Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Wonder Years and Junior High Love

Last night I tuned in to HUB television. It was replaying a few of my favorite old sitcoms: The Wonder Years, Family Ties, and Doogie Howser, M.D.

My daughter was playing on her computer, but we both became caught up in an episode of The Wonder Years.

In it, the two main characters, Kevin Arnold and his friend Paul were plotting on how to get dates for the junior high dance. Kevin, the main character, wanted a date with the most popular girl in school. Instead he settled for a "friend" date with his cute and smart lab partner from science class. While he really was having a great time with his lab partner Linda, she just did not make his heart beat quicker. He says sadly at the end of the episode, "That was the first time I broke someone's heart."

Their conversations were poignant and reminded me of my own junior high years. The funny thing is that my daughter said they sounded "exactly like" her friends.I guess the complex relationships of boys and girls and the pains of growning up and falling in and out of love never really change...

Kids still get crushes.

They still are insecure.

We all still want to love and to be loved.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Facebook Might Be Good for Tweens...

Among parents, social networking sites have a bad name. Parents fear that teens will be posting promiscuous photos of themselves or instant messaging inappropriate comments without parental supervision. And, I suppose, some are.

But I also think that Facebook offers opportunities that are very helpful to early teens who are trying to establish personal identity.

Tweens are those stuck in the middle between childhood and adulthood. They are too old for Santa and too young to drive. They both love and disdain their parents. They might still cuddle stuffed animals, even while trying on eyeliner. Tweens get themselves into trouble with these stretching moments. Some begin swearing excessively – trying to show that they are older, more mature, not just a kid. They get more heavily invested in their peer group than ever before. They step up school activities and spend time alone, in their rooms, on the computer.

Emotionally, tweens are needy. They are faced with the insecurities of changing bodies and hormones and emotions. They are exploring relationships, trying to feel validated by the opposite sex. Physically, they are experiencing enormous changes and sometimes get stuck in awkward phases that seem to go on forever.

For these reasons and more, I’ve been reconsidering the role social media plays for this group. Here are a few advantages that I’ve noted:

1) It gives them a safe place to vent. A tween I am "friends" with on facebook recently changed her status update. She posted that she “didn’t care anymore.” Immediately, she was given responses from her peers. They asked her what was wrong. She filled them in. As it turns out – she was just venting – trying to express the emotions that were bottled up inside of her from a tough day. At this age, pre-teens often feel like they cannot talk to parents. They won’t talk to teachers. Sometimes, in the pressures of school, they can’t even talk to friends. Facebook offers a place where they do feel free to say exactly what is on their minds.

2) It allows them to explore their own identity. Facebook asks users what we like and don’t like. My daughter “likes” Cadbury Cream Eggs. As she checks off her personal preferences, she is establishing who she is an individual. She is taking one step out there – into the world – to say “hey – this is who I am, not who my parents are.” While this self promotion can take a bad turn, it can also start to make a teenager think about who she or he is.

3) It gives parents and older adults a window into their private life. Now, this point is controversial. A colleague told me that she wouldn’t want to have to go to Facebook to see how her son is doing. True. But it is also true that, at this age, kids tend to shut down many avenues of communication with their parents. For the older generation, a peek into a child’s diary was the only way to truly see how their child was faring. There is a classic episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where the mother tells how she used to look in Ray’s diary. Both parent and child are hurt by it. Unlike peeking under a mattress or going through desk drawers, friending your child on Facebook allows you to see the conversations between your child and his friends. While my daughter does not really like me to post on her page, she is comfortable with me messaging her privately or viewing it. In fact, this was a condition of her having a Facebook page. As she has been on Facebook for the past few months, I also like the idea that my daughter has friended and learned to interact with adults in her life in this setting. She sees that they value her and that her community is broader than 7th grade.

Is Facebook without dangers? No. As parents, we all share concerns about privacy settings and the addictive nature of technology. But, it can provide a place for teens to say what is on their mind and to explore who they are – all within the watchful eyes of the parents who love them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yogi Bear and His Cautious Sidekick

Yogi Bear and Bugs Bunny have something in common. They are both cartoon characters, of course. But, they also both have a knack for getting themselves in trouble and coming out unscathed.

In December, a full feature will appear telling the story of Yogi Bear. The movie poster instantly brought back memories of Saturday morning cartoons featuring the loveable Yogi Bear roaming the campgrounds in search of delicious picnic baskets. My family camped at Jellystone Parks as well – distinguished by Yogi’s funny face blown up into huge billboard signs.

Everybody loved Yogi – even though he was up to no good. The same was true of Bugs Bunny. In very similar cartoons, the crazy rabbit would take daring risks and somehow always manage to escape trouble. Things are always exploding on him – but he never dies.

Fortunately, both Yogi and Bugs had side kicks who loved them and looked out for them. Yogi had Boo Boo – his childlike bear companion. Boo Boo Bear is not Yogi’s son, although he is about half his size and is is constant companion. Wikipedia says they have an “unknown relationship.” It also suggests that Boo Boo bear acts as Yogi’s conscience.

In the same way, Daffy Duck follows Bugs Bunny around. While Bugs plunges into risky situations with a big smile and careless attitude – Daffy follows behind him, sputtering and anxious.

What is interesting to me is that both Yogi and Bugs have constant companions who are there complete opposites. The happy, easygoing, risk takers, choose to hang out with those who are worried, cautious, anxious.

That’s true in real life. Isn’t it?

My daughter is a worrier type (and so was I). We both avoid huge risks. We think before we act. We worry about trouble before, and in case, it might happen.

My daughter has a friend who is just like Yogi. She is smiling and happy and carefree. She takes risks that she probably shouldn’t take. She is the kind of girl who will disobey her parent’s cautions – who will shrug off rules – who wants to have fun.

And, strangely enough, she always seems to come out of the situations just fine. Like Bugs Bunny and Yogi Bear, she likes to hang out with my Boo Boo like daughter.

Maybe those types of personalities are drawn to one another because they have a balancing effect. The worrier tames the risk taker. The adventurous spirit excites the nervous one. Yogi is the perfect match for Boo Boo, just like Daffy is for Bugs.

I’m thankful for the Yogis in my life, who have encouraged me take risks and have a bit more fun.

In fact, I think I married one…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Is Texting Trouble for Teens?

A recent study said that teens who “hyper-text” may be more at risk for problems with sex, alcohol, and drugs. By “hyper-text” they mean teens that text more than 120 times a day. Knowing some of the teens that I do – that number does not seem out of reach.

I am sure this news worries some parents, particularly those whose teens have the cell phone in hand during almost every humanly possible activity. I’ve seen teens texting while talking to another person. They text in class. They text on the bus. They text while doing homework. Some text while driving. Communicating through texting has become as natural to them as conversing – and far more convenient.

The study was performed at 20 public high schools in the Cleveland area. More than four thousand teens participated in a confidential survey.

Why is it a cause for concern?

1) Parents do not know how much their teens are texting.

Recently a friend of ours said she received a print out of her 16-year-old daughter’s cell phone use. The detailed bill, for just one week, listed a dozen pages of calls. Her parents were shocked. They had no idea that their child was on the phone that often. How could she have gotten anything else done? What was she saying during all of these texts?

2) Parents who are unaware of texting habits – may be unaware of other activities as well.

There is a concern by experts that hyper-texting is just another symptom of a parent who is uninvolved. I have great sympathy for parents. Staying involved with our teens is no easy task.

Teens, by their nature, are reclusive. They are often at home glued to their computers, alone in their rooms, listening to music or playing video games. Some parents intervene into the teen’s private world – many choose not to. To avoid intervention is to avoid conflict. Parents want to pick their battles – so they sometimes resort to limited involvement.

3) Teens who hyper text are more than three times as likely to have sex.

This study concluded that many teens who hyper-text are susceptible to peer pressure. Texting engages them moment by moment with their peers – and permissive or absent parents may be unaware of the potential influence this presents. Dr. Scott Frank, the study’s author, said, “"If parents are monitoring their kids' texting and social networking, they're probably monitoring other activities as well.”

4) Hyper-texters are more often girls.

5) Only 14 percent of kids said their parents set limits for texting.

Many are disagreeing with this study, but I think it is a cause for concern. As a professor of media, I am aware that no form of media is neutral. It has advantages, but it also produces disadvantages. Texting might be an exclusive and private world that the teen can saturate himself or herself in without interference from parental influence.

Parents of teens who text should take note. There is nothing wrong with setting limits. There are many who have hours for acceptable texting use. Phones can be physically removed from their possession during homework, family or sleeping times.

Kids may not like it when a parent gets involved, but this study does affirm that intervening parents can help produce well-balanced adults.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Movies Worth Watching With Your Middle School Kids

I'm a movie buff.

And, a new tradition in our family is movie night. We love to put a movie in the DVD (or, yes, the VHS player), pop some popcorn, and settle down to watch. My husband and I have enjoyed introducing some of our favorite films to our daughter. This allows us to have a shared culture - things that we reference that she now gets as well.

Now that she is getting a bit older, she is able to appreciate and handle movies that we all enjoy. Here are a few we have enjoyed sharing:

1) THE PRINCESS BRIDE - This live-action film is witty and funny and timeless. The dialogue has great quotes that you and your kids will repeat to one another. It will even work with younger children as there is enough action to keep them entertained. And - it spans both boys and girls. There is love and romance and action and humor.

2) WHAT ABOUT BOB? - This is an 80s comedy starring Richard Dreyfus and Bill Murray. Bill Murray plays a psychiatric patient who suffers from extreme anxiety. When he attaches himself to his new psychologist and the doctor's family, it is both funny and touching. The film examines the issues of hospitality and self image. It also looks at parent/child relationships in a funny and, sometimes, sad way.

3) PLANES, TRAINS, and AUTOMOBILES - This is another 80s comedy starring Steve Martin and John Candy. It tells the stories of two traveling salesman stuck at the airport on Thanksgiving. As they make the journey home, they learn about each other and about how to love your neighbor.

4) PRETTY IN PINK - John Hughes is our 80s favorite. This tale of a teenager on the wrong side of the tracks is about individuality and standing up for yourself in the face of teenage pressure. It says that it is okay to be different - and that, sometimes, things are not as they seem. Parents can decide whether some of Hughes topics are too mature for their middle schooler, but I have found that these subjects are already being thought about by kids this age.

5) BACK TO THE FUTURE - What if you could go back in time? Would you change anything? What if you could see the world that your parents grew up in? Would it change your view of your family? These are the questions faced by this teen who is shot back in time to see his world in the 1950s... It inspired a series of films - but the original is still the best.

6) DEAD POET'S SOCIETY - This is a heavier film with a weightier subject. A school teacher takes on the traditional values of a high-class private boys school. He challenges his students to think out of the box - to seize the day! He wants them to walk independently, to think for themselves. One boy does this, with tragic consequences... A good discussion starter about conformity and about your relationships with authority.

7) OCTOBER SKY - Four young boys decide to build a rocket. This is back in the era of space exploration and is set in a coal mining town. The main character's father does not understand his son's dream. He wants him to settle down and work in the mines like everyone else. How will he pursue what he loves? The story is a great lesson in teamwork and perseverance.

I could go on (and I might), but these were a few that were a big hit in our family... Which ones would you add to this list?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pretty in Pink: Color and Gender

Okay - I have a question and maybe not an answer. In the past two days, two different media outlets made me think about the relationship between color and gender...specifically the color pink.

On one of my favorite train-wreck shows, Wife Swap, I watched women from two radically different homes. One came from a hippie, creative, loosey-goosey home where the dad made money as a clown and the two young boys did pretty much whatever they wanted. The oldest boy - probably about 9 - had hair down to his waist and loved the color pink. In fact, he loved it so much that he always dressed in pink and painted his room hot pink.

The other mom was from a football family in Texas. Her sons breathed football and believed that all cleaning and cooking was women's work. The results were not surprising. The football mom was horrified by pink boy and insisted that he cut his hair and paint his room a "normal" boy color: blue or green.

This little scrawny 9-year-old stood firm. He would not cut is hair, "I like the way it feels when I swing my head." And, he refused to paint his room.

The next day, on Moody Radio, a caller wrote in saying she was very worried about her three-year-old son who wanted to dress up for Halloween as a princess. Yes, a princess - not a prince. Other commentators struggled with whether or not that would be okay. Is it wrong to allow this type of gender cross-over for young boys? Is it harmful? Or, as one person suggested, especially at age 3, is it merely the sign of an imaginative mind?

I have mixed feelings myself. I am less worried about the 3-year-old princess. After all, the princesses are far more interesting in fairy tales than the princes. The princes in Cinderella and Snow White barely have personalities - they just show up on a horse at the end. Actually, all that is needed are their magical lips!

But I was a bit more puzzled by the 9-year-old pink boy. Is that okay? At what point does his bold and nontraditional choice become problematic? Who is more worrisome - the 9-year-old who isn't afraid to buck stereotypes and love pink or the football mom who is threatened by it? Are blue and green truly boy colors? What do we do with boys who don't fit stereotypes?

What if they love to cross-stitch (I knew one college guy who proposed to his wife with a sampler)?

What if they love to cook or paint or sew?

Is it okay for a boy to love pink? Does that mean he isn't masculine?

I think we have to be careful. We must encourage our children to be who they are - whether girls are sporty or boys are creative. However, they also have to appreciate their masculine and feminine, God-given qualities.

It is a careful tightrope on which we walk...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Comes to Life

This woman, who recently won a Chicago contest, is living out my fantasy. She gets to stay for a month in the city's Museum of Science and Industry. She will live there, sleep there, and explore the exhibits night and day.

Why am I jealous? Because, when I was in middle school, I read the wonderful book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. If you haven't read this book - or if your child hasn't - pick up a copy. It is one of my favorite stories of childhood adventure.

A brother and sister run away from home and hide out at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. They survive by getting coins from the fountain and hiding perched on top of toilets to avoid security guards. Such fun!

While this woman might not have the same thrill of escaping - she certainly gets close!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hoarders and My Heart

I couldn’t turn the television off the other night. I had stumbled on the series, aired by A&ETV, that is focused on compulsive hoarding. Now I consider myself somewhat of a pack rat, but according to a newspaper estimate there are as many as six million compulsive hoarders.

Compulsive hoarders are people who can’t stop accumulating and storing possessions. In this particular episode, there were two women who were threatened with eviction if they did not clean up their living spaces. Their homes were so filled by possessions that they had only very narrow passageways through mounds and mounds of boxes, clothing, and even rotting food. The result was an astounding mess that towered over them in a menacing way.

One woman was desperately ashamed and saddened by her situation. She expressed sorrow that her life had gotten to such a state and cried out to Jesus for help. Her friends, relatives, and a professional counselor were called in to help remedy the situation. She seemed eager to start the cleaning process.

But when the day arrived, the task was not so easy. With each item being considered for the trash pile, whether it was a never opened doll in a box, a bundle of old newspaper clippings, or even leftover birthday party napkins, she would vehemently argue against the decision. “I can’t get rid of that!” she would exclaim. “I need that. I have to keep it.”

Her friends and family were tireless, holding up item after item. The counselor was amazingly patient, telling her she could keep some things and attempting to reason with her in others.

But, in both situations, the possessions won. These things seemed to have an iron-clad hold on both the women and their hearts. In the end, their hoarding would cost them their lives, their homes, and their sanity.

When I was a young girl, I read a small booklet titled “My Heart Christ’s Home” by Robert Munger. The author paints a picture of the heart as an actual residence. When Jesus arrives, the owner of the home proudly shows Him each room. At the living room, he says, this is where my guests love to come. You are welcome here. Come sit by the fireplace on this lovely easy chair.

But Jesus didn’t stop with the living room. He wanted to see the rest of the house. And so the owner showed him it, room by room. When the tour was over, Jesus said, but isn’t their one more room? The owner was mortified. How did Jesus know? How did He guess that the tour was not complete?

There was one more room – but it was a mess. It was cluttered with filth and sin. It was a secret place, where only the owner would go. No one else knew about it. How did Jesus?

This story convicted me at a young age that I needed to turn over all of my heart to Jesus – not just the pretty places. As an adult, I recognize that this task is not always easy. There are some sins, some struggles, so private, that we wish not only to keep them hidden, but to keep them. Like the hoarders who struggle with possessions, we hang on to the very sins that threaten to destroy us.

At the end of the story, the owner pleads with Jesus: "I'll give You the key, but You will have to open the closet and clean it out. I haven't the strength to do it."

"Just give me the key," He said. "Authorize me to take care of that closet and I will."

The owner continues, “With trembling fingers I passed the key to Him. He took it, walked over to the door, opened it, entered, took out all the putrefying stuff that was rotting there, and threw it away. Then He cleaned the closet and painted it. It was done in a moment's time. Oh, what victory and release to have that dead thing out of my life!”

The good news of that simple message encourages me still today.

I don’t have to clean out the closet by myself. I can’t . . . I just have to give Christ the key.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Farmville, Faith, and Fallen Sheep

On the morning news, I heard that McDonald’s started a new promotional game targeted to the reported millions of Americans who are playing the Facebook game FarmVille.

The press release says, "Our mission is to connect the world through games by offering consumers meaningful experiences that enhance their game play. Tens of millions of people play FarmVille daily and this unique campaign with McDonald's . . . further strengthens our commitment to delivering high quality in-game brand experiences."

Now, I must stop here and admit something.

I was one of those millions. I once owned a farm on FarmVille.

It started innocently enough. I was checking Facebook, and an update appeared on my wall. One of my friends had just expanded his farm.

“What is that?” my daughter asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. Just a game some people play where you own a virtual farm.
“I want a farm,” she said. “Do it!”

We made the fatal click.

It started with a little patch of virtual land. I could buy pretend seeds, plant them, and harvest them. Innocent enough, right? Even biblical really – the Bible says a lot about seeds.

Then, I found out that I could expand my farm. Seek new territory. Acquire a barn and fences and trees and goats and even a hot air balloon.

Again – nothing wrong with expansion. Look at the Bible. The Israelites expanded into the Promised Land – bigger and better. Abraham went to a far off place to become the father of many nations. And all with God’s blessing!
This was fun! I liked it!

My farm grew to an impressive state. I had at least 100 fruit trees and many cows. In fact, I had so many animals that I had to corral them into fences and buildings. I had to buy a seeder to plant my newly expanded fields and a harvester to keep up with the bounty of crops.

In the meantime, I was being charitable. I was even helping friends.

I was also winning. Farm Ville lets you know how you are doing. I was ahead of many of my friends. I would visit their “so-called” farms – they were pitiful. Little single plots of land with wilted crops.

And I was jealous of some. A married couple I know had taken over Farm Ville. Their farms were amazing and impressive. Nicely arranged. Beautiful barns. Multiple machines. In fact, once I visited their farms, my own seemed insignificant.

Then something terrible happened. My farm got completely out of control.
I had so many cows to milk. I had so many sheep to shear.I had so many crops to seed and plant and harvest that I could not keep up. Things started dying. My crops were turning brown and wilting before I could reach them. I could not keep up this frantic pace.

I was getting physically stressed by FarmVille . . . by my virtual farm.

I knew this was crazy. In the midst of one mad milking and harvesting session, I stopped and asked myself…. Have I lost my mind?

Am I really worrying about a virtual farm that does not even exist? Do I need this stress in my life? I am a busy woman – I work full time. I am a mother. I have a long commute. I don’t have time to be a pretend farmer!

I knew I needed to stop.

Stopping was easier than I imagined. With one simple touch of a button, my farm disappeared. And with it, went my stress. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to just end the madness, just to walk away.

In keeping with the farming metaphor, I think of Isaiah 53:6. The text says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (NIV).

I had indeed gone astray. This was not my intent when I built my farm. It was supposed to be fun! It was just some little silly thing to do with my daughter. How had it gotten out of control?

The New Living Translation says, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own.”

My experience with FarmVille has a parallel with my own life. My life can, at times, be much like that game. It can easily get out of control. Like Isaiah so clearly states, I leave God’s path and follow my own.

Leaving the path is not really a conscious decision. It starts with many, many good things.

I am success driven. I like to be recognized for doing a good job. But personal ambition can have a bad result when I accept a position or responsibility I do not want, simply because it brings me prestige or honor or money. I leave God’s path when I become secretly jealous of a colleague who gets recognition. I leave when I consider an opportunity that would not suit me, simply because it would mean I am successful.

Although I try to be content, I tend to want more. More stuff. More out of life. More money. When will we, like Solomon, recognize the vanity of this never-ending cycle of life? This mistake is common. We are not alone in our chasing after the wind.

The McDonald’s rep says that tens of millions of Americans play this game. Tens of millions! Why?

I think it is because FarmVille reflects our culture. We want to do more, to be more, than what we are or, even, more than what is best for us.

We encourage our kids in this direction. Children today lead incredibly busy lives. They are participating in so many good things- but have we gone overboard? They are asked to join clubs. To play sports. To prioritize academic achievement.

As adults, we want to be the head of the PTA, in charge of that church committee, a leader in our workplace. And with each responsibility we add, our frantic life spins a bit faster.

This pursuit of success can easily spin out of control.

These successful lives we pursue can get so busy, so overwhelming, that individual experiences lose their meaning. In our effort to build our bigger and better farms, we forget about the pleasure of growing one plant.

God calls us to put an end to this madness. He wants us to be counter-culture.

I readily admit it. I tend to be one of those sheep. But there are moments in my life when I have felt the call to stop and question everything.

How do we hit delete when the game of life gets out of control?

It starts with a prayer for help. We need help to stop the cycle. We need help to make changes to our busy crazy lifestyles. We need help to renew our minds and our hearts. We must recognize that no matter what our title, no matter how great our achievements, we are merely sheep, and we are in desperate need for a Shepherd.

For me, for right now, my FarmVille account is staying closed.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Extravagant Birthdays and Extreme Poverty

This week, we will celebrate my daughter's 13th birthday. It is so hard to realize that this little baby we once held is now going to be a teenager.

We will also celebrate our other "daughter's" birthday on the same day.

I have never met her. Noelia lives in the Dominican Republic.

Several years ago, while anticipating Sabrina's birthday, we started supporting Noelia each month through the ministry of World Vision.

This blog, that I originally wrote to air on Moody Radio, explains why:

When Tom Cruise and his wife Katie celebrated their daughter’s 2nd birthday, they spent a reported $100 thousand to commemorate her special day. $45 thousand in food; $17 thousand in fresh flowers and one thousand butterflies to fly around their daughter’s head.

While this celebrity style bash may make seem over-the-top extravagant, I have noticed that many parents like myself feel an increasing amount of pressure to celebrate our children’s birthdays with style. In my suburban neighborhood, it is not unusual to rent a giant air-filled jump tent or a pony for the kids to ride. After awhile, my husband and I felt ourselves getting caught up in this trend.

One year we took a group of my daughter’s friends to a miniature golf and arcade center. The next year, we celebrated with a tour of a donut chain. Since my daughter is an only child, this wasn’t too hard on us financially. It didn’t really bother me until my daughter turned to me and asked, “What are we going to do to celebrate my birthday this year?”

Her question made me stop and think about the values I was instilling in her life.

I reassured myself that my daughter is not a spoiled child. She is generous and kind and undemanding. Yet, the toys that she and her classmates were beginning to want were growing increasingly expensive. Electronic hand held game systems and the games that went with them were pricey. Where would it end?

The world of materialism was quickly encroaching on our lives. I was troubled by the radical difference between my daughter’s suburban life and the lives of millions of children in other less affluent countries.

All you have to do is google “world hunger” and “children” and you will gain much needed perspective.

One site estimates that every year 15 million children die of hunger. The World Health Organization estimates that one third of the world is well fed, one third is under fed, and other third is starving. Nearly one in four people, 1.3 billion – live on less than $1 per day. Approximately 183 million children weigh less than they should for their age – while, in the United States, one of the biggest growing problems facing our children is obesity.

It is impossible to read those statistics and not feel slightly ill at our propensity for indulgence and over-spending. In these economic times, many of us are making adjustments to decrease spending. But, I think an even more radical adjustment must be made in our hearts and passed down to our children. They must not be allowed to grow up and think that they are entitled to pony rides and inflatable jump tents. They must not be allowed to think that every child has such riches.

My efforts to correct this have been stumbling and slow. Two years ago, we began to sponsor a young girl through World Vision. I chose this particular child because she shared the same birthday as my daughter. She is 11, and when she sends us letters she writes about school, her pet goat, her favorite soup, and her church.

We write to her, and my daughter uses a part of her allowance to support her. It has been good for her to understand that there is another girl – her exact same age –who is so different and yet so similar.

World Vision is one of many organizations that offer an opportunity to teach children about giving and the desperate needs of many who share our globe. Samaritan’s Purse does this as well through Operation Christmas Child. Packing a shoe box of gifts for a child in another country – giving in a time often focused on wish lists, Santa and getting, can give our kids much needed perspective.

These and many other worthy organizations deserve our prayers and financial support. But, they can also be useful in teaching our children an important lesson. It is my prayer that our kids will realize the extravagant way that God has blessed their lives. I pray that we can teach them to be thankful, to be generous, and to be burdened for those less fortunate.

Here is a link to World Vision for those of you who might want to start supporting your own child!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Skateboards, Seventh Grade Boys, and Community

I was waiting in the church hall to pick up my daughter from her second youth group meeting at Faith Church in Dyer, Indiana.

After songs and a lesson on Christian community, the kids had been divided into small groups and were scattered throughout the church building to get better acquainted and to discuss the lesson.

This group of six boys were the first to finish "sharing", and I heard them coming before I saw them. They crashed into the main hall, shoving and pushing into one another. They ranged in height from three to five feet, all wearing hoodies marked with Abercrombie or Aeropostale. They carried skateboards and basketballs. Their hair was shaggy - one taller boy sported a white-boy's afro nearly shrouding his pimply face.

A short dark haired boy brought up the end of the group. He looked stressed, his worried eyes were darting back and forth. "Can I use your phone?" he asked. I pointed him to the leader who handed him a cell phone.

"Mom," I heard him say. "Where are you?! I think you forgot me!" At this point, he broke into choking sobs. "Mom!" he pleaded once more. "Where are you?"

He handed back the phone to the leader and melted down. His backpack fell to the floor and he put his head down onto the table to cry.

But before the leader or I could make a move to comfort him, his buddies turned around. Those boys, who one moment before had been intent on heading out to the basketball court, now crowded in to comfort their new friend.

"Hey, dude," said the tall shaggy haired one. "I'm sure your mom didn't forget you."

"Yeah - man," said a short one. "I know your mom. She wouldn't just leave you like that."

The boy continued to sob, losing all sense of his 7th-grade dignity.

"Hey - come on," said shaggy boy. He took the backpack and put an arm around the little guy's shoulders. Together they walked out around the parking lot to look for his mom. As they talked, his sobs decreased just a bit.

Moments later, the leader's phone rang. It was the boy's mom. She was on her way.

But the crisis was over. The lesson on community that the youth pastor had so eloquently expressed earlier in the night had evidently sunk into those boys' hearts.

Their love for one another made the whole room a better place to be.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Flipping for FLIPPED

Rob Reiner has long been one of my favorite directors. He is known for all sorts of wonderful, sentimental movies, like Sleepless in Seattle, The Princess Bride and Stand By Me. My husband swears that Stand By Me is an accurate portrayal of the friendship of young boys, complete with swearing and blood promises and tree houses. I recently showed The Princess Bride to my daughter, and we both enjoyed the sweet sentiment and hilarious, witty dialogue.

Reiner's latest movie, Flipped, held that same sort of nostalgic attraction for me. The setting of the late 50s, early 60s, brought me back to my own childhood and the fears and struggles I had with growing up and relating to boys.

Flipped is the story of a young boy and girl who meet when they are in 2nd grade and attend school together through junior high. When they first meet, the girl falls immediately for the young boy – there is something about his eyes, she says with a swoony expression on her face. The feeling is not mutual. The boy feels that Juli Baker is odd, annoying, and pushy.

The movie quickly shifts to their 7th grade year when Bryce notices Juli for the first time. Of course he has seen her and been annoyed by her his whole life. But suddenly he sees her in a new way– as a girl.

What makes this coming of age story unique is that the story is told twice – from two perspectives. The show flips back and forth from telling the story through Juli’s or Bryce’s viewpoint.

There were a few weaknesses to the story. I found the movie to be a bit slow overall – and I believe this has much to do with trying to tell the tale from two perspectives. While the idea of “he said, she said” is a fun one, it slowed down the story – and I found myself thinking, “Oh no – don’t repeat the whole scene again.”

The characterization also suffered in certain points. While the characters of Juli, Bryce and the grandfather were exceptionally strong, I was bothered by the extreme and off- putting portrayal of Bryce’s father. Played by Anthony Edwards of ER fame, the father comes off as harsh, angry and abusive. I felt like a less over the top portrayal of this character would have been far more convincing. At times, the show would switch its focus to the father or to Juli’s mentally-challenged uncle, and it felt like a distraction rather than an addition to the movie.

Parents will be pleased that this is a movie they can watch with their kids. There is little to hide from here. Other than one uncomfortable outburst of language where the father and teenage daughter exchange over-the-top harsh words, the movie is as sweet as the previews make it seem.

It also introduces great topics to discuss with your kids. Julie’s father tells her to consider the whole of a person and not just his or her appearance. Why are we attracted to people? What qualities can tarnish that attraction? When Bryce wonders about his courage, we can ask: When is it important to stand up for what is right? Why is it sometimes so difficult?

The movie makes you believe in true love and family and friendship. It speaks of giving from the heart and loving when it is hard. It shows families who stick together when times are tough and circumstances demand sacrifice. It shows a relationship between grandparent and child that struggles and then flourishes.

These are good things. And that is why any parent will probably flip for Flipped.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why We Need Each Other!

This year, my daughter will have her first real youth group experience. She is not much of a joiner, neither am I. Perhaps I have encouraged her in this independent direction; we both tend to go it alone. Yet - as a mom and a believer - I know that's probably not wise....hence the youth group.

I am still friends with some of the men and women who "youth-grouped" with me. We have grown older, are married, have kids of our own, yet we fondly remember those days of Capture the Flag, guitar playing, four-square, pizza, and prayers. I highly recommend it...

Here is an article from an online magazine that I contribute to on the value of our church communities:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

National Junior Stress Society

At a recent school open house, my daughter's teacher informed our group of parents, that this year our kids would be eligible for membership in the national junior honor society. To a group of parents of over-achievers (thus, we are most likely over-achievers ourselves), this caught our attention.

She stressed that grades alone would not guarantee our childrens' membership in this society. They would also be required to participate in two in-school and two out-of-school activities in order to qualify. Immediately, our hands shot up. What could they do? How could we make sure our children were deemed worthy by the NJHS?

This worried me.

My daughter already is stressed by school. She finds the workload and expectations of the school's advanced merit program difficult enough. She is one of those kids who puts unnecessary stress upon herself. As much as we tell her to relax, to not worry, to just do her best, she feels a personal pressure to succeed, to be deemed worthy.

She didn't need to worry about an honor society.

We talked about it. We talked about what she could join that would be fun for her. Her teacher, trying to be helpful, signed her up for the Spelling Club. That sounded good to me, too. She is naturally a good, strong speller - she reads like crazy - so that would be a fit, right?

Wrong. She came home with a schedule. Three days a week before school for 45 minutes with a long, long list of words to "study hard" every night and a schedule of competitions. There were warnings about not being late and needing to really commit to this club. Fun? Hardly.

And this was just one activity! We needed to find three more to qualify.

There is something about this pressure that strikes me as very wrong. Here we have kids who are already over achieving scholastically. They are strong students. Why does the school feel the need to push them further? Why do we need to create personalities that thrive on being over busy and over committed? Is this the type of behavior we want our kids to emulate? Do we prize this?

I would rather have my daughter join activities she loves and participate in things that stretch her to make friends and serve others. I am not so worried about any qualifications or any honors at this stage in her life. I want her to enjoy these middle years.

Stress in life comes soon enough. Let's let our kids be kids for awhile. Let's let them slow down, take a deep breath, read a book, take a walk, daydream, giggle and play - and enjoy being in middle school.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Bittersweet Honesty About Life and Such

Recently, I received a review copy of Shauna Niequist's soon-to-be released memoir/blog style book - Bittersweet. I loved both the topic (thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way) and the cover photo with its crumbly chocolate cookie. While this is a bit off topic, I am including a review for my blog readers, many of you in your 20s and early 30s, a few who are moms, and all of us women who have experienced the rocky bittersweet moments of life that Shauna writes of in her book.

Shauna's writing makes you feel like you have joined an inner circle of really cool 20-something girlfriends, the type of friends who are at different stages of single, married, and mom-life, yet still squeeze in time for blogging, freestyle impromptu Italian dinners, and long talks over chai tea. Her book is equal part reflection, honesty, advice, and food. She made me hungry, not just for the bounty of farmer's markets, but also for those types of friends who can linger over coffee and bare their souls with one another.

Perhaps my favorite chapter was her writing on friendship. As I finished it, I sighed, wiped away a stray tear, and made another resolution to call all of the dear women who have drifted out of my daily life (you know who you are). She writes:

"Share your life with the people you love, even if it means saving up for a ticket and going without a few things for a while to make it work. There are enough long lonely days of the same old thing, and if you let enough years pass and if you let the routine steamroll your life, you'll wake up one day, isolated and weary, and wonder what happened to all those old friends. You'll wonder why all you share is Christmas cards, and why life feels lonely and bone-dry. We were made to live connected and close . . .

So walk across the street, or drive across town, or fly across the country, but don't let really intimate loving friendships become the last item on your long to-do list. Good friendships are like breakfast. You think you are too busy to eat breakfast, but then you find yourself exhausted and cranky halfway through the day, and discover that your attempt to save time totally backfired."

So true. And, I can add as a woman who is at least a decade or so Shauna's senior, it doesn't get easier when your kids get older or your career is more established or you get married or you have more money. It is always hard and always worth it.

Shauna speaks some rich truths here. I found her honesty touching and refreshing. My only critique is that it feels, to the reader, as if one has stepped midstream into her life story. While I treasured many of her individual essays, the overall story line sometimes left me a bit lost and confused. I'd love to hear more of her backstory and the overall circumstances of her bittersweet mood at the beginning of the memoir so I could better appreciate the role faith played in her life.

Thank you, Shauna. Now I must go and find my long-lost girlfriends...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Charlie's Angels and Brave Women

When I was in junior high, all of my girlfriends wanted to look like Farrah Fawcett-Majors, or at least copy her blonde shag hairstyle.

Her tragic death after a long battle against cancer made me reflect on my school-girl admiration of the tv star.

Farrah Fawcett played Jill Munroe in the 1970s television show Charlie’s Angels. Her character was one of a trio of female detectives – young adult women who were smart and strong and brave as well as beautiful. They could drive fast cars, solve complex crimes and outrun men. They didn’t let fear or villains stop them. Although I was definitely much more fearful of danger, I admired those women.

I was also a fan of the Bionic Woman played by actress Lindsay Wagner. Her character, Jaime Sommers, was noted for her amplified hearing, a greatly strengthened right arm, and the ability to run faster than a speeding car. She also happened to share my first name.

While these two shows certainly did not have a profound influence on my life, they did shape my idea of what a woman should and could be. Growing up as I did in the 70s – girls were trying to redefine themselves. Who were we meant to be? What type of roles should we fill in society?

While young girls in my generation were starting to be told that we could do anything and be anything we wanted – our main toys were still domestic or beauty-oriented items. We played with Easy Bake Ovens and dressed our Barbie dolls in the latest fashions.

For me, Wagner and Fawcett represented a different kind of woman, one who could break stereotypes and be more than just a pretty face. These women were taken seriously – and could look good doing it. They didn’t have to choose between beauty and intelligence – they could have both.

As women, we often get mixed messages about what it means to serve God. The brave missionaries I heard about as a young girl were always men like David Livingstone and Jim Elliott. While in Sunday School, I marched like the infantry, and sang songs like ”Onward Christian Soldiers,” rarely did I hear about brave, daring women. The ideal Christian woman that I read about in stories was demure and modest, quiet and submissive.

But the Bible is filled with strong women. Esther defied the King and saved her people. Ruth lost her husband and still braved the fields alone to care for her mother-in-law. Deborah was the only woman to hold the office of Judge for Israel, when no man was willing to fill the position. Rahab risked her life to save the Israelite spies from certain death.

Like these biblical heroes, the youn g women I meet in my teaching career at Moody Bible Institute are an assorted group. Some are quiet and delicate, others are artistic and unconventional, still others are strong and athletic. Yet, each of them have been called by God and have bravely answered His call for service.

I guess we are a bit like Charlie’s Angels after all. We too are agents on a mission. We are serving an unseen Boss and facing a dangerous enemy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Making Music with Our Kids

When I was about eight years old, I started taking piano lessons with Mrs. Van Den Bosch.

I don't remember too much about how she looked. I do remember that she made me sit up very straight, curve my fingers like an egg was resting beneath them, and gave me gold stars if I did well.

Mrs. V was psychic. She knew when I did not practice. Like other students, I sometimes thought that the piano playing I did at the lesson itself would suffice. She could tell, and my chart had shameful glaring empty spots where those cherished gold stars should have been.

The funny thing about my piano lessons was that my dad was an excellent piano teacher. He just couldn't teach us kids. We would whine, refuse to cooperate, or get hurt feelings when he tried to correct us.

The same thing has happened with my daughter. For the past four or five years I tried to teach her piano. I'd get out my beginner book and eagerly show her Middle C. She would be bored and frustrated. I'd get upset and give up.

One of my facebook friends is experiencing the same problem. A music major in college, she has been unable to teach her own son to play. Should she pay someone else to teach him what she knows how to do very well herself? I think this is a common problem. Sometimes there are too many family dynamics involved to administrate the discipline needed to learn a new skill.

While I almost gave up on teaching piano to my daughter, at age 12, in the midst of long summer days, she has decided to learn. The songs in the piano primer are beneath her at this age: "Little Indian Chief" and "Drip Drop Rain" don't hold the same excitement as other tunes on her IPod, but she is loving it and learning quickly!

I am a firm believer that learning music is good for kids. It teaches discipline. It balances structure with creativity. It gives them a talent to take pride in. It helps them appreciate other great musicians.

We'll see where this goes. But for now, I'm morphing into the Mrs. Van Den Bosch of my childhood.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Rite of Passage: Girls and Teen Magazines

There is a scene in the movie Aquamarine where two teen-age best friends are trying to teach a mermaid how to interact with boys.

“Here is our Bible,” they proclaim, laying a stack of magazines on her lap.

“Yes,” says the other girl, in a hushed reverent tone. “Seventeen magazine.”

The girls explain that this glossy packet of paper will tell the other-worldly creature everything she needs to know about how to dress, how to do her make-up and (most importantly) how to get a boy.

The top teen magazines now are Cosmo Girl, Seventeen, and Teen Vogue. A recent online issue of Seventeen teases with the following provocative topics:

• How Should You Do Your Makeup for School?

• Is Your Summer Love Just a Fling?

• How Should You Update Your Fashion Look for Fall?

• What Will You Be Known for in High School?

I have heard many critics of these magazines, myself included, say that the publications put too much of an emphasis on things like outward appearances and boys. I agree. Yet, a quick scan of women’s magazines yields a very similar result. Perhaps the magazines merely reflect what we worry about or like to read about: decorating, relationships, losing weight, or dressing fashionably.

We can read about serious topics, yes, but when we flip through a magazine we may just want frivolous topics that aren’t too demanding. We want to be inspired. We want ideas. We want to see what how the latest style or haircut could transform us. It is fantasy. Escapism.

More troubling to me about teen magazines is the way the editors choose to insert more grown up topics in amidst girlish concerns. They make it seem like all teens are worrying about sex or how to please their boyfriends. Frankly, a great portion of their readership may not be ready for those topics. I remember the age 16 coming and going without a boyfriend in sight.

Even so, most girls like to read above what would be recommended for their age level. So the readers of Seventeen are probably more like 13. Thirteen year olds do not have the same issues as 17-year-olds, and they may not be ready for those topics. Do the editors know their actual reading audience?

The middle-school years are really caught in the middle. These young women are too old for Disney and American Girl and probably still a bit too young for Teen Vogue and Seventeen. They are getting braces and pimples and just starting to think that boys might not be so dorky.

Last Christmas, I picked up a copy of Seventeen to possibly purchase for my daughter. I am thankful I stopped to read the table of contents. Just between an interview with Miley Cyrus and a quiz on best friends, was a fairly frank article on sex. Parts of the magazine would have been fine for her. Other parts, certainly not.

Are teen magazines harmful or a right of passage for young girls? Both, I’d say. They can introduce topics before girls are ready. They can give a limited point of view.

But they can also help girls wade through the confusing culture of girlfriends and fashion and self awareness. They can help them begin to see themselves as a young woman.

** I must note also that there are alternative choices out there for young girls, but they are harder to find, usually more expensive, and less accessible. Brio, a former favorite, is in transition between publishers.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Pine Trail Camp" - How Summer Camp Changed My Fifth Grade Life

I am adding a link to my summer memoir essay that is featured in this issue of Catapult online magazine. The theme is "Summer Days." I hope you check out this great source for creativity and thinking about Christianity and life.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Media Girl Hits the Trail

Last week we went camping in Door County, Wisconsin. While the campground does have very sluggish wi-fi access at the main station, it is a bit harder for us to be electronically entertained. The small 12-inch tv we have only gets one channel on a good day. So our evenings are filled with staring at a campfire instead of cable.

Being a brave mother, I decided to drag my 12-year-old along on a hike in the Peninsula State Park. My husband and I love the scenic views and woodsy, rocky landscape. We had explored these trails a bit as a couple, but never with my daughter.

Now I must admit that neither my daughter nor I are athletic types. Our favorite Door County outings usually involve shopping for clothes or fudge. But, it was a gorgeous day, and we decided (with a bit of pushing from Milt) to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the northern woods.

We hiked two trails: The Minnehaha Trail – a .5 mile easy walking beachside stroll – and the harder 2-mile Eagle Trail – noted for cliff trails and somewhat dangerous drop-offs. When we were done, we found that the trails let us off 2 miles from where we walked our car – thus another long hike back to the car.

I’m proud of Sabrina. She did it. No Gameboy. No Computer. Just her parents and the beauty of God’s handiwork.

Let’s do it again!

Milt conquers the trees...

The end of the easy trail, the beginning of the hard one. We were still smiling!

These are the things you miss when you are looking out of the window of a car. We saw such beauty all around us...wild mushrooms, enormous trees, a tiny babbling brook. It made me want to sing a hymn.

Milt was daring enough to walk into one of the caves. It reminded me of Tom Hank's movie Castaway.

Oh no - these signs weren't very encouraging. Sabrina thought there should be nice uplifting ones, like: Keep Up the Good Work! or Hang in There!

A fresh water brook coming right out of the rock.

Amazing limestone bluffs...

Daughter and Dad take a break.

The fabulous lakeshore...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Webkins and Neopets: How Can Parents Limit Computer Time?

They seem harmless. A fluffy pink rabbit and a spotted plush cow. If you are a parent of anyone under the age of ten, you know about Webkins. These adorable creatures - hundreds of them - come with a printed tag and code that unlocks a computer world designed just for kids. Each time they buy a physical plush toy, the code unlocks a virtual pet. The web-site - some of it educational and much of it just for fun - teaches kids about saving and buying and caring for a pet. It also creates a desire for more pets and more points - thus more computer time.

When my daughter moved past Webkins - she moved into Neopets (with a few other sites in between). Neopets is a larger site - also with accompanying real-life collectible items. On Neopets, you own one to four virtual pets that you need to feed and care for. The site is filled with games and battles and strategy. It has a chat option for those over thirteen. My daughter was instantly hooked. She loves Neopets.

We do not battle over too much tv time in our house - we battle over computer time. Especially in the summer, with no school to distract her, I find that limiting computer time - especially from these very addictive, time-consuming sites, can be difficult.

Here are a few tips to pass on - maybe you can add some as well:

1) SET TIME LIMITS - Since she is in middle school, I suggest a time limit I think is appropriate - and we discussed it. We negotiated a bit to find a limit with which I felt comfortable. Some sites say 30 minutes a day. In the summer, that seems a bit too stringent for us. My daughter is an only child - and sometimes outdoor play is not really an option. So each family should set its own limits.

2) ENFORCE REWARDS/PENALTIES - I have offered rewards (in computer time) for volunteering to help out around the house or participating in physical activity. We tend to get out of the house more and go for walks (the dog loves it!).
3) GET ON THE COMPUTER YOURSELF - I join the same sites that  my daughter does. I am on Neopets - I learned what it is - I have an account. This allows me to see what she is doing and to appreciate the fun and dangers of the site. It also increases communication between us - I have learned to care about what she cares about.

4) MOVE THE COMPUTER - Don't allow the computer user to retreat into too private a spot. We moved our daughter's computer to the kitchen table. This allows us to casually glance at what she is doing and to monitor the time use.

5) ALLOW THE NOVELTY TO WEAR OFF - Finally - I've learned to allow some excessive time when a new game is purchased. This can happen with both adults and kids - we tend to be most desiring of a game or activity when it is new. With time, we often reduce time and enjoy it in much more moderation.

6) ENCOURAGE OTHER ACTIVITIES - I must admit that the computer and television and electronic gaming are a good thing for parents. They allow us to have some peace and quiet. They reduce the "I'm bored" comments. Be prepared to do more with your kids as you limit electronic media time. You might have to come up with a things to do list. One year we had a box that we put activity ideas in. We would draw one per day in the summer and do the activity together. Have them help you cook a meal or organize a closet. Cleaning out my daughter's closet also allows her to rediscover old toys.

Helping your kids set limits now will help them use media selectively as an adult!

Here is another helpful article:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

TV Shows You Can Watch With Your Kids

When Sabrina was little, there were some shows that she loved - and I hated. Some of them made me want to poke my eyes out. Barney - for example - somehow charms every child and horrifies every parent. Even worse for me were the Teletubbies. Dipsy and Yoo-hoo - or whatever their names were - were spooky brightly colored aliens who bounced across a creepily deserted landscape with a baby peering out of a giant sun. Of course, my daughter loved them. She even had little creepy tubbie dolls. My husband also mentioned how much we hated The Big Comfy Couch and Bananas in Pajamas. While I enjoyed the cartoon Spongebob Square Pants - I had to be sitting down and watching it. If it was on in the background, the voices made me want to climb the walls.

But there are some shows we have both enjoyed. I love when we find tv shows we can watch together. Here's my list. Add yours!

1) Project Runway - We both enjoy the fashion creating. We like the odd characters and the mentoring of Tim Gunn. I think this even inspired both of us to buy sewing machines. (similar favorites include: Top Chef and Design Star).
2) Mythbusters - It is like science class gone wild. This is a show even my husband will stop and watch. Things exploding, people being lifted by balloons, deadly spiders...what's not to like?
3) Cash Cab - This quirky show is all about trivia - in a New York cab. The questions are tough - but we enjoy trying to get the answers before the contestants get booted onto the street. (Jeopardy, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader also make my list.
4) Everybody Loves Raymond. Family comedies are fun - especially family comedies where people of all ages are included. Raymond appeals to my daughter and to my 83-year-old mother in law. It works for all of us.
5) Gilmore Girls - This is a boxed series that we were given as a gift and immediately became addicted to. While my husband can't stand it (too much talking for him) - my daughter and I fell in love with the quirky characters and the town. It also inspired some thoughtful conversations about dating and parenting and sex. We actually have watched it twice in a row...time to take a break and find a new series!

What shows have you enjoyed watching with your kids?

What shows couldn't you bear to sit through?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Miley's Wild Ride

Some of my more conservative friends have been posting grave concerns about Miley Cyrus's new dance video  "I Can't Be Tamed" which shows the tween star in a black feathered bondage looking outfit, dancing in a cage. The MTV style video is filled with gyrating dancers and slick moves that push the Disney singer far beyond her 17 years.

The conservative blog Culture and Media Institute wrote a piece titled "The Miley Cyrus Efffect" - the author notes, "Cyrus’ new music video, “Can’t Be Tamed,” has already received over 5 million hits on YouTube and featured Cyrus in a tight one piece leotard, dancing in a cage along with others similarly dressed. Parts of the dance are suggestive and sexual."

The media - which is normally noted as being open to a more liberal viewpoint - has reacted to Cyrus's new look as well. The Culture and Media Institue continues: "Even the media has noticed Cyrus’ inappropriate dancing. She is set to perform on the popular television show, 'Dancing with the Stars' and reports have surfaced that producers have told her she must keep her dancing G-rated."

But the author also expresses a point that I would like to question. She says, "When girls see Cyrus and their other favorite actresses and singers behaving like that, it normalizes the behavior."

I watched Miley's video. I found it a bit disturbing and not a great showcase of her talent. But I wondered whether or not my 12-year-old would be negatively effected by Miley. Should I hide this type of video from her? Will it ruin her? Will it, as the author above suggests, make her believe that such behavior is normal?

As a parent, should I be concerned about Miley and her cage dance?

I talked to my daughter about it. While she is not a huge Miley fan - we had gone to see her two more recent movies and enjoyed them. I told her about the video and asked her what kids were saying about it. She replied, "Miley is not even talked about at my school. Nobody cares about her anymore."

Sabrina and her friends have moved on past the teen stars that Disney thinks they are listening to. Her Ipod contains songs by singers like Owl City and Taylor Swift. Her tastes are maturing. She is learning to think for herself.

I think that sometimes the influences we adults most fear are not really influences at all. I also think that teens have some ability to separate an artist from her work. For example, just because I loved some of Madonna's songs in the 80s didn't mean that I endorsed every outfit or dance move she exhibited in her videos. I could like the song "Just Like a Prayer" without worshipping Madonna herself. To me these were separate issues.

If our teens are emulating everything a star does and says without discretion, we have a problem with our communication within our own home. A part of being a parent is being able to teach discernment. We need to grow our kids in their ability to move against popular culture - not accept every trend that is presented to them.

I must admit that I am concerned about Miley. To me, she seems to be following in the footsteps of other over-exposed child stars. Their fame seems to be too much too soon. Their desperate search for a new adult identity - apart from the child icon they were marketed as - seems to drive them into inappropriate life style choices. I will continue to watch her as she sorts all of this out.

But I will also keep the conversation open with my own child. What is she listening to? Who does she admire? How can I help her sort through what is good from what is popular?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bedtime Stories

When my daughter was little, I read to her every night.

We read Junie B. Jones, Charlotte’s Web, Lemony Snickett, The Chronicles of Narnia. I loved the stories. They made us laugh and wonder and sigh and sometimes shed a tear. But as much as I loved these books - I loved the time with my daughter the best.

Some nights I was almost too tired to do it. But it became a tradition, so I’d squish onto her bed – she’d snuggle in – and we’d read and read and read.

Now she reads on her own – sigh. Sometimes we read the same books – but not as a nightly ritual. We enjoyed the Harry Potter series together –but she sped by me and was rereading while I was still finishing the first go round.

So it is particularly sweet that I am reading a story with her now: The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo. I heard Kate speak at a recent writer’s conference and found her completely charming. I decided to buy this book and try for one last reading ritual with Sabrina.

Last night, as she leaned in on me in her flannel pjs, I smelt the top of her head and hugged her close. Reading words aloud has a certain magic, almost like the wonder of a 12-year-old who is almost too grown up to read a bedtime story with her mom.

Almost, but not quite…

Friday, April 23, 2010


I was walking in downtown Chicago. There are these little plots of grass that help soften the cement world that is the city. In one of these plots there were tiny sprouting bits of grass seed - trying valiently to make their spring appearance. On top of the seeds were crumpled pieces of paper, an empty water bottle, a discarded cigarette.

A man was working with a pointed stick - clearing the litter off of the struggling grass. There was a trash can just four feet away. Why do people throw litter on this little bit of growing grass when they could so easily discard it in the right place? Don't they know that they will kill it?

I was thankful for the litter clean-up man.

Because I have kids and media on my mind, I couldn't help but compare. Aren't our kids a little like those struggling grass seeds? They are trying to grow and flourish, trying to establish who they are and what they will become.

The media can bring messages that are good and challenging and nourishing, but it can also bring trash. It can weigh them down needlessly with too much information, with really bad examples, with pressures to be people they aren't ready to be. Some try to make our kids grow up too fast or learn too much, too quickly.

I guess it is my job to be help sort out the bad stuff. My daughter might not realize that the latest hottest movie or web-site might hurt her. I know parents can't prevent it altogether - but it's our job to watch.

We are the clean-up people...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cool Girls Books

I was just at the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing. I had the chance to hear a lot of writers talk about their work - why they got into writing - what motivates them and challenges them - what they are afraid of and why they do it even when it's hard.

One of the writers I heard was a young woman named Jenny Han. She writes young adult fiction. I bought a copy of her book Shug for my daughter. Jenny is much younger than I am and already has three published books with more on the way (I must admit I am a bit jealous).

At this session, I learned (from an author's perspective some of the challenges these authors face when writing for our kids.

1) The vampire, dragon, fairy trend is all-consuming. Not all of the authors want to write about vampires or dragons, but they feel the pressure.
2) They are often reluctant to write about faith - not because they don't have personal views about God and religion, but because publishers or booksellers are afraid it won't sell.
3) They care about their readers. They try to set good examples. These girls were worried about the language they were using in their books and the situations they placed their characters in.
4) They were funny and real and charming. I loved Jenny's book. As she read a passage - I heard a real voice that sounds like real girls that I have met. I laughed out loud at some of her quirky humor. I wish I had books like that when I was young.

Thanks Jenny and friends for writing great books like these! I hope you keep at almost makes me want to be thirteen all over again.

To see Jenny's book go to this link:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Break 2010

OK - this one's a short one...

Last week, my husband, daughter and I went to Florida for spring break. We wanted to stay part of the week at Daytona Beach, since my husband absolutely loves the place. He likes it 1) because he wants to relive his 1980s youth and 2) because they allow cars to drive on the beach.

We wanted to stay near the boardwalk and near our favorite little sandy seafood restaurant, the Ocean Deck, which is located right on the beach. Its doors open right onto the sand and we would often walk right in and order a plate of oysters...enjoying the sun and view of the ocean.

We checked in late - our plane didn't get in until 8:30 pm - so it was almost 11 pm by the time we reached our hotel. I chose the Mayan Hotel out of all of the 100 some hotels listed for Daytona Beach. Wrong choice... We were met at the parking lot by a security guard who said, "Are you sure you want to stay here?"

At check in, we were handed a notice that said in bold block lettering that we were not to open the bolted balcony doors, no balcony swinging, no letting underage drinkers into our hotel room. Oh boy...

Then the fun started. We got up to our room on the 6th floor (ocean front with no ocean access due to the bolted shut windows and doors). We were directly above the biggest college spring break party in Daytona. Six thousand drinking teens were crowded on the beach along with a huge blow up beer bottle and loudspeakers.

The music was so loud that we couldn't hear the television. At first, my 12-year-old thought it was pretty least when they played songs she knew. Then the HOTTEST A** contest began. We heard every blow by blow on microphone, punctuated by the dj screaming "PARTY!!!! SPRING BREAK 2010.... LET's GET *****!"

As we lay in the dark, waiting for 2 am when the police would close down the party, and quiet the crowd, I had to smile. Here I am writing a blog on media's influence on our kids, and I just exposed my own child to a wild and sometimes explicit drinking party. I guess we can't prevent everything. And somehow I think she survived it.

I think I survived as well... At least I definitely slept better the next night in the "older people's hotel" down the street.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Barney to Miley: Why Marketing is Scary

Walmart has a new line of clothing splashed with the name of Miley Cyrus. The line appeals to my 6th grader, even though she is thoroughly sick of Hannah Montana.

She used to love Hannah when the show first came on the air. She faithfully watched the Disney show, and we bought her a Disney marketed nightgown and lunch box. But the madness didn't stop there. Soon there were Barbie type dolls with Hannah's face, board games, clothing, accessories, shoes. Everything was Hannah Montana. Even my daughter was sick of it. They had marketed Miley to death.

The Hannah situation is nothing new. I started to catch on to this ploy early in Sabrina's life. I think the first was Elmo.

Sabrina watched Sesame Street when she was just a baby. I thought it was cute that they made a little plastic bowl with Elmo's face on it. Then I bought her an Elmo nightgown. We found a fuzzy red chair with Elmo on it. Soon, my toddler who couldn't even walk through a store could spot Elmo toothpaste from eight aisles away.

"I want that!" she'd cry, her little face lighting up with joy. "Elmo!"

Of course, I bought her the toothpaste. Little did I realize the problem I was buying in to. I've realized now that it never ends.

The parade of characters that have sold me stuff are endless: Elmo, Barney, Blue's Clues, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Pokemon, even Harry Potter.

When we went to Japan, I was excited to get my daughter away into a different culture. We would be far away from Barney toothpaste and Hannah nightgowns, right? Wrong. Actually, Japan seems to have amped up the marketing craze that we live within in the United States.

My daughter was in her Pokemon stage at the time. I was trying to hold her down from spending too many precious dollars on collector cards and Nintendo games, when our plane landed in Tokyo and then in Okinawa. Even on this remote island in Japan, Pokemon was literally everywhere. The little yellow pocket monster appeared on ramen noodles, soy sauce, packs of dried fish, gum, even on the front of a local nursery school.

"You like me?!" Pikachu practically squealed. "You'll love my stuff!"

Maybe it is a part of being a kid today that our love for childhood characters is linked to products like cereal and toothpaste. But it's kind of a shame.

It seems to take away the magic and imaginary play of characters like Winnie the Pooh and Anne of Greene Gables when you slap their beaming image on a polyester nightgown.

It makes it seem like a popularity contest - the character with the most stuff wins. It encourages buying and accumulating and materialism - all of the nasty habits that we, as adults, try NOT to pass on to our kids. And it starts so young!

I don't really know a way around it. Maybe if we could ban our children from stores until they reach the age of 13? Or maybe it's just a matter of trying to keep our own indulgence of their desires under control. We live in a buying, purchasing, marketing world. It is easy to get absorbed into it, and to teach the habit to our kids.

Tough time to be a parent...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Taylor Swift to Lady Gaga

Do you know what your kids are listening to?

Recently, I had a discussion with my Communications students at MBI about the ways media is influencing their lives. One constant topic is the way media has become convenient and all-consuming. Probably the majority of my students carry some sort of phone. Most of them own Ipods. They are constantly tuned in, plugged in, connected in some way to outside influences.

This even affects my daughter who is in middle school. While she is not yet allowed to have a cell phone – although she wants one – she does have an Ipod. So do most of the kids on her bus. On that Ipod she has about 200 songs. Most of those I have heard – probably there are some I have not.

Children in this generation have more access to private media than ever before. What do I mean by private? I mean media that they can access or listen to as individuals – apart from their families. They are making these choices independently – in the privacy of their own rooms – on their own computers.

As parents, especially as Christian parents, this makes our job increasingly difficult.

When I was in junior high and first getting interested in music, we bought record albums. To my daughter – this seems like ancient history – but to me it seems like only yesterday. The first album I really wanted – and was not allowed to buy – was by Billy Joel. My parents screened what I listened to and purchased – and they could do this easily. At that time – lyrics were printed on the album. My parents – after reading a few mildly controversial words in Joel’s lyrics, decided not to allow me to purchase the album.

Today’s parents have a more difficult task. The choices our children make are more difficult to track. More and more of our kids have access to media in their rooms or even in their pockets. They carry it with them. When my daughter downloads a song onto her mp3 player – it is easy for it to go straight from the computer to her ears – with little interference or knowledge on my part. It takes work for me to know what she is choosing.

One parent started taking away her daughter’s cell phone at night when she intercepted a sexual text from her daughter’s friend – a boy. While the two weren’t dating – she realized that the type of talk that was going on in private between friends, was crossing lines.

Our kids have computers in their rooms and on their laps – some have access to the internet on their phones. They are registering for facebook and other social networking sites when they are underage. They are posting pictures we would consider inappropriate.

Parents must resist the trend of just letting this happen. We need to be more vigilant now than ever before. We must be aware and involved in our children’s lives and be conscious of the choices they are making.

While I don’t always particularly enjoy my daughter’s taste in music, I find that it is a good idea to have her plug in her Ipod and let us all listen to it once in awhile. If the music is played for parents, it will most likely be chosen with that in mind.

Some parents have limited computer use to the family room – where a parent might be walking by at anytime. The parents of the teen who was “sexting” as it is called – began to keep the teen’s cell phone in their room after 9 pm.

This influx of media has brought many good things into our lives – but there are dangers, too. As parents, we must be always on guard, doing our job to help our children learn to filter what they hear.