5 Simple (But Essential) Reasons to Stop Watching Porn Today

5 SIMPLE (BUT ESSENTIAL) REASONS TO STOP WATCHING PORN TODAY

Greg Hintz

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 too far.

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 on restoration.

2.  Free Space in Your Mind

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 “euphoric recall.”

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 clean conscience.”

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 integrity.

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 this:

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 so, you’re in the right place. So, take that first step today! Decide where you want to get to and begin your journey to a porn-free life!

¹ “Internet Pornography by the Numbers: A Significant Threat to Society.” Webroot. n.d. Web.

To Counter Loneliness, Find Ways to Connect

TO COUNTER LONELINESS, FIND WAYS TO CONNECT

Jane E. Brody

A four-minute 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 there.

I didn’t know it then, but I was in the age bracket — 18 to 24 — that now has the highest incidence of loneliness, as much as 50 percent higher than occurs among the elderly. For young adults, loneliness and social isolation are major precipitants of suicide, experts say.

Fortunately, 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.

“There’s 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.”

Having no 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 heart.

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.

The 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 marvelous career.

“Social 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 despair.”

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 hearing loss.

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 and Healing.

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.”

People 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.

7 Things We Hold On To (Long After It’s Time To Let Go)

7 THINGS WE HOLD ON TO (LONG AFTER IT’S TIME TO LET GO)

Angel Chernoff

“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…

1. Relationships

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.

2. Worry

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.

4. Habits

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.

5. Thoughts

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.

7. Clutter

From paper to furniture, from digital files to expired pantry goods… Too many of us are holding on, for far too long.

A Visualization Exercise to Help You Let Go

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.

How Parents Can Stay Close to Grown-Up Children

HOW PARENTS CAN STAY CLOSE TO GROWN-UP CHILDREN

Julie Halpert

Gayle Rosen and Andy Sugerman with their sons, from left, Alex, Eli and Sam Sugerman in Willis Creek Slot Canyon, Utah

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.

Ms. 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.

“The 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 sight.”

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 said.

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.

Although 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.

Diane Sanford, 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?”

Dr. 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.”

Whether 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 other.”

How to Be a Modern Parent

HOW TO BE A MODERN PARENT

Perri Klass & Lisa Damour

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 more effective to be authoritative 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 hard to achieve. 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, babies vary tremendously 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.
  • Bedtime fading, 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.  

Bedtime

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. Establishing regular bedtime routines and consistent sleep patterns 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 screens out of the bedroom (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.

Social Issues

Bullying

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.

Gender

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.   

Morality

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. 

Academic Pressure

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.

Technology

Here’s how to raise a child with a healthy attitude toward shiny screens and flashing buttons.

Screen Time

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 “The Modern Parent’s Guide to Facebook and Social Networks.” “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?” 

Phones and social media give older kids opportunities to reckon with responsibilities they haven’t had before, such as being sent, or asked to share, an inappropriate image, said Ana Homayoun, author of the book “Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World.” Parents need to keep talking about this side of life with their children so they don’t leave their kids to navigate it alone. 

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.  

Tech Toys

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 family media use plan.

Time Management

Balance both your schedule and your child’s with a reasonable approach to time. 

Overscheduling

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.

How to Help Your Child Succeed at School

HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILD SUCCEED AT SCHOOL

Jessica Lahey

In the high-pressure, high-stakes game of school, it can be difficult to know which parenting strategies really promote learning. A successful experience in school is not only about report cards. Ideally your child will learn how to learn, retain information, think independently, ask questions and develop an increasing sense of competence. Here are some guidelines for making sure you start on the right foot and keep enthusiasm and momentum high throughout the school year. 

Key Values

There is so much to think about each school year, but above all else, these simple rules can help keep you stay focused on what’s most important for school success. 

Do

  • Focus on the process, not the product.
  • Encourage kids to self-advocate.
  • Keep a long-term perspective.
  • Maintain a healthy sleep schedule.
  • Love the child you have, not the child you wish you had.

Don’t

  • Overschedule.
  • Worship grades.
  • Encourage helplessness.
  • Compare kids to one another.
  • Love kids based on their performance.

Value the Process Over the Product

Very young children are naturally driven to learn and explore. They are at the very beginning of their lifelong quest to understand and gain mastery of the world around them. As they reach out, fall and get back up again, they gain a heightened sense of mastery, competence and self-efficacy. Somewhere around kindergarten, however, parents and teachers begin to undermine this process by devaluing the process of learning and replacing it with a mad dash for the end products. Suddenly, the intrinsic motivators of natural curiosity, competence and self-efficacy are less valuable than extrinsic motivators such as stickers, points and grades. Unfortunately, extrinsic motivators undermine kids’ desire to learn over the long term. Want your kid to lose interest in school? Pay them for their A’s and worship at the altar of grades. If you’d instead like your kids to remain curious and hungry for mastery, here are some tips for re-orienting kids’ priorities.

  • Keep report cards off social media and the refrigerator. We can tell our kids that we value learning all we want, but when we gush over grades and stick them to the refrigerator, we show them that what we value most are the grades. Of course, grades are what most parents are stuck with, even if they are flawed and incomplete indicator of learning as well as what’s known as an “extrinsic motivator,” which has been shown to reduce motivation over the long term, undermine creativity, and encourage cheating. Some schools have moved away letter-based grades and are using reports focused on mastery- or standards-based evaluations, which can help parents and kids focus on what’s being learned rather a grade. No matter what kind of report your child gets, humble-bragging about it on social media only feeds parental competition, raises the pressure for kids and teaches them that your love and approval is contingent on the content of their report card. 
  • Focus on the process they used to get that grade. When we invest less energy and emotion in the number or letter at the top of the page, we can begin to ask our children questions such as, What did you do to get this grade? Which study techniques worked for you and which ones did not? What are you going to do differently next time? 
  • Look forward, not back. The best question parents can ask when faced with a grade, whether high or low, is: How are you going to use this experience to be better next time? This technique works particularly well for anxious and overly perfectionist kids, because they can get stuck in a negative feedback loop, obsessing wholly on the numbers and grades. Helping them shift their focus back to the process can alleviate that anxiety, particularly when we help them prioritize the aspects of learning they can control. 

Model: Talk about your own failures and successes with your kids, showing them that you, too, are invested in the process of learning. If you berate yourself over failures, so will they. If, however, they see you being brave and learning from your mistakes so you can be better next time, so will they. 

Value Goals Over Grades

One easy way to invest in process is to set goals, both individually and as a family. Try to do this at the beginning of a new school year, the first of the month, or the beginning of a new season.  Keep the discussion light and low-pressure. This process isn’t about getting better grades, it’s about supporting learning as a family. 

Everyone (yes, that means parents, too) sets three short-term, achievable goals oriented around tasks and improvements under your control. For example, “I’m going to get all A’s this semester” is too broad and too difficult to control. Instead, try “I’m going to ask for help in math more often,” “I will plan one extra help session a week,” or “I will practice my multiplication three extra times this month.” 

One of those three goals should be a challenge. We can’t hope to convince our children to be emotionally and intellectually brave unless they see us do the same, so set some goals that get you out of your comfort zone. Take guitar or dance or Spanish lessons, try an activity you have never tried before, or pick up a new hobby. This is, after all, how we expand our cognitive potential and make new connections in our brains that can help us become stronger, smarter and more efficient learners. 

A few years ago, one of my sons’ goals was to make a few new friends, a goal that was both challenging and important to him. 

Before you set new goals, take the time to assess how everyone did on past goals. Review these goals once a month or once a semester. If you fail to achieve your goals talk about why, and what you plan to do differently next time. If you succeed, celebrate that achievement! 

Model: Watching a parent set a scary, ambitious goal and talk about the process of achieving it is the most direct way to teach children that learning and striving to be better are human goals, not just school goals.

Maintain a Long-Term Perspective

Education and parenting are both long-haul endeavors, and improvements don’t happen on a daily basis. 

  • Don’t live in the daily emergency of this homework or this test. Instead, think about where you’d like your child to be in a year or five years in terms of competence and growth. Which is more important to you, that you deliver your child’s forgotten math homework today or that she develops a strategy for not forgetting her math homework tomorrow?

Model: When things go wrong in your own life, talk about them. Keep your focus on doing better next time and your long-term perspective. For example if you mess up at work, frame your discussion around improvement and long-term progress: “Well, this work project did not work out the way I wanted, but I still love what I do and want to be doing something related in five years. Here’s how I plan to learn from this so I can get there.” 

Help Them Find Balance

Kids are overscheduled, families are in a constant rush, but a few, strategic pauses in your family’s day can make a huge difference. 

Help Kids Create Effective Good Routines

Present mornings, chores and homework time to kids as a problem to be solved together. In a quiet, calm moment, say, “You know, mornings are really hectic around here and it’s hard for everyone to remember to get out the door with everything they need. How do you think we can make mornings easier and happier?”

Kids are more likely to stick with a plan they created themselves. Buy-in happens most often when kids have a hand in creating strategies, and sometimes it’s more important to be functional and efficient than to be right. 

Try asking, “What would be your ideal morning routine look like?” or “What would a perfect homework day look like for you?” then help them come up with ways to make those visions real. 

Help kids operationalize the systems they create. If it’s a planbook, talk about setting intermediary deadlines. If it’s alarms on a virtual calendar, try different sequences of alerts ahead of a due date. Think of your role in this process like that of the training wheels on your kid’s bike. As our children get more sure of their strategies and systems, we can raise the training wheels up until they are no longer needed at all. 

Model: Talk about your own systems, when they fail, why they work for you. As I get older, I find I have to write more things down or I will forget them. When I do, I mention this to my kids, and they have even helped me brainstorm ways to get things down on paper before I lose them to the ether. 

Encourage Good Study Habits

  • Ensure quiet time in your home. Multi-tasking is a myth, especially for kids. Shut off the TV, and if they like to  play music, studies show that music with lyrics undermine concentration and productivity. 
  • Ask your kids what their perfect homework routine might look like. Help them create that vision. Some kids might want a break after school to blow off pent-up energy, others may want to get the homework done first so they can get on to free play. Let them choose the space, too. Just because you envisioned a central study location in your home when you designed it does not mean it’s going to be their preferred spot. 
  • Limit phones during homework time. Phones are a distraction when they are in the room, even when they are turned off, one study shows. If they are a distraction for adults, with their fully mature executive function skills, they are even more distracting for kids, whose frontal lobes (and the executive function skills that originate there) won’t be fully mature until their mid-20s. 

Model: Let kids see you working distraction-free, in an environment that promotes focus. As ever, kids do what we do, not what we say. Work on your projects the way you’d like to see them doing their work. 

Plan for Technology Use

Have a plan in place for family tech usage. This can be around minutes, data or context. If you want family dinners and homework to be tech-free zones, agree to that ahead of time. Then sign a tech contract. Some kids respond to the clarity of a signed contract you can point to for reference. Here are some contracts I love, from Juliana Miner, author of “Raising a Screen Smart Kid”and Devorah Heitner, author of “Screenwise.”

Model: When I ask kids what they’d most like me to convey to their parents at my speaking events, one of comments I hear most often is something like: “If you want us to turn our phones off, or spend less time texting with our friends, then parents should do the same.” When we ask kids to make sacrifices we are not willing to make ourselves, they see us. 

Communication Between School and Home

When students, parents and teachers communicate openly and honestly with each other about what’s happening at home and in the classroom, everyone can stay focused on the learning. 

Keep School-Home Lines of Communication Open

The research is clear: Family involvement and positive home-school communication have been associated with improved grades, positive behavior and attitudes about learning, increased participation and increased attendance. Start by finding out how your child’s teacher would like to be contacted, and honor his or her preferences by sticking to that method. 

When something comes up, go to the teacher first, and not to the principal. That is both unfair to both the principal and the teacher. Besides, the principal most likely was not present in your child’s classroom to witness the events in question, so it puts him or her in an awkward position. 

Remember the good moments too. Thank teachers for their efforts on behalf of your child. Thanking teachers lets them know that you respect and appreciate what they do and how they do it. I have an envelope full of these notes accumulated over 20 years of teaching Latin, English and writing, and I often refer back to them when I’m having a bad day or feeling unappreciated. Gratitude matters. 

Model: Don’t bash or undermine a teacher in front of the kids. Kids hear what you say about their teachers, and it’s essential to preserve the student-teacher relationship at all costs. It can be confusing for kids when parents say negative things about their teachers, just as it’s upsetting when one parent speaks ill of the other during a separation or divorce.  

Promote Self-Advocacy

Starting as early as kindergarten, children need to be encouraged to speak up, tell adults what they need, and stand up to people who are not treating them the way they want to be treated. Self-advocacy is a key part of building a child’s sense of self- efficacy, or the understanding that they have the power to control and change their behavior, motivation and environment. 

When your children come to you to complain about how another child or a teacher treated them, ask  what they said or did (or what they plan to say or do) to make sure they are heard and understood. Simply asking this question can help children reframe the situation and consider what they can do to effect change themselves.

Expect children to be a part of home-school communication from the first day of elementary school and increase your expectations for their involvement each year until your child is the main conduit of information between home and school. You can provide support, of course, but somewhere around the beginning of middle school, your child should take the lead.   

Get support for your efforts to boost their self-advocacy. Let teachers know you are making this shift so they can support your child’s efforts to be more effective in their communication. 

Coach your children through talking with teachers about problems and talk through the approaches they can take. You can write scripts or role play if a child is anxious about the discussion. This can actually be a fun way to dispel anxiety and play-act the conversation until your child is comfortable. 

If children are facing especially stressful challenges as a result of bullying, special education needs or mental health issues, school counselors can be parents’ greatest ally. Today’s school counselors are mental health professionals who are able to guide students in school and provide referrals as needed to other mental health and academic support professionals in the community. They can even direct parents to low-cost or sliding scale providers if needed, and ensure continuity between school-based services and outside providers. 

Model: Talk how you ask for help and assert yourself even when it makes you nervous. Explain how you make sure your needs are heard and addressed. If you need to talk to your boss about a misunderstanding at work, make your kid a part of a dinnertime discussion about ways you could approach the conversation. We are, after all, our children’s first teachers when it comes to conflict resolution and self-advocacy. 

Work With Their Bodies, Not Against Them

As the best learning happens in the context of healthy brains and bodies, here are some ways to ensure kids are ready and able to learn. 

The Link Between Sleep and Learning

Sleep is integral to learning and memory consolidation, so prioritize sleep over other activities. If your child isn’t getting to homework until late, think about what else in the family schedule can move to make that a priority. Talk about scheduling before committing to a new extracurricular activity in the first place. 

School-age children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep every night in order to be physically and mentally healthy. And teens need 8 to 10 hours of sleep. But studies show that they are getting far less than that. This is partially because of two developmental changes during adolescence:

  • Sleep phase delay. When teens tell you they simply are not sleepy at night, they are not lying. Due to shift in their circadian rhythm during adolescence, they get tired later than children and adults. In light of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m. to account for teen sleep phase delay and promote teen mental and physical health. 
  • Less awareness of fatigue. Teens are also less likely to feel the effects of their sleep deprivation, which can lead to falling asleep in school or worse, behind the wheel of a car.

Remember, “catching up” on the weekend does not work because it can throw off children’s circadian rhythms further, compounding the problem.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adolescents try keeping a sleep diary to put the reality of their sleep habits in black and white. It’s hard to claim you are getting enough sleep when the numbers tell a different story.  

If your child asks for “just one more hour” for homework or to prepare for a test you can tell them that all other things being equal, an extra hour of sleep will likely be more valuable for memory consolidation than an extra hour of study. 

Model: Let kids see you value sleep. Allow the house to get quiet an hour before a reasonable bedtime, put your devices away, pull out a book and keep good sleep habits yourself. 

How Kids’ Brains Work

Until fairly recently, scientists believed that because childrens’ brains are done growing by the age of 10, their brains are mature by 10 as well. This could not be further from the truth. Kids’ brains are still developing on a cellular level, in a process that won’t be completed until their mid-20s. 

Children’s brains develop in fits and starts, with a first period of massive growth and development between the ages of 1 and 3, and a second during adolescence (between 11 and roughly 25). During these periods of heightened change, their brains are said to be highly “plastic,” meaning they adapt and grow rapidly in response to their environment.  

Increased brain plasticity also means increased potential for learning because brain cells morph from their immature, inefficient “gray matter” state to their more mature and efficient “white matter” state, while building up to 100,000 new synapses per second. Brain cells talk to each other via synapses, and it’s a “use it or lose it” situation. The more brain cells talk to each other via these new connections, the greater the brain’s potential to process and learn.

The last part of the brain to mature is the frontal lobe, where organization, time management and all those other executive function skills happen, so be patient. Middle and high school kids can’t possibly manage all the challenges school and society throws at them, so support kids as they try, fail and try again. 

Model: Brain power is built through challenge and so-called “desirable difficulties,” learning tasks that lie just a bit beyond our ability level or comfort zone. The more our kids see us take on challenges and learn from our mistakes, the more likely they will be to do the same.

4 Reasons You Need to Keep Doing Hard Things to Be Happy, Healthy and Successful

4 REASONS YOU NEED TO KEEP DOING HARD THINGS TO BE HAPPY, HEALTHY AND SUCCESSFUL

Marc Chernoff

You need to do hard things to be happy, healthy and successful. Because the hard things ultimately build you up and change your life.

If you already feel like you’re at the end your rope today with little slack left to hold on to, realize your mind is lying to you. It has imprisoned you by reciting self-defeating stories in your head—stories about your mistakes and what you should have done differently. And you’ve begun to believe that you’re really stuck.

But you’re NOT.

You are alive in an immense world with infinite destinations. Take a moment to remind yourself of this fact. Go outside. Look up at the sky and the clouds or the stars. THIS is the world in which you really live. Breathe it in. Then look at your current situation again.

Remember that adversity—doing and dealing with the hard things in life—is the first path to truth. Your defeats often serve as well as your victories to shake your spirit and light your way. You just have to hold on tight, embrace the daily pain, and burn it as fuel for your journey.

Easier said than done, of course. Which is why you need to continually remind yourself…

1. Every day you are growing stronger from your struggles.

Life can be a struggle. It will break you sometimes. Nobody can protect you from that. And hiding alone in a cave somewhere won’t either, for prolonged solitude will also break you with an endless thirst for connection. You must dare to love. You must dare to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth.

You are here to sacrifice your time and risk your heart. You are here to be bruised by life. And when it happens that you are hurt, or betrayed, or rejected, let yourself sit quietly with your eyes closed and remember all the good times you had, and all the sweetness you tasted, and everything you learned. Tell yourself how amazing it was to live, and then open your eyes and live some more.

To never struggle would be to never have been blessed with life. It is within the depths of darkness that you discover within you an inextinguishable light, and it is this light that illuminates the way forward. 

2. The hardest days shine a light on what’s truly important, and what isn’t.

Adversity is like walking in to a turbulent windstorm. As you fight to push through it, you not only gain strength, but it tears away from you all but the essential parts of you that cannot be torn. Once you come out of the storm you see yourself as you really are in raw form, still holding the passions and ideas that move you, and little else.

Ultimately, there is only what you want and what happens. When you don’t get what you want, there is only grabbing on and holding tight to the passions and ideas that move you. These are the lusts that matter—the love that defines you. It is this kind of love that drives you forward and even when the going gets tough. It is this kind of love that should never be overlooked.

3. Stress can be a healthy guidepost for making positive changes.

Sometimes when the going gets really tough, the world seems like it’s spinning too fast and you feel completely out of control. It seems like you’re losing your mind and going crazy, but you’re not. You need to pause and take a deep breath.

Just about every emotional issue imaginable, from fear to anxiety to the onset of depression, is triggered by a mounting build-up of stress. Stress impedes your ability to think straight and see the world as it is—a world that is not spinning too fast or burning to the ground.

Being extremely stressed-out and feeling overwhelmed is not a sign that you are psychotic or “going crazy.” It’s just that stressful experiences make it harder to think clearly and can make you think you’re more out of control than you actually are. The craziness you feel is stress. It’s not time to give up, it’s time to regroup and hold tight to your sanity. The more you relax, the saner you will feel.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I working too much with not enough downtime?
  • Am I getting enough sleep?
  • Am I eating healthy balanced meals?
  • Am I spending enough time with those I care about?
  • Am I involved in relationships that cause me excessive stress?
  • Am I drinking too much alcohol or relying on other (non-prescribed) drugs?
  • Am I constantly worried about some other time and place?

If you are experiencing any of the above issues, you know what you need to address to reduce your stress. The vast majority of us never go crazy; the vast majority of us simply fear, at some point, that we may go crazy based on stress factors we allow to reside in our present life situations.

So let your stress guide you—make sure you fill your time with meaningful activity, get enough sleep, eat well and manage your stress so it doesn’t mange you. 

4. You have something special to offer the world.

You are only destined to become one person—the person you decide to be. Do not let your own negativity walk all over you with it’s dirty feet.

You feel a unique gift burning inside you that you want to offer to the world, to help move it in the right direction. It may be covered up by days and weeks of waiting, doubting and defeat, but it’s present and as bright as ever. If you look deeply enough, you’ll find it. There is a capable person inside you that wants to soar, to create, to build, to love, to inspire, to do far more than just exist.

Your everyday chores and difficult tasks can be a prison or a pathway. It all depends on you. No matter how far down you think you’ve traveled, there is always a road leading to higher ground. There are always great possibilities in front of you, because you are always able to take a small step forward.

Stay true to yourself. Hold on to your values and passions. Never be ashamed of doing what feels right. Decide what you think is right and gradually step in that direction.

Now is the time…

There’s no shame in feeling overwhelmed. You are not a robot; and even if you were, you’d still need to stop for maintenance once in a while. There is no shame in admitting to yourself that you feel tired, doubtful, and low today. This is a natural part of being human. The simple fact that you are aware of this means you are able to turn things around, one day at a time, starting now.

So tell me:

What helps you push forward when times get hard?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

1 Hard Thing You Need to Start Doing for Yourself Today

1 HARD THING YOU NEED TO START DOING FOR YOURSELF TODAY

Angel Chernoff

In 1911, two explorers, Amundsen and Scott, embarked on a race against each other to become the first known human being to set foot upon the southernmost point of Earth. It was the age of Antarctic exploration, as the South Pole represented one of the last uncharted areas in the world. Amundsen wished to plant the Norwegian flag there on behalf of his country, while Scott hoped to stake his claim for England.

The journey there and back from their base camps was about fourteen hundred miles, which is roughly equivalent to a round-trip hike from New York City to Chicago. Both men would be traveling the same distance on foot through extremely cold and harsh weather conditions. And both men were equally equipped with experience, supplies, and a supporting team of fellow explorers.

As it turned out, Amundsen and Scott took entirely different approaches to the very same challenges. Scott directed his team to hike as far as possible on the good weather days and then rest on bad weather days to conserve energy. Conversely, Amundsen directed his team to follow a strict regimen of consistent daily progress by hiking exactly twenty miles every day, regardless of weather conditions. Even on the warmest, clear-sky days, when Amundsen’s team was capable of hiking much farther, he was absolutely adamant that they travel no more than twenty miles to conserve their energy for the following day’s hike.

Which team succeeded in the end?

Amundsen’s team, the one that took consistent daily action.

Why?

Because what we do every day defines us.

Today’s progress is always compounded by yesterday’s effort, no matter how small.

And it all comes down to the power of self-discipline. Think about the most common problems we deal with in our modern lives, from lack of presence to lack of exercise to unhealthy diets to procrastination, and so forth. In most cases, problems like these are caused not by a physically present limitation, but by a limitation of the mind—specifically, a lack of self-discipline.

We put the hard things off until tomorrow for a variety of reasons until we’ve lost our momentum. We grow accustomed to the belief that things should be easier than they are, and that waiting another day or two makes the most sense. Then one day we wake up and we’re emotionally incapable of doing the hard things that need to be done.

Let this be your wake-up call!

Your mind and body both need to be exercised to gain strength. They need to be challenged, and they need to be worked consistently, to grow and develop over time. If you haven’t pushed yourself in lots of little ways over time—if you always avoid doing the hard things—of course you’ll crumble on the inevitable days that are harder than you expected.

And if we had to guess, we’d say Scott’s team suffered in exactly this way. They tried to make things easier on themselves; the fantasy of “easier” became their mantra, their subconscious goal. But this fantasy was never going to be a reality during a fourteen-hundred-mile footrace in the South Pole.

Scott’s team lost the race, not only on the ground, but in their minds first.

Don’t follow in their footsteps!

Are you willing to spend a little time every day like most people won’t, so you can spend the better part of your life like most people can’t?

A simple thing you can do to insure a healthy marriage…

A SIMPLE THING YOU CAN DO TO INSURE A HEALTHY MARRIAGE…

Os Hillman

Check out this amazing statistic:
“While 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, and 78 percent of second marriages end in divorce, less than 1 percent of couples who pray together daily end their marriages.

My wife and I have been married 3 ½ years. I am thankful that my wife has a passion for God and has a powerful prayer life every day in her life. She starts her day at 5AM. We meet together at 7 to read a devotional book together and then Proverbs and a few other things I pick out. Then we pray together and we always pray the Jabez prayer and the Lord’s Prayer.

Taking that time together shuts out the devil from our relationship and allows us to focus on what is important.

The devotional book we read was written by my good friends, David and Teresa Ferguson. The book is called Never Alone: devotions for couples. It is one of the best books for couples I have ever read.

Each day they cover 52 topics to cover an entire year. Topics like acceptance, admonition, appreciation, sex, forgiveness, trust, faith, honor and so on. It’s amazing how often God speaks to us about issues we struggle with in our marriage. It seems that David and Teresa struggled with the same issues. I often hear that same comment about my TGIF devotional.

So, if you are married, I encourage you to get this book. When you order it, you will also get a free download of an interview I did with David and Teresa. Click here to learn more.

If Love Requires Effort, Was It Meant To Be?

IF LOVE REQUIRES EFFORT, WAS IT MEANT TO BE?

Kyle Benson

Do you remember Cinderella?

That blond princess whose miserable life was instantly transformed by her gorgeous-smooth-move-well-dressed-billionaire prince charming.

Well, I never knew her. She sounds like an evil step-daughter.

But I do know Cindy.

Cindy’s friends were telling her about this guy she might like. His name was Ryan, and he looked like David Beckham.

The next night Cindy and her friends went to one of his professional games. Her friends introduced them afterwards..

He took her hand, kissed it, and looked into her eyes.

“Next time we meet, it will be just you and me,” he said.

That did it. She was swept off her feet.

As they got to know each other, the intensity grew. They seemed to deeply understand one another. They enjoyed the same things; food, working out, and exotic beach towns. They both thought, the slipper fits!

It was like a damn Disney movie.

After a few months, Ryan became moody. Actually, he had always been moody, but it didn’t show at first. This bothered Cindy. She wanted to talk about what was bothering him, but he got irritated when she tried.

“Just leave me alone.”

Cindy felt shut out.

Once in awhile they planned a romantic night on the town. Sometimes Ryan didn’t want to go. Other times, Cindy would endure his silence over the candlelit dinner. Anytime she would say something, he would show his disappointment by saying something like, “I thought you knew me.”

Their friends, knowing how much they cared about each other, urged them to work on this problem. But the couple felt sad and frustrated.

Why should we work on it? If we were right for each other, we would be able to understand each other’s needs. We wouldn’t have any problems.

The relationship ended.

One of the most destructive beliefs for any relationship is this thought process.

“If we need to work at it, there’s something seriously wrong with our relationship.” – Aaron Beck

In essence, choosing a romantic partner is choosing a set of problems. Believing that being compatible with your partner means everything should come naturally is a sure way to naturally end any relationship you will have.

“Every [relationship] demands an effort to keep it on the right track; there is constant tension…between forces that hold you together and those that tear you apart.” – John Gottman

The belief that relationship success should not need effort robs relationships of the fire they need to burn. So many relationships turn their hot and passionate fire of love into ashes, just because the couple believes that being in love means never having to do anything demanding.

This toxic belief shows up in two different ways:

Mind Reading

Love Requires Effort

Part of the no-effort relationship fairytale is the belief that couples can read each other’s minds.

My partner knows what I think, feel, and need, and I know the same for them.

The truth is, all couples are incapable of reading minds. Just the other day, my girlfriend said, “Kyle, I need more space.”

I’ve heard that before.

My heart dropped. I went into shock. Was our relationship doomed? I couldn’t believe it. I thought everything was going so well. We were laughing until our stomachs hurt, kissing all the time…. what did I do wrong?

Finally I summoned the courage to ask, “What do you mean?”

“Your fat ass is taking up too much of our chair,” she said as she kissed me.

Oh. I’m so glad I asked.

In Nicholas Epley’s book Mindwise, he asked couples to guess their partner’s self-worth, abilities, and preferences on house chores on a scale from 1-5. He found that couples were accurate 44% of the time, despite believing they were right 82% of the time.

Even more time together doesn’t help. Rather, longer term relationships “create an illusion of insight that far surpasses actual insight.”

The quality of your relationship depends on your ability to understand your partner, and vice versa. The secret to understanding each other better seems not to come from mind reading, but through the hard work of putting our partners in a position where they can tell us their minds openly and honestly.

It’s quite delusional to believe in mind reading. But it makes sense when many couples who believe this also believe that a couple should share 100% of each other’s view on everything.

We Agree on Everything

This belief ties well with reading minds. If you can read each other’s mind, then you don’t need communication; you can just assume your partner sees the world the way you do.

Even though you two speak the same language, you both grew up in a sea of different experiences. You were given separate dictionaries on life. This makes it impossible to share ALL of each other’s assumptions and expectations.

Take Leah and David, for instance. Leah and David had just finished undergrad and were planning on getting married. David, a minimalist, went and signed a lease for a small apartment outside of Portland. He thought she’d be delighted.

When he opened the door, she flipped.

Leah had been living in tiny-ass apartments her entire life. Married couples were supposed to live in nice houses with new cars in the garage.

She felt betrayed. He felt confused. The relationship didn’t last much longer.

A couple may agree on traditional roles or have similar views, but that’s very different from assuming it as an entitlement.

Love Requires Effort

A no-effort relationship is not a great relationship; it’s a doomed relationship. It takes effort to communicate and understand each other. Love takes work. It takes work to expose and resolve conflicting beliefs and expectations.

However, that doesn’t mean there is no “happily ever after.”

It’s more like, “they worked happily ever after.”

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