feel obligated to pass on!

Also on a side note, I laughed out loud when they asked about my parents and their phone use when I was a teenager. When I was in high school, we didn’t have internet on our phones, and we certainly didn’t have fun games like Candy Crush (RIP Snake Game). This is fairly new territory for parents!

Technology isn’t going anywhere, phones aren’t going to phase out, and social media will probably always be king of the internet. So how can we better model how to balance family, work, and fun? We have to be the example in this area; otherwise, our kids will never learn acceptable boundaries and healthy practices.

Before I offer some suggestions, there are a few things I would like to point out about their statements and questions.

1. They watch you and notice.

You know the phrase, “Do as I say and not as I do”? That doesn’t fly with teenagers. They watch you. They see what you do and will push back if what you do is different than what you say. Telling teens to put down their phones while yours is still in front of your face sends a clear message that you probably aren’t intending to communicate.

2. They don’t see a difference between work and social media use of phones.

They don’t care if you are on your phone for work – if they see your phone out, it is a distraction no matter what it’s purpose. Sending email, making calls, checking your Facebook, it is all the same to them. If you are on your phone when you should be spending time with them, your excuses don’t matter – just so you know 🙂

3. They think you have a technology problem.

This absolutely cracks me up! As adults, we read books, listen to podcast, and attend seminars on helping our teenagers manage social media and their phones. We talk about this generation and their problems with connection, but they think adults are the ones with the problem! I am not saying that teens have technology under control or use it appropriately all the time, but until we prove them wrong, I do believe we are the ones with the problem.

4. They actually care about “family time.”

When they were having this discussion, they weren’t upset that they had to be present for family time. They were mad that their parents were violating the time that they set aside. One student even said that he enjoys hanging out with his mom when she isn’t distracted by her phone.

I really don’t want you to miss this point, so I will say it again in case you’re still in shock…teenagers actually care about “family time”! Even when they act like spending time as a family is the worst inconvenience, the stories they tell when you aren’t around would say otherwise.

 


 

As I said above, this is a newer problem for parents. Just like we are trying to figure out how to help our teenagers have boundaries, we are walking the same blurry line. I want you to have a good relationship with your teenager. I want you to be able to take advantage of family time – if they are willing to set aside their phones, don’t ruin it by being on yours!

While I could write several blogs on this topic, let me start with two tips that I believe could make a huge difference in your home!

Do what you ask of your kids.

This seems simple and like a no-brainer, but the more I talk to teens, the more I realize that we are failing at this. While their are perks to being an adult and setting the rules, when they are around and watching you, follow your own rules! If you ask them to put away their phones for a specific time or activity, do the same. Do they have a time limit on how much they can be on their phones? Try to stick to a similar schedule!

They are watching you, and you set the example of how to interact with your phone. This is especially true for when you drive. Ouch…but if you don’t want your teenager to text (or tweet) and drive, put your phone away in the car. Don’t text, don’t have phone conversations that can wait until you get to your destination, don’t be catching up on your Facebook comments while you are driving your kids. Show them how to be responsible and safe!

 

Make “family time” sacred.

Find small ways to make the time you spend as a family special. While it may be unrealistic to expect your teenager to put their phone away anytime they are are with a family member, you can set aside specific times that are phone-free. Some examples could be dinner time, the first 15 minutes after they get home from school, special family activities, or when you watch tv or a movie as a family. Once you ask them to make the activity you decide on phone-free, follow the rule above and put yours up as well!

This might mean that you put your phone on “do not disturb” to keep you from reading texts, checking email, or answering phone calls. Unless it is an emergency, anything on your phone can wait until that sacred time is over. You communicate the importance of family time by your actions. Distractions and phones can kill a family moment – don’t let your teenager down by not giving them your full attention!

So, what do you think? How have you set boundaries in your home? How have you made family time sacred and special? Share with us – we always love new ideas!
Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.
4 Tips to Parent Smarter

4 Tips to Parent Smarter

This post was originally titled “Parenting Isn’t for Everyone,” but that sounded a little too negative. That said, it is still true; however, it is also true that anyone can benefit from parenting if they choose to commit to the path of parenting. Does that seem confusing? Let me try to come at it this way. It is possible for everyone to be a parent. We see this all around us. The act of, or result of an act, that ends in being a parent happens all the time. The difference is that some people choose to continue on the parenting path and others choose to quit.

 

This was my dad. He quit being a parent. He chose to let other life choices distract him from being the father and husband he had committed to be, and instead quit all of it. Since becoming a parent myself, it is becoming more and more real how he could have given this up, it is hard. Some days are VERY hard to parent. I mean there is the whole “I’m not adulting today” movement that has caught on. This is often related to parenting, but they are two very different things.

 

I am guessing this sounds likes a downer of a post but stay with me. The foundation for wading through this very real journey is that parenting is very hard and very worth it. I want to offer the four reasons below in hopes that they will help you, and me, be a better parent. My hope is that trend will then continue until you are done parenting – something many people believe doesn’t happen, but I assure you it does. You may never stop feeling like a parent, but your parenting will end maybe even sooner than you think.

 

These 4 tips aren’t about whether you should be a parent or not. They’re about when you are a parent and what you can get out of that. So if you haven’t had kids yet, use this as a way to decide how you will handle things if you do. If you have kids, use this to reframe or renew your perspective about being a parent.

 

  1. Parenting isn’t about you. This is one I am having a hard time with. My tendency is to take things personally. I want my kids to be a reflection of me. I mean people say this to us all the time, even my good church friends. “You can tell you’re good parents because your kids are so good.” Or some version of that. We really need to change this. Yes, there is influence and modeling, but your kid is their own person. They make their own choices starting at an early age, and it’s supposed to be that way. Our job as parents is to teach them values, character and morality. Then, it is up to them, and it’s not our fault if they choose to throw that stuff out the window. This also means we don’t get the praise if they choose to succeed. That hurts a little, but maybe it’s the way it needs to be.

 

  1. You can’t compare your situation to anyone else’s. This past January, we finalized an adoption. Our family grew, in less than 3 minutes, by 3 people. There are now 9 of us requiring a 12 passenger van to transport us anywhere we go. We have people tell us all the time, “I don’t know how you do it,” or “I could never do that. It’s a lot of kids.” You know what, you’re right. But you also need to know you have no idea how hard this is for us. There are many days that the only reason I make it is because I don’t quit. Does that make me a horrible person because I don’t love every minute of parenting? No! It makes me not a quitter. My commitment is strong and with that comes the decision to not complain and use “what if” phrases, which leads us to number three.

 

  1. Realize balance is about making everything equal. Many of us see parenting as something that gets in the way of us accomplishing what is really important in life. I know this because I have felt that and heard plenty of talk socially about that attitude. This was recently emphasized for me at a business event I went to. The speaker said, “Balance is not dependent on circumstance. It’s about what you choose to spend your time on.” This choice puts us as parents in the mindset that when I am choosing to spend time with my kids, it is valuable time. This also means that when I am choosing to spend time on work, that is valuable time. I once heard an interview that was highlighting a dad who had his 3 year old say that she didn’t want him to go to work, and he realized what was most important. WHAT?! No, she’s 3. Yes spending time with her is important, but she has no perspective. It’s just as important that she know her daddy is spending time working so that their family has their needs met. It’s also important so that she also learns to love work. I mean this with the assumption that you don’t become a workaholic. But we also have to realize that work, in it’s proper place, is a great part of life and needs to be seen that way.

 

  1. Parenting ends sooner then you think. Andy Stanley is a preacher and speaker who has a great perspective on this. He and his wife break parenting down into 4 stages. If you stick to these stages, you will have a greater peace about being a parent. If you try to jump ahead or skip a step, you will regret it – most likely in the teen years, the years I hear are the worst but that I am looking forward to. Why am I looking forward to them? Because I’m done parenting by then. I am working my butt off to work through the first 2 stages, discipline and training, so that I have the opportunity to then coach and be a friend to my kids in their teen years and beyond. What I’m saying is parenting is done at around age 12! This perspective has yet to play out for me, so we will see. What if you already have a teen? Is it too late? No! Start shifting your perspective and making small adjustments that let your teen know you are 100% there for them, but you are done trying to correct every error or miscalculation on their part. You want them to make the right choice every time, but they won’t. So offer to be there, but let go of hovering and trying to catch them at every corner so you can make sure they choose correctly. Instead, take the posture of coach. Remind them what you have taught and trained them in and offer to help them figure out how to get back on track, but ultimately it is their choice.
These 4 tips do not lead to parenting bliss. They are a learning process that I am guessing never ends but rather shifts and changes over the years. My hope is that reading through this helps you make a positive shift in your parenting so that you can be committed to the process to ensure the highest possibility of success for your child. In order for them to succeed, you have to stick to being the parent, and in order for you to feel like you have succeeded, you have to make sure you know what success looks like.

I do not have this figured out. What would you add to this? What perspectives on parenting have helped you stick with it through the hard times? How have you hung on when it feels helpless or pointless? Share with us, I definitely want to keep learning.

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 7, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.

5 Tips to Better Listen to Your Teen

5 Tips to Better Listen to Your Teen

All of us that work with teenagers have a difficult task. How do we sort through the noise of adolescent life and glean the important information students are trying to tell us so that we can be a helpful adult in their life? Of course, there is no perfect answer but as I have worked with teenagers for over a decade, some things have stood out as effective listening strategies. Teen Lifeline even uses more than 10% of the time in our 1-day Facilitator Training to talk about how to listen better.

 

To set this up, you will need to set aside some assumptions. First, as adults we have to believe that we do not have all the answers. This requires a daily reminder for most of us and for some like me, multiple times a day. I tend to think the life experience I have equals relevant information for the kids in my house or the students I work with. The problem here is there are too many details missing for us to make that big of an assumption. This is not to say that there is no value to our experience, that is a big part of what we rely on to learn from. I do believe it is true though that our experience is not the most important factor but instead how we handled that experience. That said, we must be willing and able to hear what a particular student is going through (really hear it) before we can realize the most important lesson we can share from what we have learned and model for them the “how” of handling things rather then the “what to do” in a particular situation.

 

Once we have our mindset in the right place, we can move forward with developing our listening skills.
 

1. Don’t be afraid to admit you missed something. As humans, our brains are constantly processing what is coming our way. This includes engagement in conversation with anyone. The difficulty is that it is hard to stop this process from happening since we are wired that way. Since this is true, it is completely appropriate to admit your brain was thinking about something else and you need the person to repeat what they just said so you can make sure you are catching what they are sharing with you.

2. Intentionally pause 15 seconds once the person stops talking. The key here is to do this intentionally, allowing time for the person to be done with their thought. In addition you can use this time to form a response either to summarize what you heard, ask for clarification or offer advice. If you are intentional about this, you are less likely to fall prey to number 1 above.

3. Limit your comments. This takes a lot of practice because we all want to believe that what we think is valuable. However, it is important to realize that it is only valuable if the people you are sharing it with see it that way. If you decide going into a conversation you are only going to speak things related to the conversation, it will help you listen more intently and offer more helpful, relevant questions and thoughts.

4. Pay attention to what matters, not every word they say. If you have worked with teenagers for longer then 6 weeks, you know that not everything they say is important or helpful to knowing what is really going on. That said, we have to work hard to listen carefully and catch the pieces that are most important to focus on those. Once you practice this a few times, it gets easier and you will find you’re able to listen for words, phrases, inflection or even pace of speech that tips you off to what is important.

5. If you can’t listen now, ask the person to wait. As adolescents, and this applies to younger kids too, there is a tendency to just jump in and start talking whether the person is listening or not. At our house, my wife has started handling this very effectively. She will say “I really want to listen to you because you are important, but I can’t right now. Give me a few minutes, and I will focus on what you want to tell me.” Yea, she is pretty good at this stuff!

So now it’s up to you to decide. Is this helpful? Does it bring up thoughts or questions you want to share? Comment below or reach out to us on social media or by email. We want to keep growing, and we hope you do too. If you did find this helpful, take a minute to forward the email, post it online or tell a friend – you don’t even have to give us credit (though we are okay if you do :). 

Ricky Lewis is our Executive Director and has been with us since the beginning. As a father of 4, he seeks to help parents and their kids Live Life Better.