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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.

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.

Supporting children as they struggle

My husband and I have raised three boys who are incredibly different from one another and have very different gifts, despite their shared DNA. It has made parenting them interesting . . . and challenging. What came so easily to one was a struggle for another. One lived for the grade school science fair and eagerly cultivated bacteria in petri dishes for weeks. The other started his project the night before it was due.

Sound familiar? As parents, how do we support our kids when they don’t excel in a certain area?

  • First of all, remind your kids (and yourself!) not to believe everything they see on social media. A scroll through your Facebook feed will convince you that everyone else’s kids are destined to be doctors, pro athletes, rocket scientists, etc. Don’t buy into the lie! Discuss with your kids how social media can be about sharing “mountaintop” experiences—the perfect facade people present to the world. In reality, all kids fail, feel excluded, and struggle with self-doubt. They just might not show it.
  • Help your kids realize that struggles in this sinful world are inevitable. Satan has made sure of that. The important thing is what we do with those struggles. We don’t let them define us; we let them teach us. Sometimes our kids’ struggles will lead them down a path they never would have chosen for themselves. Help them identify the valuable life lessons that can be learned from struggles.
  • Remind your kids that struggles are in God’s perfect plan for their lives. Wise King Solomon reminds us, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Remember that God knows what our kids need better than we do. In our time-bound, earthly thinking, we cannot comprehend how all the disparate pieces of our kids’ lives—their successes and struggles—are part of God’s divine plan for them and fulfill his purposes.
  • Gently help your kids deal with failure. Kids no longer know how to fail! This sounds odd, but think about our society. It rewards kids with medals and trophies just for participating. Our attempts not to let any child’s feelings get hurt are doing kids a disservice. When they get older, they will not always be #1 or #2 but might be #27 or #1,127. Kids need to learn how to deal with failure and how to work through the depression and anxiety they might feel when they realize they aren’t #1 at everything they do. At the same time, remind your kids that the “place” or “rank” the world has assigned to them in no way changes the way you, or their heavenly Father, love and cherish them.
  • Help your kids identify and cultivate their God-given gifts and areas where they excel. Think about what motivates them. What makes them come alive? What can they do for hours without looking at the clock? Sometimes it’s easier for us, as parents and observers, to see where our kids’ gifts lie. It is our job to help them discover and use those gifts for God’s glory. Remind them that God gives everyone different gifts (Romans 12:6-8) and that they shouldn’t compare their gifts to the gifts of others. Assure them that God’s love does not depend on their success and neither does your love for them.

Ultimately, let’s pray for God’s guidance in teaching our kids that their most important status is that of redeemed child of God, purchased with Jesus’ blood on the cross.

Ann Jahns and her husband, Thad, have three sons and a recently emptied nest.

Start by listening

“I’m no good at anything!”

“Sam is the best. Why can’t I be like him.”

“Everyone else can do it but me!”

Do these words activate your parent panic alarm? These phrases and others like them are a common and normal part of the growing process. However, as a parent I feel the need to spring into action and do something. My child feels like he/she is not good at anything. No way! This can’t happen! My natural instinct is to argue, “You are good at many things.” Enter kid response: “No, I’m not.” Followed by my educated, all-knowing parental response, “Yes, you are.”

Perhaps in my panic of seeing my child hurting in some way, this “No, you aren’t/yes you are” approach could turn into more of an argument than anything else. I have found it a little (maybe a lot) more challenging for me to take a more unnatural approach during times like this. In fact, I have had to tell myself to STOP—and just listen. An expression of feelings associated with not excelling in a certain area can first be acknowledged—then argued with (kidding about the arguing). Here’s my secret template.

“Sounds like you felt a little (insert feeling word here) when (insert event here) happened.”

It feels a bit unnatural to me, but I have found that if I do not give our kids an understanding of how they feel, nothing else I say seems to be heard. It makes me think of the accounts in Scripture when Jesus sat with the woman at the well or walked along the road to Emmaus with the disciples. He seemed to join them and express his understanding before teaching them a new way.

So what’s next? I’ve joined my child and expressed an understanding of how he feels about not excelling in a certain area. Now it’s time to debate, right? Set this child straight and tell him what he is good at and he will walk away with new confidence, right?

Maybe sometimes that approach is needed. Maybe it helps at times to minimize a mistake or encourage hard work and practice. Maybe sometimes it is an opportunity to acknowledge the effort and not the end result. Lots of helpful approaches can be used at different times and special situations.

As I keep my radar up for a teachable moment, one thing I tend to be on guard for in my kids is the sense that Mom and Dad will only love me if I am the best. Wrong! I think there may be a sense of that conditional acceptance in all of us at times. This becomes a great opportunity for a reminder of God’s unconditional love. He loves us all with our successes and failures. That’s how we as parents try to use that as our guide. While we were still sinners (failures, broken, not good at anything), Christ died for us. There was nothing we had to do to earn God’s love. It is unconditional.

As parents, we can remain watchful for opportunities like this to express understanding when our kids experience disappointments and do not excel in a certain area. Let’s ask for the Lord’s guidance to help us use the best tool of redirection at the right time and always be aware of the moments we are given to remind them of God’s unconditional love.

Dan Nommensen and his wife, Kelly, have a teenage daughter and a pre-teen son.

“Where do your kids go to school?”

“Where do your kids go to school?”

This common question always catches me off guard. It shouldn’t, of course, but it does. I answer—with some pride, but mainly apprehension—that we homeschool our kids. Thankfully, most reactions involve admiration and praise followed with general inquiry. However, some reactions have involved judgment, concern, and overall disapproval.

Homeschooling has definitely been a lifestyle change for our family. The journey arriving here certainly wasn’t a part of our parenting plan for our children, even though I have always felt that teaching is my vocation.

I was a public school teacher in the inner city of Milwaukee, Wis., for six years. During that time my husband and I had two children. I worked full time and returned back to school for my masters and an additional teaching license in bilingual education. I was pregnant with our third child when we decided that I would relinquish all my teaching credentials and become a full-time stay-at-home mom. What a blessing!

During that time, my oldest attended a small WELS preschool. This was all new to us and exciting. We had projects, snack calendars, special gym shoes, and a Thomas the Train backpack.

After that year, we moved to a suburb outside of Milwaukee. We found a new church and school, and it quickly became our lifestyle to serve there. My son was thriving, and we received countless praises about his character and love for Jesus and all things in nature. We were pleased with his academic progress and social, spiritual, and physical development.

Our second child started school, our fourth child was born, and our family life started to feel overwhelming. Everything felt rushed and hurried—a result of the choices we had made together, but something had to give.

We started to see signs that our son was struggling in third grade. It can all be summed up into time management and personal responsibility. No one likes to feel rushed and hurried. He confessed feeling this way all the time in school. We worked with his teachers and got to the heart of the matter and discovered that his learning styles weren’t conducive for a typical classroom setting. The teachers were gracious in modifying their lesson assignments for him and provided me with resources and suggestions to better meet his needs.

I spent the rest of that semester exploring all options. We had our son’s vision and hearing tested and met with professionals to offer any insight into his wonderful world of learning and retaining information. We tested his reading comprehension and learned he was reading just below grade level. Finally we decided to pull him at the end of the semester from his WELS grade school, and we began our homeschooling journey.

As we discovered, each homeschooling family is different. We decided to fully involve our son in this decision so he could have ownership and personal responsibility for his schooling. We told him this was going to be the semester we try it out and see if it’s a good fit for our family. And that’s exactly what we did. We used that semester to identify areas of weaknesses and strengths. We poured into his personal interests. We read a ton of books based on his choice of topics, wrote in journals, explored our community, visited several museums, enjoyed nature, made messes doing science and art projects, watched historical documentaries, and occasionally worked on math work books. We finished the school year, and during the summer he informed us that he wanted to continue homeschooling, so we decided to keep going.

We enrolled both our daughters at our church’s school that year—second grade and half-day 4K. I purchased an entire grade-level Christian curriculum, joined a Christian co-op homeschooling group, and began fully homeschooling our then fourth-grade son. He and I worked tirelessly around the baby’s nap schedule and carpool pick-ups. We managed extra-curricular activities and became involved in our co-op. There I met several homeschooling families from all different backgrounds. It was refreshing to be among such diverse company. I was always encouraged and supported, and every family had their own unique story and experience that led them to homeschooling. I was in awe of the spiritual gifts and talents of these parents, all of whom shared a similar sentiment and belief that the schooling of our children is not a one-size-fits-all specific program. What works for your family may not necessarily work for ours, and that’s okay.

That was my first full year of all-in homeschooling. The most exhausting part was the baby. The one-on-one with my son was rewarding and enjoyable. During that year my eldest daughter continually inquired about staying home with her brother to be homeschooled. Although hesitant at first—I didn’t feel ready to add another student to my classroom and she seemed to be thriving at school both academically and socially—we decided to bring her home as well at the beginning of the next school year. I turned my dining room into a classroom and fully committed to this homeschooling lifestyle. It was an absolute joy seeing my children learn together and grow closer to one another.

The benefits of homeschooling have significantly outweighed the challenges for us. We immediately eliminated the busyness, rushing, and hurrying. Our family has grown closer together and developed a collaborative and comfortable learning environment that fosters exploration and discovery and appeals to each child’s interests. We provide balanced amounts of structured and unstructured activities. We give our children a flexible routine that enables them to take responsibility in finishing their own tasks. We provide a comfortable learning environment free from judgment and comparison, focused instead on encouragement and inspiration.

We regularly go on field trips. We go sledding and ice skating for recess during the winter. We have a reading club on the trampoline on warm days. We even have poetry reading family nights with recitations and performances. Our homeschool lifestyle is unique to our family because it caters to our needs and interests while building on the fundamental skills and knowledge for personal growth and progression in all areas of development.

Of course there are drawbacks to homeschooling. First off, you are the school. You are the educator, principal, secretary, guidance counselor, recess supervisor, art and music teacher, gym teacher, etc. It’s a lot of additional responsibility on top of the demands of parenting.

Also, it is a tremendous amount of pressure to provide a well-rounded education for your children. Homeschool parents can’t call a substitute teacher. We often feel inadequate and insecure. We see the neighbor kids getting on the bus, and we are envious. We see pictures on Facebook about school programs and spirit week dress-up days, and we feel excluded. We sit among family, friends, and neighbors who boast about their children’s school achievements, and we are overwhelmed with doubt that we may have made a mistake choosing to homeschool our children. We look at state standards and wonder if we did enough at the end of each year. We see social awkwardness with our children and feel responsible for not providing enough social interaction among peers. The list goes on.

The homeschooling family needs community support. We need encouragement and love from our family, friends, and neighbors. We need to feel accepted, cherished, and included in our church so we may continue to grow in faith. When you meet a homeschooling family, acknowledge and encourage them. Above all, pray for them. The homeschool family needs prayer of wisdom, discernment, and perseverance. Show love and kindness to these families. And when you ask, “Where do your kids go to school?” to a new family and find out that they homeschool, make sure to follow up with, “That’s wonderful! Tell me about your homeschool.”

Sarah Haeuser and her husband, Frank, have four children and live in Merton, Wis.