Struggling with healthy cell phone use

Let’s have a show of hands. How many of you are struggling to determine what healthy cell phone use looks like?

Value
Struggling can be good because it helps us identify our values. I really love how God tells us in Deuteronomy to love him wholly—to value him above all things. He doesn’t say fleetingly or haphazardly share his words and precepts. He says, “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7).

We value our God who saved us, and we value the children he’s entrusted to us. And, since we are people using media devices who are raising children in the way of the Lord, how we use and model using devices is an important topic of our struggle . . . when we walk along the road (or drive to school), when we put our kids to bed (or sit in the family room)—really at any and all times.

Evaluate
Remember the expression, “more is caught than taught.” Our kids are watching us and listening—weighing what we say against what we do. Short of some cataclysmic dystopian accident, cell phones are not going away. Children can see if the device appears more interesting to us than the people around us do.

There is value in struggling with how to have and show healthy media habits. Notice when you choose to give attention to a device. While it’s fine to view entertainment online and be connected to others, it’s also good to evaluate: “Is my media time excessive or to the exclusion of those around me?” Evaluate whether you would allow or encourage those choices for your child.

Value in struggle
Recently, I was sitting with my youngest daughter when she beelined to retrieve my beeping phone. I thanked her and told her to leave the phone in the other room because I was spending time with her. The phone could wait.

Herein lies a struggle. We will have times when we need to take phone calls and answer messages. We also don’t want to give the impression that we value what’s on the other side of the beep more than we value the people present.

The apostle Paul reminds us that just because we can do something doesn’t mean it’s constructive to do so. He writes, “  ‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial.  ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Evaluate how your personal habits appear to your child. Would your son notice that Dad stops what he’s doing to check every notification or that Mom checks her social media in the middle of conversations? None of these situations are necessarily wrong, but each one begs us to evaluate and struggle with: “Is this how I want my child to interact with those around him?” Where are the boundaries—or where would I want them to be?

There is no magic pattern to win the “best media boundaries parent award.” Yet being aware and evaluating media choices makes a difference. Share your values and discuss what you are doing: “I’m putting the phone away because . . .”

You may show healthy boundaries by deliberately putting the phone out of reach more often. Explain why you don’t want phones at meals or decide the family will all put them in the other room or turn them off during family time. Even declare the hour that it’s absolutely okay for everyone to catch up on their favorite media platform.

Let your children have input—work through this together so your family can use these God-given tools in moderate, healthy ways. There will be some struggling, tweaking, and reevaluating, but sharing your values with your children is priceless.

Amy Vannieuwenhoven and her husband, Charlie, have four children ranging in age from a fourth-grader to a high school senior. Amy is a teacher at Northdale Lutheran School in Tampa, Florida, and the author of Look Up From Your Phone So I Can Love You from Northwestern Publishing House.

Consider making a digital resolution in 2019

Our families are at war with technology and digital communication. At a time when information is more readily available than ever and we can connect with friends and loved ones in an instant, depression and anxiety among young adults and parents increase. Many report feeling disconnected from their families because of technology. So something that was designed with the intention to keep us connected actually makes us feel more lonely!

As beloved children of our heavenly Father, we were designed to be in relationships with one another. The very nature of our triune God points to the interconnectedness of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our digital age has given us a false sense of interconnectedness by giving us so much information that we assume our relationships are more complete than they might actually be. Instead, we are lonely because we’ve stopped looking into each other’s eyes, and we’re anxious because we feel that we need to post or perform to receive attention.

This year, consider making a digital resolution to turn off the smartphone at dinner; forget the in-the-moment Facebook post; and talk face to face with family, friends, and especially your children.

Your commitment to set a digital resolution in 2019 could include:

  • Setting a specific time and place for technology use in your home.
  • Having all family members agree on when to unplug, perhaps during family meal times and at the same time every night.
  • Committing not to use technology before a specific time on weekends (Mom and Dad, this means you too!).
  • Using the resources on your mobile device to set daily time limits for use for every member in your household. Most Apple and Android devices now include this type of software. Consider a tool like mobicip, which helps parents set healthy limits on their children’s digital experiences (as well as their own!).

When you set limits around your technology use, watch for the Lord to bless your efforts, including more conversation, more face to face time, and perhaps even more hugs.

Laura Reinke and her husband, Matthew, have three teenagers. Laura is a marriage and family therapist at Christian Family Solutions and the director of youth ministry at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.

How can we protect our kids without scaring them?

When my oldest child was very young, we were at our pediatrician’s office for his yearly physical. As she was checking him all over, she reminded him that only doctors and Moms and Dads can look at private parts of his body. She said that if anyone else ever does, he should say, “No,” and then tell Mom or Dad what happened.

I remember having a mixture of emotions at that time—fear that something so horrible might ever happen to my son, guilt that I hadn’t thought to have that conversation with him before the doctor did, and sadness that it’s a necessary conversation at all. I was also struck by how matter-of-fact she was as she said those things and how my son seemed unaffected while my own emotions were churning.

How do we talk to our children about staying safe without scaring them unnecessarily? It is an important part of our responsibility as parents to equip our children with tools to keep them safe, and in order to do that, we need to be realistic about dangerous situations they might face. At the same time, I have talked with adults who continue to struggle with fear and anxiety placed on them at an early age from well-meaning parents who were trying to be protective. So how do we achieve a healthy balance in our conversations?

I believe there are two important concepts to keep in mind.

Talk to your children about what they can control.
We know as Christians that there has always been sin and evil in the world and there will be until Christ returns. We can’t change that. When we focus on stories of bad things in this fallen world that are out of their control, that breeds worry. Let’s talk to our children instead about what they can control.

Instead of asking, “What are the dangers?” ask, “What are safe choices?” Avoid the phrase “stranger danger,” and focus on “stranger awareness.” Discuss how to talk to strangers and how to get help from safe strangers. (Statistics tell us that most children are victimized by people they know, so strangers aren’t the issue.)

Role-play with your children what they can do if they are in a potentially dangerous situation so that they have a chance to practice and feel confident. Make it fun. (I’m always a fan of role-playing with stuffed animals. They’re cute, and then they serve a purpose other than cluttering my house.) Teach confident body language like smiling and eye contact. Teach assertiveness skills. “No, I don’t keep secrets from Mom and Dad.” “That’s not okay, and I’m going to tell someone.”

Here are a few clear safety guidelines we can share with our children from early on:

  • Know your name, address, and phone number.
  • Other than doctors or parents, don’t let anyone touch your private parts or tell you to touch theirs.
  • Tell a trusted adult if something or someone makes you uncomfortable. Keeping secrets is never safe.
  • If you get lost, freeze and wait for the adult you were with to come back and find you.
  • Don’t share personal information online.
  • Respect dangerous items like matches and weapons.

By teaching our children what they can say and do, we empower them instead of scare them.

Control your own fear.
I am scared of heights. I am proud to say that my children are not. The few times I’ve been brave enough to go on a Ferris wheel with my children, I’ve taken deep, silent breaths, and smiled and gushed about how beautiful it is to be up so high.

When we talk to our children about staying safe, it is important first to be calm ourselves regarding the issue we are discussing. If you find it is difficult to keep your own anxiety at bay, either because you struggle with anxiety in general or because you were the victim of something yourself as a child, seek help from a trusted friend or professional so that you do not pass along your fears.

I can equip my children to help them stay safe, but I cannot protect them perfectly. It always comforts me to remember that my children are God’s first. He claimed them by Baptism, forgave them, and made them his own. He has given them guardian angels, and he is working even harder than I am to protect them. Rest securely in that truth, and share it with your children.

Sarah Reik and her husband have four grade-school-aged children. Sarah is also a licensed professional counselor with WLCFS—Christian Family Solutions.

Using Chrismons in Advent devotions

Chrismons are Christian symbols that are often used as Christmas ornaments in many Christian churches. They create an easy visual for a family Advent devotion. In her article titled Advent devotions keep family’s eyes on Jesus, Anna Geiger details how her family of eight uses Chrismons for their Advent devotions. Interested in learning more about Chrismons and how you can incorporate them into your family’s Advent devotions? Click here.

Advent devotions keep family’s eyes on Jesus

During most of the year, our family gathers each evening for a Bible story and song. But we take a break from our regular devotions for the month of Advent. Instead, we sit at the dining room table around a lovely handcrafted Advent tree, a gift from my father-in-law.

Simple Advent devotions
First, my husband lights one or more candles, depending how close we are to Christmas. Then we choose a Chrismon (a Christmas decoration with a Christian symbol) to hang on the tree. My husband leads an impromptu devotion based on the symbol we’ve chosen, and we conclude with a verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

The short devotions are often simple. The cross reminds us that Jesus died to take away our sins. The shell reminds us that God forgave our sins and brought us into his family through baptism. The lamb is a symbol for Jesus, the Lamb of God.

Sometimes our devotions are little more complex. We may talk about the fish being an ancient Christian symbol because the letters of the Greek word for fish stand for Jesus. We may talk about the Chi-Ro, which looks like a P with an X on top. These two letters are the first letters of the Greek word “Christos,” which means Christ.

Our five oldest kids (4, 6, 8, 10, 11) take turns doing different jobs. One chooses the Chrismon, another places it on the tree, a third child turns out the lights, a fourth child passes out the music, and a fifth has the favorite job of blowing out the candles. Because our youngest will be turning 3 this Advent season, he will be part of the devotions as well. I suppose we will need a sixth job . . . but I don’t think we’re ready to let the kids take turns lighting the candles!

A meaningful tradition
With a houseful of young children, I wouldn’t exactly call our Advent devotions peaceful. And the proximity of children to open flames keeps my husband and me at the edge of our seats. But all of us look forward to this simple family tradition. Not only does it distract us from the hustle and bustle of the season, it also keeps our eyes on our coming Savior.

Anna Geiger and her husband, Steve, are raising their six kids in Mequon, Wis. Anna is the creator of The Measured Mom, an education website for parents and teachers. Interested in using Chrismons in your family’s Advent devotions? Click here

A simple Christmas

It’s almost Christmas. Time stops for no one. So we dash through the snow to pick up kids. Buy the latest toy. Find dresses for the girls and suits for the boys. Bake Christmas cookies. Help the kids memorize their Christmas services. Set up Christmas get-togethers with our family and friends. Bake more Christmas cookies. Schedule and wrangle crabby kids to take family pictures for the two hundred Christmas cards we have to order, address, place in envelopes, buy stamps for, and send. Decorate upstairs. Decorate downstairs. Decorate outside. Did I mention bake cookies?

My house, inside or out, doesn’t look like a Pinterest page. My kids might be wearing hand-me-down dresses and suits for the Christmas services. My gifts might not be wrapped until the night before Christmas Eve (and might just be placed into a gift bag!). We will eventually get the Christmas tree up. And perhaps a string of lights outside . . . if we’ve taken them down from last year. My cookies just might be bought from the local grocery store. But, this is what allows our family to savor and enjoy Christmas. The simplicity.

You don’t have to spend hundreds of hours or dollars making a perfect Christmas. We already have a perfect Christmas with the most perfect gift—Christ Jesus. Our focus should be not on making more work for an earthly perfect—one that takes the center of attention away from the true meaning of Christmas—but on how to bring our loved ones closer to the manger.

First comes our beautiful Christmas Eve service filled with children’s voices, praises to God for sending his Son, and the comforting passages and hymns we have committed to memory.

Then, our family continues in sharing God’s goodness in our living room. Sharing the blessings he has given us, reminding our children of the best gift that allows us to give them gifts, and reveling in the love of family—one of the most marvelous gifts God has given us on earth.

Traditions are wonderful and can be an amazing blessing to you, your children, and your grandchildren. But in the busyness of Christmas, might I suggest keeping it simple?

Set aside time to spend with your family;
Find a Christmas service or two;
Remind your loved ones of the greatest gift of Christmas;
Breathe in the crisp winter air;
Take in some twinkling lights;
And feel the love of Jesus envelop you.

Rachel Learman and her husband, Paul, are raising four children in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

More is caught than taught

My oldest daughter recently took her driving test for the state of Arizona. She passed the written test without breaking a sweat, but it took nearly a year of behind-the-wheel practice for her to get comfortable driving in Phoenix traffic. In that time, she observed my driving with new interest, noting my safe driving methods or vociferously pointing out my lack thereof. It seems that she picked up more from watching me than from hours of online study. More is caught than taught. What do you want your daughters to “catch” from you regarding faith?

Let them catch you studying the Word. From a young age, I remember waking up and finding my mom in her cozy robe on the loveseat. She would have a cup of coffee in her hand, a sweet smile on her face, and an open Bible on her lap. No matter what happened the night before, she would hug me and tell me she loved me. With those simple, consistent acts, my mom modeled that God’s mercies are new every morning and his Word is worthy of pursuit.

Now that we live two thousand miles apart, my mom and I stay connected through YouVersion. I no longer wake up to her hugs but to notifications that she’s commented on the Bible plan we’re doing together. She lets me see her wrestling with God and submitting to his Word as the final authority. I’ve continued this practice with my own girls. When they comment on the plans we do together, I am amazed by their spiritual insight, their humor, and the emojis my youngest has picked out to go with the day’s reading.

Let them catch you talking with God. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray continually.” However we define “continually,” it’s probably more than before we eat and go to bed. Try this: For one day, take every praise, question, or worry and say it out loud. From gratitude for finding a lost backpack to how we should spend our free time to what we saw in the news that disturbed us—let’s model that we don’t know all the answers, but we know the One who does.

Let them catch you dancing in your role as a woman. American society paints a bleak picture of womanhood: cheap, self-promoting, flesh-serving, male-bashing, and harsh. God has a better way. When our girls catch us respecting our husbands, biting our tongues rather than speaking a dishonoring word, and joyfully sacrificing our “rights” in order to serve others, something clicks in their spirits. This is how their Father designed them to be. Freed from the tyranny of serving themselves, they can dance before the King as his dearly loved daughters.

As I finish writing this article, two of my little girls are snuggled beside me on the couch. They’re catching me in my pajamas as I take the time to pass on to others what God is teaching me. I am not a perfect role model. Too often I am inconsistent and unintentional. But that’s when they catch me going back to God’s grace.

Liz Schroeder and her husband, John, live in Phoenix, Arizona, with their five kids. They serve as lay leaders at CrossWalk Church.

Back to school: Tips for a smooth transition

Are you ready for school to start? Some parents love the freedom and fun of the summer schedule. Some are like my husband and have a countdown on the calendar with a smiley face on the first day of school. No matter how you feel about it, the school year is beginning. Here are some ideas to help the transition go more smoothly.

Routine
Set clear goals right from the start regarding home and school responsibilities. What does the morning routine look like? What gets done the night before to prepare for the next day? (Hint: as much as possible!) What chores does your child have and when do they need to be done? At our house, chores like unloading the dishwasher are done in the morning. Responsibilities like practicing piano can be done after school.
Establish with your children when they are going to do homework and where. Having a specific time and a comfortable place set aside prioritizes homework and provides a structure for study. If homework has been a struggle in the past, consider hiring an after-school helper to provide a different perspective and take the tension out of the parent/child relationship.

Along with setting clearly defined routines, it’s important to practice them. Use the week before school starts to begin getting up at the right time, going through the morning routine, and sitting down to read during the scheduled study time.

Rest
Apparently fifth grade at our school is when every activity possible becomes available for students. Last year, our son decided he wanted to be in cross country, soccer, flag football, band, and chimes—all at the same time. It sounds so well-rounded, doesn’t it? It turned out to be a recipe for anxiety for our son and led to significant physical and emotional issues for the first part of the school year. Kids need down time. (So do adults!) Choose with your child one or two activities to participate in during the school year, and limit everything else.

Along with rest from activities, children need physical rest. It is recommended that children ages 6 to 13 get 9 to 11 hours of sleep. Consistent lack of sleep can negatively impact learning, weaken the immune system, and result in behavioral issues. Encourage good sleep by limiting electronics before bed, keeping lighting low and the temperature cool in your child’s bedroom, and having a healthy snack before bedtime. Routines such as a warm bath or cuddling also help.

Remember what’s important
Finally, as the school year approaches, remember this important truth. Our children belong to God, and he has given us the responsibility of teaching them about his love. Maybe you set aside time for family Bible study. Maybe you sing Christian songs on your way to soccer. We have a devotion and share what we’re thankful for before bed. What your children learn about Jesus and what he’s done for them will be the most important lesson they learn all school year.

Sarah Reik and her husband have four children ages 6 to 11 heading back to school this fall.

A successful school year starts in summer?

I personally believe setting the stage for a successful school year starts in summer.

My wife and I try to get our children on a typical, healthy routine a few weeks prior to the school year. That includes trying to get them to settle in to sleep at a reasonable time and helping them adapt to any other changes in routine (including less screen time) so they have a chance to have healthy habits entering the school year and so we do not have the added stress of those changes when school begins. Of course, we do not always accomplish this goal due to the busyness of life and the need for flexibility.

I also believe it is important to speak positively about school and encourage your children to see school as a healthy and important venture and to model that positivity to them about responsibilities in your life. Telling them that your work is important, that God gave us talents and abilities to apply in this life, and that we aim to approach work and school with a thankful attitude can go a long way.

One part I have struggled with is watching my children go through the transition to school with fear and worry. I find myself saying, “How will they do with their friends?” “Will they like their teacher?” “What about their academics?” When I catch myself falling into that line of thinking, I remind myself that it is important to trust God (He helped you through it all, didn’t he?) and to trust your children and the people God has placed around them.

When school finally begins, my wife and I typically try to keep the above routines on track in addition to establishing routines for homework and study time. I also think it is important to try to keep things simple for a few weeks. Managing the back-to-school transition is an exciting time with all kinds of adjustments. It can also be a time when soccer, cross-country, and other commitments come together, and all of that can be overwhelming depending on how your child manages stress. In our house, we try our best to keep things simple in the fall so we are not overcommitted (notice the word “try”) and to allow the children adequate time in the evening and weekends to do things that help them relax, to connect with each other and us, to get homework done, to eat, and to play.

Finally, we pray for patience and trust that over time, the routines will settle in, the children will adjust, and we will be thinking about our plans for the following summer. Moreover, we remember that this time is temporary and we may as well enjoy this time of grace.

Casey Holtz and his wife, Amanda, have three young children ages 2 to 8.

Working through our kids’ natural gifts

My three teenagers experience a fair amount of worldly success in academics, sports, and music. This is not a bragging moment; it is simply an acknowledgement that God has given my kids a range of abilities, which are gifts they can’t take credit for in the same way they can’t take credit for their natural hair color. (Curious about this? Check out Letter 14 in Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.)

So, for those who are used to consistent success, what happens when they encounter something they’re not naturally good at?

Well, first, we simply accept those weaknesses. Society, in the name of well-rounded kiddos, places an awful lot of pressure on them to do everything. In reality, it’s refreshing to say, “We’re not even going to worry about that.” Not pressuring them to strive for things that aren’t in their wheelhouse gives them a chance to celebrate others’ success and gifts.

Then, after our kids accept their weaknesses, we encourage them not to completely accept their weaknesses (and not just because we’re trying to mess with them!). The parenting cliché “You don’t have to be the best, but you need to do your best” is a good one to use here.

Kids can’t just blow off math or English because it’s not their gift. Certain skills do need to be learned. Plus, with so many things, kids are accountable to a team or a group, so they need to work on their portion of the robotics project or practice free throws or rehearse their music. People are counting on them to contribute. This is where character is built. As kids struggle, they learn perseverance, determination, empathy, and humility. They learn that there is often a greater sense of satisfaction that comes along with hard work than from accomplishments that came easy.

Mainly, it boils down to giving thanks. We give thanks for the natural gifts God has given our kids. Then we give thanks for the lessons they learn as they work through their struggles.

Linda Buxa and her husband, Greg, have two daughters and a son.