Volunteering: It’s Not Just About You Anymore

via flickr
via flickr

via flickr

Dear Mr. Dad: I have to admit that my wife and I have been a bit self-centered in our adult lives, focusing on our work, earning money, and supporting the family. We’ve done quite well financially and we’ve both decided that we should start giving something back to our community. We want to get our kids involved too, but they’re pretty young—only 5 and 7. Honestly, I don’t even know where to start. Are the kids too young? And what’s the best way get going?

A: Your kids are definitely not too young to volunteer in their community. In fact, there’s no such thing as too young. Plenty of people bring babies to visit nursing-home residents or shut-ins, and preschoolers and early elementary school kids often go on field trips to the same places to sing holiday songs , put on a play, or just draw pictures. Bringing a smile to the face of people who don’t have a lot of joy in their lives is a wonderful gift. Middle schoolers can volunteer to read to a blind person or tutor kids their own age in reading and math. Teens can coach inner-city sports teams or build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Ideally, volunteering is a selfless act—you do it to help someone else, not because you’ll profit from it. But thinking way into the future, volunteer work looks very good on college and job applications.

Doing things as simple as serving meals at a local homeless shelter (or, when the kids are older, delivering meals on wheels) shows your children that you’re walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. Of course volunteering often gives kids some insight into just how lucky they are. It can also provide opportunities for them to learn about problem solving and cooperation, hone new skills, and discover talents, interests, and skills they never know they had. Perhaps most importantly, it teaches them to be more tolerant of people they might never come in contact otherwise—people from different cultures, ethnicities, education levels, and socio-economic status. At the end of a day (or even just a few hours) of volunteering, you’ll discover that your family has benefitted as much as your community has—though in very different ways.

As you consider which of the millions of opportunities to get your family involved in, here are a few ideas to keep in mind:

[Read more…]

How to Deal With a Teen Who Plays a LOT of Video Games

teen plays too many video games

teen plays too many video games

Earlier this year, an online video went viral, showing an angry dad driving his lawnmower over a very upset young man’s video game collection. According to the on-camera, four-letter-filled yelling match (warning), the son was spending too much time playing video games and the dad was fed up. Before you pull out the lawnmower and shred a thousand dollars’ worth of Junior’s video games, read the tips below—they’ll help create a little more family harmony on the matter.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them…Then Beat Them

You may not see it right away, but the simple fact is that video games are fun. More than half of all Americans play video games on a semi-regular basis, according to the Entertainment Software Association, and if you’re telling your kids they are wasting their life on nothing, the hard fact is that you are wrong.

Video gaming is a cultural experience in the same category as watching TV as a family or seeing a baseball game with your dad. If your child is spend too much time away from the family to be able to play videos, move the video game console into the family room, load up a family-friendly game like “Just Dance 2015″ or “NBA2K14,” and play as a family. Or let the kids play games online from the kitchen desktop computer while you make dinner. This way they’re out in the common area with family rather than holed up in their bedrooms.

[Read more…]

The Pain of Pain

Dear Mr. Dad: My son is a freshman in high school, and until the beginning of this school year, he was a happy kid, with lots of friends and plenty of extracurricular activities. But over the past few months, he’s changed. He’s lost a bunch of weight, is sullen most of the time, and has taken to wrapping himself up in an oversized, floppy hoodie that covers everything but his face. After school, he goes to his room, and barely communicates with me or my husband. He also seems to have lost all contact with his friends. We’re really worried that he’s doing something self-destructive, like cutting himself. What can we do?

A: I appreciate your email, but you really need to contact your son’s pediatrician or family doctor. Sudden weight loss, mood changes, secretive behavior—including major wardrobe changes—are huge red flags, and your doctor will be able to put you in touch with an appropriate mental health professional.

Your next call should be to your son’s school. You want to find out whether any of his teachers have noticed the same kinds of behavior changes as well as whether he’s being bullied.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of data on the percentage of kids who deliberately hurt themselves, largely because they tend not to tell anyone. But studies I’ve looked at estimate that between 10 and 25 percent of adolescents and teens engage in some kind of self-injury at least once. Girls are thought to be a little more likely than boys to self-injure, but that might be because some of what boys typically do (such as punching walls, getting drunk, and engaging in risky behavior) isn’t always seen as self-injury. But both boys and girls cut, bite, or burn themselves—and baggy clothes are a good way to hide the evidence.

How much do you know about your son’s social life? Did he recently break up with a girlfriend or have a major feud with friends? According to various surveys, many teens self-injure to get reactions from someone, to feel more in control, to express depression or anxiety, and to stop bad feelings.

Maybe the most horrifying part of this is that many kids who injure themselves learn how from websites that actually encourage self-harm and even suicide. What a revolting thought. The good news—if there is such a thing—is that, according to Dr. Mathilde Ross, a psychiatrist at Boston University, most self-injurers aren’t suicidal and generally outgrow the behavior in their 20s.

Whether your son is harming himself or not, though, he needs help right now. And again, even though you and your husband are clearly concerned, neither of you is the right person for the job.

While you’re waiting for an appointment with the pediatrician, spend some time reading some of the resources at selfinjury.com. At the same time, pay very close attention to the way you’re responding to your son. It’s not going to be easy, but try to stay calm. Showing concern is fine, but expressing shock or horror, making threats, or getting angry will only drive him further away than he already is. He needs to know that you love him and that he can trust you. Engaging him in even the smallest conversation is a good sign that you’re on the right track.
An important part of a teen’s development is pushing boundaries and making mistakes. If your son knows he has a safety net, he just might use it.

I Know You Love Me, But I Need to Hear The Words

Dear Mr. Dad: My dad is an engineer and has always looked at the world in a very logical, no-feelings-allowed, Mr. Spock kind of way. I guess that’s just his style. The problem is that I don’t think he’s ever told me that he loves me. He’s always been a great dad and I have no doubt that he does love me. But as I get older—I’m nearly thirty—I start second-guessing myself and I really need to hear the words. I tell my kids all the time that I love them. Why won’t he tell me? Do you think he ever will?

A: Whenever I get an email like this, I’m nearly overcome with sadness. It’s tragic that your dad has never told you that he loves you. But I’m encouraged that he’s found other ways to get the point across and that you’ve gotten the non-verbal message. That still leaves your questions. Going in reverse order, yes, I think he will tell you, but it may take a little work on your part. As to why he hasn’t said those three magic words, there are quite a few explanations.

[Read more…]

3 Ways to Deal With a Teen Who Really, Really Loves Video Games

mrdad - kids love video games

mrdad - kids love video gamesIt’s no secret that teenagers love video games—the Palo Alto Medical Foundation reports that 97 percent of teens in the U.S. today play video games, and sales of video games are steadily growing. However, at times, it can be hard to deal with your teen’s love of video games in a reasonable way. To help this common problem, here are just a few ways you can deal with a teenage video game fiend without losing your mind.

Set Boundaries

One of the first things you can do to head off future problems with video games is to set boundaries. Set clear times for when gaming is allowed such as after homework or chores are done or on weekends. Additionally, it’s important to be clear about the kind of game content you will allow in your home as well as games that are simply off limits. By setting these boundaries clearly and early on, you can avoid your teen pushing the limits of the rules.

[Read more…]

The New Science of Adolecence

Laurence Steinberg, author of Age of Opportunity.
Topic:
Lessons from the new science of adolescence.
Issues: Why adolescence lasts three times longer than it did back in the 1950s; the adolescent brain is still developing–and growing; how adolescents think; protecting adolescents from themselves; the importance of self-regulation; how can parents make a difference; are adolescents legally responsible for their behavior?