When was the last time you took time to have a serious conversation with your children, especially your middle school and high school age children?
Unintentionally, we spend most of our waking hours racing from one activity to another. Sometimes not even having the time to take care of personal needs.
Our culture fuels this racing mentality. As parents, many of us feel our children must be engaged in activities all day long or somehow as parents we are failing them. While most of these activities are wholesome and objectively positive, they do raise the question of "what are our priorities?"
If JC is active in school sports, after school clubs, religion class and is a full time student, how does this middle schooler find the balance? As he is struggling to find that balance, what might be impaired or buried in the chaos of living in this process?
No matter what your age, in an overcrowded, overextended life, something definitely suffers. For students, it is often their schoolwork and/or their family relationships.
The average junior or senior high school student is just over committed. It is not that he or she does not want to do well, but there are only so many hours in a day. Something has to give. It is only natural if you are not a fan of the classroom that what you like least will get the least attention.
If you are a marginal student, but an outstanding athlete, it does not help if your coaches do not hold you accountable. Too often, the message subtly conveyed is that one's sports contribution is more important than one's academic life.
This is illustrated in those school districts where the student handbook clearly defines the academic requirements for sports participation, but various sports teams "creatively" work around them.
Athletic participation is a very powerful and positive venue in developing the character, integrity and discipline of a developing student. However, if student athletes are not held accountable, they get a mixed message that does not empower their growth and development. Coaches that compromise in this area oftentimes do not help these students grow and become responsible.
The other major area that is oftentimes impaired, all in the name of athletics and school activities, is family life. Being involved and active is healthy, as long as one's priorities are in order.
As a family, how often do you and your children share a meal together? Is the dinner hour the same every night or is it constantly adjusted because of everyone's hectic schedule? So, dinner is reduced to the microwave hour on the run. Everyone, including Mom and Dad, are running in four million directions at once.
The family meal breakdown is not on purpose. It subtly develops and takes hold, all in the name of good activity. Too often, when that does occur, it is hard to reclaim.
Families need to gather regularly, not only for the sake of family life, but also for the sake of each member of the family. If the family meal totally disappears except for special occasions and holidays, everyone will become strangers who barely know each other in their own home.
Childhood and teenage hood can be so fleeting. Before you know it, your children are away at college. At times you feel like you don't even know them, especially when you read a college essay on something meaningful and you didn't realize your son or daughter felt that way.
Our children need us to be more than merely the "gimme" machines. They need us for guidance and feedback as they navigate the journey, even though many will complain that we are "clueless" and should stay out of their lives.
If we don't consciously make time to connect, those important conversations will never take place. Too many of our children are being forced by circumstance to grow up alone. Many of those complicated questions about life, relationships and choices are not being addressed. Our children are being forced to figure all of that out alone. That can be pretty frightening, especially these days.
We live in a world that is ever changing. Most core values are mutually accepted and celebrated. However, what are those core values? Do our children really know what they are? Where do they learn about healthy relationships, especially if they are surrounded by dysfunction? What about appropriate social boundaries? When is it appropriate to talk about sex? And, when you do have that discussion, what do you cover? How do you engage your children in this important conversation?
Unfortunately, we are not engaging in these very important conversations. All in the name of good activity, many of us are side stepping these critical issues. Our children are facing these concerns on their own. Some are managing valiantly; others are falling into the abyss of disaster.
My work with young people underscores this. I see and hear this frustration, confusion and insecurity in the classroom on a regular basis. There are a growing number of junior and senior high school students who are suffering from depression and eating disorders, who are electing to deal with this stress by medicating themselves with drugs and alcohol. In the last few months, we have heard a number of painful stories concerning students at risk who fall into the cracks, and few people saw it coming.
The stories of young teenagers being scared into social circumstances that border on abusive are escalating. Some of this behavior starts out as teenage experimentation, but because these teenagers are ill equipped to deal with these circumstances, oftentimes they cross the line of acceptable. These teenagers don't feel they can or know how to turn back, so they don't. They start turning inwardly and act out in dangerous ways.
We must create safe opportunities without shame, blame, guilt or judgment, where we can at least begin these important conversations. Our children's mental and emotional health depend on them.