Thursday, January 11, 2018

What Your Kids Wished You Knew About Gaming

The World Health Organization just declared that video game addiction is an actual mental disorder,  leading all the talking heads to pontificate about video games. Of course many of those talking about the issue, and calling into the shows, and writing the reports don't actually have children with video games, they don't allow their teens to have cell phones, and they are years removed from the rapidly changing culture in which our children are growing.  Yes, video games are addictive. I am not going to argue that here. My problem is the public outcry for responsible parents to ban video games, and the lack of an educated discussion among and with parents who actually have gaming systems in their homes.

I hate video games. Let me just get that way out in the open. I have not-so-fond memories of spending hours on my boyfriend's couch watching him try to beat another level of Sonic the Hedgehog. Good Grief.  No, I didn't marry him.

That said, we have two gaming systems in our home, I can tell you where the 3 closest GameStop stores are, and my eldest son is determined that when he is of age he will get a job at one of them. 

We have allowed video games into our home. We do not think they are inherently evil.  We recognize that there are some social and maybe even emotional benefits to having them around. 

Video games are different now. Most adults focus on how realistic the games are, or the action and blood and gore. In reality the biggest difference between now and then, is how they are played. Most systems now allow for only one player on one unit at one time. That means that the only way kids can play with their friends is by connecting on-line, or by bringing over your whole playstation and TV to set up at your friends house. My two boys therefore can only play the same game while sitting in different rooms. If they plan on playing with friends on a Saturday night they won't all get together at one boy's home to play - they will all connect online. They will talk to each other through the headsets, sneak up on one another on the screen, play jokes on each other, laugh and harass just like boys do. But they do this all on-line. They put together strikes and assign roles and carry out elaborate missions all from their own bedrooms. When they mess up they apologize, they harass again, they tease and laugh and they move on. The video games are ways to just hang out. My son can have his gaming unit turned on and he can be playing one game, while talking to a friend through the headset who is playing another game. Video games are in some ways the neighborhood park of yesteryear. People who say "just don't let the play online don't understand". 

Some of you may be lamenting the days when boys used to wander the neighborhood tipping over trash cans and playing stickball in the park. Okay. I get it. That sounds great. But it isn't today's reality. Boys who are not connected online with the video games miss out on a opportunity to bond with their friends in some neat ways, and not just throughout the action of the games, but through the time spent just chatting. In a world where teens are increasingly loosing the art of verbal communication, I see the headset banter and chatting as a real opportunity for my sons to continue to develop some of those skills that are harder to come by in an "I will just text him" culture. 

But what about this link between depression and gaming. There have been some reports of the association between depression and gaming. Gaming can help children who struggle with feelings of powerlessness and have an external locus of control. Jr. high children almost universally struggle with the self-regulation of feelings. It is one thing that makes them so enduring and so difficult. The emotional highs and low and confusion over feelings can be overwhelming for parent and child alike. When kids are down for NO reason, playing a round of video games can give them a boost. It gives them an opportunity to be successful and work towards mastering a skill while doing something that they really like. Much in the way that sitting down to practice and then master a piece of sheet music, or practice a physical skill towards mastery. But the successes come faster and it can be done rain or shine. When children are faced with serious depression, rather than just moody blues, they need to seek help. 

In small doses, with clear guidelines for usage, video games can be a tool to help children navigate some of the hormonal lows and social awkwardness of the middle school and junior high years.

But what about the addiction stuff? Yes, video games can be addictive. Some games are actually created so that you can not stop the "raid" until it is over (and there are no time indicators), or you will be penalized and be unable to go on missions of that type in the future. Some video games give you extra points if you check into the game frequently. Some have new down loads each week to keep you interested and active. Yes, they can be addictive and they are designed to keep people playing. Guess what else can be addictive? 

Jigsaw puzzles. 
A really good novel. 

And these are just the addictions we struggle with in our home.  My oldest son spent his preschool years obsessed with pirates. He had a pirate birthday party three years in a row. One of my daughters is currently obsessed with Horses.  I think one of my sons may still be secretly obsessed with ninjas. 

We live in a world filled with fabulous things and Yes, we battle with our boys over their video game usage and screen time. We have tried a variety of strategies that work at various ages to various degrees. Now they are learning to monitor their own video game usage with our guidance, and we are battling with the over binge-watching dumb shows on Netflix. There will always be some battle - That is just parenting.

It is our job to take those battles on and help our children to grow. Kids need boundaries to help them grow in self-control, and parents need to move those boundaries based on the children's growing competencies. We have had success in the past with a M-Th ban on electronics. We have been able to lift that now because the boys have shown self control with their usage, and because they are less apt to binge on the weekend when they can have little snippets of gaming during the week. We instituted the no-more-than-2 hours-screen time rule each day for many years in our home and have that rule with our younger children as well. We have a A/B only rule for grades and lower than a B leads to no screen time at all. All chores and homework has to be done before anything goes on. 

Now we are intentionally trying to help our older children work towards self-master their usage of screen time, while still being sticklers with the little ones. Some days we do well other days we do not. We had a rough spell when all the boys wanted to do was play video games (or soccer - always soccer) and we got through that. Luckily my children have a lot interests, they just sometimes need to be encouraged to pursue those other interests as well. 

You need to find what works and then adjust as your children grow in age and competency. The rules may be different for the 15 year old than they are for the 5 year old and that is not just okay - that is great. The reality is that children are going to grow into adults who are surrounded by technology. My job as a parent is to protect them yes, but also to help them grown in competencies. Banning video games from my home will not achieve that goal. Helping them to self-regulate, the self-monitor their time, to have a variety of interests, and to have healthy social relationships, those are all things that will help them to grow into competent individuals. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

No Advent Fails

As usual I had lofty goals for Advent this year. My Advent journal was prepped and ready, the decorations were up, many of the gifts were purchased, and I even bought my purple and rose colored candles ahead of time.

And as usual my goals of really entering into the season, and spending time in deep contemplation about the arrival of my Lord and Savior in the form of a little baby, went unrealized.

Each year I have some excuse. This year I got sick. Not deathly ill, or even super sick requiring Rx or a trip to the doctor. No, I just got a really persistent upper respiratory something.  It came the first Sunday of Advent and just hung around all month. It sucked my energy, my motivation, and kept me at an arms length (or more) from many friends and families.

And it slowed me down. In a time of hustle and bustle, this little bug dropped me into first gear and I sort of trudged through life. The result of this dampening of energy meant that the class party I had to organize was fine rather than great (no one seemed to care that the hot cocoa was actually chocolate milk), the Christmas cards did not go out (or even get addressed), the family ate quite a few more take-and-make dinners than normal (and enjoyed every bite), the gifts were simplified all round (who cares if the packages have bows), and we left the Christmas party early (unnoticed I am sure).

So what if we only lit the Advent candles a few nights each week. Advent isn't about lighting candles, or planning the perfect party or sending an amazing card. Like all of our special times in the church calendar, Advent is about living life differently. Sometimes those special times are feast days, sometimes they are fasting days, sometime they are seasons of preparation, but they are different for a reason. They shock our system. They help us to notice a truly Joyful or Reverent time. Advent is a time to prepare for that truly Joyful time of Christmas.

Too often we hope for a grand revelation during our Advent or Lent season. We look for a conversion of our own heart, without realizing that when align our hearts to Christ, we are continually being transformed. This Advent I had to slow dow.  Really slow down. I had to choose what was important, what was urgent, and what could be left out. And then I just let go of it all. I stead of getting out of bed to read my journal and write and reflect, I stayed in bed and just prayed. Good prayer. Just talking with Jesus in the silence of the early hours and resting in His love.  And that is how I prepared. It wasn't extravagant, or complicated, or even recommended, but it worked. It wasn't a Fail. And now we get to celebrate.

As this New Year approaches what sort of goals are you going to set for yourself? Are they going to be lofty-impossible-to-achieve goals that leave you deflated and defeated as the first flowers of spring pop up, or are they going to be less measurable goals that lead to a transformation in your heart and mind?

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Lessons on Love

 I had lunch with my boys recently. They are 11 and 14. Anytime I want to really talk with them I find it is best to get them away from any screens and put food in their hands. Kids are always happier with full tummies. Me too actually.

As we noshed on our burgers and fries, I explained in very few words the concept of Love Languages (Read the 5 Love Languages by GaryChapman!). I asked them which love language they thought they most related too. My oldest is an Acts of Service guy and my second born communicates love through Physical Touch. We talked about how this played out in our house.

For instance, with my oldest, I can always tell when he isn’t feeling the love, or wanting to share the love because his chores start sliding. I know it is more important for me to do things like bring him a forgotten lunch or help him get ready for soccer than it is with the other kids. It is more important for my second born to get his hugs, his good night tuck in, a little tickle time or even some help just clipping his nails.  He doesn’t ask for help with things like filling his water jug or making his lunch, but loves sitting on the couch with me while I scratch his head.

After talking about the two boys themselves, we decoded the other members of the family, and tried to pin down their love languages. We have one Quality Time and possibly another Acts of Service (she is pretty young so time will tell). They pegged their dad correctly but were stumped with me. But that makes sense.  When you are aware of someone’s love language it allows you to communicate with them based on their language.  So if I am communicating with them in their language, each child in my family should think I am just like them.  Ironically I am a Words of Affirmation kind of gal so I am not matched with anyone!

We also discussed the need to be aware of their friends and future spouses love languages.  Can you imagine dating someone who was expecting gifts when you were an Acts of Service communicator? I asked them what they think it would be like in our home if I was a Receiving Gifts communicator (given that their dad is an Acts of Service).  They laughed and said he would be ranting all the time “I work so hard to provide for this family and you keep spending all the money on these gifts we don’t need!”. So true!

I want my sons to be able to identify their sibling's and parent's and friend's love languages. As the mom, it is less important that they communicate with me in my own love language. I need to be the one who is poly-lingual, and slowly help them develop the skill as well. It is my job to help them develop the ability to give and receive love – in all its forms - and recognizing love as it is presented is key.

If you’ve never read the book, next time you are over at Amazon (or in an old fashioned books store), grab it. It is a fast and easy read and it can really inform the way you interact with your loved ones. Then open the discussion with them and keep it going. Doing so will foster a culture of love in your home.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Self-care in Stages

Photo credit @anniespratt via Unsplash

School started this week and I am not going to lie. I was thrilled. With 4 kids at home all summer I was acutely aware of a startling lack of anything that resembled self-care. The first day back had me wondering how best to celebrate having a quiet house all day for the first time since becoming a parent 14 years ago. I debated between going home to take a nap and going to a friends to do some work wilts drinking mimosas.

And that got me to thinking about self-care. Because self-care is all about the self and it will differ with each of you. My hope is peaking in my evolution will give you pause to look at your own, and help you to seek some significant ways to take care of yourself, where ever you are in life.

In my pre-parenting life, self-care was all about betterment of the self. I would go for a run a few times a week. I ate well. When I didn't eat well I would run a little more. I was able to mostly sleep until I naturally awoke because my graduate school classes were typically later starts and I never had to be at work before 9am. I got the occasional expensive coffee drink as a treat. I got plenty of alone time naturally.

Once we got married and started our family, I turning inward, not to myself but to our little growing family. As we solidified our union as husband and wife, we began to bond with other couples who were in a similar stage of life. Those relationships were often family based and frequently instructive for us as we embraced the new roles of Mother and Father. Self-care in those days meant regular lunches with these friends or playdates where my friends and I would watch the children play and dissect every little concern over coffee. It meant getting out of the house and talking with another adult eye-ball to eye-ball. It meant dropping the children at the gym not so that I could sweat, but so that I could clear my head of the little chatter and delved into a fictional life while I sort-of worked out, all the while balancing a book in my hand.

That was about the time I converted to Catholicism and began the mom's ministry at our parish. I had two little boys and I craved relationships with women whose eyes were on the cross and whose end goal in life was an eternity in heaven. I didn't want to just spend time with other people. I wanted to spend time with people with whom I shared values, and goals, and dreams. I wanted my children to grow up in a community of people who had strong marriages and strong faiths. Self-care started to mean more about my internal and personal growth. It still had a social aspect, but it wasn't about passing time with people. It was about growing with them. I would gain weight with pregnancy and loose it again only to gain it once more with each pregnancy. My gym time, which I still considered critical for self-care, was for mental health more than physical health because it seemed I was almost always pregnant or nursing.

And then the children started school, and I found a resurgence of discretionary time and a introduction of outside demands. People started asking things of me. Will I help with Vacation Bible School? Sure. Will we hold a bake sale? Sure. Can you help decorate the church for Christmas? Sure. Wanna run the parish consignment sale? Sure. Do you want to join our bunco group? Book club? MOPS? And on and on it went and because there was no end to the opportunities and I quickly became engulfed. There was so much I wanted to do and getting out of the house one night a week was a delight. Having a night "off" from the bedtime routine was bliss. Self-care meant escaping the responsibilities of family life for just a few hours, even though that often meant taking on other responsibilities. I became a compulsive volunteer, because it meant I could leave without guilt.

And then Baby Number Four came along and escaping became impossible. Our schedules, the demands at home, the needs of the children overwhelmed the schedule. Whereas self-care once meant saying Yes to serving outside the home, now it meant learning to say No. Learning to say No to the things in life that overwhelmed me, consumed me, and kept me up at night was one of the healthiest lessons I have learned as an adult. I realized that each time I say Yes, I took on a task that could be completed by someone else. Saying No to serving provides others the opportunity to say Yes. So I began saying No more often. If it wasn't something that I was uniquely prepared for or had a gift for, I could now say No. Saying No became the primary way to say Yes to myself and to God. I stopped doing and started being. I started to become intentional.

And I began writing. I let the Lord call me to a new life within, a new love within. He spoke to me in prayer and lit a love for words within me. He called me to serve in the quiet. During nap times, during preschool, while the little ones played. I was able to serve Him and use my unique combination of gifts, training and experience in a way to that left me without guilt or exhaustion.

Now as I settle into my 40s, life with a teenager a kindergartener and two in between has left me with little headspace for writing. I have found different a unique ways to serve outside the home through my writing and my role with Blessed is She. I am back to trying to escape, but mostly just so that I can breathe without children around. As my teen stays up later and later the quiet time at home in the evenings has been reduced. I hit the gym a few days a week for vanity purposes as my metabolism and muscle mass both decline. I have a glass of vino in the evenings and take pleasure in the fact that I can drink decent wine from a nice glass, and it is a healthy thing to do as I watch my HDL's. My friendships are solid. They aren't just the parents of my children's friends, or relationships I cling to from other stages in life although I thankfully do still have some of those. They are heart-to-heart friendships with women I want to grow with. They hold me accountable and advise me. They seek my counsel, recognize my strengths, and tease me about my weaknesses. Self-care also means escaping with my husband - Date nights, an annual trip with another couple, and a little trip for just the two of us. I will continue to grow through the years, but real self-care means making sure that my husband and I grow together as well. With the distractions and demands of parenting kids, a tween and a teen this is my biggest challenge.

One day, I am told, I will blink and it will be just my husband and me. I will be saying goodbye to the baby and entering Empty Nest status, and self-care will look much different from how it looks today. It will challenge me to evaluate how much time and energy I am willing to commit in order to combat natural aging. My hormones will shift and I will be forced to adjust relationally and emotionally. I predict a bit of a return to self-care as it once was with a more self- rather than other-focus, but now that focus will be on the internal not the external.

Self-care won't be about seeking out time away, but it will be about boundaries of some sort because it always is. Self-care will still concern balancing the needs of others and the needs of the self. And so the flow of self-care from external care - to care of family unit - to care of social/community unit - to care of internal self will continue.

Take a minute and think - Where are you with your self-care? What does that term even mean to you today? Is self-care taking just a few minutes to veg out on social media? Is it something as simple as listening to your favorite music or building a favorite activity into your weekly routine? Is it intention or does it come naturally? 

Thanks for stopping by to think with me today!

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