Friday, March 22, 2013

Punishment Signs: Why I Think They're Harmful

I read an article online talking about how parents are beginning to use signs or t-shirts that has written on them things that their child has done wrong. It’s a form of punishment that has taken off with some of today’s parents. At first, I laughed a little bit when I saw a boy holding a sign that said, “I was sent to school to get an education NOT to be a bully…I was not raised this way!!!” I laughed because I was bullied as a kid and thought that the sign was clever but after seeing more and more incidents of this type of punishment I have begun to see how it can cause more harm than good. The following is my convictions that I simply want to share. Please read and see my points. I hope it influences you for the better.

If we are to model ourselves after Christ and to show God’s love and grace then we must do so with our own kids. The way they view their relationship with you, their parent, will be the way they will potentially view their relationship with God the Father in the future. We don’t want to skew their perception of what a loving parent should be.

Before I go any further I want to make it known that I am not a father yet. So, with that said, I will be speaking from my past experiences and what I have learned throughout my academic studies of family and child development—along with biblical perspectives on the matter, of course.

Does God make us hold or wear signs that tell the world about our sins?
Does He embarrass us into becoming obedient?
Does He turn our punishment into a joke?

The answer for all three of these questions is NO….especially the last one. Our punishment was no joke. God sent His son Jesus to take on our punishment. The fact that God took our punishment as His own speaks strongly as to how you should approach punishing your kids! It literally hurt God more than it hurt us.

Of course, you’re not God and the consequence of your kid’s actions is not death but if you are to parent your child the way God wants you to then you are to experience more pain and discomfort than your kid. Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying that your kids shouldn’t feel the weight of their bad decisions. What I am saying is that you are to love them and show them that their decisions and behavior has consequences. You are not to enjoy the punishment. It is not for amusement, it is for teaching what is right. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord. (NLT)” The way you discipline your child matters. If what you command of your child is unreasonable and severe then they will become irritated and possibly miss the whole point of what is trying to be taught. Is that really how it’s supposed to be? On top of that timing is everything!

I believe that the rod does its work only when a child is a child. If not used until teen years, it’s too late. Many people these days don’t value the method of disciplining their child through the use of corporal punishment—which is a shame! Although I see their point in that there has been a long history of abuse from parents who do respond out of anger instead of a calm and collected mind. I get that! Absolutely! But it is better for the welfare of a child to receive the appropriate measures. While there are some kids who require corporal punishment in order to learn, there are children who require other means of discipline such as showing disapproval towards their actions. My wife, as a little girl, would cry her eyes out simply because her parents would show disapproval towards her bad behavior. She valued how her parents viewed her and that was sufficient enough for her as a means of discipline. However, for other children who can care less of what other people think about them, the rod keeps them from spoiling. (Side note: depriving children of toys only does so much, and ignoring behavior in hopes of not feeding them your attention is what has gotten this nation of kids in the state that they are! Seriously.)
Garden Example:
Now, tomatoes are a very delicate thing, much like children, and if the garden isn’t kept up and no attention is shown then the odds of the tomatoes growing into rip, healthy tomatoes is lowered tremendously. And if a tomato spoils during the growth process and it rots then there is no going back for that tomato. It is what it is. It’s no good.

Just like with the garden, if the child is not shown attention and/or dealt with when they disobey or do something wrong/harmful then they will not learn what is acceptable or appropriate—therefore their being spoiled. And that only contributes to more ignorant and “uncalled for” issues in their future.

Now, teenagers are not to be treated like tomatoes. We can’t throw them out simply because they were spoiled in their childhood. That would be heartless and inhumane. Plus, teenagers face enough abandonment issues as it is. But what needs to be done is NOT found in the method of using signs that point out their shortcomings. The spoiled teens will only be pushed further away from their parents/adult influences. Even the non-spoiled teens will be like…”really?” As mentioned in my previous blog-post teenagers are not capable of always making the wisest decisions (immature prefrontal lobe). But you, the parent, should be wise in how you respond and discipline.

Teenagers want and need parents/adults in their lives to teach them important lessons. And the best way for us to do this is through relationships because that is how teenagers learn the best. It’s not through corporal punishment so much. I remember when I was a teenager and I received a whipping a few times. Guess what I learned about what I did wrong? Not too much. I mainly felt angry…regardless to the fact that my parents didn't respond with anger. If a few other teens that have experienced this were to add a few words here they would probably say something along the same lines. But the number one thing that I had to have in order to keep me accountable to being obedient to my parents was TRUST. I trusted that my parents knew what was best for me because they responded appropriately and with love. Never once did my parents turn a discipline moment into a joke. Doing so kept their credibility as wise parents to me.

If teens don’t trust or like an adult then they’re not going to want to develop a meaningful relationship with them or heed to what they have to say. If parents don’t have their teen’s trust then making them hold signs telling the world about how much of a screw up they are is NOT going to help. It only creates a bigger rift between the teen and parent. I’m not saying that parents are supposed to be their teen’s best friend—I’m saying that they should be approachable and humble when teaching what’s right and what’s wrong.

As said in the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, “You can teach a child all you know but one day…they are who they are.” And there will be a point in time where you’ll have to accept that and TRUST that God will always keep His hand on their life. Parents can only do so much to teach but it’s up to the child to learn. I promote healthy, meaningful relationship over the stupid sign method.

God doesn't make us wear a sign of all our bad decisions or sins.
He doesn't embarrass us into obedience.
He didn't turn our punishment into a joke.
It hurt Him more than it hurt us to see His son on the Cross. Remember that.
Be wise. Be calm.
Be loving.
Your kids perception of God will be influenced by how you treat them.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Coping Skills: How Teens Think

If there is one thing that I can point out about some of today's teenagers is their lack of coping skills. When difficult situations occur, which can be frequent and sometimes back-to-back, they can become so overwhelmed that they either close themselves off to other people (stonewall) or they just completely quit all together (fall into depression/suicide). Which, in today's performance-driven world, the fear of failing and the fear of looking "incapable" is a huge concern. Heck, I'm concerned with those things and I'm 25 years old. So it should come as no surprise when teens freak out when they don't know how to handle the pressure of difficult situations. 

The complex part out of all of this is that teenagers, just like adults, have to live within several overlapping contexts. Contexts are simply the different arenas in which we live out our lives. (Examples: Family Home/Step Homes, School, Neighborhood, Church, Extracurricular Activities, etc) If two or more of these contexts were to present hardships during the same time frame then that could cause an overload. And for the brain of a teenager where their prefrontal lobe is no where near finished developing and connecting to the rest of their brain it can lead them to drastic, unwise decisions. Why? Because the prefrontal lobe is in charge of decision making. It's not until their mid-twenties before they can fully answer the questions, "Is this a good idea? What would be the consequences of my decision?"

Knowing this information should help guide us in how we counsel and talk to teenagers. Not only should we focus on "what" they are thinking, we should also focus on "how" they are thinking. 

Bad decisions on their behalf will happen. It's inevitable. We need to get that through our heads. Don't blow up at them when they create a mess of things because that will only further their insecurities of how they feel they are being perceived. "Man, my counselor thinks I'm a screw up...can't ever do anything right. Must be true. Why do I even try?" As youth specialist we have to understand that the front part of their brain is running sluggish right now. A bit slow. We should just suck it up and continue to meet them where they're at.

Each teenager is different. They come from many backgrounds and they all have their own story. Some come from healthy homes. Others don't. Some know how to have healthy relationships with others. Others don't. Some know that boundaries are important and necessary. Others don't. Why do you think the "at risk" kids are at risk? Because no one has helped them learn how to process stress and how to make wise decisions.

A big part in knowing how to help a teenager sort through their thoughts and even desires is to know them as an know their story and how they relate to others. Then and only then can we begin to understand which angle to approach them by, in order that we guide them in the appropriate direction. Teenagers should learn how to solve their problems. That's what life is about--growing and learning. Once they grasp that idea they may begin to view their life in a different perspective...a healthier perspective.

Here is a scary reality.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in colleges
For every suicide completion, there are between 50 and 200 attempts.

Here is what I gather from the above trends. Teenagers are not making any positive progress from their adolescents to early adulthood. Stress can be found at any corner of life. We already know that as adults, that is why it's so important that we help teenagers learn how to cope before it's too late.

My prayer for you is that you realize how crucial it is to mentor a teenager. As an interim youth pastor, I see on a daily basis how important it is for teens to know that they are valuable and capable of living a fulfilling life. And to be honest I believe that a life fully surrendered to Christ is the best option for them. A life that is full and completely worth living!! (John 10:10)

Only the power of God can completely change the course of history in a teenager's life. And I hope that I see that happen to many teens.

So go and make a difference in a teen's life. If you're willing and ready to lead by example in every area of your life then do it!