Tag family

The Value of Unplugging

I have a confession to make. I don’t walk my talk all the time. In my defense, I own this often in my writing, public speaking and clinical work. But, it usually bothers me, as I guess it does any of us when we don’t parent in the manner that we intend to. Most of the time I avoid excessive self-reproach and try, instead, to learn what I can from my blunders. This blog entry articulates a fresh example.

I write this on page 199 of my parenting book Working Parents, Thriving Families:

Pick one day each month to have a sedentary technology holiday: During this twenty-four-hour period do not allow any electronic entertainment. Such days allow the other opportunities before you and your family to come more sharply into focus. Who knows, you may decide to try it on a weekly basis!

Ok, here’s the confession: I’ve never done it, until this past week.

The context was a family vacation to Bermuda. Before leaving I was having a discussion with my colleague and friend Karen Osborne. I forget how it came up, but I must have let on that I was considering taking my technology with me. Karen’s eyes got big and she said something like this: “If I were your wife there’s NO WAY you’d be allowed to take your laptop with you! That vacation is for you, your wife and your kids. Spending time with them, and not your email, is what it’s for! That stuff will be waiting for you when you get back. There’s no way that’d fly with me! No way!” I saw instantly that she was correct (plus the fact that she is a gentle person who normally doesn’t take a 2 x 4 to my head unless I really need it) and I knew I could never face her when I came back if I did otherwise. (In case you’re wondering why my wife didn’t serve in this role: she’s run out of 2 x 4s.)

So, I didn’t take my laptop and kept the other stuff off unless it was to plan or coordinate a vacation activity or to take a picture (like what you see below).Image

And, my family didn’t have or use their technology either.

I can’t easily describe for you what a remarkable experience it was to be unplugged. It allowed for much, much more of a sense of focused attention and peace. In a remarkable book called The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle argues the same that that many other wise people, across multiple disciplines and traditions, have argued: being in the moment (instead of the past or the future), is an essential element for experiencing meaning, joy and peace. While technology can facilitate being in the now (e.g., a meditation facilitator, music), most of the time it interferes. In my case, when I’m most plugged in, multi-tasked and caffeinated, I’m like a hyperactive hamster on crack. When I was unplugged, and focused on the beauty and wonder before my eyes, especially my family, I became filled with peace, joy and serenity. And, I was able to feel this way even though I had some heavy duty stresses to deal with at work upon my return (i.e., being in the moment allowed me to keep that stuff out of my consciousness 95% of the time).

So, now I’m going to do this more often. How much more, or how regularly,  I don’t know yet, as I’m still catching up from the backlog of being unplugged for five days (including writing this blog entry on a Saturday morning), lol.

Try it for a day, or half a day, or as long as you can. Turn everything off. Observe your mind then try to go to the past or the future. Watch it trying to do so as you might watch a two year old throwing a tantrum. Then, try not to give any power to your mind’s inclination to do that, and just observe the beauty around you, especially your family. If you can do it, I’d be very, very interested in having you write about your experience here.

Nine Questions to Consider if Your Adult Child Wants to Live With You

Our adult children (i.e., 18 or older) can feel paralyzed, overwhelmed or unprepared when it comes time to transition to the next phase of their lives, whether that is to attend college or graduate school or to hold down a full time job. For this reason, many petition to live at home, or to return home. This post is designed to address some key questions and issues for you to consider in these circumstances.

Parent question: Is there a priority I should keep in mind?

Answer: Yes. The key question is: Does your adult child have a viable vocational plan that stands a reasonable chance of accomplishing effective independence?  If yes, count your blessings and try to keep the other issues in perspective. If no, that is the place to start. There are multiple methods that may be used to create such a plan. For instance, vocational counselors  offer questionnaires that can be useful in narrowing down career choices (e.g., the Strong Interest Inventory). Moreover, if your adult child graduated from college, his or her university likely has a career services center that can help. Former teachers, guidance counselors, professors and mentors can also be invaluable resources.

Parent question: What if my adult child is completely clueless about what she or he wants to do for a vocation. Where is a good place to start?

Answer: Don’t worry if this is the case, as there are millions of adults in the same position, across the lifespan. A key first question is: What are your adult child’s top strengths? The premise is that all humans, barring significant brain dysfunction, have top strengths, or things that they can do in a superior fashion. Resources like the Signature Strengths Survey (www.authentichappiness.com)  or Tom Rath’s book Strength Finder 2.0 can be of help in generating theories regarding your adult child’s top strengths. Once the top strengths have been identified the next question is : What vocation will allow my adult child to execute those top strengths in service to others? Those who effectively realize the answers to these two questions tend not only to have a viable vocation, but also tend to experience great meaning and purpose in their work lives.

Parent question: Okay, let’s say my adult child has a viable vocational plan that requires her or him to live with me for a while. Should I set some rules about chores?

Answer: Most families find it important to have a collaborative discussion about these practicalities, which, of course, is different from a parent unilaterally deciding what the chores should be. You might start things off by creating the circumstance to have an extended discussion (e.g., going out to a restaurant, going for a walk, etc.). Then you can begin by affirming your adult child for the things in her or his life that you appreciate and value. You might then segue into the topic of dividing up tasks as follows: “Of course, whenever adults live together they share the household labor. What do you think would be a fair way for us to divide things up?”

Parent question: Should I charge rent? And, if yes, how should I calculate it?

Answer: There is no answer that can apply equally well across families. However, the more your adult child is working at a viable vocational plan, and the more she or he is scraping by financially, the more I might let this go. On the other hand, the more your adult child doesn’t seem invested in accomplishing independence, or the more she or he has a decent income, the more I might consider charging rent. Of course, how much you charge, and whether you charge at all, will also depend on your own financial health.

Parent question: Should I set a curfew?

Answer: I would not initiate a discussion about this unless a problem has emerged or is emerging. However, if your adult child is coming home at an hour that interferes with your getting a good night’s sleep or if your adult child seems to be developing self-destructive habits, then I would suggest initiating a discussion using the same strategy that I reviewed above regarding chores.

Parent question: What if my adult child does things like leave a dirty dish in the family room or a dirty towel in the bathroom, should I ask her or him to clean it up?

Answer: These sorts of dynamics happen whenever adults live together, no matter what the relationships are. In this context, I would probably try to keep the key issue in mind. That is, if she or he is working a viable vocational plan, and assuming I don’t feel too taken advantage of by cleaning up after someone, I might keep this agitation to myself. However, if you decide it is worth mentioning, I would do so by asking your adult child how she or he would suggest that you handle these situations.

Parent question: Do you have any other guidelines for communicating?

Answer: Remember that for a lecture to change human behavior two conditions must be met. First, the person must not already possess the information. Second, the person must want to receive the information. Hence, when lectures are used to try to change someone’s behavior in a family it is like a carpenter trying to drive a nail into a piece of wood with a screwdriver. There is nothing inherently wrong with the tool, it is just not designed for that particular job. Methods that are much more effective for modifying behavior include expressing empathy, asking questions (i.e., a method used by the best teachers), affirming what you like and partnering in decision-making.

Parent question: Is there anything I should avoid doing?

Answer: Yes, letting your adult child live with you without him or her having a viable vocational plan. I’ve seen many instances of adult children maintaining a vampire sleep schedule while filling their lives with some combination of electronic media, socializing and avoidance of responsibility. These sorts of “secondary gains” make it harder, not easier, for an adult child to experience the riches life has to offer.

Parent question: What should I do if my adult child and I are getting into regular and heated conflicts about these things?

Answer: I’d seek out a mental health professional competent in doing family therapy. It can be a remarkable and rewarding experience to have a well-trained and objective professional help to ease or completely resolve long standing family conflicts. For a referral in your community, click here.

Manufacture Joy: Focus on Gratitude

Continuing on with this holiday series, I will next review the technique of using gratitude. (This is related, but different, from the technique of writing a gratitude letter that I covered earlier in an individual and a family exercise.) When you are feeling grateful you are probably not feeling sad, worried or angry. You are also less likely to be taking people and circumstances for granted. There are a number of techniques you can use to pull this off. Below are six to get you started.

• Keep a gratitude journal. Pick either a day a week, or a time of the day, to write down that for which feel grateful. If in doubt regarding which practice would be a better fit for you, make entries into the journal once a week. Write down simple pleasures (e.g., the sounds of birds chirping, the taste of a sweet piece of fruit, a smile you received), bigger events (e.g., getting a raise, celebrating a birthday, taking a great vacation) and anything in-between (a fun date night, your kid getting a good grade on a test, seeing a funny movie). Not only does this practice focus your mind on uplifting events but, over time, you create documentation of all that which is working well in your life, facilitating a sense of deep meaning and satisfaction. This practice also keeps you from becoming like Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life, needing a miraculous divine intervention in order to appreciate the value of your life.

• Use gratitude as a coping thought. What behavior would you next do if you put on a pair of pants you hadn’t worn in a long time and, upon zipping them up, they felt so tight that it hurt? If you’re like most, your next move would be to take them off and put on a more comfortable pair (though you might simultaneously swear, promise yourself to eat less ice cream, or commit to joining a gym ;-)). Imagine what a silly image would be cast by someone walking around wearing uncomfortable pants declaring “Ouch, these pants really hurt! Ouch! I can’t believe how much these really hurt.” Yet, this is exactly what we do when we allow a painful thought to remain on our minds when it serves no useful function (i.e., not figuring out a problem or grieving or doing something else useful, but just pommeling us into the ground). So, if you find yourself chewing on a painful thought with no value just STOP, and turn your mind to that for which you feel grateful of late. Try to savor these thoughts for at least as long as you’ve been inclined to fret over useless and painful thoughts.

• Use your time in the shower each morning to reflect upon what you are most grateful for from the day before.  If you shower in the evening, focus on the day’s events.

• Go through photo albums or family videos with an eye towards remembering what you are grateful for about those events. Printing out some of your favorite images and displaying them around your life can add more value.

• Create a list of the top 10 things you are most grateful for about your life. Better yet, agree with your significant other or best friend (or both) to create your lists and share them with each other over a lunch date at a restaurant new to both of you.

• Write one thank you note a week to the person you felt the most gratitude towards that week. (It doesn’t have to be a heaping dose of gratitude.) Moreover, keep some thank you cards on any desk(s) you work at and put a weekly reminder in your electronic or paper appointment thingy to complete this task.

The point of this series, which you can read by scrolling down on my home page from this entry down, is to review some of the techniques that the science of positive psychology suggests we may use to lift our moods and enhance our experiences of meaning. I hope you will decide to give some of these techniques a try. And, if you do, I’d love to hear about the results as such will become part of my gratitude ritual!

Manufacture Joy: Write a Gratitude Letter

I thought it might be a good time of year to review a set of strategies that we parents can use to manufacture happiness. I’m drawing these strategies from the science of positive psychology. The first of these is to write a gratitude letter. I first learned about this strategy from a video presentation by psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman years ago and have since garnered a good amount of professional and personal experience with it. There are five steps:

Step #1: Identify a person towards whom you feel a significant amount of unexpressed gratitude. This might be a person who knows about some of the gratitude you feel but not all of it. This gratitude can be recent or ancient. You can also rotate writing a gratitude letter within a family: week #1 is moms turn, then eldest son’s, then dad’s, etc. Then everyone writes a gratitude letter for the person whose turn it is.

Step #2: Hand write a legible letter of about 300 words. Don’t worry about a precise word count, just land somewhere in that ballpark. (The handwritten nature of the letter produces a more personal feel and indicates more effort on your part.)

Step #3: Schedule a meeting with the person, but don’t tell her or him about your letter. The surprise tends to be more impactful.

Step #4: Read your letter to the person. You typically would not want to chicken out and hand it over for the person to read as that stands to significantly weakens the experience. Don’t worry if you get misty or cry as such usually adds meaning for the other person; plus you probably won’t be the only one.

Step #5: Give your letter to the person.

I’ve done this myself, had families do it in my office and offered graduate students extra credit for doing it. I find that just about everyone (myself included) is surprised by how powerful of an emotional experience it proves to be. The research also suggests that the writer of the letter can experience a bump in happiness for three to four weeks afterwards. So, give it a try it and see how much power you have to manufacture happiness in your life and the life of another.

Stay tuned as I’m going to do a series of these strategies and will end with a list of books where you can learn more.

Seven Tips for When Your Child First Leaves Home for College

And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.   Khalil Gibran

The first transition from home to college is huge. Double that statement if the child in question is the eldest. Please consider these seven tips for getting the most out of the experience.

1. Carve out one-on-one time with your departing child and savor those moments. As the wheel turns new and exciting opportunities become available in our relationships with our children. However, we also say goodbye to phases that we will never experience again. Your baby will never again live under your roof as a child. This deserves shared time and reflection.

2. Share the positive thoughts and feelings you are having with your child, including those regarding your impression of the man or woman he or she is becoming. Don’t stop any tears that might well up (plus you probably won’t be the only one)

3. Write a letter to your child that expresses what you are thinking and feeling. Then leave it among her or his belongings to be discovered later.

4. If your child agrees, and it is within your means, set up a method for video conferencing.  Even if you don’t use it much, it can be a comfort to you and/or your child to have it set up. (If you both have iPads or iPhones this can be done through the application FaceTime. Another relatively straight forward choice is offered by www.skype.com.) Also keep in mind that many retailers of computer hardware and software offer discounts to students, though you may need to ask about it to get it.

5. Encourage any siblings your departing child may have to come to terms with what they are thinking and feeling about the departure, and to communicate the positive aspects of such to their departing sister or brother. It can also be mutually meaningful and beneficial for them to author letters, drawings and symbols that commemorate their relationship.

6. Agree on when and where each person in the family will say goodbye. No one wants to be stuck with the sense of having missed an opportunity. Also, if you decide to say goodbye on campus, keep in mind that your child is not likely to want much drama on display for others.

7. Give yourself a huge pat on the back (and maybe even a treat). Your shepherding has been effective enough to land your child in college. Way to go!!

(By the way, if your child is experiencing, or starts to experience, psychological symptoms keep in mind that most universities have a counseling center that offers free or low fee services. If the university has a graduate program in the mental health professions they may also have a training clinic on campus that offers outpatient care.)

Recent Research: Teens Need Parents to Monitor Them

The purpose of this blog entry is to highlight recent research that demonstrates the importance of parental monitoring.

Teenagers not only have brains that are not fully developed in their capacity to control impulses, but they also often have a sense of invulnerability. This is why survey results of risky behaviors that teens engage are often alarming. An example of this is the Center for Disease Control’s just published 2009 survey of 16,410 high school students in the U.S. These are some highlights quoted directly from the summary document:

• Among the 69.5% of students who had ridden a bicycle during the 12 months before the survey, 84.7% had rarely or never worn a bicycle helmet.

• 28.3% of students rode in a car or other vehicle driven by someone who had been drinking alcohol one or more times during the 30 days before the survey.

• 31.5% of students had been in a physical fight one or more times during the 12 months before the survey.

• 19.9% of students had been bullied on school property during the 12 months before the survey.

• 13.8% of students had seriously considered attempting suicide and 6.3% of students had attempted suicide one or more times during the 12 months before the survey.

• 19.5% of students smoked cigarettes on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey.

• 41.8% of students had had at least one drink of alcohol on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey.  24.2% of students had had five or more drinks of alcohol in a row (i.e., within a couple of hours) on at least 1 day during the 30 days before the survey.

• 36.8% of students had used marijuana one or more times during their life. 20.8% of students had used marijuana one or more times during the 30 days before the survey.

• 46.0% of students had ever had sexual intercourse. 34.2% of students had had sexual intercourse with at least one person during the 3 months before the survey. Among the …sexually active students, 61.1% reported that either they or their partner had used a condom during last sexual intercourse.

In a subsequent blog entry I will summarize the results regarding the poor health habits that teens often engage in. For now, we all do well to institute a monitoring protocol that includes knowing, and approving of, the answers to three questions whenever our teen is outside of our eye line:

1.     Who are you with?

2.     What are you doing?

3.     What adult or adults are responsible for monitoring? (Keep in mind that effective adult monitoring might occur from another room in the same house, in the parking lot of an event, or in a restaurant next door. Of course, it’s also important to confirm that the monitoring adult is responsible and shares your values and attitudes about acceptable activities and behavior.)

Sometimes this can be complicated business. For a more thorough discussion please see Chapter Three of my book, Working Parents, Thriving Families.

10 Strategies If Your Child is Addicted to World of Warcraft (WOW)

According to the 2010 Guinness Book of Records, World of Warcraft (WOW) is the number one “massively multiplayer online role-playing game” or MMORPG, with over 10 million subscribers world-wide. WOW is a fun open-ended online game that can, for some kids, become an unhealthy obsession.  If you’ve determined that your child is overly engaged in WOW, consider these ways of responding:

  1. Try to understand what human need is being met for your child by taking part in WOW. Is it to be liked? Is it to lead? Is it to be competent? An effective understanding of the reasonable goal(s) your child is trying to reach through WOW can give you insights into what is being frustrated in his or her real world.
  2. Try to partner with your child in expanding upon the success she or he is having in the real world. This may be socially, academically, extracurricularly or within your home.
  3. If your child has not identified areas of top strengths, use tools like the VIA Signature Strengths Survey or StrengthsExplorer to generate theories about what  he or she might be very good at.
  4. If he or she has not done well with popular activities (e.g., sports offered at school, the most readily available clubs, etc.), try activities off the beaten path, using your child’s interests or insights from the previous recommendation to guide you.
  5. Look for partners in generating plans for increasing your child’s success in life. This might include teachers (most of whom are most willing to help), coaches, family, parents of your child’s friends, etc.
  6. Try to limit your child’s sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day. This is the sound counsel of more than one authoritative body (e.g., the American Academy of Pediatrics). If your child is doing more than this he or she may be missing out on other important developmental tasks (e.g., getting enough physical activity, advancing in reading skills, etc.)
  7. Explain to your child why you are putting any limits in place. This is done not to solicit approval (e.g., “thank you mother for being so wise and self-less in the administration of your parenting mission”), but to be respectful and loving. Of course, this will not typically mitigate passionate objections to the court from your child.
  8. Put appropriate electronic controls in place. Blizzard (the company behind WOW), has parent controls available within the game. Please click here to get started. There are also a variety of controls available either within many computers and televisions, just call the relevant technical support person. Finally, there are companies that sell products that make it easier for you to put controls into place (e.g., www.familysafemedia.com).
  9. Try to make sure that you are your child have at least one hour a week together where all you do is pay attention to your child and value either what your child is doing and/or saying. Called “special time” this involves  a more intense dosing of attention than  “quality time” (i.e., something else typically captures a parent’s attention  during quality time, such as shopping, fishing, etc.).
  10. There is an army of lean-mean-healing machines available and willing to help you in your efforts to help your child. If you find that this is complex or difficult for you to resolve on your own or that your child is having a toxic reaction to your efforts to establish loving controls, consider taking the step of identifying a child therapist to help. One place to get local referrals is here.

Research suggests that effective parental monitoring is one of the most powerful ways to promote resilience, happiness and wellness in your child. Hence, your well designed  efforts along these lines are usually well worth it!

We Parents are Lunatics

I was working clinically for 10 years with kids and their parents before I had my first child. (I now have 3.0 of them!) It would seem to me that the parents I was working with would become temporarily insane some of the time. We seemed to have a good relationship, and they seemed to value the service I was offering, and yet they would sometimes become so easily offended or hurt. THEN, I had my first child and I understood within a day what was going on. We parents love our kids so much that it can overwhelm us. In other words, our great love intermittently makes us parent-lunatics.

Before having my first child, Morgan, it would seem to me that the loving relationships I had in my life were like soothing waves that I could float in or swim with as I chose. However, this love was like a powerful wave that knocked me knees over elbows and took me where it would. I remember thinking, just after Morgan was born, that the love hurt and made it difficult to breathe. I also remember, in my efforts to be a good father, how crazy I acted (e.g., insisting on not being parted from Morgan so that the nurse could care for her, that we use a wipe warmer, etc.). And, if ever I forget about my own capacity for lunacy, I have only to monitor myself for a week or so. 😉

My primary goal in this blog, my co-parent-lunatic, is to support your mission to promote happiness and wellness in you, your child and family. But, in doing so I promise to remember my own lunacy when offering resources and making suggestions. But, this is not my only central promise. In the ensuing days I will review a few other ones as well.

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