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The Car Ride Home: How I Almost Derailed a Potential College Athlete When She Was 8 Years Old

There are a few moments in my parental life that are etched in my mind. The day I realized I was ruining sports for my daughter was one of those.

We were driving home from a U9 travel soccer match like we did most weekends. I don’t remember much about that game; I can’t even tell you if they won or lost.  But eight years later, I can still picture her sitting in the backseat with her head buried in her journal, writing furiously. My normally joyful little girl – who lit up when she was playing a sport – was scowling in frustration.

I could see she was upset, so I didn’t say much. After about 10 minutes, I decided to test the waters and see what was going on since she had never been so mad after a game before.

Me: “What’s up?”

Her: “Nothing.”

Me: “You look pretty upset.”

Her: (looks up, then silence, puts her head back down and scribbles some more in her journal)

Me: “What are you writing?”

Her: “Do you want to know?”

Me: “If you want to tell me.”

Her: “Are you sure?”

At this moment I was totally confused. What could she be writing that made her wonder if I wanted to know?

Me: “Yes. I think if you are okay telling me, then I would like to know.”

Her: “All my dad does is give me advice to lose.”

At that moment I had no idea how to respond, so I sat silently, and she scribbled in her journal the rest of the way home.

After that car ride home, I did a lot of thinking about what that sentence out of a 8-year-old’s mouth meant. I figured I have a Master’s degree in psychology and have done counseling with children and families for a few years now; I should be able to figure this out.

I realized our routine often involved me “coaching her” about how to improve.  I would sit on the sideline, watch her play, and then give her advice about what she did well and what to do differently. Clearly she did not appreciate my advice, and I’m grateful that she told me.

So I decided I would no longer give advice unless she asked me for it. My job was to be her cheerleader/encourager; she already had a coach.

Now I was left with what to do with the car ride home. I have thought a lot since then about those trips  and have been very intentional about the questions I ask and what I talk about. I share here what I have learned in the hopes that you can avoid perhaps robbing your kid of the joy of the sport, or theater, or dance or whatever activity they enjoy so much.

After my daughter’s rebuke, I found healthier ways to relate with, question and affirm my daughter, that focused on her character and my love for her rather than on her abilities or how well she performed.

IT’S ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP, NOT THE WINS AND LOSSES

“I had so much fun watching you play today.”

That’s the phrase I’ve said to her after almost every game she has played. It is not tied to wins or losses or her performance.  It’s just an encouraging phrase.

Before, I think I was communicating that I was happy when she won and upset when she lost, so in order for her dad to be happy, she needed to win.  That is a lot of pressure on a kid. What kid does not want to see their dad be happy?

Ever since that day, I try to be very intentional that if it was a brutal game, and she did not play her best, I still let her know that I had a lot of fun watching her compete.

QUESTIONS THAT PROMOTE GROWTH

I don’t recall exactly where I first read about questions along these lines, but I found them very helpful.  It made a lot of sense to me that the questions you ask tell your kid exactly what is important to you.

If it was a tough loss and emotions seem to be running a little high, I often just let there be silence. Apart from those situations these are my go-to questions:

What do you think went the best for you today?

What do you think you need to work on next time for things to go better?

What did your team do well?

What is something that you guys need to work on for it to go better next time?

Did you have fun today?

When she responds, I usually give some kind of affirmative response: “I could see that,” or “That makes sense.

Those questions kind of play on a great quote from Nelson Mandela, “There is no losing, only winning and learning.” Those questions establish a mindset of growth and learning.

WHAT YOU AFFIRM TELLS YOUR CHILD WHAT YOU VALUE

Since that day, I have been very intentional about my words of praise and affirmation as well.

I consistently affirm two things – her effort and how she treats others.  I have tried to be very careful that my praise and affirmation are never tied to things that are out of her control like winning and losing.

When she shows maximum effort under difficult circumstances, I share how proud of her I am.  When parents have come up to me and told me what an encouragement my daughter has been to a teammate, those are some of my proudest moments. I make sure to let her know.

What I try to avoid is saying “good game” when she didn’t play well. My daughter has had a high athletic IQ from a young age. She is more critical of herself than any coach or I could ever be.  If I said “good game” after a poor performance, I am not sure that she would ever believe what I say.

When she expresses frustration after a poor performance, from time to time I will acknowledge that it was not the best performance I have seen out of her. I hope that she is learning that her value and worth have nothing to do with her athletic performance. But I’ll still tell her I had a lot of fun watching her play and she put in some amazing effort. I hope she has seen over time that her dad has fun watching her play– win or lose, good performance or bad performance.

WE CAN LISTEN, AND WE CAN CHANGE

My daughter could have been another example in Director of Coaching, John O’Sullivan’s article “The Ride Home” where he shares exit interviews from players leaving his organization and quitting the sport. He would ask them what was their least favorite moment in sports.

Often, he wrote, their response was, “The ride home after the game.”

Thankfully, she was able to communicate with me, “All my dad does is give me advice to lose.” If she had not shared that with me, I would not have known that I was in danger of robbing my daughter of the joy of playing the sports that she loves and growing as a young woman and teammate along the way.

Thankfully, I had the opportunity to change and she is still playing and loving sports. She has moved from soccer to volleyball, and this year is talking with college coaches with the hopes of being a collegiate student athlete.

But I could have missed that pivotal moment with my 8-year-old girl. Listen to your kids, and think about what you are communicating to them. Our words have weight beyond what we often realize.

Those long car rides can be more than just a ride home. They can be a path to growth and joy for our children.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Parenting the Digitally Connected

Our pre-teen daughter pled her case like a seasoned attorney on why she must have a smartphone. Her argument ended with, “everyone has one.” We held out until 7th grade, when we as parents wanted to be able to get ahold of her after school and after practice. Despite our concerns that a smartphone introduces a child to an entire level of adult content through apps, websites, and YouTube, we realized that, at this point, all of her friends had phones. We couldn’t just protect her from it forever; Instead we needed to help her navigate it.

Those of us with children born between 1995 and 2012 are raising the first generation that will have no pre-internet memories. These children either have or will enter adolescence in the Age of the Smartphone. For them, technology is so tightly woven into the fabric of their daily experience that life without it seems impossible.

In fact, 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone, and of those, more than half say they are online almost constantly, according to a recent survey from the Pew Research Center.  This isn’t happening by accident. (source)

 

Smartphone access nearly ubiquitous among teens, while having a home computer varies by income
Getting the attention of our youth is a highly profitable business. Google has grown to a $716 Billion dollar company, Facebook $522 Billion. Technology expert Tristan Harris explains in his sobering Ted Talk (source) that the underlying goal is to get —  and keep — our attention, because the company that can do this makes the most money.

With so much money at stake companies don’t just guess at how to get our attention, they hire people like Harris who worked with the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. Harris explains it like this – picture a company like Snapchat or YouTube. They have 100 very smart people in a controlroom with 100 dials constantly working with the desire to control the thoughts and emotions of a billion people. Add artificial intelligence to the mix and you can see why they are becoming so successful at getting and keeping that attention.

Harris, along with other silicon valley insiders, is starting to speak out because he is seeing the unintended consequences. He started a nonprofit called, “The Center for Humane Technology.” Its website opens up with the cautionary statement that, “our society is being hijacked by technology. What began as a race to monetize our attention is now eroding the pillars of our society: mental health, democracy, social relationships, and our children.”

Harmful Side Effects of the Digital Age

We are only starting to become more aware the risks that these smartphones provide, risks beyond the adult content that our children can access. Dr. Jean Twenge, Doctor of Psychology at San Diego State University, has published some very eye-opening research about the iGen, a newer label she thought was fitting of this generation. It is the most digitally connected and smartphone-addicted generation. I just recently finished reading Twenge’s new book, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy– and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood and What That Means for the Rest of Us. “iGen is on the verge of the most severe mental health crisis for young people in decades,” Twenge wrote in her book, pointing to suicides among this generation as reason for alarm.

Between 2012 and 2015 – in just three years – depression among boys rose 21% and depression among girls rose 50%. These upticks are reflected in suicide rates.

“After declining during the 1990s and stabilizing in the 2000s, the suicide rate for teens has risen again,” she wrote.  “46% more 15 to 19 year olds committed suicide in 2015 than in 2007, and two and a half times more 12 to 14 year olds killed themselves.” (Twenge, 110).

If we have spent time on social media and watched our kids interact with social media, how can we be totally surprised? Snapchat, the hugely popular social media platform among teens and young adults, turns conversations into streaks. A Snapchat streak is when you send direct snaps back and forth with a friend for several consecutive days. The longer you go without breaking the chain of communication, the longer your streak is. It is not uncommon for a teen going on vacation to give their Snapchat password to multiple friends so that they can keep their streaks going. Streaks become a measure of value and worth for the individual and their relationships. This is good news for Snapchat because it helps them win the battle to get and keep teens attention. The downside is streaks are far better at increasing anxiety and depression than developing meaningful relationship through conversation.

We have Instagram glorifying the picture-perfect self, redefining self worth. We have Facebook targeting our news feeds with news we agree with, only fragmenting and isolating us even more. We have Youtube, Facebook and Instagram now autoplaying the next video so that we don’t turn away, even go to sleep.

This race to keep out attention makes it harder to disconnect, increasing stress, anxiety and reducing sleep. And while it has made a few companies lots of money, it has placed our kids in a position of constant comparison, finding their value in the number of likes and streaks, and left constantly stressed and anxious by FOMO – the fear of missing out.

Faced with mounting evidence of the harm that unfettered access to social media can cause, there is a small but growing movement that is casting a more critical eye on the digital world.

In February, David Smith wrote in The Guardian about a gathering of Silicon Valley alumni and Washington lobbyists warning of the links between tech addiction and anxiety, obesity, and depression. Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff called for Facebook to be regulated like a cigarette company because of the addictive and harmful properties of social media.

What is a Parent to Do?

On the positive side, Twenge’s research points out that teens who play sports, are involved in religious activities, and hang out IRL (In Real Life) fair much better than those who don’t. This gives me some hope that we, as parents and as a society, can intervene in spite of the constant effort to get and keep our kids attention.

Tony Rienke, a senior writer for “Desiring God,” wrote a great piece titled, “Twelve Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age” about Twenge’s research along with some really practical advice for parents raising children in this digital age. You can read the full article HERE.

As a parent it can often feel like we are fighting a losing battle. The easiest thing to do would be to just give in to our kids’ demands and tell ourselves it’s not that big a deal. But our kids deserve our best, and we can’t simply surrender. So what can we do?

One of the most important things parents can do to protect their children from the risks of the digital world is to simply delay social media and smartphone use as long as possible.

A significant part of parenting and child development is the creation and formation of positive and constructive habits. Habits created early in the home are most likely to be how an adolescent will behave when they step off into independence. Likely the most quoted parenting proverb reflects this – Proverbs 22:6, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not depart from this.”

The easiest way to do this is find other things for them to do. Get them  involved in sports, theater, activities at church or with your community group – especially things that require them to interact with other peers and adults. If our kids are busy with something, they can’t have a phone in their hands. If they are interacting with other peers, they are developing valuable — and real — social skills.

Once they have a smartphone,  limit use as much as possible.

When my kids were younger I attached a device to our network to monitor and limit the time our kids were on the internet and social media. We used “Circle” by Disney. Apple has just announced that their new iOS 12 will have new features to limit interruptions and limit screen time. With these new features, you should be able to monitor and set daily limits, as well as turn select features off at bedtime. Let’s hope that this is a sign that headway is being made in the Silicon Valley and that the mental health of our children will be placed above making a dollar.

And consider using social media as a reward for a new positive behavior. For example, 30 minutes of walking on the treadmill = 30 minutes of digital media for the day (this works with adults as well). You could also make an effort to provide positive content for kids on their smartphone.

If they like being on their phone, use it for something constructive. My youngest was working on math, so we installed a number of games that she was not only using to help improve her math skills, but also having fun with. Our church also offers RightNow Media which provides free access to a huge library of shows and movies with positive, encouraging content for kids, teens and adults.

Have lots of open conversations with your kids as you give them more freedom with social media.

Very soon after our daughter had a smartphone, Snapchat was on the scene. The only thing I knew about Snapchat was people were using it to send nude pictures because the images would automatically be deleted once they had been viewed.

I wasn’t about to put that into the hands of my 13-year-old daughter, but the challenge was that Snapchat was the form of communication all her peers were using. So without Snapchat it wasn’t very easy for her to communicate with them. I decided to get the older nieces and nephews (upper classmen in High School and College age) together with my daughter and we all talked about Snapchat. I shared my concerns and they made the case that, while you can do those things, they choose not to. They know right from wrong, hang out with “good” kids, and they assured me that they choose not to hang out with people who do that.

In the end it came down to trust and responsibility. So I installed Snapchat on her phone. We work on trust and responsibility, but I still have access to her content. I check in on it periodically and we have filters and some controls at home.

I really don’t think we have to be afraid, but it is good to be aware. If you are only going to do one thing after reading this I would recommend installing iOS 12 on any apple device that you have and just start to look at how often you and your kids are using social media. We also have a Nintendo Switch, which has a really nice parent app that allows parents to monitor and get reports on their kids’ video game usage and set limits. Hopefully all companies will follow suit.

Finally, smartphones are not developing new sins – they simply amplify temptations and desires in a very researched and specific way. As parents, we can help our kids find purpose, meaning and self worth in spite of the greatest efforts to capture their attention. Personally I don’t know a lot of parents who believe they are doing an awesome job all the time – present company included – but we can always do better today than yesterday if we are willing to learn, grow and make changes. My wife and I have found a community of faith is a great place to raise a child. We can share with one another the struggles and the joys. We can ask questions and seek advice around shared values and beliefs. What are you doing to parent in the digital age? What could you work on improving?

Waves of anxiety

5 signs it’s time to address your anxiety

Anxiety isn’t rare.  In fact according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) it affects “40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older.”

Merriam-Webster describes anxiety as  “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”

In a clinical sense Anxiety becomes a disorder when it starts to have a significant impact on an individuals daily living.  Biblically we know that we are encouraged to not be anxious about anything. (Philippians 4:6)  That can often be easier said than done.

Five things to think about how anxiety may be affecting your life
  1. Excessive Worry – The main symptom of an anxiety disorder is worrying.  You can worry about everyday  things, big or small.  It also involves having anxious feelings that persist throughout the week or lasts for months.  Worry starts to become problematic when it prevents you from going through your daily routine.
  2. Disrupted Sleep Patterns – Naturally, you’ll be nervous before a big game, a job interview or a final exam.  What distinguishes normal nighttime worries and anxiety from normalcy is the frequency.  If you find yourself lying awake in bed multiple nights a week with agitated or worrisome thoughts, you might have an anxiety disorder.  These thoughts can be about real problems or nothing at all.  Another sleep clue is if you wake up with a racing heart or mind and are unable to calm yourself.
  3. Muscle Tension – Continuous muscle tension is often associated with anxiety disorders.  Muscle tension can include, but is not limited to, jaw clenching, raising your shoulders, making fists or moving various muscles throughout your body.  This symptom can be so persistent  that it becomes a part of your daily life.  If you’ve had these tendencies for a long time, you may not even notice them anymore.  One of the quickest remedies for managing muscle tension is regular exercise.
  4. Persistent Indigestion – Anxiety doesn’t just affect your mind; it can also spread to other parts of your body and cause physical issues.  Anxiety can worsen symptoms of abdominal cramps and pain that literally make you feel sick to your stomach.  People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) sometimes suffer from anxiety, which can worsen their symptoms.
  5. Panic Attacks – Panic attacks happen when you feel overwhelmingly fearful and hopeless with physical symptoms, such as a racing heartbeat, chest pain, hot or cold flashes, light-headedness, and sweating.  These episodes can last for several minutes.  You might start to dread when your next attack will happen and try to elude places where previous ones occurred.
Don’t be afraid to reach out.

If some or all of the symptoms above describe your situation, you are likely dealing with anxiety.  If you are struggling with symptoms of an anxiety disorder it is not uncommon to feel alone and misunderstood. Because the fear that people with an anxiety disorder have is not experienced by others, they may not understand why, for example, being in a crowd of people, not being able to wash your hands after meeting a new person, or driving through the street where you got in a car accident can be really anxiety-provoking for someone with an anxiety disorder.  Talk with your doctor, or a mental health professional to help you with the proper treatment plan.  Reaching out will be the first step to get on track to managing the symptoms so you can get back to living your life.  Someone familiar with anxiety disorders should be able to talk you through what your options are.

 

Why I don’t want my teenage daughter to have sex.

I came across an article by Kristin Luce posted on Facebook, “Why I Want My Teenage Daughter to Have Sex.”  It got me thinking.  Our teenagers are growing up and it’s good for us as parents to provide some direction for our teenagers as they prepare to make decisions about their sexuality.  Even though the title of our articles are different, there is a fair amount that we share in common.  I thought there was another element that was missing and is probably the biggest reason why my letter to my teenage daughter would be different than this author’s letter.

WHAT WE SHARE IN COMMON

Apparently we both have teenagers that will be entering into the world of sexual exploration and we are understandably concerned that they may not be prepared.  She is a Psychotherapist and Parenting Coach and I am a Licensed Counselor and Marriage Therapist.  In reference to a radio call in a show, she heard of 17-year-old girl who wanted support to stay over at a boyfriend’s house even though her parents said “no”.  She reports that many of the responses sounded like “When you are financially independent then you can sleep wherever you want.  Until then, you are under your parents’ roof and your parents’ rules.”

I also think I understand the logic of this statement and support parents to act in alignment with their values.  I share a concern that we often give our daughters a double message.

Psychologists have understood for years that being placed in a double bind is extremely problematic, especially for children.  Gregory Bateson started to give us some understanding of this in 1950.

WHERE WE DIFFER

At this point in the article, my views start to shift a bit from the author (most likely because of differing values and beliefs).  I believe and will share with my daughter that your sexuality is not only relational and biological, but spiritual.

The author states – “We give our children – and especially our daughters – a double message.  We tell them that their bodies are their own and that they get to say “no” when it doesn’t feel right, but we don’t tell them that they also gets to say “yes” when it does feel right.”

As a parent who hopes to also impart the spiritual and moral component of sexuality, I would not encourage my daughter to say “yes” when it feels right.  But I have witnessed the negative effects of young women and men who have gotten a different double message.

The double message I have seen looks more like this. We spend so much energy telling our kids that sex outside of marriage is wrong; they could get a disease or pregnant and that they should say “no” until they get married.  We forget to tell them how amazing sex is.  For some reason we leave out that sex is one of the most amazing gifts from God.  So much effort is spent on encouraging them to say “no” we forget to talk them about when to say “yes” and how amazing that is.

So for example, this is the statement I want my daughter to hear, loud and clear: your body is an amazing gift, and you get to choose what to do with it.  You get to say “no” when you don’t want to do something and you believe it is not good or right for you, and you get to say “yes” when it is something that you want and you know and understand that it is good. One of the hardest things in life is that what you feel like doing doesn’t always align with what you believe is good and right for you.  This is probably truer about sex than other things.

I agree that “part of empowering girls is not getting in the way of their becoming sexual beings when it is right for them.  Supporting girls in their adolescence is about allowing them to develop and explore, just as we would want them to develop and explore any other aspects of themselves. In particular, if we want to empower girls, we need to not overly scare or protect them from their own sexuality.”

MY LETTER

This is the letter I would write to my own daughter as she navigates more deeply into her teenage years.

Dear daughter,

You are going to hear and see a lot of things about sex as you get older.  If I am honest, I worry about it from time to time.  I don’t want to ever see you get hurt and I would do anything to protect you.  I believe that God doesn’t want to see you get hurt either and he talks to us a lot in the Bible about sex.  Almost every book of the Bible has something to say about sex, and Song of Solomon is very descriptive of the love relationship in marriage.  There is no better plan than the one He would have for us; that is true about sex as well.  Here are just a couple things I hope you think about as you’re starting to learn and understand your sexuality.

First, God Himself invented sex for our delight; it was his gift to us intended for pleasure.  You don’t need to think about it too much right now, but I want it to be really clear.  Sex is an awesome and amazing gift from God when we experience it the way he intended it to be from the beginning.  It is good.

I don’t want to get too preachy with you but we get direction early in the Bible about man and woman and marriage in Genesis.  God didn’t really think it was a good idea for man to be alone.  He came up with the idea to create woman.  He then wanted to join them together, and it says according to that plan, you will leave your mom and dad one day and be united to your husband and you will become one flesh.  At that point it, said the man and his wife were naked and they felt no shame.

It is an amazing thing that God has done, that you might have a partner one day.  That before God and your friends you will make a commitment to one another for the rest of your lives.  You will be able to be naked with your husband with no reason to be ashamed.  You may feel a bit terrified and excited but you will have this amazing gift to share with one another.  He will share his body with you and you will share your body with him.  If you choose, that day you will enter into a special bond with one person that no one else would know.  You will enjoy a physical, spiritual bond that I promise you is like nothing else that you will experience. It will blow your mind.  I don’t want to over-hype it, but it is special and it is amazing.

Something to think about as you make that decision to save your body and sexual experience for just one guy, just your husband.  When I was about your age, one of my pastors was talking to a group of us about this concept of the “two becoming one flesh” and it made sense to me then just as much as today.  Think about your body and your sexuality like the sticky side of duct tape.  When you put the two sticky sides together they bond together, they fuse.  They can be pulled apart but, a part of each of you is left behind.  As you share your body and sexuality with someone, you are giving / sharing a really special part of yourself with them.

I encourage you to be patient with sexuality.  The author of the Song of Solomon gives great words of wisdom to young women, but it applies just as much to guys as well. “Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases”(2:7).  If that doesn’t make sense now, it will.  There are a number of things we can do to stir up love.  One of the hardest things about waiting until you get married to have sex is being in love.  You long for the day when your lives will be so intertwined that every aspect of your life will be linked together, including your sexuality.  It is not helped by the fact that we live in a place where you are going to be bombarded by sex every day that you are alive.

For some people, having sex is just another desire to be satisfied, just like eating and drinking.  If you choose to wait for marriage you may feel like you’re the only one.  People may tell you that you need practice, or need to see if you are sexually compatible.  Trust me – there are a lot of things in life that need to be practiced – but sex is not one of them.  You have to decide if it is good for you, right and worth it.

Just a couple last things I want you to know.  Sex is another part of your life and a normal part of growing up.  Feelings and desires will awaken in you that you may be unsure of.  Your mom and I are always here for you to talk to and listen and figure things out together.  I helped you learn how to ride a bike and you did that in one day.  That cookie thing; I should have never done that, I had no idea what I was doing.  This whole sex thing – it’s a normal part of growing up. We got this.

Lastly, no matter what you choose, I will always choose to love you.  There is not a single choice you could make about sex or anything else that could ever stop me from loving you.  You are never alone.

Love,

Dad