5 SIMPLE (BUT ESSENTIAL) REASONS TO STOP WATCHING PORN TODAY
He sat there, broken and exposed
like never before.
“I didn’t think it would end like
this. I didn’t think it would go so far.” He whispered the words through tears
and gritted teeth.
I had worked with people
suffering from pornography addiction very closely for the past three years, but
I hadn’t seen this level of loss. A marriage destroyed. A family severed. A
high level career in shambles. A man at the brink of giving up on life.
I broke the silence. “What? What
wouldn’t go so far?”
“Pornography.” He looked me
square in the eyes. “Porn just grabbed a hold of me and wouldn’t let go. It
consumed my life.”
This man’s story is like many
men’s stories. Porn has a way of sinking its talons deep into our lives and not
letting go. Many people don’t think that porn will have a negative effect on
their life. They don’t know the full ramifications or the incredibly adverse
effects that continued exposure to pornography can have. That is, until it goes
So, whether you are just getting
started or find yourself stuck in the quick sand of pornography, let me give
you five straightforward but essential reasons to quit today.
1. Better Relationships
Did you know that there is a 300%
increase in divorce for homes where one or more people in the relationship
regularly look at pornography?¹
In Scripture, Jesus says, “Everyone
who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with
her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
There is a connection with those
we ‘lust after’ that will get in the way of our relationship
every time. Our eyes and attention are called to be in one direction, but porn
has a way of diverting our attention in many different directions.
Giving up porn will remove the
massive barrier standing in front of our relationships and focus our attention
2. Free Space in
Porn happens to be fantastic at
forming new, long-lasting pathways in the brain. Over time, these images or
videos become burned into the brain, taking up space. These memories can turn
into objectification of the people you see every day, repeating these images in
your mind over and over again.
As these images or videos
increase, so does the space that is stored up in our minds. There is an acronym
often used to describe the effect that these images have on our mind and our
daily interactions. It’s FOE. It stand for “fantasy,” “objectification,” and
Porn will increase the amount of
FOEs that we face each day.
Quitting porn, however, will free
up space in your mind that can be used for good, not objectification.
3. Better Sex
Some of you are wondering why I
didn’t start with this one!
Did you know that porn can cause erectile dysfunction in men?
That’s right, no more erections! In fact, psychiatry professor Norman Doidge
reported in his book The Brain That Changes Itself that
removal of internet pornography use reversed impotence and sexual arousal
problems in his patients.
I am reminded of the words of
Jesus when he said, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came
that they may have life and life abundantly” (John 10:10).
Isn’t it just like the devil to
entice us to see all the sexually explicit things that we want, and then have
the ability to enjoy sexual activity with another stripped away? You deserve to
have great sex and that starts with taking the pornography out of your life.
4. Less Stress
Watching porn has a natural way
of increasing stress and releasing cortisol (a steroid hormone) into your
system. However, think about the stress you feel every time someone is on your
computer, looking at your Netflix queue, or asking to borrow your phone. That
stress would be completely lifted off by quitting porn. There will no longer be
that fear or shame of “being caught.”
I heard a saying the other day
that went like this: “The best gift you can give yourself is the gift of a
How true this is! I have been on
both sides of the coin. I have had that fear and stress controlling me, and
I’ve also been on the side of a clean conscience. There is no question as to
where I’d rather be. I’m grateful for less stress.
5. Living in Integrity
Integrity has been described as
“living with the lights on” or “acting the same in front of people as you do
when no one is watching.” Some would describe this as living with
authenticity—being true to YOU. By quitting porn, many begin to live in truth and
I have never found someone who
said, “Watching porn is helping me become my best self!” In fact, the reaction
from everyone I’ve talked to has been quite the opposite. Pornography has
caused them to live outside of their values, keeping secrets and lying to those
they love the most. When you live in integrity, you are able to be the same
person no matter where you find yourself.
One of my favorite conversations
can be found in the book Alice in Wonderland, written by Lewis
Carroll. There is a scene where Alice is lost. She is trying to figure out
where to go, but there are all of these signs pointing in different directions.
As she is trying to make the right choice, the Cheshire Cat shows up.
Their conversation goes like
Alice: “Would you tell me,
please, which way I ought to go from here?”
The Cheshire Cat: “That depends a
good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t much care where.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Then it
doesn’t much matter which way you go.”
Alice: “… So long as I get somewhere.”
The Cheshire Cat: “Oh, you’re
sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
For some reading this article,
you’ve walked long enough. This is your moment. Change is sitting right in
front of you, but you will have to take that first step. You will have to make
the decision of where you “want to get to.” Is it a life free from porn? Is it
a place of honesty and integrity? Is it living authentically?
IF YOU HAVE (OR HAD) TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS OF ANY KIND, READ THIS NOW!
This is a vulnerable story –
about an unconventional therapist I saw – who helped me to learn how to get out
of bad toxic relationships.
About a decade and
a half ago I used to joke that for me all dating should be re-named
‘blind-dating” – and instead of saying I was “seeing someone right now” – I
should be more honest, and say, “I’m dimly viewing someone.”
I remember I was
once “dimly viewing” this particular guy. I’ve written about him before.
I explained how
every time I said this guy’s name, my girlfriends would sing the theme song
to Batman. Not because this man looked great in black
Spandex tights. No, no. It was because he was a bad man.
Bad-man! Bad-man!” my girlfriends would sing, right after I’d finish telling a
particularly bad Bad-man episode—of which there were many.
Let’s call this ex
of mine “Bruce Wayne” – to protect his not-so-innocent secret identity.
Today I want to
share something I never told you about Bruce.
“dadadadadada bad-behavior” began very early on – a few weeks into our relationship.
Yep, right out of
the gate Bruce displayed what I felt were highly controlling and jealous
behaviors, products of paranoia.
Yet I continued to
I even went away with Bruce for a
weeklong vacation in Turkey – where we had a very big fight one evening.
I made a silly joke to our Turkish waiter – who then laughed – and touched my
shoulder before he left our table. Bruce then became convinced that I was
flirting with this Turkish waiter.
Bruce specifically wanted to know if I’d rather be dating this
Turkish waiter – a man who could barely speak English – plus lived well beyond
a 5,000 mile radius of my zip code.
I kept reassuring Bruce I was
not the teeniest bit interested in this Turkish dude – yet Bruce refused to
talk to me for a full two days of our vacation!
When I came home
from vacation, I sought out therapy.
I found a nice older psychotherapist,
named Sid, who eventually became like a “grandfather from another
great-grand-mother.” I adored Sid.
believe what Bruce said/did last night,” I’d begin each and every therapy session. And then I’d launch
into another “Dadadadadadada Bad-man Episode”!
“Bruce said he doesn’t want me to have brunch with girlfriends on weekends anymore – unless he comes along.”
“Plus, he doesn’t want me to take an evening painting class – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”
“Also, he doesn’t want me to go to the gym – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.“
“Aaaaannnd…he told me he doesn’t like it when I come home happy from work – because he worries I enjoy work more than him! He actually became angry the other day because I came home so happy!”
“You know what your
problem is Karen?” Sid asked me one session. “You’re so smart, you’re
I laughed. “What’s
that supposed to mean?”
“You are able to
over-think things so much – that you wind up talking yourself out of what you
“So you think I
should break up with Bruce?” I asked.
Sid sighed loudly. “I’m a therapist.
I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. But if you want my honest opinion… I
can’t believe you’re gonna stay with him, when he’s an asshole.”
“Wow! I can’t
believe you just called Bruce an a***hole,” I said. “But you’re right, he is an
“Actually, I didn’t
call HIM an a**hole! I called YOU an a**hole. You heard me wrong. I said, ‘If
you continue to stay with Bruce, then YOU are an a**hole.’”
“What? I’m not the
a**hole! Bruce is the a**hole!”
“At this point,
Karen, if you stay with Bruce knowing what you know – then YOU are the
“I’m the a**hole?”
I repeated this
word out loud – a word as opposite in content as a mantra could ever be – but
alas, more powerful than any mantra I’d ever used.
This word “a**hole”
became my wakeup call!
Sid was right. If I
stayed with someone who was so very toxic to my wellbeing – then I became
the A**hole to me – for allowing this soul-crushing, freedom-squelching
relationship to continue!
Sid said, “at this point in therapy we are simply wasting time talking
about Bruce – and how messed up he is. Quite frankly, you are only using
stories about Bruce to distract yourself from your real issues – and the
important inner work you have to do on yourself. It’s time we talk about the
white elephant in the room: your wounds! There’s obviously something so wounded
inside of you, that you feel the need to stay with Bruce – when he is so toxic.”
Although this story
about toxic relationships happened well over a decade ago, I think about it
think about it whenever I’ve found myself starting to enter into what I intuit
might be a toxic relationship – be it in love, business or friendship.
I feel if we’re not
careful we can all find ourselves wasting a lot of precious tick-tocking time
complaining about how badly someone is behaving towards us.
If you’re dealing
with bad toxic relationships, you need to stop asking…
“Why is this person treating me
“Why did this person do that
crappy thing to me?”
“What is wrong with this
“Are they an a**hole?”
“Isn’t this person simply just a terrible person?”
important questions to ask… so you can move on from bad toxic relationships…
“What did I miss in the vetting
process that I allowed this person into my life?”
“What is wounded inside me that
I choose/chose to stay with this person for as long as I do/did?”
“How can I grow from this
experience – so it doesn’t repeat itself into a bad pattern?”
“Do I want to make this a story
about how I was a victim – or how I became a victor?”
“Do I want to waste my time,
thoughts and energy on toxicity or use it for a higher purpose?”
“Aren’t I wise and strong for how I moved on to be with better
people and live better days?”
If you’re presently caught up in
telling stories about the toxic misbehaviors of someone – the time has come to
stop getting caught up in name-calling, contempt and blame.
The time has come
to recognize you’re just distracting yourself with all the drama, chaos and
Yep, the more you
stay with and/or complain about a toxic person, the more you’re merely
delaying doing the important inner work you need to do – to heal your wounds,
expand your limiting beliefs, and show yourself far more love and respect.
All of this time
expended on them could be time spent on expanding you – growing who you are!
Don’t be an a**hole to yourself.
Stop staying with (and/or complaining about) toxic people.
Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.
One of the most important moments in life is the moment you
finally find the courage and determination to let go of what can’t be changed.
Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to
change yourself… to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.
Of course, when hard times hit there’s a default human
tendency to hold on—to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the
same. This doesn’t happen as often when things are going well. A laugh, a
smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good
times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them
go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more
pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical,
self-fulfilling prophecy. Know this! If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said,
what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty
lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on
justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.
But make no mistake, this is more than simply accepting that
life will improve as time passes. Yes, “time heals wounds,” but yours is not a
passive role in the process of healing and moving past pain. The question is:
where are your present steps taking you?
It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters
is what YOU DO from here.
Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by
finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.
Don’t be one of them!
Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about
something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you
really have control over is yourself, in this moment.
The best action you can take right now is changing your
thinking, instead of trying to change the broken world around you.
And there is a path. Marc and I have walked this path
ourselves many times. A decade ago, in quick succession, we dealt with several
significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back, including losing
my brother to suicide, losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, financial
unrest, and more. Trials and tragedies strike indiscriminately and nobody is
guaranteed safety. But, by changing your thinking, bad times and rocky patches
can become the proving ground for achieving renewed happiness.
The key is to understand that no matter what happens, you can
choose your response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next.
Truly, the greatest weapon you have against anxiety, negativity and stress is
your ability to choose one present thought over another—to train your mind to
make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than
Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you
can master a new way to be.
film produced for the UnLonely Film Festival and Conference last month
featured a young woman who, as a college freshman, felt painfully alone.
She desperately missed her familiar haunts and high school buddies who seemed,
on Facebook at least, to be having the time of their lives.
It reminded me of a distressing time I had as an 18-year-old
college sophomore — feeling friendless, unhappy and desperate to get out of
I visited the university health clinic where an astute psychologist examined my
high school records, including a long list of extracurricular activities, and
noted that I had done only schoolwork during my first year in college.
nothing the matter with you that wouldn’t be fixed by your becoming more
integrated into the college community,” she said. She urged me to get involved
with something that would connect me to students with similar interests.
I protested that as a biochemistry major with classes six
mornings a week and four afternoon labs, I had no time for extracurricular
activities. And she countered: “You have to find time. It’s essential to your
health and a successful college experience.”
better option, I joined a monthly student-run magazine that fit into my
demanding academic schedule. I soon fell in love with interviewing researchers
and writing up their work. I also befriended a faculty adviser to the magazine,
a grandfatherly professor who encouraged me to expand my horizons and follow my
Two years later as a college senior and the magazine’s editor, I
traded courses in physical chemistry and advanced biochemistry for news
reporting and magazine writing.
rest is history. Armed with a master’s degree in science writing and two years
as a general assignment reporter, at 24 I was hired by The New York Times as a
science writer, a job I have loved for 53 years. In making rewarding social
connections in college, I not only conquered loneliness, I found a path to a
connections, in a very real way, are keys to happiness and health,” noted Dr.
Jeremy Nobel, founder of the UnLonely Project and faculty member in primary
care at Harvard Medical School. In an opinion piece in The Boston Globe written with
Michelle Williams, dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, these
experts stated that loneliness and social isolation play “an outsized role” in
preventable deaths by suicide.
They urged that social relationships be considered a national
public health priority “to roll back those heartbreaking, preventable deaths of
But it’s not just young people who are lonely. “More than a
third of adults are chronically lonely, and 65 percent of people are seriously
lonely some of the time,” Dr. Nobel said in an interview. Among the groups with
especially high rates of loneliness are veterans, 20 of whom take their own
lives each day on average. Even half of chief executives experience loneliness (it
can be lonely at the top), a state that can adversely affect job performance.
The rate of persistent loneliness is also high among older
adults, who, in addition to limitations imposed by chronic illness, may suffer
the isolating effects of mobility issues, lack of transportation and untreated
However, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychology professor at
Brigham Young University, told the UnLonely conference that no one is immune to
the toxic effects of social isolation. “It’s so distressing, it’s been used as
a form of punishment and torture,” Dr. Holt-Lunstad said.
“Loneliness saps vitality, impairs productivity and diminishes
enjoyment of life,” Drs. Nobel and Williams wrote. Its effects on health match
that of obesity, alcohol abuse and smoking 15 cigarettes a day, increasing the
risk of an early death by 30 percent.
The aim of the UnLonely Project, Dr. Nobel said, is to raise
awareness of its increasing incidence and harmful effects and reduce the stigma
— the feelings of embarrassment — related to it.
“We want people
to know that loneliness is not their fault and to encourage them to become
engaged in programs that can diminish it,” he said. One program featured in the
film festival depicts a group of older women in the Harlem neighborhood in New
York who participate in synchronized swimming. One of the women
said she didn’t even know how to swim when she joined the group but now
wouldn’t miss a session.
In Augusta, Ga., in partnership with AARP, a program of painting
together, as well as music and dance, was created for caregivers who often have
little opportunity to connect with others and reap the benefits of mutual
support and friendship.
Doing something creative and nurturing helps both caregivers and
people struggling with serious chronic illness get outside themselves and feel
more connected, Dr. Ruth Oratz, medical oncologist at New York University
Langone Medical Center, told the conference, convened by the Foundation for Art
The foundation’s goal, Dr. Nobel said, is to promote the use of
creative arts to bring people together and foster health and healing through
activities like writing, music, visual arts, gardening, textile arts like
knitting, crocheting and needlework, and even culinary arts.
“Loneliness won’t just make you miserable — it will kill you,”
Dr. Nobel said. “Creative arts expression has the power to connect you to
yourself and others. How about a monthly potluck supper? It’s so simple, such a
great way to be connected as well as eat good food.”
Much of modern life, though seeming to promote connectivity, has
had the opposite effect of fostering social isolation and loneliness, experts
say. According to the foundation, “Internet and social media engagement
exacerbates feelings of loneliness, depression and anxiety.”
rarely relate intimate tales of misery and isolation on Facebook. Rather,
social media postings typically feature fun and friendship, and people who lack
them are likely to feel left out and bereft. Electronic communications often
replace personal, face-to-face interactions and the subtle signals of distress
and messages of warmth and caring such interactions can convey.
So consider making a date this week to meet a
friend for coffee, dinner, a visit to a museum or simply a walk. Online
communities like Meetup.com can be a good source for finding others with common
interests. If nothing else, pick up the phone and have a conversation with
someone. Chances are, you will both be better off for it.
Ready for the hard truth? Too many of
us are still hopelessly trying to “find our passion” in life—something we
believe will ultimately lead us closer to happiness, success, or the life
situation we ultimately want. And I say “hopelessly” primarily because passion
can’t really be found. When we say we’re trying to find our passion, it implies
that our passion is somehow hiding behind a tree or under a rock somewhere. But
that’s far from the truth.
The truth is, our passion comes from
doing things right. If you’re waiting to somehow “find your passion” somewhere
outside yourself, so you finally have a reason to put your whole heart and soul
into your life and the changes you need to make, you’ll likely be waiting
around for an eternity.
On the other hand, if you’re tired of waiting, and you’d rather live more
passionately starting today and experience small positive changes, it’s time to
proactively inject passion into the very next thing you do. Think about it:
When was the last
time you sat down and had a conversation with someone nearby, with zero
distractions and 100 percent focus?
When was the last
time you exercised and put every bit of effort you could muster into it?
When was the last
time you truly tried—truly tried—to do your very best?
Like most of us, you’re likely
putting a halfhearted effort into most of the things you do on a daily basis.
Because you’re still waiting. You’re still waiting to “find” something to be
passionate about—some magical reason to step into the life you want to create
for yourself. But you need to do the exact opposite!
Start doing the hard yet necessary things, with your whole heart and soul fully
And of course, if you’re struggling with any of this, know that you are
not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to think
more clearly, respond more effectively, and get our lives back on track.
7 THINGS WE HOLD ON TO (LONG AFTER IT’S TIME TO LET GO)
“That which you hold, holds you.” ― Tom Robbins
Jeanne Marie had moved her wedding shoes from apartment to apartment, home to home—for more than fifteen moves over thirty-five years.
In her twenties, she’d shopped exhaustively for the right pair, trying on dozens of shoes before landing on the perfect strappy sandals, the pair that would follow her around for the next three and a half decades.
She’d always hoped to wear them again, maybe for an anniversary or a special date. But it had been years since those shoes fit, and on top of that, she and her husband had long since separated.
The day before trash day, she put the shoes in her trash bin—knowing in her gut that it was time to part with them. They weighed her down.
“I looked at the shoes laying there in the trash, taunting me, reminding me of my wedding day, and I pushed them in deeper. I instantly panicked, but I took deep breaths and walked away.”
The next morning, though, she found herself next to that trash bin. She dug through egg shells, coffee grounds, and dirty paper plates before spotting them toward the bottom.
The Weights We Shoulder
Do you ever feel the weight of your physical belongings resting on your chest? Or maybe for you, it’s your shoulders or lower back. When I feel like I own too much, I feel it on my chest—right over my heart. I can’t breathe as deeply or move as freely.
But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that with every item I get rid of, I lessen that weight.
Whether it’s a stack of papers I no longer need or the nine kitchen utensils I’ve never used, with each piece of clutter I send out of my home, I can inhale deeper. Move freer. Jump higher.
It almost feels like magic.
Our physical belongings have weight, indisputably. But they’re not the only things we hold on to long past their usefulness. What other weights are you carrying?
7 Things We Hold On To…
Do you have a relationship in your life where every interaction leaves you feeling drained or diminished? It could be a co-worker, a boss, a friend, or a family member, but what marks this relationship as a weight on your chest is how you feel after each interaction. Pay attention to this.
How much mental and emotional energy have you wasted worrying about something that’s beyond your control? It’s amazing how our worries can come to feel like old friends. We allow our brains to follow the same pathways over and over, to the point where we’ve tricked ourselves into believing that worrying helps—that it’s even a way of showing love.
But wouldn’t it be ten times more powerful to ask ourselves if there’s anything we can do to improve the situation? This gives us the option of acting, not just worrying. And if there’s really nothing we can do—if the situation is 100 percent outside of our sphere of influence—what good does it do to hold on to worry?
“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.” — Erma Bombeck
3. Social Media
Do you follow any social media influencers who tend to leave you feeling like what you have—or who you are—isn’t enough? Or it could be an entire platform; maybe you’ve noticed that you feel down on yourself every time you open a certain app.
What’s one habit you long to kick but aren’t sure if you can? Maybe it’s the amount of sugar you eat after dinner or the never-enough hours of sleep you get at night. Maybe it’s the tone of voice you use when you’re tired or the amount of time you spend looking at a screen in your hand instead of the faces around you.
Do you have any thoughts that regularly cross your mind but are only holding you back? Are any of the following familiar?
“No one appreciates me.”
“I do everything around here.”
“I’m not cut out for this.”
This is emotional clutter.
6. The Past
Our memories can bring us so much joy… but also so much pain. Especially if we’re refusing to let go of past wounds, whether inflicted by others or inflicted by ourselves. Forgiveness is power.
To help you let go, can you imagine—with as much detail as you can possibly summon—that each item you get rid of reduces the weight on your chest? Imagine that every piece you donate—every toxic relationship you navigate away from, every limiting thought you decide to stop believing—takes you closer to a lighter, freer, purer version of yourself.
Finally Saying Goodbye
That morning, an hour before the garbage truck would rumble through her neighborhood, Jeanne stopped just short of grabbing her shoes out of the bin and darting inside with them in hand.
I could save the heels, she thought in that moment. But I know I can’t save us.
Parting with the shoes was painful, but in this case, holding on felt worse.
A few hours later, she watched, standing next to the sheer curtains of her front window, as the garbage truck carried those shoes away.
And just as she’d hoped, she felt lighter as those shoes—and the emotional weight they carried—finally left her sight.
Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I share a home with her?
Beth and I first lived under the same roof in 1982, when I was 13. My father, who was 47 at the time, invited Beth, then 23, to spend the summer in the Maine lake house he and I had fixed up the summer before. I refused to leave my room the night she arrived.
Without laying eyes on her, I knew she would be another of Dad’s interchangeable “little chickies” as he called them — the skinny, busty former students he liked to date.
The next morning, I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when I heard her coming down the stairs. My father had already retreated to his desk upstairs, purportedly to work on a lecture on Puritan literature, but mostly to take hits from a hidden bottle of vodka.
I planned to freeze Beth out of existence with my thoughts — a superpower every gay boy needed in the 80s. But instead of making awkward chitchat, Beth just smiled, picked up her copy of “Crime and Punishment,” and ate her own Cheerios in silence.
When done, she asked if I liked the book I was reading — stories by John Cheever. Dad asked such questions only to hear his own opinion. Beth was actually curious to know mine. She was making me like her before I had the chance to hate her.
Soon on sunny afternoons, Beth and I lay on the dock together, tanning and lightening our hair with lemon juice, as one did in the 80s. Neither mentioned a shared lust for a neighbor — a combination seminarian and jock — who joined us for a swim from time to time.
Dad and Beth married the following September. By May, two semesters later, my father’s tantrums had driven her away. Amazingly, he never once had an ill word to say about Beth. And this was a man who in five minutes could convince you Gandhi was a narcissist and Jesus a sociopath.
He did have bad things to say about his first wife, my mother. And she gave him reasons. Beneath her charms lay inchoate storms of hurt and aggression. As Dad was leaving her for the last time — I was 12, a year before Dad met Beth — she told him she was going to take me to “Luna,” a recent Bertolucci film. A terrible look came over his face, not rage this time but horror.
After he left, I was too terrified to look at the art house flyer taped to the fridge. My mother never did take me to see the movie, but a few years later, “Luna” returned for a Bertolucci retrospective. This time I did read the flyer and wished I hadn’t. “Luna,” it turned out, was “the story of the incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son.”
To be clear, my mother had never acted on the themes of the film, but she craved an emotional closeness that was too much for a son to give.
At 17, I went as far away as I could, first to college in California and then on to a journalistic career I kept undercutting with debt-fueled geographic cures that never worked for long — not Los Angeles, not Paris, not even Rio de Janeiro.
At first, Beth and I stayed in touch, but like me, she kept moving. She married again, had a daughter, divorced and, as a social worker/actress, constantly chased cheap New York City rents. By around 1995, the handwritten phone numbers in our respective address books were no longer valid.
When Dad died in 2005, the vodka finally having wiped out his liver, my sister tracked down Beth’s email and cc’d me. I was living in Rio, where I thought I’d found both happiness and a mate for life. Right away, Beth and I were yakking the way we had on the dock. Soon, I was visiting her for weeks at a time, ostensibly to work on a screenplay but mostly just to be together.
In 2013, a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage, enabling my Brazilian husband, 14 years my junior, to immigrate to the United States as my spouse. We moved to Upper Manhattan — two blocks from Beth. The Brazilian complained that she and I analyzed movies to death. We both thought, but we live to analyze movies to death.
One afternoon, I left him on the couch playing video games and texting bar plans that I no longer wanted to be part of. I walked to Beth’s, where she and I talked about substantive things — books, movies, joys, griefs. On the way back, I realized I wasn’t just bored at home. I was also lonely.
It was the Brazilian who left in the end. Beth comforted me as neither of my parents nor the Brazilian could have — she was patient, protective but never pitying, sure of my strength.
Suddenly, she and I were both single and struggling to pay Manhattan rents. Why shouldn’t she move into my extra bedroom? I hesitated, ostensibly because of her clutter problem. I once left some junk mail on her coffee table, only to find it in the same place when I returned six months later. When I threw it away, she was actually a little sad. I, by contrast, strove for the modernist austerity of the homes I wrote about for architecture magazines, and threw away not only clutter but even things I actually needed.
However, clutter was just cover for a deeper fear. By living with my father’s former wife, would the incestuous waves, at last, pull me under?
In 2010, Mom learned that her gut discomfort was stage-four colon cancer. “Forgive me …,” she said nine months later, from her hospice bed. Whether because of the pain, the morphine, or her own hesitation, she couldn’t name the thing to be forgiven. “For … for … well, you know,” she said.
I had found peace with my dying mother, but was still haunted by her earlier avatar — the Medea willing to psychically drown her son. Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I really share a home with her?
Then when I was 47, I lost my biggest freelance client. My finances were in free fall. Two months later, Beth, by then 57, moved in. I gave her the master bedroom and the two largest closets. In return, she ceded all aesthetic control of common spaces.
The clutter problem turned out to be only a minor annoyance. When her things piled up, I placed them on her bed while she was out.
The Mommy issues took longer. I would share details of my own peccadilloes, but plugged my ears and hummed when Beth did the same. “So you can talk about sex and I can’t?” she asked. “I guess that’s another one of your double standards, sweetie.”
Like aversion therapy, this controlled exposure has had marvelously curative effects. Now, Beth can get as graphic as she wants, and it is fine — at least tolerable. And gradually I have come to see my mother as a charming, cultured woman who, in 1980s Baltimore, kept up with Italian cinema.
Beth and I still analyze movies to death, but now from the comfort of the sectional couch I bought with the Brazilian. I am still regrouping for my next foray into love and marriage, but most days that question seems moot.
I’m still learning that a happy home is constructed not with Modernist furnishings but emotional safety — a language that, after nearly four decades, Beth is still teaching me to speak.
Many parents sending kids off to college worry that their time as a
family is over. But that isn’t always the case these days.
The Sugerman family’s
trip to Southern Utah this past May involved a treacherous drive. There were
hairpin turns; the three adult children needed to move boulders to clear a path
for the car. “We were on these roads which were barely roads, climbing up
canyon walls,” said Andy Sugerman, of Ann Arbor, Mich. “It was night. The sky
was beautiful. Everybody was fully engaged.” The value of shared adversity and
overcoming these obstacles together allowed for bonding unlike any other kind
of experience, he said.
Many parents sending kids off to college weep over their empty
nests, thinking their time as a family is over. And a generation ago, young
adults often wanted to get as far away from their parents as possible once they
entered adulthood. But that isn’t always the case these days. An increasing number of young adults move back home for summers or after college.
And even for those who launch quickly, family vacations present an opportunity
for parents to remain close to their adult children.
The trip to Utah was the latest annual family vacation for Mr.
Sugerman, his wife, Gayle Rosen, and their three sons, Eli, 25; Alex, 23; and
Sam, 19. The family’s first outdoor adventure — a road trip across the West in
2008 — was motivated by the recognition that “as the kids were getting older,
the opportunities for time together would be more limited,” Mr. Sugerman said.
Since then, the family has explored 28 national parks together.
Rosen presumed that as the boys grew into young adulthood, they’d lose interest
in being with their immediate family and that the trips would stop. But that
has not happened.
opportunity to go on a cool outdoor trip with my family continued to present
itself, and I’ve continued to take it,” said Eli, who lives about four hours
away from his parents, in Chicago. “I see no reason why an end would be in
Ms. Rosen feels fortunate that her children still want to go. “I
love being outdoors with them. We all unplug and I get to see the amazing human
beings they’ve become,” she said.
A variety of
factors are keeping young adults connected to their parents — both
geographically and emotionally. Research by Karen Fingerman, a professor of human
development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, found
that, compared to the mid-20th century, young adults today tend to be less
financially stable and are more likely to marry later — keeping them closer to
their families — while many more of them live with their parents. She also
discovered that technology and accessibility of transportation make it easier
to stay close. “The culture is shifting toward increased contact and increased
interdependency” between parents and their young adult children, Dr. Fingerman
Her work indicates that 30 years ago, only half of parents
reported weekly contact with a grown child, while currently nearly all parents
had contact with a grown child in the past week, and over half of parents had
contact with a grown child every day. She found affection and intimacy between
young adults and their parents rising as well. Dr. Fingerman said this is
generally a positive development that benefits both generations. As young
adults turn more to their parents than their peers for guidance, “they’re
getting better advice from people who care about them,” she said.
you can foster close relationships without spending money, taking a family
vacation with young adults is a growing trend, said Rainer Jenss, president and
founder of the Family Travel Association, a company that encourages family
travel. He points to Backroads, a Berkeley, Calif.-based company focused
on upscale active travel for families as an example. Next year, Backroads will
introduce a “20s & Beyond” segment dedicated to parents
traveling with their children in their 20s and 30s. Tom Hale, the company’s
founder and chief executive, said that last year, 6,500 parents and their adult
children went on the company’s trips, even though the trips weren’t specifically
aimed at this older age group.
a relationship psychologist based in St. Louis and author of “Stress Less, Live
Better: 5 Simple Steps to Ease Anxiety, Worry, and Self-Criticism,” suggests
these trips go better if parents manage their expectations, don’t overschedule
and allow everyone to have time to themselves.
Laura Sutherland, who lives in Santa Cruz, Calif., and her
husband, Lance Linares, have taken their son, now 30, and daughter, now 32, on
10 trips since they graduated from college. The trips now include their
spouses. Ms. Sutherland recommends booking accommodations with private rooms if
possible. She assigns everyone responsibility for preparing or treating for a meal
— and pitching in with cleanup. “We have clear communication in the beginning
that parents shouldn’t be servants,” she said.
If budgets or timing don’t allow for travel, hiking close to home or going out for lunch and a visit to a local museum can work, too. As young adults strike out on their own, there’s a delicate balance that parents need to achieve. It starts with respecting kids’ growing independence in adolescence, said Dr. Ken Ginsburg, co-director of the Center for Parent and Teen Communication at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. They should feel comfortable coming to you for advice. By the time they are young adults, it’s no longer a one-way street.
“When you honor the fact that they can guide and support you,
you’re developing a relationship that can last for decades,” Dr. Ginsburg said.
Dr. Sanford says if a dispute arises, instead of reacting or
getting angry, “pause, take a breath and ask yourself whether it’s more
important to get your way or have the opportunity for a good relationship.”
Carl Pickhardt, a counseling psychologist based in Austin, Tex.,
and author of the blog “Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence” and the book Who Stole My Child? Parenting Through the
Four Stages of Adolescence,encourages
parents of adult children to repeat a few mantras to themselves: I will respect
the choices you make and how you face the consequences; I will not criticize or
censor your behavior in any way; and I will cheer you on as you engage in life.
He said to never provide unsolicited advice, but to request permission, saying
something like, “I have some advice I would like to give that would be helpful,
but only if that’s something you would like me to do.” Dr. Ginsburg suggests
determining if your child wants you to listen or to provide advice, using
language like: “I’m so glad that you always feel you can come and talk to me
about these things. How can I be the most supportive?”
Ginsburg emphasized that there are some situations that call for a parent to
become involved if the adult child’s safety is at risk, including dangerous
depression, significant and substantial drug use or domestic abuse.
As young adults
struggle with their identity and their life goals, parents should rest assured
that they continue to play a vital role, Dr. Ginsburg said. “You are the person
who is going to love them no matter what.”
you take a vacation or just spend time together at a movie or a restaurant, he
noted, “Your highest yield time is to just be with each other and enjoy each
Last fall, I made a viral video about having trouble making friends. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Being known as “the girl with no friends” wasn’t my favorite part about having made a video that went viral — but you take what you can get.
About a year ago, as a college freshman at Cornell, I was assigned a short video project for my Intro to Digital Media course.
I decided to focus on my disappointment with the early weeks of college: How I couldn’t get past superficial conversation, how I couldn’t seem to enjoy parties, feel comfortable on campus, or just meet people who I wanted to spend more time around. I felt so lost and beyond confused.
I had been a pretty social person in high school and I fully expected to make great friends right away when I got to college. It’s supposed to be the time of your life, right?
I had been looking forward to college for years. I started studying for standardized tests in 10th, hammering out extracurricular activities and A.P. courses all through 11th, and spent senior year typing applications till my fingers practically bled. I got into a great school, pleasing myself and my family. This was not the payoff I expected.
The worst part was that I felt as if I were the only one who was this lonely. I’d see all these freshmen walk in packs — just massive groups of friends already formed in the first two weeks of school. I couldn’t muster the courage to ask people to get lunch. It was so frustrating. I immediately turned on myself — criticized and blamed myself for being weird and unapproachable.
I spent a ton of time on social media, constantly checking in on my high school friends and seeing how they were getting along at their colleges. They’d post more and text me less. I really tried to put myself out there, but the more people I met, the more defeated I felt. I wasn’t interested in forging fake relationships out of necessity, I wanted genuine friendships that I could treasure. Why couldn’t I find them in my first month on campus?
I poured my loneliness into the four-and-a-half-minute film I made, called “My College Transition.” I posted it on YouTube expecting only my professor and a couple friends to see it.
It now has over 275,000 views and hundreds of comments. I had students from all over the country reach out to me and express their experiences, thanking me for making them feel less alone. Administrators from various universities wrote to me asking for permission to show the video to their freshman class. I even landed a few freelance video design jobs. I spoke on panels, gave tons of interviews and won an award at a film festival.
It was overwhelming in the most beautiful way, and was further proof that I wasn’t alone in my experience. It also showed how necessary it was for people to be open about isolation on college campuses.
Now a sophomore, I see how ridiculous my expectations were for my first year. To assume I could instantly meet my New Best Friends while also getting used to a new place, starting a new academic career, and learning how to adjust to life away from home — that’s a full plate already. Some of the high school friends I was missing had been my friends for my whole life.
Expecting close relationships like the ones that had taken years to develop was unfair to myself and the people around me. Going to college is a massive change — so many students are being uprooted from the familiar comforts of their homes and thrust into a completely new place. It was beyond unrealistic for me to anticipate a seamless transition.
After I posted the video I had people of all ages and genders reaching out to me, explaining how they felt the same way when they started a new job, when they moved to a new place, even when they started retirement.
Loneliness is too often paired with self-blame and self criticism: “I can’t find my place among these people, so it must be my fault.” My social life became a big game of trial and error, slowly learning in which groups I felt welcome and included. It was hard! It was draining! But by putting myself out there, I found so many communities on campus to invest myself in, and where I knew I would be happily received.
The video was definitely a conversation starter, and it made people more likely to open up to me about their struggles as a freshman. But I don’t think the video was any sort of motivator for people to actually become my friend.
Now, a year after making the film, I’ve settled in to college a lot better. But I see the new batch of freshmen around me and imagine many of them are going through the same transition. Here’s what I know now that I wish I could have told my younger self.
You can’t clone your high school friends
The notion that my college friends should be stand-ins for my close relationships from home: impossible. One of the great things about going away to college is the chance to meet people who are not the same. I learned to cherish each relationship for its uniqueness, for the different perspective and ideas it brought into my life. At first I searched for people who reminded me of my friends from home, who would play a similar role in my life that they do. But I began to realize that no one can stand in for or replace them — which was oddly comforting, and a relief to acknowledge.
Social media is not reality
I had to minimize my time on social media. It became a platform for comparison. I evaluated every picture my friends posted, determining whether their college looked like more fun than mine, if they had made more friends than I had, just meaningless justifications for my unhappiness. It was comforting when old friends reached out to me to say that they related to the video. Many of them were people I thought were having a fantastic time at school. Social media reinforces the notion that you should always be enjoying yourself, that it’s strange to not be happy and that life is a constant stream of good experiences and photo-worthy moments. I taught myself that everyone’s college experience is different, and slowly, I started to embrace the uniqueness of my own.
Give yourself time to adjust
Transitions are always hard — regardless of your age. But the social expectations around college put overwhelming pressure on students to fit in seamlessly into their campus, without truly acknowledging the difficulty of uprooting your life and starting fresh. The hardest thing to tell struggling freshmen is that acclimation takes time — and “thriving” even longer. Making friends is an active process, and all the preconceived ideas college students arrive with can make for a defeating experience. Understand that your loneliness is not failure, and that you are far from being alone in this feeling. Open your mind and take experiences as they come. You’re going to find your people.
We all want to be the best parents we can be for our children, but there is often conflicting advice on how to raise a kid who is confident, kind and successful. Throughout the circus act of parenting, it’s important to focus on balancing priorities, juggling responsibilities and quickly flipping between the needs of your children, other family members and yourself. Modern parents have the entire internet at their disposal and don’t follow any single authority. It’s hard to know whom or what to trust. Here, we’ll talk about how to help your child grow up to be a person you really like without losing yourself in the process.
Your Parenting Style
Good news: There is no one right way to raise a child.
Research tells us that to raise a self-reliant child with high self-esteem, it is than authoritarian. You want your child to listen, respect and trust you rather than fear you. You want to be supportive, but not a hovering, helicopter parent.
All of these things are easy to set as goals, but . How do you find the right balance?
As your child develops, the challenges will change, and your thinking may evolve, but your approach should be consistent, firm and loving. Help your child learn through experience that making an effort builds confidence and helps you learn to tackle challenges. Calibrate your expectations about what your child is capable of doing independently, whether you have an infant learning to sleep through the night, a toddler helping to put toys away, or an older child resolving conflicts.
Remember, there is no one right way to raise a child. Do your best, trust yourself and enjoy the company of the small person in your life.
Conquering the Basics
Your healthy attitude toward sleep, food and discipline will affect your children in the most important ways.
How to Put a Baby to Sleep
Right from the beginning, in their sleep patterns. And parents, too, vary in terms of how they cope with interrupted nights.
There are two general schools of thought around babies and sleep after those early months when they need nighttime feedings — soothe the baby to sleep or don’t — and many parents find themselves wavering back and forth. Those who believe in sleep training, including many sleep experts, would argue that in helping babies learn to fall asleep by themselves and soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake during the night, parents are helping them master vital skills for comfort and independence.
Two techniques for this are:
Graduated extinction, in which babies are allowed to cry for short, prescribed intervals over the course of several nights.
, in which parents delay bedtime in 15-minute increments so the child becomes more and more tired.
And many parents report that these strategies improve their children’s sleep patterns, as well as their own. But there are also parents who find the idea of letting a baby cry at night unduly harsh.
Whatever you try, remember, some babies, no matter what you do, are not reliably good sleepers. Parents need to be aware of what sleep deprivation may be doing to them, to their level of functioning, and to their relationships, and take their own sleep needs seriously as well. So, ask for help when you need it, from your pediatrician or a trusted friend or family member.
For older children, the rules around sleep are clearer: Turn off devices, read aloud at bedtime, and build rituals that help small children wind down and fall asleep. will be even more important as children grow older and are expected to be awake and alert during school hours; getting enough sleep on a regular basis and coming to school well-rested will help grade-school children’s academic performance and their social behavior as well. Keeping (and turned off during the hours before bed) becomes more and more important as children grow — and it’s not a bad habit for adults, either.
As your child hits adolescence, her body clock will shift so that she is “programmed” to stay up later and sleep later, often just as schools are demanding early starts. Again, good family “sleep hygiene,” especially around screens at bedtime, in the bedroom, and even in the bed, can help teenagers disconnect and get the sleep they need. By taking sleep seriously, as a vital component of health and happiness, parents are sending an important message to children at every age.
You can take steps to help your children manage both bullying and conflict – and you’re at your most useful when you know which of the two you’re trying to address. Children who are being bullied are on the receiving end of mistreatment, and are helpless to defend themselves, whereas children in conflict are having a hard time getting along. Fortunately, most of the friction that happens among children is in the realm of conflict —an inevitable, if unpleasant, consequence of being with others — not bullying.
If children are being bullied, it’s important to reassure them that they deserve support, and that they should alert an adult to what’s happening. Further, you can remind your children that they cannot passively stand by if another child is being bullied. Regardless of how your own child might feel about the one being targeted, you can set the expectation that he or she will do at least one of three things: confront the bully, keep company with the victim, alert an adult.
When the issue is conflict, you should aim to help young people handle it well by learning to stand up for themselves without stepping on anyone else. To do this, you can model assertion, not aggression, in the inevitable disagreements that arise in family life, and coach your children to do the same as they learn how to address garden-variety disputes with their peers.
For children, gender is an evolving concept, and not one that they always see through the same lens as adults. Three-year-olds are able to label themselves as boys or girls, yet most boys this age believe that they can grow up to be moms if they want to, and vice versa for little girls. By ages 4 or 5, children come to view gender as a fixed trait. This is often when they develop princess or superhero obsessions, perhaps dabbling in extreme femininity or masculinity to compensate for their sense of losing half of the gender pie.
Left to their own devices, most children move away from rigid gender views before adolescence. All the same, girls generally enjoy more leeway than boys when it comes to gender identity. Tomboys are cool, while boys often vigilantly police one another for behavior they perceive to be feminine.
As a parent, you want to help your child feel good about being a girl or a boy, and to define what that will mean for him or herself. This can involve helping them question highly stereotyped and heavily marketed media representations of gender. And we want to remember that gender identity operates independently of sexual orientation. Who our children feel themselves to be doesn’t tell us whom they will love.
All parents have in common the wish to raise children who are good people. You surely care about how your child will treat others, and how he or she will act in the world. In some households, regular participation in a religious institution sets aside time for the family to reflect on its values and lets parents convey to their children that those beliefs are held by members of a broad community that extends beyond their home.
Even in the absence of strong spiritual beliefs, the celebration of religious holidays can act as a key thread in the fabric of family life. Though it is universally true that children benefit when their parents provide both structure and warmth, even the most diligent parents can struggle to achieve both of these on a regular basis. The rituals and traditions that are part of many religious traditions can bring families together in reliable and memorable ways. Of course, there are everyday opportunities to instill your values in your child outside of organized religion, including helping an elderly neighbor or taking your children with you to volunteer for causes that are important to you.
Above all, however, children learn your values by watching how you live.
When it comes to school, parents walk a difficult line: You want your children to strive and succeed, but you don’t want to push them in ways that are unfair, or cause needless stress. At every age and skill level, children benefit when parents help them focus on improving their abilities, rather than on proving them. In other words, children should understand that their intellectual endowment only gets them started, and that their capabilities can be increased with effort.
Children who adopt this growth mindset – the psychological terminology for the belief that industry is the path to mastery – are less stressed than peers who believe their capacities are fixed, and outperform them academically. Students with a growth mindset welcome feedback, are motivated by difficult work, and are inspired by the achievements of their talented classmates.
To raise growth-mindset thinkers you can make a point of celebrating effort, not smarts, as children navigate school. When they succeed, say, “Your hard work and persistence really paid off. Well done!” And when they struggle, say, “That test grade reflects what you knew about the material being tested on the day you took the test. It does not tell us how far you can go in that subject. Stick with it and keep asking questions. It will come.”
Parents should step in when students face academic challenges that cause constant or undue stress. Some students hold themselves, or are held by adults, to unrealistic standards. Others missed a step along the way, study ineffectively or are grappling with an undiagnosed learning difference. Determining the nature of the problem will point the way to the most helpful solution.
Here’s how to raise a child with a healthy attitude toward shiny screens and flashing buttons.
You could try to raise a screen-free child, but let’s be honest, you’re reading this on a screen. As in everything else, the challenge is in balancing the ideal and the real in a way that’s right for your family. Start by thinking about positive screen-related experiences you want to help build into your children’s lives: watching a movie as a family, reading a book on an iPad, FaceTiming with out-of-town relatives. Technology plays such an important role in children’s lives now that when we talk about it, we’re talking about everything from sleep to study to social life.
“Technology is just a tool and it can be an extremely enriching part of kids’ lives,” said Scott Steinberg, co-author of “.” “A lot of what we’re teaching about parenting around technology is just basic parenting,” he said. “It comes down to the Golden Rule: Are they treating others in a respectful and empathetic manner?”
And then there’s the question of protecting family time. Mr. Steinberg advises setting household rules that govern when devices may be used, and have clear, age-appropriate policies so kids know what they can and can’t do.
Some of these policies will be appropriate for all ages, including parents, such as:
No phones at the dinner table.
No screens for an hour before bedtime.
It’s important to practice what you preach. And in addition to taking time for family meals and family conversations, parents should be taking the time to sit down with young children and look at what they’re doing online, rather than leaving them alone with their devices as babysitters.
Parents as Digital Role Models
When a parent wants to post on social media about something a child did that may embarrass the child, Ms. Homayoun said, it’s worth stepping back to consider why. Are you posting it to draw attention to yourself?
You should respect your child’s privacy as much as you respect the privacy of friends, family members and colleagues. As cute as it may seem to post pictures of a naked toddler, consider a “no butts” policy. That may not be the image that your child wants to portray 15 years from now.
“We need to, from a very early age, teach kids what consent looks like,” Ms. Homayoun said. “It doesn’t begin when a kid is 15, 16 or 17. It begins when a kid is 3 and he doesn’t want to go hug his uncle.” Or when he doesn’t want you to post that video of him crying over a lost toy.
Our children will create digital footprints as they grow, and it will be one of our jobs to help them, guide them and get them to think about how something might look a few years down the line — you can start by respecting their privacy and applying the same standards throughout their lives.
It’s easy to dismiss high-tech toys as just pricey bells and whistles, but if you choose more enriching options, you can find toys that help kids grow. For young children, though, there’s a great deal to be said for allowing them, as much as possible, to explore the nondigital versions of blocks, puzzles, fingerpaints and all the rest of the toys that offer tactile and fine motor experiences. As children get older, some high-tech games encourage thinking dynamically, problem solving and creative expression.
“These high tech games can be an opportunity to bond with your kids. Learn more about how they think and their interests,” Mr. Steinberg said. Some games encourage kids to be part of a team, or lead one. And others let them be wilder than they might be in real life – in ways that parents can appreciate: “You can’t always throw globs of paint around the house but you can in the digital world,” he said.
The Right Age for a Phone?
“Many experts would say it’s about 13, but the more practical answer is when they need one: when they’re outside your direct supervision,” Mr. Steinberg said. Ms. Homayoun recommends them for specific contexts, such as for a child who may be traveling between two houses and navigating late sports practices.
Consider giving tiered access to technology, such as starting with a flip phone, and remind children that privileges and responsibilities go hand in hand. A child’s expanding access to personal technology should depend on its appropriate use.
To put these ideas into practical form, the website of the American Academy of Pediatrics offers guidelines for creating a personalized .
Balance both your schedule and your child’s with a reasonable approach to time.
We all know the cliché of the overscheduled child, rushing from athletic activity to music lessons to tutoring, and there will probably be moments when you will feel like that parent, with a carload of equipment and a schedule so complicated that you wake up in the middle of the night worrying you’re going to lose track. But it’s also a joy and a pleasure to watch children discover the activities they really enjoy, and it’s one of the privileges of parenthood to cheer your children on as their skills improve.
Some children really do thrive on what would be, for others, extreme overscheduling. Know your child, talk to your child, and when necessary, help your child negotiate the decisions that make it possible to keep doing the things that mean the most, even if that means letting go of some other activities.
Remember, children can get a tremendous amount of pleasure, and also great value, from learning music, from playing sports, and also from participating in the array of extracurricular activities that many schools offer. However, they also need a certain amount of unscheduled time. The exact mix varies from child to child, and even from year to year. On the one hand, we need to help our children understand the importance of keeping the commitments they make — you don’t get to give up playing your instrument because you’re struggling to learn a hard piece; you don’t quit the team because you’re not one of the starters — and on the other, we need to help them decide when it’s time to change direction or just plain let something go.
So how do you know how much is too much? Rethink the schedule if:
Your child isn’t getting enough sleep.
Your child doesn’t have enough time to get schoolwork done.
Your child can’t squeeze in silly time with friends, or even a little downtime to kick around with family.
And make sure that high school students get a positive message about choosing the activities that they love, rather than an anxiety-producing message about choosing some perfect mix to impress college admissions officers. The point of scheduling is to help us fit in the things we need to do and also the things we love to do; overscheduling means that we’re not in shape to do either.
Taking Care of Yourself
Being a parent is the job of your life, the job of your heart, and the job that transforms you forever. But as we do it, we need to keep hold of the passions and pastimes that make us who we are, and which helped bring us to the place in our lives where we were ready to have children. We owe our children attention — and nowadays it’s probably worth reminding ourselves that paying real attention to our children means limiting our own screentime and making sure that we’re talking and reading aloud and playing. But we owe ourselves attention as well.
Your children will absolutely remember the time that you spent with them — but you also want them to grow up noticing the way you maintain friendships of your own, the way you put time and energy into the things that matter most to you, from your work to your physical well-being to the special interests and passions that make you the person they know. Whether you’re taking time to paint or dance, or to knit with friends, or to try to save the world, you are acting and living your values and your loves, and those are messages that you owe to your children.
You may not be able to pursue any of your passions in quite the same way and to quite the same extent that you might have before you had a child. You may have to negotiate the time, hour by hour, acknowledging what is most important, and trading it, perhaps, for what is most important to your partner, if you have one. You’ll be, by definition, a different painter, as you would be a different runner, a different dancer, a different friend and a different world-saver. But you may well come to realize that the experience of taking care of a small child helps you concentrate in a stronger, almost fiercer way, when you get that precious hour to yourself.
How to Find Balance
Lots of parents worry that their children get an unreasonable amount of homework, and that homework can start unreasonably young. While it may be easy to advise that homework can help a child learn time management and study habits, and to let children try themselves and sometimes fail, the reality is that many of us find ourselves supervising at least a little. You should speak up if it seems that one particular teacher isn’t following the school’s guidelines for appropriate amounts of homework. And for many children, it’s helpful to talk through the stages of big projects and important assignments, so they can get some intermediate dates on the calendar. If the homework struggle dominates your home life, it may be a sign of another issue, like a learning disability.
For many families nowadays, the single biggest negotiation about time management is around screen time. This may be because screens serve so many purposes in children’s lives, so that screen time can be homework time (but is the chatting that goes on in a corner really part of the assignment?) or social time or pure entertainment time. Bottom line: As long as a child is doing decently in school, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about whether, by your standards, the homework looks like it is being done with too many distractions.
And remember, some family responsibilities can help anchor a child to the nonvirtual world: a dog to be walked or trash to be taken out. And when it comes to fun, let your child see that you value the non-homework part of the evening, or the weekend, that you understand that time with friends is important, and that you want to be kept up to date on what’s going on, and to talk about your own life. Ultimately, we have to practice what we preach, from putting down our own work to enjoy unstructured family time to putting down our phones at the dinner table to engage in a family discussion. Our children are listening to what we say, and watching what we do.