06.19.17

Why Porn Might Bring Down This Generation of Young People and My Child Was Caught Viewing Porn! What Do I Do? by Jim Burns

homeword.org

Perhaps pornography, more than any other issue of today’s culture, has the greatest chance of bringing down the morals and values of this generation. Studies tell us that the greatest new users of pornography are twelve- to seventeen-year-old boys. The girls, however, are catching up. All the while, the multi-billion-dollar pornography industry is reaching into the souls of this generation and wreaking havoc. It is so powerful that it can snatch any kid in any house today.

A few years ago, a thirteen-year-old boy at our church was looking for a new baseball glove online. There used to be a large sporting-good chain in our area called Chicks Sporting Goods. We all called it “Chicks” for short. He innocently typed the word “Chicks” into a search engine, thinking he was going to find the store’s new baseball glove collection. What he found were pornography sites, and plenty of them. His first exposure to porn took him on a journey that caused him to daily, sometimes for hours at a time, look at awful porn. This was a good kid, from a strong family, with high morals, and he just got caught in the maze of porn addiction. When the family found out (they began to suspect something when he was on the computer in the middle of the night and his grades were dropping), they did the right thing and got their son help. However, that young boy will have thousands of vivid images stored in his brain and subconscious.

One of the many problems of viewing pornography is that your mind takes a picture of the image. And sadly, millions of young people today have very inappropriate images stored in their minds. Pornography is extremely addicting, and for many it can escalate. Here are the stages of pornography addiction progression:

  1. Viewing pornography
  2. Addiction
  3. Escalation
  4. Desensitization
  5. Act out sexually

In today’s world, kids cannot help but see very unhealthy sexual images. As parents, you can help your kids see the negative consequences of viewing pornography.

Information on the effects of porn is very prevalent today. Needless to say, pornography is fantasy. Fantasy and pornography are closely related links to sexual addiction. Pornography is a tool for going beyond reality, and, once used, it is difficult to live without. Sadly, sexual addiction among young people is growing, and for many, it becomes a strong obsessive compulsion similar to the intensity of alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions. Sexual addiction breaks families apart, causes people to view the opposite sex as objects, and tears at the very moral fiber of really good people.

The days are over when pornography was confined to a dark section of town at XXX-rated movie theaters. Pornography is distributed through what was once safe channels, like cable TV, bookstores, phones, and of course, the Internet. As parents, we must be intentional to counter this influence with love, example, and instruction. Otherwise, someone else will teach our children about pornography, and the visual aids they might use may be so enticing that they lure our kids into a fantasy world full of guilt, shame, and remorse. Pornography is not safe, and we can’t assume our kids will never be tempted. Being proactive, not “preachy” or panicked, is the best way to help your kids make healthy decisions about their viewing practices.

My Child Was Caught Viewing Porn! What Do I Do?

The shock, shame, and anger that first takes place when you stumble upon the fact that your child has viewed porn is understandably terrifying. Every parent hopes their child will live with sexual integrity, and when we hear the statistics of kids and porn it can be disheartening. Yes, the average age of a child viewing porn in the United States is age 11 and there isn’t a mother or father around whose heart doesn’t break when we hear that fact. So what do we do?

Here are 5 tips for handling the almost inevitable fact that your child will look at porn whether on purpose or even accidentally.

1. DON’T FREAK OUT

I know you may want to. Our natural reaction is to panic, but too much emotion or anger will only complicate the matter. So take a deep breath, and realize it is not the end of the world. Most kids who view pornography don’t become sex offenders.

2. MAKE THIS A TEACHABLE MOMENT

When you imagine the end for your kids, what you truly want is to help them develop a healthy, positive view of sexuality. Sometimes, one of the most effective ways to teach healthy sexuality is to help them understand that “it’s not that” (pornography), but “this”(God-honoring, positive sexuality). Use the poor choice of looking at porn as a positive opportunity to teach them the beauty of God-given sexuality and why we wait until marriage and adulthood.

3. CREATE CONSEQUENCES WITHIN REASON

If stumbling upon porn was truly accidental there should be no consequence; but if they chose to view a porn site then yes, developing boundaries with consequences for their actions is the right thing to do. But do it without shaming them, and create the consequences as a boundary to keep them from constant porn use and, more importantly, help them make better decisions. For the first offense, this might mean taking away a mobile device and adding a blocking filter along with regular monitoring by a parent or parents.

4. TEACH POSITIVE, HEALTHY SEXUALITY

The prescription for making better decisions about sex is for parents to proactively teach their kids healthy sexuality. All studies show the more positive healthy sex education is communicated in the home, the less promiscuous kids will be. So don’t just have one conversation. Make it an ongoing dialogue.  Sure there will be awkward moments. That’s okay, sexuality can be awkward. I write books on the subject, and my own kids have mocked me plenty of times for those ongoing conversations.

5. FIND HELPFUL RESOURCES

There are excellent resources to equip you to help your kids develop sexual integrity, and even in the area porn addiction. I always suggest you find Christian resources that stay true to your values to come alongside you. A few of my go-to websites are CovenantEyes.com, xxxChurch.com and of course HomeWord.com for “Pure Foundation Resources” for ages 3 to adult.

In this digital world, it is harder than ever to protect our kids’ eyes and minds. So start the conversation early and have it often.

06.12.17

How to Undo Our Biggest Mistake in Leading Students by Tim Elmore

growingleaders.com

Today, we hear from Andrew McPeak. Andrew is a next gen researcher, speaker, and author for Growing Leaders. 

I’ve been reading a lot about brains lately.

Did you know that our brains rewire themselves based on activity or inactivity? This can happen in a relatively short amount of time—just a few weeks, typically.

Did you know that “we take in the equivalent of about 174 newspapers’ worth of information, five times as much as we did in 1986?”

Did you know that, due to digital immersion, most of our brains don’t allow us to read from left to right? We skip around the page, looking for pertinent information.

Daniel J. Levitin of McGill University has been studying the traits of today’s typical brain and has found something pretty interesting. There are two “dominant modes of attention” according to Levitin. These modes are called the “task-positive network” and the “task-negative network.” The task-positive network is used “when you’re actively engaged in a task, focused on it, and undistracted.” It is something like what we would call “executive function.” The task-negative network is used “when your mind is wandering; this is the daydreaming mode.” These two networks act independently of one another and, in fact, cannot be active at the same time. They are “like a seesaw in the brain.”

Upon first glance, it would seem like our task-positive network would be the more helpful of the two, but this isn’t necessarily the case. While our task-positive network allows us to both stay on task and accomplish projects, it is our task-negative network that allows for creative thinking and problem-solving. In other words, when our minds are wandering we also find that our creative juices are flowing. Do all of your best ideas come to you in the bathroom? You now know why.

So what does this have to do with our students?

Stressed Out

Just the other week I sat down with a group of 9th grade students at a fairly large-sized school in the Midwest. During the focus group, I spoke with the students about the realities they are facing, the questions they are asking, and the problems they are seeing. When we got to the subject of stress level, I asked everyone to rate the level of stress they feel they are under by picking a number between 1 and 10. As I went around the room, only a couple were below a 6. Most were between 7 and 9, and in fact, one girl boldly diagnosed herself, “11!” Remember, these are 9th graders.

When I spoke with the students about the sources of their stress, the conversation always came back around to one problem: “I have a lot going on.” Many of these students skip school, to practice, to a social event only to get home at 9 or 10, without having even touched their homework.

To put this in Dr. Levitin’s terms: the requirements on a typical student’s time mean that they are often using task-positive brain function, but rarely, if ever, getting sustained periods of task-negative space for their minds to unwind. Instead, they get their task-negative time in short five-minute bursts as they check social media throughout the day.

Correcting Our Mistake

So, what is our biggest mistake? We’ve over-planned our student’s schedules. Our kids are doing too much.

Levitin’s research showed that the more often a person switches between these two modes in the brain, the more energy is being drained. “Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend, is competing for resources in your brain with important things.” Because we haven’t planned time for task-negative activity, our kids are stretched too thin. Should we be surprised to see that both stress and anxiety are on the rise?

Now before I go on, I understand that there is a problem with what I am saying. If you are a teacher and are held to standards beyond your control, then you may not have the luxury of deciding how much your students are doing. Maybe you can’t plan task-negative activities because you have too much to get done. If this is you, I encourage you to leverage whatever you have (even if it’s five minutes) to help with this problem. Don’t feel bad if you have to start small.

So, what can we do to right the ship? Levitin’s research suggests a few ideas:

  1. Schedule time for task-negative thinking. This is why having sustained periods of quiet throughout the day can be so helpful—especially for a student’s developing brain. Consider having intentional quiet time in your house for 30 minutes after your kids get home from school. Or set aside a period of time during the school day for quiet reflection.
  2. Organize their day into projects. The research shows that focusing on a single task for a sustained period of time, rather than jumping back and forth between tasks, can be very helpful. Maybe teachers can introduce a problem in the classroom on Monday and inform students that they will be working on this project all week during class. Perhaps parents could make sure their kids only have one primary focus each evening during the week. Parents might also plan a half-day on Saturday to focus on task-negative activity like hiking, swimming, or a going on a picnic.
  3. Let them listen to music. Many of our partners at schools across the nation say that students are constantly walking around with headphones. My guess is this is because their day is so stressful, they need an escape—something they can control. Music “turns out to be an effective method for improving attention, building up self-confidence, social skills and a sense of engagement.” Let them have a little time to unwind with their favorite song.
  4. Encourage them to take naps. While sleeping is frowned upon during the school day, the science behind naps is solid. Studies show that a “nap of even 10 minutes improved cognitive function and vigor, and decreased sleepiness and fatigue.” Parents, a nap right after school could be the difference between stress and peace for your kids. I met a teacher years ago who lets her students with difficult home lives take short naps in the morning, often because they didn’t sleep at all the night before. This might be a part of the wave of the future.

Tony Robbins once said, “One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power. Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything in particular.”

Let’s raise students who know how to direct their focus. We’ll need them to be focused adults in the future.

05.30.17

UNREAL by Marc Bain

qz.com

Instagram is the most harmful social network for your mental health

Our addictive feeds of fitness models, exotic travel, and photo-perfect moments don’t often match with our comparatively humdrum and badly lit lives. The discontent caused by that disconnect is enough that a growing body of research suggests social media is contributing to mental-health problems such as anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation, and body-image issues in young people, who are the heaviest users of social media.
And Instagram, which now has 700 million users globally, appears to be the social network having the greatest negative effect, according to a new report by the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), an independent charity focused on health education.
The report combines previously published research on the health impacts of social media with its own UK-wide survey of nearly 1,500 people between the ages of 14-24. To discover how respondents felt different social networks—Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, and Twitter—affected their health, both positively and negatively, it asked them about their feelings of anxiety, connection to a community, sense of identity, sleep, body image, and more.
Only YouTube had a net-positive effect among the respondents. Every other social network came back with a net-negative effect. (In order from least negative to most, they were: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.) Respondents rated Instagram in particular as having negative effects on anxiety and body image. One of the report’s authors told CNN that girls often compare themselves to unrealistic images that have been manipulated.
The report quotes one respondent as saying, “Instagram easily makes girls and women feel as if their bodies aren’t good enough as people add filters and edit their pictures in order for them to look ‘perfect.’”
Earlier research has found that the unrealistic expectations and “fear of missing out” created across our social feeds can lower self-esteem and fuel issues such as anxiety and depression. These issues are only compounded by cyber-bullying and lack of sleep, another harmful effect linked to social media. The report cites recent research published in the Journal of Youth Studies that found one in five young people say they wake up during the night to check messages, causing them to feel exhausted during the day.
The findings weren’t all bad. Nearly 70% of respondents reported that they received emotional support on social media when times were tough, and many said their accounts offered a forum for positive self-expression. They were also able to create and maintain relationships online.
The problems centered more on forgetting that what we see isn’t always reality, and the RSPH offered some recommendations based on its findings. For one, fashion brands, celebrities, and others should consider disclosing when their photos have been manipulated. It also suggested that social networks give users a pop-up warning if they exceed a certain time spent logged on. Social platforms might even identify users with possible mental health issues based on their usage and send a discreet message on where to get help.
Not least of all, the report said more research is needed into social media’s health effects. Social’s spread among younger generations is only growing. It’s too big a force not to consider the health consequences seriously.

05.15.17

Bullied in 5th Grade, Prone to Drug Abuse by High School by Valerie Earnshaw
consumer.healthday.com
Victims may develop depression, fueling risky behaviors, study suggests

A child bullied in fifth grade is more likely to show signs of depression in seventh grade, and abuse substances like alcohol, marijuana or tobacco in 10th grade, researchers say.

Their study of more than 4,000 kids in Los Angeles, Houston and Birmingham, Ala., suggests a dangerous trajectory between not-uncommon childhood abuse and worrisome behavior in high school.

“Our study suggests that it’s important to take peer victimization seriously,” said study co-author Valerie Earnshaw. She’s an assistant professor in human development and family studies at the University of Delaware.

“There’s still sometimes this idea that peer victimization and bullying are a normal part of adolescence and that lots of kids will experience it, so it’s fine. But, this study adds to a growing body of evidence that peer victimization and bullying are not fine,” Earnshaw said.

To explore the associations between bullying and its negative effects over time, the research team collected data between 2004 and 2011 from almost 4,300 children in the three cities. Participants were split evenly between boys and girls, and the results indicated that the effects of bullying were the same, regardless of gender.

Even though the researchers hypothesized that peer victimization would be associated with substance use over time, Earnshaw wasn’t prepared for the results. She said she was surprised to learn that the effects of peer victimization in fifth grade were so lasting that it was associated with substance use in 10th grade.

Other experts were less surprised, however.

“This victimization leads to youth feeling not as hopeful about their lives, youth feeling sadder, and youth feeling they are not as worthwhile,” said Andrea Romero, director of the Frances McClelland Institute for Children, Youth, and Families in Tucson, Ariz.

The study doesn’t directly show cause and effect. Still, “those negative emotions may be associated with future risky behaviors like substance use,” Romero said.

Children who stand out because of obesity, sexual orientation or chronic health conditions are even more likely to be bullied, leading to depression and substance use, according to the study.

“For youth living with stigmatized characteristics, some of them recognize that if they are being bullied for their race or because they are living with a chronic illness, this isn’t something they’re going to grow out of,” Earnshaw said.

“Maybe they are seeing this as something they will continue to experience throughout their lives and that may be part of why it’s harmful. It’s cutting at an aspect of their identity in a way that more general peer victimization does not,” she added.

The researchers said pediatricians need to play an important role in identifying and supporting children who are bullied. They recommended that pediatricians screen “all youth” for peer victimization, depressive symptoms and substance use.

Schools are an obvious starting point, too. According to Romero, schools have received the bulk of information about preventing bullying and creating safe school climates. But, nationwide reductions in public school funding have caused a decrease in counselor and social worker positions.

“The caseloads of those staff end up being higher so it makes it harder to implement those anti-bullying programs and provide the kind of screening services that young people might need in relation to peer victimization or depressive symptoms or substance use,” said Romero.

Earnshaw added that it’s important for parents, teachers and pediatricians to remember that kids who appear “different” in some way are more likely targets.

Moreover, “it could have a more harmful effect on them,” Earnshaw said. “It’s even more important to take those experiences seriously and intervene.”

The study was published online May 8 in the journal Pediatrics.

More information

For more on bullying and how to prevent it, head to stop bullying.gov.

05.15.17

Anxiety in Teens – How to Help a teenager Deal With Anxiety by Karen Young

heysigmund.com

Anxiety can be tough for anyone to deal with, but add in the whirlwind of changes that come with adolescence, and anxiety can feel like an intrusive mind hog that spends way too much time squeezing, surprising and overwhelming anyone it lands on.

If anxiety is making a menace of itself, the good news is that there are ways to take it back to small enough. First though, it’s important to understand the telltale signs of anxiety and where they come from. When you understand this, anxiety will start to lose the power that comes from its mystery and its unpredictability.

Teens With Anxiety. A Few Things You Need to Know

Anxiety has absolutely nothing to do with strength, character or courage.

People with anxiety will be some of the strongest, most likable, bravest people any of us will know. Anxiety and courage always exist together. Courage doesn’t mean you never get scared – if you’re not scared, there’s no need to be brave. What courage means is that you’re pushing right up against your edges. It doesn’t matter where the edges are. They will be different for everyone. The point is that courage is all about feeling them and making a push to move through them – and people with anxiety do it all the time.

Sometimes it drops in for absolutely no reason at all.

Anxiety happens because your brain thinks there might be danger, even when there is no danger at all. Brains are smart, but they can all read things a little bit wrong sometimes.

Anxiety is soooo common. Almost as common as having feet. But not quite.

On average, about 1 in 5 young people have anxiety. Without a doubt, someone you know or care about will also struggle with anxiety from time to time. Stats don’t lie. They don’t gossip and they don’t start scandals either, which is why they’re so reliable. They’re good like that.

Everyone experiences anxiety on some level.

Anxiety exists on a spectrum – some people get it a lot and some people get it a lot less, but we all experience anxiety on some level at some time in our lives – exams, job interviews, performances. Sometimes it can happen for no reason at all.

Anxiety is a feeling, not a personality.

Anxiety doesn’t define you. It’s a feeling – it will come, but it will always go, and it’s as human as having a heartbeat.

Your brain that is strong, healthy and doing exactly what brains are meant to do.

Your brain is magnificent. It’s just a little overprotective. It loves you like a favourite thing and it wants to keep you safe. And alive. Brains love keeping people alive. They adore it actually.

Anxiety can look a little something like this …

Here are some of the common signs of anxiety. If you have some of these, it doesn’t mean that anxiety is a problem for you. This list is a way to make sense of things that feel as though they’re getting in your way, but if you experience some of them and you’re travelling along beautifully, then there’s no problem at all. Something is only a problem if it’s causing you a problem.

Thoughts …
  • Negative thoughts – what-ifs, thoughts about being judged or embarrassed, small thoughts that grow into big worries.
  • Excessive worry about physical symptoms (that a cut might become infected, that a headache might mean brain cancer).

An anxious brain is a strong brain, and anxious thoughts can be persuasive little beasts that stick to the inside of your skull like they belong there. Write this down and stick it to your mirror, so you see it every morning when you’re getting a faceful of your gorgeous head: ‘Thoughts are thoughts. They are NOT predictions. Let them come. And then let them go.’

Feelings …
  • Fearful, worried, overwhelmed, out of control.
  • Dread, as though something bad is going to happen.
  • Panic that seems to come from nowhere.
  • Feeling separate to your physical self or your surroundings. (This is called depersonalisation and it can be driven by anxiety. Manage this one by managing your anxiety. Keep reading for how to do this.)
Physically …
  • Racing heart.
  • Tightening in the chest
  • Butterflies.
  • Tense muscles.
  • Shaking hands.
  • Feeling as though you’re going to vomit.
  • Dizzy or light-headed.
  • Feeling as though you want to burst into tears.
  • Feeling angry.

These are all because of the surge of neurochemicals that happen when the body is in fight or flight mode. They can feel frightening, but they are all a very normal part of the way your brain and body protect you from possible danger (more about this later).

Behaviours …
  • Skin picking (dermatillomania).
  • Pulling out hair (trichotillomania).
  • Nail biting.
  • Avoidance of people or situations, even if they are things that would probably be fun. (This isn’t necessarily about wanting to avoid the people involved and more about wanting to avoid the anxiety that comes with certain situations such as parties or get-togethers or anything unfamiliar.)
  • Feel compelled to perform certain habits or rituals that don’t seem to make sense (e.g. having to stack things in even numbers, having to touch the door handle a certain number of times before you leave, compulsive hand-washing, checking locks etc).

People with anxiety tend to find all sorts of ways to make their anxiety feel smaller for a little while. These self-soothing behaviours will often escalate with the intensity of the anxiety, but will ease once anxiety is under control. If you can manage your anxiety, this will help to fade these symptoms. (Sit tight – we’ll talk about how to do that.)

You might have a bit of …
  • Tummy trouble – (constipation, diarrhoea, irritable bowel).

In the gut are hundreds of millions of neurons. This is affectionately known as ‘the brain in our gut’. These neurons are really important for mental health because they send information from the belly to the brain. When the environment in the gut is out of balance (not enough good bacteria, too many bad ones), the messages sent back to the brain can stir anxiety.

And those zzz’s …
  • Difficulty sleeping – either trouble falling asleep, or waking up and not being able to go back to sleep.

When you’re still, quiet and trying to relax, negative thoughts or worries will see it as an invitation. They’ll put on their fancy pants and get the party started in your head. Pushy little sleep-thieving pirates that they are.

Practical, powerful ways to help manage anxiety.

Understand why it feels the way it does.

Understanding why anxiety feels the way it does will be one of your greatest tools in managing it. Think of it like this. Imagine being in a dark room that is full of ‘stuff’. When you walk around in the dark, you’re going to bump into things. You’re going to scrape, bruise and maybe drop a few choice words. Turn on the light though, and those things are still there, but now you can navigate your way around them. No more bumps. No more scrapes. And no more having to hold your tongue in front of people who can confiscate your phone. Here’s what you need to know …

Anxiety happens because a part of your brain (the amygdala) thinks there might be it needs to protect you from. When this happens, it surges your body with a mix of neurochemicals (including oxygen, hormones and adrenaline), designed to make you stronger, faster, more alert and more powerful so you can fight for your life or run for it. This is the fight or flight response. It’s normal and healthy and it’s in everyone. In people with anxiety, it’s just a little quicker to activate.

The amygdala acts on impulse. It’s a do-er, not a thinker – all action and not a lot of thought. It just wants to keep you safe, because safe is a lovely thing to be and because that’s been its job since the beginning of humans. The amygdala can’t always tell the difference between something that might hurt you (like a baseball coming at your head) and something that won’t (like walking into a party) – and it doesn’t care. All it wants to do is keep you safe.

When there’s nothing to flee or nothing to fight, there’s nothing to burn the neurochemical fuel that is surging through you. The fuel builds up and that’s why anxiety feels the way it does. Here’s how that works:

»  Your breathing changes from normal, slow breaths to short, shallow breaths. This is because your brain tells your body to conserve oxygen on breathing, and send as much as possible to the muscles so they can get ready to run or fight.

You might feel puffed or a bit breathless. You might also feel your cheeks burn red (from the blood rushing to your face) and your face become warm.

»  If you don’t fight or flee, the oxygen builds up in your body and the carbon dioxide drops.

You might feel dizzy or a bit confused.

»  Your heart races to get the oxygen around your body.

Your heart can feel like it’s beating out of your chest and you might feel sick.

»  Fuel gets sent to your arms (for fight) and to your legs (for flight).

Your hands, arms and legs might feel tense or shaky.

»  Your body starts cooling itself down to stop it from overheating if it has to fight or flee.

You might feel a bit clammy or sweaty.

»  Anything happening in your body that isn’t absolutely essential in the moment for your survival will shut down to conserve energy. Your digestive system is one of these. It shuts down until the ‘danger’ is dealt with, so the fuel it was using to digest your food can be used by your body for fight or flight.

You might feel butterflies in your belly. You might also feel sick, as though you’re about to vomit, and your mouth might feel dry.

»  The amygdala also controls your emotions so when it’s in fight or flight, it’s switched on to high volume. This means your emotions can be too.

You might burst into tears or get angry.

Everything you feel when you have anxiety is to do with your body getting ready to fight or flee, when there is actually no need for either. It’s okay – there are things you can do about this. Let’s talk about that …

Dealing with Anxiety – The How-To

Here are some ways to manage anxiety by strengthening the structure and function of your brain in ways that protect it against anxiety. Remember though, the brain is like any other muscle in your body – it will get stronger with practice. I wish I could tell you that it would get stronger with pizza and tacos but that would be a dirty big lie and very unhelpful. Delicious maybe, but unhelpful. What isn’t a lie is that the following strategies have been proven by tons of very high-brow research to be very powerful in helping to reduce anxiety.

  1. Mindfulness. But first to show you why.

A mountain of studies have shown that mindfulness can be a little bit magic in strengthening the brain against anxiety. In a massive analysis of a number of different mindfulness/anxiety studies, mindfulness was found to be ‘associated with robust and substantial reductions in symptoms of anxiety.’

Mindfulness changes the brain the way exercise changes our body – but without the sweating and panting. Two of the ways mindfulness changes the brain are:

  • by strengthening the connections between the amygdala (the key player in anxiety) and the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that can calm big emotions (and anxiety counts as a big emotion). The stronger the connections, the more the pre-frontal cortex is able to weigh in during anxiety and calm things down.
  • by teaching the brain to stay in the present. Anxiety is driven by a brain that has been cast into the future. Thoughts start out as ‘what ifs’ and turn into persuasive little beasts that won’t let go. Mindfulness helps to keep control over your brain so you can stop it from worrying about things it doesn’t need to.

Okay then. What else can mindfulness do?

Plenty. Mindfulness can improve concentration, academic performance, the ability to focus, and it can help with stress and depression. It also increases gray matter, which is the part of the brain that contains the neurons. Neurons are brain cells, so we want plenty of them and plenty of gray matter for them to hang out in.

So mindfulness hey? What is it exactly?

Mindfulness is about staying in the present and ‘watching’ your thoughts and feelings without hanging on to them for too long. It’s this ‘hanging on too long’ that gives them the juice they need to become something bigger. Minds quite like to wander, especially anxious ones, so staying in the moment can take some practice. Here’s the how:

  • Get comfy and close your eyes.
  • Notice your breathing. How does the air feel as you draw it inside you? Notice the sensation of the air, or your belly rising and falling. Notice your heart beating. If your mind starts to wander, come back to this.
  • Now, what can you hear? What can you feel outside of you and inside your body? If your mind starts to wander, focus on your breathing again.

Is there an app for that?

There are some brilliant apps that can guide you through mindfulness. Here are three (with links) for you to have a look at:

Smiling mind – a free app has tailored programs for different ages.

Stop, Breathe, Think – start by choosing words to describe how you’re feeling right now, and the app will suggest the best meditations based on where you’re at.

Insight Meditation Timer – another free app with guided meditations from over 700 teachers. It also has a very excellent feature that shows a map of how many other people are meditating in the world (using the app) at the same time as you. How to make the world feel a little bit smaller and a little more connected. Nice.

Exercise.

The effects of exercise on mental health are proven and powerful. The research on the positive effects of exercise on anxiety could probably cover a small planet, or, you know, a very big building. The point is that there’s tons of it.

Here’s how it works. Some neurons (brain cells) are born with the personality of puppies – very excitable and quick to fire up. We need these. They help us to think quickly, act quickly and remember. In the right amount and at the right time, these neurons are cell-sized bits of brain magic. Sometimes though, they can get a bit carried away with themselves. When too many of these excitable neurons get too active, anxiety can happen.

To stop these neurons getting over-excited and causing trouble, the brain has a neurochemical, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid is the name it likes to go by at scientific get-togethers and when it wants to make an impression). Neurochemicals are the suave little messengers in the brain that carry important info from one cell to another. GABA is the brain’s calm down chemical – kind of like a sweet lullaby for the parts of the brain that are in very serious lullaby need. When the levels of GABA in the brain are low, there’s nothing to calm the excitable neurons. Exercise is a really effective way to get the GABA in the brain to the right levels.

Once these neurochemicals are back to healthy levels, the symptoms of anxiety tend to disappear into the sunset, or into a box with a very tight fitting lid – we don’t know for certain but wherever they go, it’s somewhere far away from you which is the important thing.

Any activity that gets your heart going counts as exercise. This will be different for everyone. It doesn’t have to mean pounding the pavement with your running feet on to the point of that you’re gasping for sweet life and demanding an oxygen tank. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but it’s just that there aren’t always oxygen tanks handy when you need them. A brisk 20-minute walk or 8-10 minutes of going up and down the stairs a couple of times a day will also do it. Whatever works for you. Try for something you can do at least five times a week.

If vigorous exercise and you are still in the getting to know you trying-to-like-you phase of your relationship, non-aerobic exercise like yoga can also ease anxiety.

Breathe. But practice, practice, practice. And then practice a little bit more.

Anxiety can feel like such a gangster at times, it can be hard to believe that something as simple and as normal as breathing can out-muscle it – but it can. Here’s why. Strong, deep breathing initiates the relaxation response. The relaxation response was discovered by a Harvard cardiologist to be an automatic response that can neutralise the surge of neurochemicals that cause the awful physical feelings of anxiety. Because it’s an automatic response, you don’t need to believe it works, it just will – but you do have to initiate it.

Breathing is the switch that will activate the relaxation response and start to put the symptoms of anxiety back to small enough. Once you start slow deep breathing, your body will take over and do the rest. Breathe in through your nose for 3, hold for 1 and then out through your mouth for 3. (If you’re the type who quite fancies a visual, imagine holding a cup of hot cocoa and smelling the warm, heady aroma for three, hold your breath for one, then blow it cool for one.) Make sure the breathing is going right into your belly, not just into your chest.

In the thick of anxiety, the brain is too busy with other things to remember to do strong deep breathing. To make strong deep breathing easier for your brain to access, practice it a couple of times a day when you’re calm.

Food. You’ve gotta look after your belly

We used to think that anxiety or depression caused tummy trouble, but increasingly researchers are thinking that it actually works the other way – an unhappy belly can make an unhappy brain. The good news about this is that it doesn’t take too much effort to put it right, but eating well is super-important.

We know there are trillions of microbes that live in the intestinal tract. These send signals to the brain that can change mood and behaviour. If you eat too much processed food or too much sugar (or not enough good food) it can knock out the balance of good bacteria in your gut. This can upset the balance of everything and heavily influence your mood by sending funky messages back to your brain. Eating unprocessed, healthy food, and food that contains good bacteria (such as miso or yoghurt) can help to balance things out inside your gut and put things back on track.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with eating something unhealthily delicious now and then, but make sure that you’re not overdoing it. The healthier your gut, the healthier your mental health. Gut bacteria are the rock stars of the mental health world. It’s really important to keep yours happy, because, you know – cranky rock stars can be painful and annoying and cause more than a decent amount of trouble.

And finally …

Make sure you love yourself a little louder. At adolescence, you’re at a point in your life where the world is opening up to you. It’s a world that needs your wisdom, your courage and your interesting and very wonderful take on things. Anxiety can have a way of shifting the focus too often to the negative, but the things about ourselves that we would like to change often have very wonderful strengths built into them. Of course you would always rather not have anxiety, but there are so many strengths in you. Spend plenty of time noticing them.

Anxiety is something that happens, not something you are. What you are is smart, with truckloads of emotional intelligence, and a very wonderful and uniqe way of looking at things, as well as being the person people can count on, the one who thinks of things that other people haven’t, creative (even if you aren’t doing anything creative, it’s in you), sensitive, strong, and brave. You would be most people’s favourite type of humans.

01.30.17

5 Things You Should Know About Self Harm and 5 Things You Can Do About Self Harm by Ash Sanfilippo

youthspecialties.com

When working with teens who self-harm, people often find themselves anywhere from mystified to intrigued to scared.

My hope here is to demystify self-harm a little bit, and in a subsequent post, I’ll give you some practical tips for helping students who struggle in this area.

1. SELF-HARM WORKS

Self-harm is a strategy people use to manage strong emotions or numbness. And for some, it works really well.

Teens who are prone to strong emotions often report a period of peace and clarity following a “cutting session.” On the other end of the spectrum, some struggle with unbearable numbness. Cutting helps them to feel alive again.

Since self-harm tends to work well to help teens feel better, they might not want to stop. They might feel like they’ve finally found an effective means of managing their feelings and be afraid to let it go.

As someone who’s never personally struggled with self-harm, that was hard for me to grasp at first. It can seem bizarre that taking a blade to your skin could change your emotional state in a positive way, but it can.

In order for us to effectively help teens work through this behavior, we must radically accept the fact that their actions make sense based on their beliefs and experiences. We must lay aside any disgust, disdain or disappointment we might be feeling and treat them with dignity and respect.

That is not to say that we affirm self-harm as good, godly or positive. But we affirm the teens in the midst of their struggle.

2. SELF-HARM ISN’T A SUICIDE ATTEMPT

Perhaps because wrist cutting has been referenced as a stereotypical method of a suicide for years, many have associated self-harm with a suicide attempt. It isn’t. In fact, it can be looked at as the opposite of a suicide attempt.

People who self-harm are looking for a way to live, while people who attempt suicide are looking for a way to escape living.

That isn’t to say that people who self-harm cannot be suicidal. But the action of harming themselves isn’t an attempt to take their lives.

3. SELF-HARM IS ADDICTIVE

If you’re trying to put self-harm in a category, put it closer to substance abuse than suicide. People who have been injuring themselves for a while can be addicted to the response their body has to the harm they inflict. And like with any addiction, there is a law of diminishing returns. This means they’ll have to inflict a greater level of harm in order to get the same response from their body.

If you have a teen who is in this place, take a deep breath, you might be in for a long journey. Overcoming any addiction comes with bouts of successes and failures, self-hatred and self-righteousness, ups and downs. Remember to not tie your identity to their success. Walk alongside them as they journey toward health, but don’t ride the rollercoaster with them.

4. SELF-HARM ISN’T AN IDENTITY

“I have a cutter in my youth group” is a nasty little phrase that we use all too often in youth ministry.

It’s false.

It’s a lie.

Our teens aren’t “cutters,” they’re humans made in God’s image. And if they’ve accepted Christ, they’re holy, perfect and blameless. Even in the very moment they’re harming themselves, they’re completely pure.

Teens soak up identifiers, hungry for labels. Let’s give them the labels God gives them and let the worldly ones fade away. The more a teen becomes immersed in the false identity of their harmful behavior, the harder it will be for them to change their course.

5. SELF-HARM ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD

As youth ministers, there are certain things that can really affect how we view teens. Things like sexual experimentation, drug use, doubt, and cutting might tempt us to feel differently about certain kids.

Be encouraged, their behavior isn’t the end of the world. They’re young and sanctification takes time.

My prayer is that as you walk with teens on their journey, you are able to lead with empathy and love.

Part 2

Many of us feel confused or conflicted when working with a student who injures themselves. We want to help but don’t know where to start.

Here, I want to give you 5 Things You Can Do About Self-Harm. They’re simple, practical steps you can take with your teens.

1. HELP THEM FEEL NORMAL

Self-harm usually brings upheaval and stress in a teen’s life. While many feel like injuring themselves is effective, it often causes them to believe they are weird and feel different from their peers.

And parents have a really hard time when their kid is turning to self-harm. It can cause instant stress on their relationship and conflict in the home. In a panic, parents might come down hard on a teen, trying to get them to stop.

As ministers, we need to affirm our teen. Talk through their reason for hurting themselves and the benefits they’re receiving from that action. Listen and believe what they say.

Say things like:

“It seems like cutting really calms you down when you’re upset. It makes sense that you’d want to keep doing it.”

“It makes me sad that you’re hurting yourself, but I know you’re doing it to try to feel better.”

You may be the only person in their life that takes the time to affirm them rather than just address their action.

You’ll get to the part where you help them with the behavior, but if you skip this step, you’ll run the risk or reinforcing the lies they believe about themselves. Affirmation also puts you on their team, where they’ll be more willing to accept your leadership moving forward.

2. HELP THEM SEE THEIR VALUE

Anyone who works with hurting people has seen the link between self-loathing and addiction. Self-hatred is so powerful and difficult that people need to stay in a state of numbness or distraction in order to cope. For some, self-harm is their addiction of choice to soothe these feelings about themselves.

To help avoid or overcome addiction, we should always be looking for ways to show teens their value and combat self-hatred. The key is to help teens separate their actions from their value.

The argument for self-hatred typically goes something like,

“I hate myself, because I’m not skinny/cool/smart/good/holy/funny/Christian/popular enough.”  

The argument against self-hatred says,

“You may mess up. You may sin. You may fail by every worldly measure. But you’re not valuable because of what you do, you’re valuable because who you are. You are the beloved. You are a child of God. You are so valuable that God himself chose to die for you.”

3. HELP THEM TO NAME AND ACCEPT EMOTIONS

Whether it’s ridding themselves of strong emotions or finding feelings after a stretch of numbness, self-harm is primarily about emotional regulation.

As ministers, we must understand that emotions are part of God’s creation and are morally neutral in nature. God gave them to us as a gift. Could you image life without them?

Helping teens experience and appreciate their feelings—rather than avoid or run from them— will go a long way in their recovery. Feelings aren’t the problem, it’s trying to get rid of them that gets them in trouble.

Many young people have a hard time understanding what they’re feeling—they just know they don’t feel good and they want it to stop.

Through meaningful questions and grace-filled conversations, we can teach teens to name their feelings and some of the reasons those feelings might be occurring.

Sometimes, emotions are very hard to experience; it can be excruciating to allow them to run their course. They won’t get it right every time. They’ll cave in and harm themselves to find relief. But over time, they can learn to make it through without hurting themselves.

4. HELP THEM MAKE A DISTRESS TOLERANCE KIT

As teens are learning to allow their feelings to run their course, it is helpful for them to have a plan to get through it without turning to self-injury.

Accepting a feeling doesn’t mean they have to sit and meditate on it. On the contrary, Scripture tells us to meditate on good things, not bad (Phil. 4:8).

A great and fun way to equip your student for success is to help them create a distress tolerance kit. This is simply a box full of items that will help redirect your teen’s thinking when they’re tempted to self-injure.

The items in the box are completely up to the teen, but it’s helpful for them to choose at least one item that engages each sense (sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing). This will help ground them and engage them more fully. It can also be helpful to choose items that pull teens into rational—rather than emotional—thinking. These items could be puzzles, nail polish, adult coloring books, etc.

Grabbing an old shoe box and heading to the dollar store to assemble the kit with your student is a great way to spend an afternoon.

Remember, the goal here is to equip them to tolerate the feelings, not get rid of them.

Check out THIS blog post where one person explains distress tolerance kits and shows us what she chose to put in hers.

5. HELP BUILD A TEAM

Every student needs a team of caring adults around them, and this is especially true for those struggling with self-harm.

If possible, I would recommend connecting your teen with a therapist. It would be best if you can find a therapist that practices Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in your area. DBT is a targeted therapy that teaches people to mindfully manage their feelings without engaging in unhealthy coping mechanisms. It has been proven to be very effective with self-harm.

Whenever possible, encourage your teen’s parents. This is hard for them and they’ll need some extra love. Most parents already have their child’s best interest in mind and want to be on their team. With your support and the right tools, they will be able to offer the care their son or daughter needs.

Walking alongside a teen who struggles with self-harm can be intense and exhausting. Building a team of adults will give you the opportunity to share the burden and the clarity to set reasonable boundaries.

12.20.16

What Parents of Early Teen Boys Need to Know by Sue Shellenbarger

wsj.com

A glance into any middle-school classroom tells the tale: Boys in braces, papers spilling out of their backpacks, watch in silence as girls 6 inches taller, their homework all done, wave their hands in the air to give answers. The maturity gap between boys and girls looms largest in the early-teen years.

New research on adolescent development reveals exactly which skills develop more slowly in boys after they enter puberty, and where they surpass their female classmates.

Boys do catch up. Research shows boys’ and girls’ performance on many tasks tends to converge around age 15. But early adolescence is a critical stage when children are developing a sense of personal identity and social status. The research lends insight into the kind of support early-teen boys may need.

The Language Gap

Girls in their early teens often outpace boys’ language skills by a wide margin. When a 13-year-old girl is given a minute to name aloud as many words as she can think of that start with one letter, she’s likely to rattle off dozens of words with ease, says Frances Jensen, a professor and chair of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

A 13-year-old boy given the same task may struggle and fidget in silence before producing a list half as long, Dr. Jensen says. Male brain development is about two years behind girls’ at this stage, making early adolescence “a very poignant time” for many boys, she says.

Girls are faster and more accurate than boys in remembering words, according to a 2016 study of cognitive skills and brain function in 3,500 young people ages 8 to 21 by researchers at the Perelman School and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Recalling words quickly is an indicator of language and decision-making skills.

Parents may need to help shore up the confidence of boys who fall behind. If they struggle to answer a question, “parents need to be OK with silence, to give the kids a chance to respond,” says David Walsh,a Minneapolis psychologist, speaker and author of a book on teens, “Why Do They Act That Way?”

Explain to teens that everybody develops at a different rate, and encourage them to focus on their personal progress rather than comparing themselves to others, says Dr. Jensen, author of “The Teenage Brain.” Urge boys to “be better than you were last week, better this year than last and better next year than this year.”

Help boys discover and focus on their strengths, such as playing music, finishing a robotics project or driving a soccer ball down the field, says Jodi Sleeper-Triplett, an Alexandria, Va., coach trainer who helps students learn academic and life skills.

The Attention Gap

Some parents know all too well that boys are slower to develop the ability to pay close attention to whatever task is in front of them. Facing a mountain of homework, early-teen boys may procrastinate or despair, while girls on average can better focus on specifics, step-by-step.

The Philadelphia researchers found teen girls are more accurate than boys on tests of attention. Teens were asked to watch a series of line displays on a computer and press the space bar whenever the lines formed a digit or letter.

The differences hold true across cultures. A 2015 study of 4,850 adolescents from 22 countries found more girls than boys at 12 to 14 show personality traits linked to the ability to pay attention. The gap narrows by ages 15 to 17, according to the study by 49 researchers. (By age 14, more girls also show a trait linked to negative emotions and depression.)

Parents can help by monitoring daily routines, Ms. Sleeper-Triplett says. Use a light touch, asking questions in a nonjudgmental way rather than criticizing. Say to your young teen, “How might I help with your homework?” rather than, “I’ll be in up 10 minutes to check on you.”

Boys often like using digital organizing tools. Sharing a digital calendar with a parent can help a teen remember such commitments as dentist appointments. Some teens use a smartphone alarm to manage homework time, or apps such as Evernote or OneNote to capture to-do lists and reminders.

The Empathy Gap

Many parents are dismayed when their seemingly good-hearted young teen boy is heedless of another child’s emotional pain, such as in a bullying or teasing incident.

Boys are slower to sense what others are feeling by looking at facial expressions, the Philadelphia study shows. Boys also lag behind girls in a more complex process called mentalizing—figuring out what others are thinking based on the context, conversation, body language and other cues, according to a 2012 study of 49 teens led by researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine. This ability begins developing steadily in girls around age 13.

The acquisition of empathy and mentalizing skills is deeply rooted in home life. Parents who talk about their own and others’ feelings and thoughts give their children a better-than-average chance of learning to do the same, research shows.

Invite your child to describe what characters in stories or films might be thinking or feeling. Consider coaching him on what to say when he sees other students being mean, such as, “That’s not funny,” or, “Let’s leave him alone,” Dr. Walsh says.

And don’t despair if it takes a while. Mentalizing requires integrating brain regions linked to language, emotion perception and other skills, via neural connections that develop differently in boys.

11.01.16

5 Reasons Today’s College Students Are Nothing Like We Were by Matthew Shuler

fulleryouthinstitute.org

Kids these days. Snap me, kik me, hundo p v savage RT, what?

Connecting with young people isn’t easy. It’s difficult to empathize with something when you don’t understand it, and often even the way young people talk leaves us mystified.

It’s become clear that our nation’s healthiest churches are churches where young people and older people sit side-by-side, week after week, talking to each other, understanding each other, serving together, and connecting with one another.

So how can we connect with young people? The first step is understanding them.

Every year a survey is released to 100,000 college freshmen at four-year colleges across the country, and miraculously they actually complete it. The schools are blindly selected by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles to ensure that the sample is as diverse as possible. Here’s what we know about the class of 2018 so far:

1) They don’t hang with friends as much.

The average freshman used to socialize for 16+ hours on any given week, but no longer. That percentage is at a record low, dropping from 34% to 18% of students in the past 10 years.

(Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA)

Predictably, time spent on virtual social networking platforms continues to scale rapidly—from 19% of students spending 16+ hours per week in 2007, to 27% of students today. The primary social development space is shifting from physical space to digital space, which leaves you and I wondering, “so how exactly are we supposed to interact with these new generations?”

This is a bit of a problem for those of us born before the internet, because most of our social skills were developed for an offline environment, and today’s freshmen are developing those same skills for an online environment. Socially they’re communicating in a completely different dialect.

How can we connect with young adults when they aren’t as interested in being together face-to-face? How can we as leaders and parents connect our native ways of communicating with their digital dialect?

And as we work to integrate young people into our communities, what would “digital mentorship” look like? What does this mean about our concepts of “teaching” and “discipleship?”

2) They’re less religious than ever before… or at least less tribal.

As I’m sure you’ve read, the percentage of students who respond “none” to religious preference has been steadily climbing since 1981, and is now at an all-time high of 28%.

(Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA)

Even more interesting, this trend is also reflected at Christian universities, a place we usually assume attracts only the religiously affiliated. Even the most stable segment, Catholic colleges, experienced a climb to 15% who respond “none,” which is over four times higher than the previous average.

In our schools, our churches, in our small groups and in our homes, we are increasingly surrounded by people who attend and participate in our communities, but who do not self-identify as part of our tribe.

What does this mean about how we communicate our values clearly? What is it about our organizations that young adults don’t trust?

If nothing else, this trend helps us be increasingly mindful of each person in our community, and the differences that are sure to be lurking just beneath the surface. Our ministries and colleges, even Christian colleges, are no longer tribes of homogenous belief, they are increasingly diverse and nuanced. Asking unassuming questions is one of the best ways for organizations to embrace this new reality.

3) They didn’t party much in high school.

Alcohol consumption prior to college has been falling steadily since the 80’s, and is lower than ever before. Fewer than half say they “frequently” or “occasionally” drank wine, beer, or hard liquor during high school.

(Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA)

Frequent smoking is also falling fast, from 9% in 1981 to the current 2%. Nice try Mad Men.

While a minority of young people do face harmful substance abuse problems, and those problems should be taken very seriously, the common belief that our ministries and churches should be a “safe space for college kids to socialize without the booze” is perhaps no longer the best use of our time and resources. Young adults are facing a myriad of urgent issues, but those issues are no longer the issues we have structured our organizations to solve.

So, what are young people struggling with?

4) College freshmen are more depressed than ever before.

It messes with me every time I read about this trend. Mental health sets another record this year—it’s worse than ever. Approximately 10% of college freshmen report feeling “frequently” depressed, and only half report that their “emotional health” is at an acceptable level.

This is a significant deviation from freshmen respondents in the past, who reported much higher satisfaction with their psychological wellbeing across the board.

Here’s an article we did about naming and navigating depression in the lives of young people.

Mental health is already complex, but when you layer in the complexities of today’s Mach 5 world, along with the beehive of growing responsibilities imposed on our young people, things get confusing fast. It’s often difficult for us as leaders and parents to envision the kinds of spaces young people need in our ministries, spaces that facilitating mental healing and sustained flourishing. As additional resources come online for creating these new spaces, I’ll come back and link them here.

5) They’re already planning on grad school.

The 4-year college cliché is dead, but we still think it’s alive, like Bruce Willis. Among college freshmen, 43% are aiming for a master’s degree, and 33% expect to earn a doctorate.

In previous years, only students pursuing careers as doctors and lawyers were signing up for 8-10 years of education rather than 4, but now half of all students are making that same commitment, or assuming they will have to make it. That’s twice the students taking on twice the commitment.

(Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA)

This doubles the length of time students require assistance from parents and student loans, which has caused tremendous strain on both the families of students, and the students themselves.

This extended support period often becomes a black hole in our ministries, as many of us have yet to develop a system that provides the kind of support this demographic needs. Our college freshmen are beginning a long, difficult journey, a journey with rules that change every few years and require constant adaptation by our young people as the world continues to evolve at an unprecedented rate.

So what does this mean for our ministry?

One thing is clear: college freshmen are a demographic we leaders and parents are struggling to understand.

As we open ourselves to young people, remember that they are, in many ways, from a completely different planet than the one that existed when we went to college. May we not make assumptions about their planet and how life works on their world. May we ask questions, and expect answers that do not always make sense.

11.01.16

Beyond the Pink and Blue: Reaching Boys and Girls for Jesus by Carmen Kamrath

childrensministry.com

The wonderful differences between boys and girls present unique opportunities to reach them for Jesus.

The Pink

Sugar and spice, and all that’s nice; And that’s what little girls are made of.

Today’s girls will argue that they are more than sugar and spice — much more. More girls today are treading new territories that were once thought to be extreme for girls, such as playing organized athletics or becoming astronauts. Today’s girls are more confident and outgoing than in previous generations.

The pressures have escalated for today’s young female population. Girls are bombarded with sexual images in the world of entertainment. And with girls maturing physically at an earlier age, sometimes as young as 7, these sexual messages are confusing. Girls are looking for a place to belong where they can feel special without the pressure of outward appearances or popularity. Girls need to know that Jesus loves them unconditionally.

What Girls Want

Girls want beauty and glamour. Some girls may try out the entire makeup case, while others are content with just the lip gloss. Girls want to be noticed, and thankfully, today’s glamour can be found in non-traditional venues like the women’s World Cup soccer team.

Unfortunately, secular society has taken advantage of this area, and girls are often drawn to wear clothes like their favorite pop music stars — clothing that’s often too mature. They’re under great pressure to act and look older than they are. They watch television and movies where sexual content is the status quo, and they’re at risk of growing into their teen years thinking this kind of behavior is to be expected rather than rejected.

What to do: Accessorize inner beauty. Teach girls that true beauty comes from within. Conduct a class for preteen girls on inner beauty qualities and how to take care of their changing bodies. Teach them that God loves them for who they are and that he looks at their hearts for their inner beauty.

Point out good role models who exemplify this kind of beauty, such as American Idol winner Jordin Sparks or Olympic track star Sanya Richards. Compliment and assure girls when they display their inward beauty.

Welcome girls when they come to church because of who they are — not how they look. Avoid always choosing the outwardly lovely children for parts in a musical or to answer questions.

Girls want to shine. Like boys, girls also want to succeed and be the best at something. Girls are succeeding in areas that’ve traditionally been set aside for boys to excel in, such as math, science, and sports.

There’s more pressure for girls to be successful. The pressure to succeed can develop a perfectionist attitude that can make girls susceptible to dangerous practices such as eating disorders or promiscuous behavior. Our culture tells girls that they can do anything, but sometimes this translates into the notion that they can do it all. Girls often feel pressure to be the best in many areas at the expense of precious downtime.

What to do: Help girls focus. Assure girls that they can excel, but caution them that they don’t need to do it all. Provide opportunities for girls to be successful through games that help them master tasks. Lead girls in serving the community where success is measured by someone else’s gain. Provide girls-only outings where girls can have fun and develop relationships. Provide mentors who can discuss girls’ personal pressures and can steer them toward making positive decisions.

Girls want to nurture. This is how girls are biologically wired; the nature to nurture kicks in. Whether it’s caring for a doll in the housekeeping center or doting on a friend who’s crying over the latest crisis, girls want to care for and fix what’s broken. Even at a young age, girls instinctively know the significance of what it means to bond with something or someone they care about.

What to do: Nurture their nature. Give girls opportunities to care for others by having them feed a classroom fish or go on a monthly outing to a local nursing home. Teach girls about the art of caring for others, and commend them in their efforts to help fix problems.

Some girls have absent mothers, either physically or emotionally, and these girls need not only to mother but also to be mothered. Provide female mentors whom girls can learn from and talk to. Teach about mothers in the Bible and the roles they played in history. Make your church a place where girls are cared for and have their needs met.

Girls want intimacy. Michael Gurian in his book The Wonder of Girls says, “The hidden yearning in every girl’s and woman’s life [is]to live in a safe web of intimate relationships.” Girls need to feel close to friends, family, teachers, or mentors. Some desire physical intimacy by craving hugs, while others long for deep, meaningful conversation. Girls thrive in a community, a group of girls with common interests and goals.

Danger looms for girls when they don’t receive the intimacy they need, because they begin to look for it in inappropriate peer groups or relationships. And broken friendships can leave lasting scars of rejection and mistrust when girls cast individuals out of friend groups.

What to do: Help girls connect. Help girls form friendships at church. Make your ministry a safe environment where girls can talk without being judged. Help kids appreciate one another’s differences. Provide girls-only small groups, and invite high school girls to share with girls about friends and relationships. Teach girls about experiencing an intimate relationship with God through prayer, worship, and Bible study.

Girls want to be loved. Just as girls want intimacy, girls also desire to love and be loved. Girls typically express their love more freely than boys, either in words or actions.

For a girl, a loving relationship with her father or significant male adult is crucial as she grows up. Girls will base future relationships with the opposite sex on the relationships they experience with their dads. Girls are very observant and need guidance from positive role models to show them the true meaning and expression of love.

What to do: Make matches for girls. Provide positive male role models whom girls can trust and relate to. Model how to give and receive love as you love girls unconditionally. Teach girls that true love isn’t what’s often portrayed on television and in today’s music. Dr. David Wall, director of psychological services for Remuda Ranch Programs for Anorexia and Bulimia in Wickenburg, Arizona, says, “Loving them with a passion is not an iron clad guarantee…But a loved daughter — one who sees the love, feels the love, hears the love, and experiences the love — will not quickly succumb to the illusions of the world.”

Tell girls the amazing love stories of the Bible and about the love relationship that God intended between a man and woman. Help girls strengthen their relationships with their dads by hosting a dad and daughter dinner or a night out bowling. Most importantly, help girls know that the most intimate and loving relationship they’ll ever experience is the one they can have with God.

The Blue

Snaps and snails, and puppy-dogs’ tails; And that’s what little boys are made of.

The age-old cliché says that “boys will be boys,” but what exactly does that mean in today’s society? What does it mean to be a boy today? With a deluge of new books regarding raising boys, it seems that many people are trying to find the answer to that question.

The world has changed for boys. Our culture has gone from using an iron hand to groom boys into responsible men to helping young men find their sensitive sides. Our culture values boys and girls as our hope for the future, but that value can stress out boys with its seemingly unreachable expectations.

The saying “boys will be boys” is an important one for us as we seek to effectively minister to boys. As we better understand what boys need, we can introduce them to the aspects of the Christian life that appeal to their boyishness. To ignore who they are, though, sets us up for certain failure.

What Boys Want

Boys want to build and conquer. Watch boys as they play video games. Their mission: To conquer and beat the level they’re playing. They’re relentless as they play for hours on end, and they search books and Web sites for strategies to help them conquer the game. They’ll do anything to win.

Boys want to know they have what it takes to one day be men. John Eldredge, in his book Wild at Heart, writes, “It’s not a question — it’s the question, the one every boy and man is longing to ask. Do I have what it takes? Am I powerful? Until a man knows he’s a man he will forever be trying to prove he is one, while at the same time shrink from anything that might reveal he is not.”

What to do: Meet boys’ conquering need. Help boys build, succeed, and master by offering opportunities to accomplish important tasks. Have boys paint an elderly church member’s home. Play games in your ministry that encourage teamwork or allow boys to beat their own scores. Teach them about people in the Bible who succeeded, such as Joshua or David. Talk about the successes of Christian role models, such as the St. Louis Rams’ Aeneas Williams or dc Talk’s Michael Tait. Celebrate boys’ successes, whether boys make the school basketball team or bring a math grade from a C up to a B.

Boys want to be brave. I recently observed a group of preschool boys pretending to be firefighters. A cat sat at the top of the slide, and they rushed up the ladder as the imaginary flames were about to close in on the defenseless animal. One little boy scooped the cat into his arms and slid down the slide to safety — a self-proclaimed hero.

What to do: Bolster boys’ courage. Teach boys how to stand strong in their faith. Provide boys with the tools they need, such as putting on the armor of God or being part of an accountability group, to live out their faith throughout the week. Discuss issues of good versus evil and how boys can be on the good side. Give boys opportunities to solve problems by using biblical truths to conquer tough life situations.

In their attempts at bravery, though, boys feel a great deal of responsibility and stress, even at a young age. Pressure to get good grades, to excel in athletics or music, and to behave appropriately are all part of life for boys. So provide opportunities for boys to let off steam in a pressure-free environment; this means providing an activity just for boys, such as tackling a ropes course or playing a game of laser tag. Have boys talk with male mentors and each other about the struggles they face. Let them know that bravery includes putting their trust in God.

Boys want the “gross-factor.” Face it — nothing brings a bigger smile to a boy’s face than a supersonic burp or the opportunity to play in the mud. Today’s media and toy manufacturers have discovered that marketing gross products is a quick way to the young male consumer’s pocketbook. Candy makers serve up gummy snot and earwax candy to eager boys who have pockets full of cash to spend on these yucky items.

What to do: Gross ’em out. Teach Bible truths using slime, messy science experiments, or stories like the bug problem during the plagues. Let preschool boys play with shaving cream or finger paint. Remember that everything we do at church doesn’t need to have a deep spiritual meaning to it; sometimes just having fun, laughing, and being silly can minister to the boy who needs a place to belong.

Boys want adventure. And they want someone to share the adventure with. Boys need to feel part of a clan, even if the clan includes only one other boy. The adventure may be as simple as a night in a tree fort or as complex as installing a new engine in a go-cart. Boys appreciate knowing the rules of the adventure they’re embarking on and want the opportunity to venture as far as they can without violating the boundaries.

Through their adventures, boys need to have the opportunity to lead and follow. They need assurance that when one adventure ends, another one is just around the corner. Boys need to feel challenged and know that they’re up to the task that awaits them.

What to do: Be their adventure guide. It’s important that boys understand that the Christian life is the greatest adventure. Instead of stifling the boisterous enthusiasm of a boy on an adventure, give him the chance to talk about it. Boys need to share their stories. Use scavenger hunts, dramas, or movie clips to reveal adventures in the Bible. Let boys work together in groups, but provide guidance so they know their boundaries. Boys enjoy challenges, so stretch them with opportunities to be the classroom greeter or help organize teams for a game. Take preteen boys backpacking in the wilderness or to rock-climbing gyms.

Boys want to be loved. In his book Real Boys, William Pollack, Ph.D., says, “The fact is that boys experience deep subliminal yearnings for connection — a hidden yearning for relationship — that makes them long to be close to parents, teachers, coaches, friends, and family. Boys are full of love and empathy for others and long to stay ‘attached’ to their parents and closest mentors.”

Boys need people they can trust and depend on. Boys desire relationships with adult role models who can show them the ropes and who can speak openly with them about their triumphs and concerns.

What to do: Connect with boys. Provide positive male role models for boys through trusted adults who can give boys guidance and validation. Invite dads to be part of ministry events so they can share experiences with their sons. Express appropriate affection to boys with high fives or pats on the back. Show you care by remembering their birthdays or surprising them with doughnuts on a Sunday morning. Most importantly, let boys know they can experience a radical, unconditional love through Christ. Your passion to follow Christ will speak volumes to the boys who you want to grow in loving relationships with God.

10.24.16

How Are Digital Distractions Affecting Your Spiritual Growth? by Andy Blanks

youthministry360.com

A while ago I had the chance to lead a workshop at a youth ministry conference that looked at the effects technology has on our teenagers’ spiritual growth. We looked at both the negative effects (the obstacles) and the positive effects (the opportunity). It was a really good discussion, made all the more humorous to me, in an incredibly ironic sense, by the timely failure of some of the very technology I was trying to use to lead the workshop! Good times . . . ☺

We looked at several challenges technology presents to teenager’ growth as Christ-followers, chief among them was the idea of distraction.

Not only is this impacting our teenagers, it’s impacting us as youth workers. I know for me, it’s been a very prevalent issue in my own personal spiritual growth, and I would venture to guess in yours, too. Our constant connection to technology provides a landscape fertile for distraction. Why is this such a big deal?

I had a acquaintance of mine who used to call discipleship “the stuff of crock pots, not microwaves.” We grow in our faith when we get to know God more and better, becoming more like Him in the process. This process of growing in God comes through varying intervals of spiritual focus, time spent reading Scripture, or meditating on God, or prayer, and so on.

Our “technology at our fingertips” world works against these periods of spiritual focus.

A recent article on NBC.com looks at the results of two studies that specifically looked at the impact interruptions had on focus.

  • One study found that people who are interrupted by technology score 20 percent lower on a standard cognition test.
  • The second found that many students can’t concentrate on homework for more than two minutes without distracting themselves by using social media or writing an email.
  • A separate study done by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, shows that typical office workers only get 11 continuous minutes to work on a task before interruption.

One of the researchers in the article summarized his findings like this: “The key to transferring new information from the brain’s short-term to long-term memory is a process called ‘encoding.’ Without deep concentration, encoding is unlikely to occur.”

When we spiritualize this and apply it to knowledge of God, the application becomes clear: without deep, uninterrupted learning, knowing God is more difficult. One of the researchers said the following, in what I think is the article’s money quote:

“The digital divide is not about the gadget haves and have nots, but rather about those who can resist the constant distracting tug of technology and those who cannot.”

It think it’s important to ask ourselves, as those who play a role in leading teenagers in their own faith, how we’re doing in growing in ours.

Ask yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “majorly affected by distraction,” and 10 being “I kick distraction’s butt,” where do you rank? 

And more importantly, what are you willing to do about it?