Letter to my son: As you enter high school…

Father and son spending some time together in the pool. Last summer break before high school begins.

Dear Son,

Yesterday, we brought you home from the hospital as a newborn.  Tomorrow you begin your high school career. Where did the time go?  From my viewpoint, it is going faster than I like.  From your seat, it is probably not fast enough.  We all have a different perspective on time.

Tomorrow you will enter a new world, a very different world than the one you know. It is a very exciting world and, at times, a very cruel world.  It is both a fun world and a world that can ruin you, if you are not careful.  I have some great memories from high school largely because I did not make too many foolish decisions back then.

What I am writing to you may feel like a letter.  Consider it a gift.  I wish I had been given an opportunity to read what you are about to read when I was your age. What I am about to share with you comes from a deep well of love and wisdom.  These instructions will serve you well, not just over the next four years of your life – but beyond.

What you will find below are some life lessons that can be applied the moment you walk through those high school doors tomorrow morning.  Hopefully they will still be with you when you move the tassel on your hat on graduation day.

First impressions:  It has been said that you “do not get a second chance to make a first impression.”  It is extremely difficult to change your reputation, especially in high school.   So, decide today – what do you want YOUR reputation to be when you graduate?  A great student?  A good friend?  A nice person?  (All of that sounds good to me!)  Decide who you want to be and then make the daily decision to become that person.  Surround yourself with like-minded people as that will make it even easier for you to stay consistent.  Having said that…

Friendships:  The high school experience is largely about friendships.  From this point forward, you will have the ability to meet and make new friends.  Make lots of them but choose them wisely.  Some of the friends you make now will be with you the rest of your life.  If you allow the wrong people to get close to you, it can take you down a path that can ruin your life, literally.  “Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” – I Corinthians 15:33   You have a good character.  Your Mom and I will do everything in our power to keep bad influences away from you.  Help us with goal.

Friends are important but family is “forever.”  The teenage years are notorious for young men like you to want to spend more time with your friends and less time with your family.  Though I understand this, be careful that you remember that family is your anchor.  You won’t be spending the next 30 Thanksgiving meals with the kid next to you in home room.   Friendships are important but they should never trump your family.  This includes your siblings.   You are the oldest and therefore they both look up to you.  Remember to spend time with them, even initiating time together.  I made it a point to spend time with my younger siblings as often as I could.  Uncle Matt and I talked every week.  As a 14-year-old, I didn’t have a lot in common with your Aunts – who were 4.  But, as the oldest sibling, I knew I had to work to be close to them and I had to initiate it.  Those tiny investments, made weekly, is the only reason why I am so close to my siblings today, some 28 years later.

High school is still about SCHOOL.  Make your studies a priority.  Your overall Grade Point Average (G.P.A.) is one of the things that colleges look at when they decide whether to accept you or not.  It is better to be in a position where you can go anywhere you want versus going to the only place that will accept you.  A college education is almost a pre-requisite for any job you apply for beyond your college years.  Even if you were flipping burgers for a living, they will hire a college graduate over a non-college graduate any day.  The better your grades, the better your choices.  Make your studies a priority in high school and you will find that college is much easier for you.  You are extremely intelligent and you have a great track record so far academically.  Keep that pace.  You will not regret it.

Never stop learning.  Never stop asking questions.  Right now, you are forced to go to school.  There will be a time in the near future when no one will tell you what to read or study.  Be a lifetime learner, not one trying to get through the next test.  Never stop studying.  Read everything you can.  As Pastor Howard Hendricks once said, “Readers are leaders and leaders are readers.”  You were meant to be a leader.  Keep reading and learning!

Talking / Listening / Laughing:  You have been blessed with the gift of communication.  I wonder where that came from?  🙂  With any strength, there is always an accompanying weakness and the potential for the gift to be abused.  It is great that you are a good communicator but use that gift in moderation.  In other words, don’t talk too much.  “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” (Proverbs 25:11)  You were given two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Learn how to listen.  As James says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19).   You have also been given a great sense of humor.  It has been fun to watch that develop over the years.  You are truly funny.  Having said that, be careful with that gift as humor (like the tongue) can both build up and tear down.  Never be funny at someone else’s expense.  Self deprecating humor is the best and most endearing.   Sarcasm is the lowest form of humor so use it rarely and carefully.

The Golden Rule: One of the very first things I taught you as a small child was Matthew 7:12, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”   High school is a place where people can do and say some very mean things.  Unfortunately, you have little control over how others behave.  Many kids were not raised like you were, with the same high standards.  Regardless, you can control how YOU behave.  Act like the nice young man you are and that you were taught to be.  Speak respectfully to all people at all times, especially your elders.  Open doors for everyone.  Be kind to females.  Look after those that are younger or weaker.  Maintain your manners.  Always be a gentleman.

Temptations:  High school is full of them:  Drinking.  Smoking.  Drugs.  Sex.  Porn.  The list goes on and on.   Avoid them.  Avoid them all.  Like the game Modern Warfare, where the goal is to navigate a city while avoiding the snipers and landmines, view high school in the same manner.  Pay attention.  Have fun but recognize that not everyone or every place is safe.  Use your gaming skills in life.  The following temptations are worse than being shot:

  • Drinking: If your friends are drinking, get new friends.  I mean it.  Drinking before your 21st birthday, though it may seem cool, is still illegal.  You will go to jail for underage drinking.  After seeing three friends of mine from high school die from drunk driving, I never found it worth the risk.  Besides, alcohol is not as great as teenagers make it seem.  A milkshake is more delicious than a beer.  No one ever died for driving under the influence of a milkshake.
  • Smoking/Drugs: If a friend encourages you to smoke or do drugs, he is not your friend. I have never put a cigarette to my lips or drugs in my veins – I am living proof that it is possible to say “No!”  Both are EXTREMELY addictive.  And both can kill you.  After watching my Dad die from smoking, trust me, it isn’t worth the risk.  Don’t throw away your future.
  • Sex:  Sex before marriage is extremely risky, particularly in today’s immoral climate.  The few minutes of pleasure is not worth the risk.  A sexually transmitted disease (or getting someone pregnant) can ruin your future before it ever begins.  In spite of what our culture tells you or what your friends think, your body is not ready for this. You run the risk of acquiring so many more diseases at your tender age – diseases that can stay with you the rest of your life.  Your heart is also not ready for this emotional and spiritual bond.  It is a beautiful thing meant for the context of marriage.  Save yourself for that special woman.  “Flee immorality… do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you have been bought with a price, therefore honor God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:18-20)
  • Porn: When I was a kid, the only way you had access to pornographic material was in magazine form, or a VHS cassette.  Today, it’s a lot more accessible.  Google, YouTube, Netflix, your cell phone – you have more access to it than I ever did.   PLEASE, for your sake, DO NOT look.  I have personally seen porn ruin more men’s lives than all other vices combined.  You may be viewed as a prude.  Some may accuse you of being gay but I promise you – if you look and it becomes a habit, it will take you years to overcome and you WILL regret it.  It will also pervert how you view women and your future relationships with them.   “How can a young man keep his way pure?  But keeping it according to God’s word.” (Psalm 119:9)   Like Job, make a covenant with your eyes. (Job 31:1)

Peer pressure: Peers put pressure on you because they want you to be like them.  They want you to approve of what they are doing.  Often times, the greater the pressure, the worse the activity.  Decide NOW how you will handle it.  If you wait until it is upon you, you have already given in to it.  Blame me every time if you need to (“My Dad won’t let me.”) but do not cave to it.  We all want to be popular but some popularity has a price that is not worth paying.  Be your own person.  We all live before an Audience of One.  God sees everything we do.  “For His eyes are on the ways of a man, and He sees all his steps.” (Job 34:21)   Try to remember this.  Every time I have forgotten this truth, it has cost me dearly.

Grow your own faith in Christ. My high school years were some very turbulent years for me.  The ONLY reason I made it through unscathed was because I read my Bible and attended a good church.  You have been raised in the church all your life, under great Bible teaching, surrounded by strong believers and guided by Christian parents.  This foundation is a blessing.  But you now have to decide to have on your own relationship with God.  Read His Word daily.  It will serve as a “lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path.” (Psalm 119:105)   I know I have not been the best Christian example at times – and the times that I have fallen have been the times that I walked away from God and His Word.  Learn from my example, both good and bad.  “Come near to God and He will come near to you.” (James 4:8)

Lastly, no matter what happens, I will always love you.  No matter what you have done, you can always call me or talk to me – at any hour.  There may be consequences to face, but I will always be your Dad and I will always love you more than anyone at that school.  You may not agree with every decision I make, but I promise you, every decision has your best interests in mind – whether you recognize it or not.  Remember, I walked this path before you.  I know the pitfalls.  I am here to help you through them.

Love,    Dad

Dear Mom – a letter from the womb

The post is dedicated to a Christian friend of mine who is carrying an unplanned child out-of-wedlock.  She is on the verge of making an irreversible, devastating, life-changing “choice.”  If her unborn child was given a glimpse of life outside the womb and had the vocabulary to articulate thoughts, this is what her baby may write… a desperate plea to stay alive. 

Dear Mom,

I know we haven’t officially met yet but I thought I would say hi from inside your womb.  I am not sure how I arrived, I just know that I am glad I am here.   Though the place I am in is very dark, it is also very warm and comforting.  There is not much to do here but I am constantly entertained by the sound of your voice.  Oh, how I love the sound of your voice!  Every time you talk, I feel safe.  Every time you speak, I feel loved.  I don’t understand everything you are saying yet – but I can’t wait to comprehend it.  The best is your laugh.  You don’t do it often and I have no idea what causes it but when it happens, it feels amazing.

From all the muffled commotion I hear, I have a feeling that life is pretty stressful outside this womb.   Listening to the tone of your conversations, I can tell you are scared.  Your voice sounds tired.  On the outside, everyone might think that you are doing ok but on the inside you are a wreck.  I know.  I live on the inside.  I can feel the tension.  Something tells me that I am the cause of it.

I keep hearing words like “abortion”, “choice”, and “procedure.”  Every time one of those words is said, a cold chilling wind hits my spine.  Yes, I have a spine.  And a heartbeat.  And ears.   I may not be able to see much right now, but I can hear it all.  From the sound of it, my days are numbered – I just don’t know why.  I didn’t ask to be here, your actions brought me.  Why don’t you want me now?   What did I do to deserve your rejection?

  • When you say the word “abortion”, I hear “death.”
  • When you say “choice”, I ask “Whose?”   My choice does not seem to matter right now.  Is it because my voice cannot be heard yet?
  • When you say “procedure”, I hear “pain.”  One of us will have anesthesia during this procedure and one of us won’t.  For you, this is a very simple out-patient surgery.  For me, it is an execution.  My only crime?   I exist.

Why don’t you want me?   Is it because of your reputation?   How does killing me help that?  Doesn’t that just make it worse?   Granted, sleeping with Dad may not have been your wisest decision but ending my life only complicates matters.  Your friends and family may never know about me.  But you know about me.  Dad knows about me.  Obviously, God knows about me.  He sent me here.  Just understand this: Ending my life does not end your memory of me.

Is this a financial decision?  Am I not going to see my first birthday because you want to save money?  Does my little mouth make it one too many for you to feed?  Rumor has it that a lot of people pay big money for someone like me.  Why not give me to one of those families?  I know someone out there wants me.  Why can’t I be with them?

Maybe this is about lifestyle?  Is my presence going to keep you from having fun?   Am I going to “cramp your style?”  Would you prefer dating over diapers right now?  Did my grandparents have this same discussion when you were in the womb?   They obviously did not choose lifestyle over life.  Why can’t I have that same freedom?

Does this have to do with my Dad?   Do you not like him now?   Was he abusive to you?   Is my existence a constant reminder of someone you want to forget?  I’m sorry for that, I really am.  But right now, for the next nine months, I don’t need a Dad.  I need you.

Maybe you don’t think I am really a person yet?  By week six, my ears began to form and my heart began to beat.  A beating heart is a sign of life, ask any Doctor!  By week eight, my lungs were formed and my hands and feet appeared.  By week eleven, my beautiful face was fully formed and you can tell my gender.  What more proof do you need?  I’m a person just like you – I just don’t have my voice yet.

I don’t know why you are considering removing me from the family portrait.  But my time is running out and the cards seem stacked against me.  The current legal system might allow you to “get away with murder.”  The government might even support it.  Unbelievably, your friends or our family might be encouraging it.  You might be able to afford it and even find some Doctor greedy enough to do it but make no mistake, your conscience will never forget it.  I might not make it out of here alive but one thing I do know, you will never forget me or the experience of losing me.

All I am asking for is the very opportunity you had – life.   If you can’t hear my cries for help, then let my constitutional rights speak for me.  Weren’t they established for people like me?   “We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”   I want justice, domestic tranquility and to be defended!

I have to go – there is more work to be done before my arrival.  If this is last time you hear my voice, I just want you to know I forgive you.  The challenge will be to forgive yourself.

I hope to see you soon.  I want to laugh together, outside of this womb.

Love, your unborn child.


“For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.  Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” – Psalm 139:13-16

DISCLAIMER: This post is not trying to intentionally or formally declare where I stand concerning the pro-life/pro-choice debate.  Nor is it my desire to bring up a controversial and divisive subject for the sake of controversy.  Regardless of my particular belief, the baby is always pro-life and this “letter”was written from the baby’s perspective.  Also, I am painfully aware that there may be women reading this who have already chosen to abort a baby in their past.  This is not written in subtle judgment of that decision.  Any guilt they still feel is a direct result of their decision and not because of this particular post.  We all must learn to deal with the poor decisions we have made and the consequences we face and move forward, trying our best to learn what we can from those painful experiences.  Some readers may find the following blog helpful in regards to the regrets they have experienced in the past.

Update: Wednesday, September 5th, 2012.   My friend texted me today and told me she had the abortion.  I am very sad on a number of levels.  Sad that Satan got another victory.  Sad that a “choice” trumped a life.  Sad that some doctor made money for his disservice to our land.  Sad that some loving couple can’t experience the joy of an adoption.  Sad for my friend’s children who won’t be having a little baby sibling to love on.  Sad that I never to got to meet this little one I have prayed for.  Really sad for my friend.  When I asked how she felt, her only response was, “I just feel dirty.”  

Interestingly, her initial text to me was simply, “It is done.”   I knew instantly what she meant.  I also could not miss the connection between her three words and the last three words of Christ as He hung on the cross.  He cried out, “It is finished” and died.

  • One death occurred to save a reputation.  The other death occurred to save mankind.
  • One death was to make life easier.  The other was to make life holy.
  • One death only brought death.  The other death brought Life, now and later.
  • One death made one man richer.  The other death made all men richer.
  • One death brings regret.  The other death brings forgiveness, even extended to her – even now.  Especially now.

Continue to pray for my friend.

The corrective brace of parenting

(This article was orginally published in 2007 when my youngest son was about 2 years old.)

As I sit here and write – my son screams in the other room.   The kind of scream that every parent hates to hear.  The kind of scream that makes a Mom leap a couch and a Dad run through a door.  The scream that says “I’m in pain – help me”!!   And yet I sit.   What would make a parent sit back and let the screams continue?   What kind of parent would allow such pain to enter their precious child’s life and not do something about it?   Either an evil parent or a parent who has been informed about the purpose of the pain.   An unloving parent or a parent who understands the horrifying consequences if this particular pain is avoided.

My son was recently diagnosed with Metatarsus Adductus caused by Tibial Torsion, a congenital defect of his legs that causes his feet to twist inward – pigeon towed, if you will.  Though thousands have this – his is a bit acute and if it goes untreated, he will end up with a permanent, awkward gait.  To avoid this consequence, he must wear a corrective brace at night on each leg.   If he wears it faithfully at night, every night, for six to nine months – it greatly improves the probability of correcting the defect.  The heart breaking scream is caused by the pain brought on by the brace.

What’s particularly difficult is that when I look at my son, I do not automatically notice his defect.  I see a cute little guy, full of life, unstopped by a pesty little diagnosis about his chubby little legs.   Because of this bias, I am sometimes tempted to forget the brace “just this one night.”    After all, the brace is so rigid, so firm, so legalistic – in the truest sense of the word.  In fact, if you ask him, he would tell you in his eloquent baby language that he’s just fine.  No brace required – especially not tonight.

There are a number of braces to choose from, just like with parenting.

I can’t help but think of the correlation between his corrective brace and the corrective brace of discipline all parents are called to place on their children.   Sadly, few strap on the brace.  On one level, I understand why.  It is much easier not to.  Who wants to be unpopular with their children?   Who wants to be misunderstood as to why you are doing it?   Who wants to listen to their children scream (or complain, whine, cry, etc)?    There is something deep within us that makes us extra sympathetic to that little cry – even if the little crier is sixteen and shaving.  And yet – the brace is necessary because the defect exists.   Without the defect, the brace is cruel.  But because of the defect, the brace is the most loving thing you can do in spite of the tears.

The Bible affirms this truth repeatedly throughout Scripture.  (Parenthesis mine)

  • Foolishness (defect) is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of discipline (brace) removes it far from him.” – Proverbs 22:15
  • He who spares the rod (brace) hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline (brace) him.” – Proverbs 13:24
  • Do not withhold discipline (brace) from a child; if you punish him with the rod (apply the brace), he will not die.” – Proverbs 23:13
  • “Bring your children up in the discipline (brace #1) and instruction (brace #2) of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

So, parent – what kind of brace does your child need?   Some younger ones may need the brace of spankings.  Others need the brace of restriction or the loss of privileges. Maybe yours needs the brace of correction and instruction.   Regardless of the type of brace, the real question is, are you willing to place it on them?   Are you willing to place it on night after night, consistently, until the defect is “fixed”?   God has given parents a relatively short window in which the brace is most effective.  If we wait too long, its influence will be diminished.   If we apply it inconsistently, it will take twice as long and not guarantee a proper healing.   Your child could end up with a deformed spiritual gait. Or a criminal record.

As for my son, if the brace does not fix his defect, surgery will.   They will break his legs and re-set them as they should be.   The thought of surgery does not sit well with me, particularly if it is a result of my unwillingness to do my job now.

If you do not brace your children, God can certainly still cure them with a bit of Divine surgery.   Just a word about surgery with God though.  It’s always open heart and never with anesthesia.   Kinda makes the brace a bit more attractive, no?

*************** MEDICAL UPDATE *****************

The brace was applied on my son’s legs every night for about four months and as a result of that consistent application, his legs were healed several months ahead of schedule.  Today, he runs and jumps and moves around normally – you cannot tell he ever wore a brace.

Though the brace was difficult to place on him night after night, the right decision was made – even if it was unpopular.  And because of that, he avoided a painful surgery.  I think he’s glad he wore the brace.  Yours will be too… eventually.

My children, My weapon

Any soldier worth their weight in warfare would never dream of entering the battle without proper weaponry.  It would be foolish to have anyone on the frontlines of battle without sufficient “fire power”.  Think through all the war heroes of the past; Napolean, Washington, MacArthur, etc.  Now think of all the wars they won while hiding in their bunker.  Although defense is an important factor, wars are won when troops go on the offense.  We all understand this truth militaristically.  We even understand the analogy when we carry it over into the sports arena.  The team with the best offense is normally the winning team.  However, very few Christians seem to understand that this truth is applicable in regards to our culture.  I need not remind you that we are in the midst of a culture war.   Our actors, news anchors, musicians, politicians, editors, superintendents, co-workers and neighbors remind us continually.  The question for every Christian parent is “How engaged are you” in this cultural battle for truth and righteousness?   Are you in the fight?   Is your family anywhere near the frontlines?   Sadly, too many Christians (especially parents!) have developed a defensive posture in regards to the culture war.

Jesus was on the offensive.  Find a passage of Scripture where Jesus took a defensive posture.   Locate a verse where He cowered from a confrontational conversation with the Pharisees.  Show me a time where Jesus was timid, shy, quiet, apologetic or “tolerant” of anti-Biblical ideas and opinions.  He appropriately challenged His family (Luke 2:41-52).   He was not afraid to rebuke even His closest friends (Matthew 16:21-23). He consistently stood up to the “preachers” of His day (Matthew 23:1-39).  He defended the integrity of His church with zeal (Matthew 21:12-13).  He did not fear man even if that man had the “authority” to “take” His life (John 19:8-11).   And yet, in all of His boldness, Jesus modeled for us how to assault the culture without sinning in the process (Hebrews 4:15).  Jesus was an appropriately offensive figure, are you?

One way that God commands every Christian parent to assault the culture is via their children.  In Psalm 127:4-5, we learn three important truths about this culture war we are in:

“Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.   How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”

Your children are arrows.  The purpose of an arrow is to defeat the enemy.  Arrows were never created to remain in the quiver.   They were also never meant to be dull.   A dull arrow is simply for appearance and arrows created for appearance only – never win wars.   It is my observation that most parents are more concerned about their arrow’s appearance than they are with their arrow’s sharpness.   Evaluate your weaponry.  What is the spiritual condition of your arrows?   If you have 3 in your quiver, how “sharp” are they?   Could you release them into the culture war with confidence that they would positively impact the culture for Christ?   If you are not able to fully release them yet (due to age), are you working diligently to sharpen them for the day they will be released?   If you think the Christian parent’s goal in life is simply to fill your quiver with no responsibility to sharpen the arrows entrusted in your care, you are not only sadly mistaken but have also done nothing to help the rest of us win this cultural battle.

You are a warrior.  “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.”  If the children are the arrows, then the parents are the warriors.  Do you see yourself as a warrior?  Do you act like one?   As a warrior for Christ, what role are you playing in this culture war?   Does the culture of your workplace, local school district, community or city know that if they violate God’s standard, then they are going to have to answer to God’s warrior in these matters?  The culture wages war every day and very few Christian warriors do anything about it.

Sharpened arrows fly with confidence.  “…they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”   When you become the warrior God calls you to be and when you (in the power of the Holy Spirit) do all you can to sharpen (equip) them for this cultural battle, the result is confidence.   A sharp arrow released by a true warrior flies with confidence.   A dull arrow released by a coward barely gets off the ground.  Part of the reason Christianity in America is limping today is because too many Christians apologize for their faith instead of defending it.   You try to storm the banks of Normandy with a water gun.   You attempt to defend Fort Sumter with a rubber bullet.  When Christian parents inadequately equip their children to be the arrows that God desires for them to be, we all lose ground.

How sharp are your arrows, warrior?   Could you release them, even today, with confidence that they would make a difference for Christ?

Parenting in the technological age

(This was originally published in Columbia Living – “The Premier Lifestyle Magazine of Columbia South Carolina”, July/August 2011)

With every generation, raising children takes on new challenges never before seen by parents. Think about how parenting has changed through the ages. Before the invention of the light bulb, kids were “in” by dark. Now, they can stay out late and see all night. Before the automobile was invented, children had to walk or take the family horse. Now, they are able to travel hundreds of miles in just a few hours. Before the invention of television, kids were outside all the time. Now, there are enough channels in the basic cable package to entertain them 24 hours a day, literally. Before the invention of the internet, kids had to go to the library for hours to do research. Today, with a few clicks from home and they can find what they want in minutes. It used to be that parents had to set a geographical boundary and curfew for their children to obey. In this day and age, those boundaries are primarily online. “Don’t go past that landmark” has now been replaced with “Don’t go to that website”.

Like it or not, we are in the Zenith of the technological age and it seems that parenting has to morph just as rapidly as the technologies that are created. Just in the last 15 years, parents have had to address the following technological bombardments: MP3’s, iPods, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, Nook, Kindle, instant messaging, web cams, cell phones, texting, Xbox, DVR, TiVo, etc. To an older ear, some of those terms can bring confusion. To an “old-timer”, YouTube can sound like your toothpaste. Isn’t Kindle something you do to a fire? Should the trend continue parents will have to address and adapt to even more technology in order to stay current and communicate with their children. So, how do you do it? How does a parent stay informed, connected and even communicate with their children in such an age?

  • Get educated. Listen to your children and you will learn a lot. They will talk about the latest technology, how they use it or how they want to use it. Ask questions. Get online and “google” to find answers. Go to the store and talk to the employees. Knowledge is power and too often parents are powerless simply because they don’t even know what they don’t know.
  • Get online. If your kids are on Facebook, you need a Facebook account. If your kids use Twitter, you need to have a Twitter account and “subscribe” to it. If your child plays Xbox, you need to at least be familiar with the game and how it’s played. If your child likes to text message, you need to learn how to do it. Nothing can distance a parent quicker than not understanding their child’s world. There is already a great chasm between a child and his “old man”. You being online and trying to interact with your child can help bridge that gap a bit. It does not mean you have to “like” everything your child “posts”. It does not mean you have to “tag” every photo your child is in. It just means you have to be “nearby” online. Isn’t that the heart of parenting anyway – being “near” your children? (By the way, if you aren’t familiar with the phrases “Twitter”, “subscribe”, “like”, “tag” and “posts” you are officially out of touch and need this article more than you realize.)
  • Do not over react. Remember, technology is not the problem. It’s the use or abuse of it that can be the problem. Just because you heard a story about some kid in some mid-western state that abused MySpace does not mean that your child will do the same. Just because other teenagers are “sexting” (sending naked pictures of themselves via text) does not mean yours is or will. When you hear stories of how technology is being abused, talk it through with your kids. Make sure they understand the pitfalls and realize the consequences are real when technology is abused. Just as you would warn them of the dangers of driving, you too need to make sure they understand the dangers online or with various technologies.
  • Do not be too trusting. While overreacting can be a problem, so can too much trust. Just because you have a “good” child, does not mean he/she cannot get in trouble with certain technology. Children, particularly teenagers, are still developing portions of their brain. The common sense and rational portions are still a work in progress. These factors combined with the influence of friends and the ease of access to technology can cause them to go down a road you never dreamed they would. Education will help you know what’s out there and what the dangers are. Knowing your child and maintaining an open, close relationship with them will help you keep access as to how they are handling emerging technology. If you are concerned that your child is doing some things online that are inappropriate or destructive, there are accountability websites and keystroke logging software available to help.
  • Know their friends. How well do you know their friends? Are they in your home often? Are you creating opportunities where you can interact with them? Are you placing yourself in proximity (even online) to see, hear or read what is going on in their world? Who do they email or text regularly? If you do not know their closest friends, you do not know who is influencing them, positively and negatively.
  • Communicate with other parents. You would be surprised what you can learn in this regard. All parents like to talk about their kids. Ask them questions. Share your struggles. You will not only realize you have similar parenting issues but some of them may have some good suggestions as to how they handle it.
  • Get passwords. This is a controversial suggestion but one that I firmly believe can make a huge difference in the protection of your child. Having a child’s password gives you access to their online world. If they argue about giving it to you, that’s probably a good indication they are probably doing or saying something they shouldn’t be. It doesn’t mean you have to read their mail, but if you wanted to – you could. Some would be quick to say, “Isn’t that an invasion of their privacy?” If you are financing any aspect of their life, you have the right to see what they are involved in. Obtaining an online password is just like doing a random drug test. Privacy is an earned freedom after a proven track record of wise behavior. The more responsible your child is and proves to be, the more freedoms he/she should be given.
  • Be yourself. You will never be as “cool” as your kids. The only way you will be “hip” again is when you get yours replaced. Don’t try to be their “BFF”, just be their parent who cares enough to try and engage them on their turf. Don’t comment on every picture they post or “like” every status update. Don’t respond to every Tweet or try to get in on every chat. Be yourself. After all, you are the only parent they have. Do not trade down your elite position by trying to be their friend. They have enough of those.
  • Get outside. Remember when we were kids we had things like trees, parks, museums, sporting events, zoos, books and sunshine? Oh wait, we still have those things. Though technology is playing an ever increasing role in our world, it is important that we still find ways to get our children offline, outside and being active. They might not be interested or good at sports but it is important that you encourage activities that don’t require a broadband internet connection. Wii sports is great but it’s not the same as being outdoors.

My teenage son (like most) enjoys playing Xbox. So, I created an account and now play with him when I can. The truth is, I stink. I lose every race and get killed first in every game we play. Unfortunately for me, this will never change. Fortunately, what my son will remember is that I tried and that we are spending time together. Would I rather throw a Frisbee with him? Yes. But the point is we are “together” and as a dear friend has reminded me over the years, “Together is better”. Last week, I received a text message from my 12 year old daughter asking me for a drink. She sent it from the living room, twenty feet from the fridge. I sent her a picture of Orange Juice. My daughter learned that there is still a benefit to face to face interaction with her Dad.