Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Family Forte: 13 Ways to Love Your Teenager

by: Topher Wiles
Photo Credit: Fascinate.com
Glory Hallelujah, we’ve reached the teenage years!  I know, I know, the teenage years for many are worse than a cat’s tail stuck in the screen door.  Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way; God intended abundant life during the teenage years too.  In honor of Gabriel’s 13th birthday, here are 13 family strengthening ideas I’ve stashed away in my teenage preparation toolbox.
13. Invest Time in Your Teen – Gabriel still loves creating Legos masterpieces.  However, I’m more interested in how he’s progressed in his Microsoft Excel tutorials in school.  In my time serving as a high school math teacher and church youth minister I watched the hands of time tick down on teenagers seeking their parent’s attention and approval.  For his confidence growth, whenever he wants to share his newest Picasso artform in Lego medium, I need to invest time in listening and marveling at his passionate progress in Legos more than Excel.   
12. Say You’re Sorry – Adults, we stink at uttering the simple words, “I’m sorry.”  When I remind myself that my goal with my son is to raise an adult who loves God and the community around him, I am struck by how much he needs to see adult skills modeled in me.  That means apologizing when I’m running late, short on my temper, or selfish in my time.  Adult skills take adult examples to learn and a father is a perfect place for the learning to deepen.
Ashley's chocolate cherry 13th
birthday cake was good!
11. Have Fun – Teenagers have so much energy, so many big dreams, and a desire to shirk responsibility to play.  Why not shirk responsibility together?  Yes, my kids have frequently heard my mantra, “Work first, play later.”  They’ll probably write it on my tombstone when I’m gone.  I won’t let go of that mantra lightly, but I do make exceptions to go create some fun with my son because he needs it.  Go check out Willard Harley’s chapter on recreational companionship and a man’s need for it in “His Needs, Her Needs.”  Then go have some fun with your teen.
10. Maintain Your Authority – I am not my son’s best friend.  I am not my son’s best friend.  I am not my son’s best friend.  I am my son’s parent.  Enough said.
9. Reward Maturity with Freedom – When he gets that legendary license freedom that begins with being home by 9pm, I’ll extend his nightly curfew when he shows the maturity of being home on time.  Give more freedom when they demonstrate repeated growth with mature decisions.
8. Connect Them to God – Teens need hope more now than ever that there exists something bigger than them and their world experience.  You can connect them to God by continuing to read the Bible with them, take nature walks with them, slow down to meditate with them, serve with them, and fast with them about the decisions of life.   As you connect with God personally in your life, invite them to the same.
7. Connect Them to Other Adults – If their entire world is made up of teenage life, teenage peers, and teenage media, they are living in the confines of a very small bubble missing out on some of the great blessings a broader life has to offer.  Involve them in civic organizations, church leadership teams, or multigenerational workforces in a business.  It truly does take a village to raise a child.
6. Run at Their Pace – Sometimes I run 5k races to win and sometimes I run to help train others to win.  If I’m training others, I can’t bolt out of a starting line and leave them, expecting them to catch up later.  Slow your life down a little so you can run beside your teenager through the challenges their experience has to offer. 
Look at Gabriel smile!
5. Be Fertilizer for Ambition – Fertilizer may stink sometimes, but the nutrients it gives provides for growth.  Your progeny may want to only sit and home playing video games and may not want your pushing them on to higher goals, greater adventures, and bigger kingdoms to conquer.  Know your child enough to recognize when they need a boost and fertilize that ambition.
4. Be Soil for Deep Roots – Don’t let them chase every passing adventure in life.  The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  Remind them when they need to stay in an area and develop deeper roots that will benefit them for years in life by providing stability and strength. 
3. Listen to their Fears – Fear of the future, failure, and loneliness are common in these years.  You may not have all the answers, but God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason.  Listen to your kid. 
Does time fly?
You bet it does, so
enjoy it!
2. Give Up the Lawnmower for a Weedeater – The new term, “Lawnmower Parent” describes those who cut a clear path for their kids to succeed like those parents who paid for cheating test scores so their kids could get into the ivy league schools.  We all struggle with being a lawnmower because we want to help our kids.  Think less about clearing the path in front of them and focus on just clearing some of the unwanted weeds around the edges of life. 
1. Love Them Anyway – Your teens will make mistakes, say things that hurt you, and fail to be perfect.  Love them anyway, because God loves you.

Sometimes I stink at parenting and need to follow my own advice better.  So when you see me as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, remind me of the wisdom learned in this article so I can approach these teenage years as cool as the cat who got the cream.  May you be blessed with Family Forte as you strive to bless your children with abundant life.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – Jesus in John 10:10b

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Family Forte: Socializing and Thriving as Families

By: Topher Wiles

    The question used to surprise us.  Well meaning people who knew our family’s activities would ask the question and I struggled to understand the logic.  Our kids are involved in sports teams, community clubs, outdoors events, the YMCA, our church, a homeschool cooperative, music lessons, and more.  Knowing that, I’m always surprised when someone asks, “Don’t you worry that your homeschool kids aren’t properly socialized?” 
     Since we are well known for our home education efforts, we get quite a few concerned comments about our children being properly “socialized.” Caring people live in fear that we are short-changing our kids without involvement in the standard school system.  I appreciate their care and their willingness to ask.  I guess it is true that there are some homeschoolers who live more like hermits, but that’s definitely not us.  So I try to turn their question to address social isolation for families as a whole.
     My usual response begins by asking, “Did you know I was a public high school algebra teacher?”  Once I’ve solidified common ground that I can talk intelligently about our current education and social structures,  I follow with, “Have you ever seen a socially awkward or isolated student in a standard school?”  They always return with a “Yes, I know a few.”  Sometimes they even admit that they themselves were the awkward one (really, we all went through middleschool and struggled didn’t we?).  Then, I follow by thanking them for their concern and letting them know that positive socialization for all of members of families and the malady of loneliness are important issues to us and to our God, no matter how we receive our education.  If they are willing, we talk about loneliness and what we can do to help.  In my years in public education, I saw more than my fair share of those who struggled with isolation, awkwardness, and feeling out-of-place.  Sadly, I see it even more now in adults than in kids and have seen first hands some of the dangerous affects.
     From the New York Times Article “How Social Isolation IsKilling Us” comes the following eye-opening information of a loneliness plague that is hurting our families in the United States.  Author Dhruv Khullar gives us the following news.

“Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. Loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking. Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. Socially isolated individuals have a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, and that this effect was largest in middle age. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent. About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone, and half of those over 85 do. Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions.”

     Social isolation or loneliness is a growing problem in our country in every age range and its negative affects can be clearly seen in the medical and psychological fields.  The good news is, there are quite a few tools you can use to help someone avoid this malady and encourage positive relationships that breath life into their existence.
     The tool I appreciate most for my kids and my wife is the Lord’s church. 
Perhaps God knew all this isolation was debilitating when He inspired this remedy, “(Let us) not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) In a day of TV church, Radio church, and Podcast church, nothing can replace the benefits in my children's lives of the face-to-face real Church, which is the gathering of loving people and purposeful encouragement of the of those around you.  Even though we at Central livestream our services on our website, I encourage viewers to meet together as often as is possible.
     God has also given us some other wonderful social constructs such as extended family, civic clubs, and sporting teams.  Ashley and I endeavor to keep our kids involved in a little bit of each.  We love the Vision basketball league in Cookeville that focuses on sportsmanship and positive relationships.  We are excited about the start of a Trail Life program in Sparta later this year (it’s the Christian version of Boy Scouts).  We treasure the moments when we listen to live music and play chess with neighbors at the Coffee Collective in downtown Sparta.  Our local YMCA, where I serve as a board member, is growing to be even more of a positive, healthy, and encouraging environment for all people to enjoy.  God has blessed us with many wonderful ways to develop deep and regular meaningful relationships in our church and community so that we can avoid the harmful affects of social isolation. 
     Just as you push your kids to invest time eating healthy foods and exercise, for the sake of your family, can I push you to also invest time in positive social relationships?  Come experience family love at Central Church of Christ or come see me at the YMCA and I’ll make sure to give you a welcoming smile.  If you are “properly socialized” and know someone who struggles with social isolation, then lovingly and regularly invite them to come along with you.  We’ll give them a big smile too. 
     “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.