Thursday, August 23, 2007

Out of Town

Randal Wright will be out of town for the next two weeks celebrating his 35th wedding anniversary. He does not have access to the internet as he had planned and is disappointed that he will not be able to write for a couple of weeks. Look for his new posts starting on Sept. 2

Tuesday, August 21, 2007



Lack of support is a huge problem in our society. For example, I received the following from an individual while conducting research on families. "My parents did not support me in the activities that I was involved in. When I was grown I asked my mom why she never came to any of my games in high school. I played volleyball, basketball, tennis, track, softball and was on the dance team. She said that I never invited her. I never once saw my dad at anything that I did. They were detached emotionally and did not care about the activities that we were involved in. That was disappointing."
Our daughter Naomi once worked for an organization called Support Kids. The company has one main purpose- to track down deadbeat dads and get them to financially support their children.
This lack of support has grown to an epidemic stage. USA today reported, "While only 3% of Americans default on their car payment, 49% default on child support, and 97% of the defaulters are fathers." (USA Today, Thursday March 9, 1995, 11A). When my daughter and those she worked with tracked down these non-supportive fathers and legally forced them to start paying what they owed, an amazing thing often happened. Many fathers got involved in their children's lives in more ways than just financially.
In many new subdivisions, we often see small trees planted in the front yards. Usually they have two metal rods driven into the ground on either side of them with a wire attached to the trees for support from the wind. Our children are a lot like those small trees. They need support to hold them up. This support is especially needed when they are young. Our responsibility as parents is to be the steel support rods. Without the support rods attached, these small trees would be uprooted when the first strong wind comes. Children are in a highly dangerous situation until they develop their own strong roots. The word support has several , meanings: 1. to bear or hold up; 2. to sustain or withstand weight, pressure, strain, etc. without giving way, and 3. to maintain a person with the necessities of existence.
It is obvious that supporting our family has far deeper meaning than just providing for them financially. Family support means to attend their games, performances, talks, ordinations, ordinances, awards, etc. It also means to lift them when they are down and cheer them up when they are sad. Our role is to be a support to family members to keep them from falling. When parents do not support their children before their roots are deep, many negative consequences may follow. Consider the feelings of a young high school basketball player, who did not feel the support from his parents:
"I'm the star player on the school basketball team, but never once has either parent come to see me play. They're either too busy, too tired or can't get a babysitter for my younger sister. The crowds cheer for me, the girls hang around my locker, some kids even ask me for my autograph. But it doesn't mean anything if the two most important people in my life don't care." (the adolescent, F. Philip rice Allyn and Bacon, Inc. Boston, MA 1987, p.476)
In this case, the young man did not feel supported because his parents did not attend his basketball games. He, therefore, interpreted this lack of support to mean his parents did not care about him. Surely he was incorrect in his assumption; however, that is how he perceived it. Children can suffer from more than just physical hunger. There is an emotional hunger that they crave. Children often long for support from parents, siblings and friends. When this need is not met, serious consequences can follow.
When people go through the everyday trials of life, they need support from their family and friends. When they don't get that support, resentment can develop toward those who fail to give it.
How do you show your children support?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Comments on Physical Affection

Comments on Physical Affection

“The biggest mistake I feel my parents made was not showing their love with hugs and kisses. I feel like this held ups hack a lot.”

“My mother always kissed my father and each of us when we returned home at the end of the day. I think this helped give me confidence to fact the challenges in my life.”

“Very seldom did my parents show any kind of affection towards one another. There was always a cold, distant feeling between the two of them and still is.”

“My dad was never very affectionate or vocal about his love, but I knew by how hard he worked for me and his willingness to serve me. While I wish he had told us he loved us and hugged us more, I never doubted his love for me.”

“My father was very reserved in his relationship with his four daughters. My dad says now he wishes he had hugged and held us more. Too many fathers keep at a distance from their children for fear of accusations of abuse or because it is not ‘manly’ to show affection. Children need lots of APPROPRIATE physical love from both parents.”

“My parents both spent time with us loving, hugging and praising us for what we did good.”

“I always knew that my single mom would have kind words to say, a comforting hug and a shoulder to cry on; now that I think about it, the only way that she was able to deal with the things that made her cry was in helping us deal with our much smaller struggles.”

“My father expressed his feelings of love for each of us often and gave us appropriate physical hugs.”

“I have fond memories of sitting in my father’s lap and feeling safe and secure. I always got affection from both parents.”

One thing my parents did right was to show us love. Hugs were normal in my family.”

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Physical Affection: Day 4

In the Knuz and Dyer landmark study on effective families they asked parents the following question: Q. How do you express love in your family?

Effective Families

Telling them we love them 97%

Do things for them 96%

Hugging 94%

Tell by writing or phoning 91%

Kissing 85%

(Effective Families, pp. 80-82.)

In 1990 I took my two boys to a high school basketball game between two powerhouses vying for the championship of an important tournament. The game was being played at the basketball arena of Lamar University. The team we had come to see was Lincoln High School of Port Arthur who had won five Texas State 4A championships in the 1980s and was the number-one team in the state at the time. Their opponent was the number five ranked 5A Beaumont West Brook, led by 6’ 5” Luke (Lukie) Jackson Jr. He had basketball in his genes since he was the son of 6’ 9” Luke Jackson who played on the Olympic basketball team that won a Gold Medal at the 1964 summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. The father also played for the NBA champion Philadelphia 76ers as a teammate of legendary Wilt Chamberlain. I was sure that this former NBA all star would be in the audience that night watching his son along with many college recruiters.

The game was very exciting and both teams gave it everything they had. West Brook held the lead from the beginning of the game, thanks to a huge game by Lukie Jackson. Then, with just a few seconds left in regulation play, Lincoln tied the score, and the game went into overtime. The West Brook team was able to gain a one point advantage over the opponents. It appeared they would hold the lead to win the game. However, with less than 30 seconds to go, a Lincoln player drove to the basket and was fouled by Lukie. He made both free throws, and Lincoln won the game by one point. It was sad to see this young man who had played so hard, scored so many points, commit the foul that cost his team the game against the defending state champions.

I wondered what his dad was thinking. Would he yell at his boy for making a costly mistake with a few seconds left in the game like so many other dads do? Lukie was visibly upset on the sidelines and not talking to anyone. Finally he looked up at someone who was walking toward him. I looked to my left and saw a huge man walking towards the dejected player. It was his Luke Jackson. When his son saw him coming toward him he actually started walking towards his father in the isle. I wondered if he would get the tongue lashing that so many sons receive in similar situations. When they met, Luke threw his arms around his son, and in front of thousands of people, held him tightly, patting him on the back and quietly talking to him. I watched this touching scene, wondering what I would have done had he been my own son. After the long embrace ended, Lukie's countenance changed and he ran back down to the basketball court. He looked as if his team had just won the state championship. He was smiling and happy as he went over to congratulate the winning team. I don't think I've ever witnessed such a change in attitude in such a short time. Maybe this incident confirms a statement made by Dr. Harold Voth: a psychiatrist with the Menninger Foundation who said, "Hugging can lift depression. It breathes fresh life into a tired body and makes you feel younger and more vibrant. (Readers Digest, Sept 1989, p.114.)

Do you think Lukie loves and respects his father? Do you think he was more inclined to listen to his father's counsel after that game? Lukie went on to stardom at Syracuse University. Our children can go on to stardom also in whatever they choose to do if they truly know that they are loved.

Make a commitment today to show family members that you love them by giving them appropriate physical affection. From these simple acts many remarkable benefits will occur. Our children will have added self-confidence that is desperately needed to be successful. Burke Peterson said: “Impossible mountains are climbed by those who have the self-confidence that comes from truly being loved. Prisons and other institutions, even some of our own homes, are filled with those who have been starved for affection.“ (Ensign, May 1977, p.) When children know they are loved they will be better able to withstand the tremendous temptations that they will surely face.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Physical Affection: III

Dr. Elizabeth R. McAnarney: director of adolescent medicine at the University of Rochester Medical School said, "Adolescents need touch to facilitate communication and convey caring. When children are no longer held and comforted by their parents, they may turn to their peers instead. There is almost no data on this, but I wonder if the increase in very young teenage pregnancy comes from the need to be held. They may be using sex for a nonsexual purpose." (‘A Case For Chastity", National Family Institute, 1994 p.45.)
Many fathers quit hugging their daughters when they are adolescents. After all, what would people think of a father hugging his teenage girl who has become a young woman? They may think that there is something inappropriate going on. In reality, not expressing appropriate affection may be related to the very thing they were trying to avoid.
William G. Dryer and Phillip R. Kunz commented on this subject by saying: "Certainly the absence of ways to express physical affection appropriately must be related in some way to the shocking rates of father-daughter incest in this country and the widely publicized correlation between homosexual men and emotionally aloof fathers. Some serious family specialists have encouraged more appropriate physical affection between dads and their boys, dads and daughters and other members of the family." (Effective Families, pp. 80-82.)
After a presentation to a group of teenagers in a Midwestern state, I visited with several youth and their leaders while waiting for my ride to arrive. I met two high school age girls who had been in attendance at the youth camp. Knowing I would probably never see them again, I expressed to them how much I enjoyed being at their conference, gave them a brief hug, and told them I loved them.
After returning home, I received a letter from one of these young girls. She said, "I thought you might want to know how much it meant to Misty and me when you talked to us after your presentation. It really made us feel good that you cared enough about to talk to us when you really needed to leave. And whether you knew it or not, we were touched so much when right before you left, you hugged us and then on top of that you said, 'I love you.' That meant a lot to both of us--thank you so very much." I wondered why this simple act of affection meant so much to this young sister. It began to make more sense as I continued reading her letter.
"When I got into the car, my father was angry about something, and he started degrading everyone. He didn't want to hear about our youth camp or anything that had happened. This really upset me, as I loved the program. It hurt me so much that I couldn't stop crying from 12:30 to 3:00."
She went on to describe her dad as a very good man, but one who had a bad temper and was very cold, showing her little love and affection. She doubted if he even loved her. I felt very bad for this young girl, and I began to realize why a simple hug and saying "I love you" meant so much to her. I fear for her, and all young girls in similar situations if a young man comes along and shows inappropriate affection.
Before we are quick to judge this father, let's ask ourselves if our own children really know they are loved. Oh sure--we say they know, but I have a strong feeling that my young friend's father really loves his daughter and just has a hard time showing it. He probably doesn't even realize his daughter has any doubts. When we do not express love to family members through hugs etc. they may question our feelings for them. Children need love, affection and kindness from their parents to feel secure.

In what ways do you show your children that they are loved?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Love: A Basic Human Need

Love: A Basic Human Need
All of us have a basic human need to feel loved and appreciated. One powerful
way to express love is through appropriate physical affection. When children are
given this affection they often feel secure, loved and worthwhile. When family members
do not get affection in the home, they often go out seeking it. And of course, there is
usually someone who will gladly give them physical affection. Unfortunately it is almost
always an inappropriate type of affection that will damage them instead of protect them.
Unfortunately, many have trouble showing love and affection. This problem is especially true of fathers. In research conducted among high school students the following question was posed: “How often does your father/mother show you physical affection (kisses, hugs, etc.)? The results of this survey were disturbing. “Only 24% of fathers showed their children physical affection on a daily basis. Mothers were better but still only 49% gave daily physical affection to their children.” (American Youth Survey, 2001.)
Often this lack of affection is passed on to the next generation, which creates a vicious cycle, which is very hard to break. After a presentation on the power of love and affection I received the following note from one of the participants:
“I am 80 years old, born in into a good family. My grandmother was the daughter of a prominent leader, but I never heard grandma say the word love. My mother was the second of eight children. I was the second of three. I never saw my mother and father hug or kiss. I was raised during the depression. My father was a traveling salesman. He would sign his letters, “oodles of love” but that was the only time I ever heard or read that word.
My mother died at 97. I visited her every day the last seven years. She never said, “I love you” once, and I never said it to her. Mother had never ever hugged or kissed me. I kissed her casket -- first time. I am the mother of five sons and one mentally handicapped daughter. She is the only on I can hug and kiss.
My husband was very starved for any physical affection too -- he took his own life. All of this I now realize that I was starved for some physical affection. Keep teaching this message. Thank you!”
This lady and her husband were both starved for affection. The consequences in this home are very sad. As we read closely, we see that this lady, who had no affection from her parents, gave none to her own family members. In this short message we see that the lack of affection tradition has been carried on for at least four generations. I hope that her posterity is able to break the cycle and show affection to their children.
The consequences of this failure to give family members appropriate physical affection are many. One of great concern is the tendency for those who do not have this basic human need met to be sexually active in inappropriate ways.
The following statement by a thirteen-year-old girl is chilling: "When my father stopped hugging me, I decided I could either tear up the beautiful book he had given me for Christmas, or I could kill myself, or I could try to get hugs from someone else," says Janie, thirteen, who recently had her first sexual encounter. "I finally decided to get a boyfriend." (Is Your Child Flirting With Sex? Kathleen McCoy, Reader's Digest, Sept. 1989, pg. 114). Why do you think her father stopped hugging her? This young girl obviously felt that her father no longer loved her when he stopped hugging her. I have a feeling that her assumption was totally off base.
I read Janie’s statement to a group of parents and teenagers in a southern state a few years ago. After the talk, a beautiful young teenage girl came up to talk. She said, “Every night since I was born my father came into my room and laid on the bed beside me and talked to me. We laughed and shared meaningful experiences together every night. He often counseled me and encouraged me to live a good life. Before leaving, he always hugged me, gave me a kiss and told me how much he loved me.” Then she said, “Last year he quit coming into my room and he has not came back in once.” I asked her how old she was. She replied that she was fourteen. Then this young teen said, “Sometimes I just want to take him by the shirt and shake him and tell him that I still need that.” Is this young girl in danger?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Physical Affection

Physical Affection
A few years ago I attended a talk given to about 350 teenagers by a very popular youth speaker. The message was well presented and the youth seemed to respond positively. However, the speaker’s strong point was not what he said that day. I noticed he had a unique ability to radiate love for his audience. After the class ended, something happened that puzzled me a great deal at the time and for months following the experience. I saw several teenagers going to the front of the room to talk to the speaker. I noticed that instead of the traditional handshake, the speaker hugged each of the youth, patted them on the back, and told them how special they were. At first only a small group of teens got this special attention.
Then something very unusual happened. Those leaving the building noticed what was happening at the front of the room. Most turned and went to stand in line for their opportunity to "talk" to the speaker. A long line extending along the wall to the back of the room formed with youth waiting their turn to get a hug and uplifting words from this dynamic teacher. Many of the teenagers actually burst into tears after their short embrace. Puzzled, I asked myself why these youth wanted to meet the speaker and why so many were emotional after a short embrace. Was it the talk he had given? The talk was very good, but I had heard many great youth talks but none had produced an outcome like this.
As one young man walked away from his embrace in tears, I decided to talk to him. He had a fake earring and bleached blond hair that stuck out about eight inches in the front. He appeared by all outward signs to be struggling a little with his self-worth. I asked him why he was so emotional. He replied with emotion in his voice, "I don’t know. I guess I have never felt love like that before in my life. I wondered to myself if this young man was an orphan. How could he have gotten a five second hug from a brother that he had never seen before felt love like never before? Where do his parents fit in this story?
It was obvious that it wasn't just the talk that had such a dramatic effect on the youth that day. It was the physical embrace and the words of encouragement from the speaker that got to their emotions. After talking to many of the youth I think I have a better idea of what happened that day. I believe that those who were most visibly affected by the speaker’s show of affection were those not getting enough in their own home. I wondered if there was a connection between little or no affection in a youth’s home and the high rates of immorality in our society.
Failure to give appropriate physical affection to family members may lead them to seek it outside of the home in inappropriate ways. One young woman summed up the problem with these words: "Never once did I see my mom or dad show any physical affection towards each other. There was no hand holding or kissing in front of the family. Neither did my father ever once hug or kiss me or tell me he loved me. I think it was the same for my siblings. The only time I remember my mother giving me a brief hug was when I was leaving for college. I think we were all starved for affection and went seeking it outside the home."
We live in a very challenging time. Our children will face temptations and trials that many of us would never have imagined in our day. It is not just the drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography, inappropriate media, cliques etc. that they must deal with. Think also about the fear of rejection, weight issues, peer pressure, homework, education plans, career choices, dating, etc., etc. More than ever they need a friend. But in an effort to have our children better than us, we often point out their faults.
I read a university research report many years ago that estimated a typical teenager hears ten negative comments for every one positive. One of my friends told me that on her son’s fourteenth birthday, she was pointing out a few things he needed to work on to become a better person. He finally asked, "Mom, is there anything you do like about me?" Of course, there is great danger in all of this. If children are getting bombarded with pressure out in the world, the least thing they need is to question whether they even have a friend at home or even if they are really loved.

In what ways so you show your children physical affection?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Communication Comments

Communication Comments

“My family communicated a lot! We talked about everything and my parents always knew what was going on in our lives. If we were struggling with something they knew about it, they made it their business to know.”

“My parents spent long hours talking one on one with me, my dad was especially good at prying things out of me that would not usually mention. They knew what was going on in my life, and were or at least seemed to e genuinely interested in it.”

“One thing my family did well was to allow for open input on family policy. Though my parents always had the last word, my thoughts were heard and respected as valid, even as a young child. It taught me that my opinion mattered, and that I was an essential part of the family as a whole.”

“My parents always had conversations with us about everything. That is how they established the best friend relationship with us especially when we were teenagers. If we had a problem we were to come and sit with them and tell them what the problem was. We had such great respect for our parents because they taught us how to respect and they respected us.”

“I think the biggest thing my parents lacked was communication skills. We never felt we could discuss anything we wanted to with them. So I think because things like drinking, drugs, boys, changes in ourselves etc. were not openly discussed at home we sought the information from other sources. When we faced challenges it often took weeks to get up the nerve to discuss them with our parents.”

My parents could have done better at communicating with us. I often felt alone with my problems and didn’t have anyone to confide in. We kept things to ourselves and hid our struggles. We didn’t learn how to deal with problems very well and tried to push them aside and not acknowledge them.

“We were not comfortable talking to my parents about sensitive issues. They always seemed to busy.”

“We never really talked to my parents or to each other. We always seemed to be a bother to my parents. You know—a child should be seen but not heard.”

“My mom never gave me a chance to speak but would always et very angry and I just grew to resent her. So the main thing I’m trying to say I my dad made it possible for me to talk to him and feel loved but not my mom.. I wanted to be a better person and not do anything wrong because of him. I didn’t care what my mom thought and just felt like rebelling more when she would get mad at me.”

“My mom always kept the communication lines open. Even now I can talk to her about anything.”

“I always felt as if my parent were my friends and that I could share anything with them, even though I kept some things to myself.

“My mom was wonderful! She was the one we knew we could trust our secrets with and were always able to talk to her about anything. I remember staying up until 2:00 am some nights just talking to her. She would always listen and offer advice if needed.”

“My parents were very open and not judgmental when we talked to them about particular issues we faced. Because they did that, we were more open to talk to them and they knew what was going on in our lives.”

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Judgement and Evaluation: Roadblock to Effective Communication

Judgment and Evaluation: Roadblock to Effective Communication
Several years ago my 6-year-old cousin Casey was playing her first year of girl's softball. During the game she got a hit and ended up on 3rd base. When the next batter came up and hit the ball, Casey made no effort to run toward home plate. She just stood on base like nothing had happened. Seeing this the coach desperately tried to get her to move home, so she would score. He began yelling loudly, "Go home, Casey, go home!" He repeated this message several times, getting louder and louder, but Casey remained on 3rd base. Finally, the coach looked in disbelief as Casey ran from her position on base to her mother in the stands. She was sobbing. When her mother finally calmed her down, she asked Casey what had happened. Her daughter's reply was, "The coach told me to go home!" She hadn't understood that he meant home plate instead of home. Learning how to communicate effectively is hard work and takes a tremendous amount of effort to master.
One of the major barriers preventing people from communicating deeply with others is the fear of the reaction or the evaluation and judgment of the listener. Many words describe the tendency to judge and criticize. Some include ridicule, condemnation, harsh judgment, threatening, lecturing, analyzing, disagreeing, warning, ordering, preaching, name calling, withdrawing, blaming, mocking, put-downs, insults, sarcasm, silence, pouting, rubbing-in, destructive teasing and laughing at mistakes. Isn't it interesting how many ways there are to judge and put people down?
Imagine for a moment that a beautiful new museum is to be built in your area. The excitement builds as the ground is broken and construction begins on the two-year project. You drive your family by frequently to see the progress that is being made. After about a year the walls go up and the building begins to take definite shape. One day you Great Uncle Ernie, a retired building contractor who helped build several museums in large cities, comes to visit. Your family proudly drives Uncle Ernie by the half finished museum being built in your city. Everyone is shocked by the response he makes when he sees it. Instead of giving praise or showing excitement over the progress, he begins to severely criticize the building and the grounds. He says, "This is the museum I have ever seen in my life. It doesn't look anything like other museums in America. It doesn't have any grass or flowers out front; it doesn't ever have a front door!: "But Uncle Ernie," you say, "it is still under construction. One day it will be a beautiful museum with grass, flowers and even doors." But he does not listen. He continues, "Look! There isn't even a parking lot. They have lumber strewn all over, and they even have an outside toilet." As you drive away Uncle Ernie is still mumbling criticisms about the new museum.
What would you think about his response? Most of us would say that Uncle Ernie has lost his mind! Of all people, a building contractor should be able to understand when a building is still under construction. Can't he see that the museum is not finished? But before we are too quick to judge him, think about our own children who are also still "under construction." How often do we treat them like Uncle Ernie did the unfinished museum?
Parents want their children to be better than they are and so try to point out things that need to be corrected. But if we are not careful with our words, all that is emphasized are the character traits and habits that the youth are still working to develop. With this criticism and judgment our children tend to clam up and relationships are damaged and communication lines destroyed. Parents, of all people, should realize how difficult it is growing up. Why would anyone constantly criticize them because they are still a little rough. The next time we want to criticize or belittle one of our children, think of Uncle Ernie. Instead of criticizing, we should patiently listen to their questions and dreams and carefully teach them. Remember these youth are not born with blue prints to guide them. It is up to experienced parents to help teach them proper behavior.
Only when there is assurance of understanding and a complete lack of judgment or condemnation will children feel safe to let down their guards and really communicate. Think back on the conversations you have had with your family during the past week. Were there times when your words, expressions or the tone of your voice were used to embarrass, accuse or belittle? How did it make your children feel? Burke Peterson said: "Criticism is a destroyer of self-worth and esteem. It is demeaning and cutting." (CR, Apr. 1990, p.106.)
Each child should feel free to express pleasant emotions, such as love. Each also should learn to discuss the frustration and bitterness that may develop in day to day living. Each needs to feel secure enough to bring out and discuss how he feels and why he feels this way without fear of rejection. Acceptance requires that we value each family member as he is and not how we would like him to be. When there is assurance of understanding with no condemnation, then the groundwork is laid for progress. This understanding helps a child comprehend and accept his own behavior, problems or weaknesses. Understanding contributes to a feeling of relief that can be therapeutic. It helps build self-control, independence and confidence, the mainsprings of moral choice and decisions. As children feel their own worth, they become free to further express their feelings and questions. How many of our children are in desperate need of help, but fear asking for it? Of course, it's not just the fear of criticism that holds them back, they struggle with many other fears. For example:
Fear of Hurting Others--Some children are so constituted in their makeup that they find it very difficult to risk hurting another person. This may be due to a great need for approval from others. Such a prospect can be a traumatic thing for many. "I would like to tell Mom and Dad what it's really like being a cheerleader and the temptations I face, but I'm afraid it would hurt or frighten them if they knew how I felt."
Fear of Loss of Acceptance--Many youth think that their fears, weaknesses
and short-comings are greater than anyone else's. They feel that if these things were exposed, they would be rejected or would damage the image held by their parents. This fear is very real and intense in some. There has to be a strong assurance of acceptance and love before youth are willing to communicate to another person these deep feelings that have been carefully hidden. It is a great challenge to achieve this level of trust. What a comfort to be able to tell another the happenings in one's life that have resulted in guilt feelings and a condemnation of one's self and have the listener give the same love as before. Being accepted helps us accept ourselves, and self-acceptance is basic in generating the hope needed to change behavior.
How do we react when our children share confidences, fears or regrets? Are we judgmental? If so, there is a good chance that our children will hid feelings that need to be shared. We need to be careful not only with verbal messages that convey lack of acceptance, but the tone of voice we reply with. Many are sensitive and may misunderstand our meanings. Remember your children are a lot like the unfinished museum that Uncle Ernie criticized. They are still under construction.
One very judgmental father said the following to his teenager after being very critical of him: "Son do you know what Abraham Lincoln was doing when he was your age?" No dad I have no idea but I do know he was the President of the United States when he was your age." I challenge all of us to be less judgmental and more understanding with our children. If we will not evaluate and judge them unfairly they will be much more likely to open up and share their true feelings with us.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Electronic Media: Roadblock to Effective Communication

Electronic Media: Roadblock to Effective Communication:

The teenaged daughter of a prominent psychologist was asked by a teacher what she most wanted from her parents. Without hesitation she replied, "I would most like to be one of my father's patients, so that he would have time to talk and listen to me for a change." This young girl expressed a growing problem many families are facing in our fast-paced society. Our world is full of distractions that tug at our time and energy. Only those who make a concerted effort are able to spend quality, one-on-one time with their children. In order for effective communication to occur, we must first make time for it to happen.
Unfortunately for most fathers, the years when children most need to communicate openly is also the time when they are working the hardest to provide materially for their families. Mothers also are entering into the work-force in ever increasing numbers. Approximately 60% of all mothers in America currently work outside the home. But her responsibilities also continue at home--housework, cooking, help with homework, taxi service for music and dance lessons, sports activities, etc. At the very time when the need for meaningful communication is at its highest, it is often at its lowest.
A study at the University of Michigan showed modern parents spend very little quality time communicating with their children. The researchers found:
· Working mothers spend an average of 11 minutes of quality time on weekdays and 30 minutes on weekends.
· Fathers spend even less quality time with their children—an average of eight minutes a day during the week and 14 minutes a day on weekends.
If this research paints a true picture, then most families are being totally distracted from the open communication that has been identified as one of the most important factors in creating effective families. In order for communication to take place, the listener must be available when the person desiring to communicate is in the mood. If a child must wait for an extended period of time, the desire to communicate will pass and a golden opportunity lost.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock to quality communication in our day is electronic media. We are immersed in it. Not only do American homes have plenty of electronic media available, it is heavily used. National studies have shown that the average American spends four hours a day watching TV or 28 hours weekly. One study found that a typical 8 year old will have already spent more time watching television than they will in an entire lifetime in meaningful conversation with their fathers.
In all too many families children go to bed at night without having any quiet time or meaningful verbal interchange with their parents or siblings all day long. Isn't it interesting that most parents not only allow huge amounts of time to be taken away from family communication by the media, they provide the money and means to make the distractions available. Many parents place no limits whatsoever on the amount of time they or their children spend with the media. Researcher Urie Bronfenbrenner made this profound observation:
"Like the sorcerer of old, the television set casts its magic spell, freezing speech and action, turning the living into silent statues so long as the enchantment lasts. The primary danger of the television screen lies not so much in the behavior it produces, although there is danger there, as in the behavior it prevents: the talks, the games, the family festivities...through which much of the child's learning takes place and through which his character is formed. Turning on the television set can turn off the process that transforms children into people." (The Plug-In Drug, Penguin Books, NY, NY, 1985, p. 141)
We have one time through with our children to get it right. There is no going back and repeating the child rearing process. No matter how much we sometimes like to we cannot take a 19-year-old and make him three again, so we can do a better job raising him. Our future influence and opportunity will be in a much different role. Following are a few suggestions that may help us avoid the distractions that hinder our family communication and take advantage of the time we do have:
While speaking to a large group of parents and teenagers in Redmond, Washington I told them how electronic media had invaded our homes and limited quality communication. I ended with the following questions. To the youth I said, "If I were to promise you a great learning experience for seven days, do you think you would be able to leave your parents for the week?" Every hand appeared to go up. Then to the parents I said: "If I could promise you a great learning experience, would you leave your teenagers for seven days?" Again the response is appeared to be unanimous. Then I said, "You say you can leave each other for seven days. Now, can you leave the electronic media for seven days? I challenge you to go without any electronic media (TV, movies, radio, Ipods, video games etc.) for seven days. Spend the week talking with each other and participating in family activities." I wish I would have had a video camera to capture the reactions of the audience members. Most of the audience looked to me like they have just been given a long prison sentence. In the end some actually accepted the challenge. I asked all who participated to record their daily experiences and send me a copy when they completed the challenge. A teenage girl said, “I have never had so many meaningful conversations with my parents before in my life.” One mother went home and had all of her children keep the 7 day journal. She helped her five-year-old daughter by recording what she said at the end of each day. These are her words:
Day 1: "I went the whole day without TV and radio and cartoons. I spended my day playing inside, coloring and playing with my brother.
Day 2: "I'm sorry I slipped today. I watched a little "Nintendo" at Leo's the neighbor's). I feel sad.
Day 3: " I didn't watch any TV. I won't let Linda (another neighbor) turn on the TV.
Day 4: "I didn't watch any TV. I feel happy. I played at the park. I met some new friends -- Kelly, Lacey and Mariah. I colored in my coloring book.
Day 5: "We went to another park to day. We saw animals and a brand new bunny.
Day 6: "I didn't watch any TV cause I wanted to be good and do what my mom said. I did not watch Saturday morning cartoons, because we went out to breakfast at the park. Tonight we went to see a play -- it was different than TV -- I like plays better. We went to the library to get me some reading books. I read about a cat that was fat.
Day 7: "We read books and had fun. I've learned to be happy without TV. It gave me some time to do some other things. God doesn't want us to watch too much TV." (Lindsay Witt - Redmond, Washington.
It usually takes a total media blackout before we can really realize how much this modern day distraction has invaded our homes. Almost everyone who has taken the seven-day challenge has experienced a dramatic increase in the amount of family communication and activities. Effective communication is a learned skill that takes time and sacrifice to develop. It must be planned with distractions eliminated to be worthwhile, but the results will be well worth the sacrifice.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Are you Listening?

Are You Listening?

One of the most frequent complaints from children today is that their parents simply do not really listen to their ideas, accept their opinions as relevant, or try to understand their feelings and points of view. Children want parents to listen to them in a sympathetic way. An old Indian proverb says, "Listen or thy tongue will keep thee deaf."

Most of us have experienced times in our lives when we felt no one was listening. There aren't too many things that make people feel as frustrated as to have someone walk away in the middle of a sentence, or read a newspaper while they are talking, or start talking about another subject immediately following a comment without acknowledgment. It shouldn't be hard to imagine the same frustration and perplexity our children must feel when we fail to listen carefully to their messages. How often I have heard teenagers I have worked with say, "My parents never really listen to what I have to say." Or, "I can't talk to my parents. They just won't listen to me." The psalmist described these parents: "They have ears, but they hear not." (Psalms 135:17)

Communication means to impart, to convey, to make known. It involves an interchange of thoughts, opinions, facts, and feelings. Too often conversations between parent and child are not communication at all, but one way directions or commands. Yelling "How many times have I told you to clean your room," is not considered a healthy interchange of thoughts.

All children have questions, and they need to go somewhere for answers or to just talk. They need to know that someone will carefully listen to them. If parents respond with a "go away, don't bother me now" attitude, they will go elsewhere, or they will quit sharing their feelings.

Many may not even be aware that they are sending off the "go away" signals to family members. As powerful as verbal language is, there is another type called body language. It can also be very forceful in getting a message across. Lionel Kendrick said, "Our communications reflect in our countenance. Therefore, we must be careful not only what we communicate, but also how we do so. Souls can be strengthened or shattered by the message and the manner in which we communicate." (Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 23)

There is much we tell our children by body posture, eye contact (or lack of), tone of voice and expressions. Without saying a word we can let people know we are interested in what they say and want to listen to them, or that we'd rather be doing something else. How many times have you observed someone looking at their watch or taking steps backwards as you are talking to them? The message is "I need to be going."

A wise man by the name of Epictetus observed that "nature has given man one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak." But, hearing is not the problem most of us have. It is estimated that we hear a thousand times more words than we read, and that we spend almost as much time hearing messages as we do reading, writing and speaking combined. You would think with all this practice in hearing that all of us would be great listeners.

Failure to listen with understanding and proper attention is probably the biggest roadblock to communication of all. For children who grow up in homes where parents do not know how to effectively listen, most would probably have similar feelings as Lord Chesterfield who said: "I would rather be in company with a dead man, than with an absent one; for if the dead man gives me no pleasure, at least he shows me no contempt; whereas, the absent man, silently indeed, but very plainly, tells me that he does not think me worth his attention." (Letters, Sept. 22, 1749)

How often are we absent in conversations with our family? Do we ever read the newspaper or a magazine while our children are talking? Do we daydream about things we need to do, change the subject, or start a counter argument while someone is talking? Good listeners are a rare breed indeed. When we find one, they are usually very popular and respected. Most people want attention from others but fail to realize that to get attention, we must give attention.

Our family happiness is very closely related to our ability to effectively hear family members as they attempt to communicate their thoughts, desires, wishes and feelings. Listening is not a passive exercise, but a concentrated effort. Listening skills bring security to family members so they will not be tempted to look outside the family for understanding.

Many may think: Why should I listen intently to this? It is so trivial and meaningless. Why? Karl A. Menninger tells us why with this wise counsel:

"...I just tell myself to listen with affection to anyone who talks to me, to be in their shoes when they talk, to try to know them without my mind pressing against theirs, or arguing, or changing the subject. My attitude is: 'Tell me more!' This person is showing me his soul. It is a little dry and meager and full of grinding talk, just now, but presently he will begin to think, not just automatically to talk. He will show his true self. Then he will be wonderfully alive." (Love Against Hate, NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1956, pg. 276)

While practicing this skill, do not use mind reading, jumping to conclusions or switching the subject. Let him tell his story without interruption and allow pauses to permit thinking. Too frequently one is inclined to be thinking how to respond next, instead of listening attentively to what the other person is really saying.

There is also a distinction between listening intently and prying. Prying will be met with resistance and resentment, while true listening will assist the person to tell what he wants to. When an interruption needs to occur, focus on what the child has said last, say excuse me, touching him, if possible, during the interruption and then ask him to pick up where he left off.
Good listening is hard work, but the benefits are well worth the effort. If we become good listeners, our youth will confide in us rather than others, self-esteem will increase and friction will reduce drastically.

It is not a coincidence that talk is widely used as a treatment by social workers, psychiatrists, counselors and other family specialists in helping to solve personal and family problems. Talk is a major treatment to relieve tension, emotional and mental conflicts and a host of major and minor problems in human relations. We can provide the opportunities for our children to communicate in our own homes and enjoy the love and security that comes with it. A friend shared this experience that he had with his son:

"In the early 1970's my occupation caused me to travel a great deal. In order to continue building relationships with my children, I would often take one of them with me in my travels. On one such occasion my six-year-old, Mike, and I traveled from Springfield, Missouri to Fort Smith, Arkansas. We talked about school and related topics as we drove along the Interstate. I decided it would be a good time to teach my son about the creation of life. I wondered what understanding he had at this point in life about this sacred subject.

I decided to test his knowledge and try to teach him some valuable lessons of life. "Mike," I said, "Have you noticed there is a difference between boys and girls?" After thinking about it for awhile, he said, "Yes, Dad. Girls are pretty and boys are ugly!" Though I was tempted to chuckle, I remained serious, and tended to agree somewhat with him. I asked him if he realized what it meant for his mother to be pregnant. "Yes, Dad. It means she is going to have another baby!" "Well, son, do you have any questions about that?" He thought for a moment then said, "Does everything Mom eats go down and hit the baby on top of the head?" Again, I had to restrain my feelings to laugh. I explained that the baby was carried in a special place so that the food did not hit him in the head.

For the next 45 minutes we had a most interesting talk as we traveled toward our destination. Finally as the conversation waned, I told my son how much I had enjoyed our talk together. Then being desirous to recap this experience, I said, "Mike, what did you learn from our discussion today?" I was anxious to hear him repeat some of the great knowledge I had imparted to him. He pondered for some time and then stood up in the seat of our old Volkswagen. He stepped over the console, put his arms around my neck and said, "I learned I love my Dad!"

It wasn't what they had talked about that day that really impressed this six-year-old. It was the talk. He felt the love of his father and responded to that love. Parents who have good listening skills are more likely to have confident well adjusted children who do not go seeking a listening ear outside the home. Are you listening?

Monday, August 6, 2007

The Importance of Open Communication

The Importance of Open Communication

In doing family research one of the respondents shared the following about their family: “I guess our problem was COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, and COMMUNICATION. I often felt very alone with my problems and didn’t have anyone to confide in. I think all us kids kept everything to ourselves and hid our struggles. We never felt like we could discuss anything with our parents so we sought the information and advice from other sources.”
Open communication is an extremely important factor in the overall happiness and satisfaction of individual family members. It is not a coincidence that talk is widely used as a treatment by social workers, psychiatrists, counselors and other family specialists in helping to solve personal and family problems. Talk is a major treatment to relieve tension, emotional and mental conflicts and a host of major and minor problems in human relations. We can provide the opportunities for our spouses and children to communicate in our own homes and enjoy the love and security that comes with it. A friend had this experience with his son:
"In the early 1970's my occupation caused me to travel a great deal. In order to continue building relationships with my children, I would often take one of them with me in my travels. On one such occasion my six-year-old, Mike, and I traveled from Springfield, Missouri to Fort Smith, Arkansas. We talked about school and related topics as we drove along the Interstate. I decided it would be a good time to teach my son about the facts of life. I wondered what understanding he had at this point in life about this important subject.
I decided to test his knowledge and try to teach him some valuable lessons of life. "Mike," I said, "Have you noticed there is a difference between boys and girls?" After thinking about it for awhile, he said, "Yes, Dad. Girls are pretty and boys are ugly!" Though I was tempted to chuckle, I remained serious, and tended to agree somewhat with him. I asked him if he realized what it meant for his mother to be pregnant. "Yes, Dad. It means she is going to have another baby!" "Well, son, do you have any questions about that?" He thought for a moment then said, "Does everything Mom eats go down and hit the baby on top of the head?" Again, I had to restrain my feelings to laugh. I explained that the baby was carried in a special place so that the food did not hit him in the head.
For the next 45 minutes we had a most interesting talk as we traveled toward our destination. Finally as the conversation waned, I told my son how much I had enjoyed our talk together. Then being desirous to recap this experience, I said, "Mike, what did you learn from our discussion today?" I was anxious to hear him repeat some of the great knowledge I had imparted to him. He pondered for some time and then stood up in the seat of our old Volkswagen. He stepped over the console, put his arms around my neck and said, "I learned I love my Dad!"
It wasn't what they had talked about that day that really impressed this six-year-old. It was the talk. He felt the love of his father and responded to that love. Open communication builds self-worth and as a side benefit is a lot of fun!!
Many years ago I called my wife from work to give her a quick message. Our nine-year-old daughter Naomi answered the phone. I immediately asked to talk to mom. Before getting her mom she asked me two penetrating questions: “Why don't you ever want to talk to me?” I tried to defend myself by saying that I did want to talk to her but was just in a very big hurry. Her next question was: “Why are you always in a hurry?” I had no good answer for that question.
Why are we in such a hurry that we don’t have time to stop and talk to each other? Media researchers estimate that by the time a child is eight years old he or she will have already spent more time watching TV than they will in an entire lifetime talking to their fathers. Whether that is true or not it is obvious we need to spend more time in meaningful conversation with family members. Some may feel that they just don’t have the skills to communicate effectively but Thomas Monson stated: "The ability to communicate is not something we are born with. We have to learn it and earn it." (New Era, Feb 1969 p. 2)
The following is an excerpt from one of my journal entries that illustrates the need we all have to communicate openly. “A new family moved into our neighborhood two weeks ago--a father and his four little boys. One of the boys is named Issac and he participated in the children’s choir program today at the church we attend. He is a cute little boy with thick glasses and a big cowlick. His parents have only been divorced a few weeks before they moved into our town. During the program I noticed that someone was singing very loudly. At first I couldn't tell who it was but soon figured out that it was our new boy Issac. Before long everyone in the audience had big smiles on their faces as they listened to this young boy sing at the top of his lungs. The longer the program went, the louder and more expressive he became. Soon the smiles turned to laughter watching this young man giving it everything he had. It was as if he had the solo part and the rest of the children were his backup singers. I was sitting on the stage with the children and could see his red-faced father in the very back of the church. After the program, Isaac’s dad came onto the front. I wondered what he would say to his young son. When he got to his son I heard him say, ‘Issac why were you singing so loud?’ He replied, ‘Dad you were sitting at the back of the church and I wanted you to hear me sing!’ A huge grin came over the father and he hugged his son. I think this young man expressed what all of us desperately want and that is to be heard.
Through the years several surveys and research projects have been undertaken determine the communication patterns in their homes. In a survey I completed as part of the research for a graduate degree, I asked a large group of teenagers if they felt close enough to their parents to talk to them openly while growing up. The vast majority said they could not. Many felt that they would be judged, get a lecture or be rejected if these adults were taken into their confidence.

Q. How often were you able to talk openly with your parents growing up?
Father Mother
Never 25% 11%
Rarely 27% 15%
Usually 32% 34%
Always 16% 40%
(American Youth Survey, 2001.)

What a sad commentary that only 16% of high school students felt like they could always talk to their fathers openly and only 40% with their mothers. An even more alarming finding that is not shown in the chart is that only 11% of all these high school respondents felt they could always talk openly with both their mother and father. If children cannot communicate with their parents, in many cases they turn to their peer groups to confide their feelings and ask questions without criticism. Youth are going to go to someone, somewhere to be listened to and we should see that that someone is us and that somewhere is in the home.

What can we do to improve communication in our home?