Parenting Connected Kids: Surviving the Digital Minefield

This connected age we live in is absolutely amazing.

I love the ways I am able to connect instantly with friends and family via my iPhone.  I love the way I can share pictures and memories and what I’m eating for dinner with my friends on Facebook.  I enjoy tweeting directly to celebrities and theme parks via Twitter, find hundreds of people who want to share #disneygrams with me on Instagram.

I love Timehop for reminders of previous years’ posts, Pinterest for ideas on things I can’t possibly figure out how to do as good as the picture, and Swarm because I’m the mayor of one of my favorite Disneyland hotels. (And I confess, I do have a Snapchat, but only so my kids can take silly pictures of themselves with those infectious filters.)

I can’t imagine what entertainment would be without my Xbox One, Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu, and the ability to stream from anywhere in the world.  I’m a huge fan of nearly every digital innovation that has enabled me to bring information closer, enjoy life in a whole new way.  Even this blog is a result of that digital revolution, allowing us to share our adventures with people around the world.

But as a parent, this digital age can be rather daunting.  There are so many ways to connect online, and so many ways kids want to connect, that it can feel like a parental minefield.  What games do you let your kids play?  What ratings of TV shows do you let them watch on Netflix or Hulu–and how much binge-watching do you allow?  Do they get to play online via Xbox Live or Roblox?  What about email?  Cell phones?  Texting?  This is truly a “connected generation.”

It’s a challenge.  The digital age makes it that much harder for parents and kids to stay the course.  To not grow weary of doing good.  Because there’s just so many cool things we can do.  On my iPhone alone there are just too many awesome ways to do things and have fun with other people.

So how do we weather it?  How do we help out children stay strong, make wise choices, and do what God asks them to do when there are just so many awesome–yet potentially dangerous–ways to connect, have fun, and enjoy the digital world?

In my role as Children and Family Pastor at a church in Seattle, I interact with kids–elementary age kids–who are dealing with more stuff than I even dreamed about when I was their age.  They are being forced to grow up faster than they should, and many of them are struggling with very “adult” issues.
Kids struggling with pornography. Self-image issues. Parental abuse. Divorce, drugs, sex, stealing, lying, and stuff that I had no idea existed when I was in the 4th grade.  It breaks my heart to see them struggle.  These are good kids who need their parents to engage in the conversation, help them stay strong and follow the better way that God has created for them.  I’ve watched my own kids struggle in their own ways, and I’ve realized through a lot of trial and error what these connected kids need from us as parents.

They need us to help them find ways to enjoy this crazy new connected world without sacrificing their principles and staying true to their core values.

For my next several posts, I will be talking about just that.  From apps to texts to phone rules and how to handle those Xbox Live friends, I’ll give you our top ten tips for surviving the minefield that is our contemporary digital landscape.  Buckle your seat belts–it could get a bit bumpy.

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Too Much of a Good Thing

As a parent, I frequently think about what my kids pay attention to.

I can tell when they begin to spend too much time thinking about things that distract them from what’s important.  When they think too much about a video game, I limit their game time.  When they get obsessive over an artist or song, I limit how often they get to listen to it.  Television, food, candy, sugar, social media–you get the picture.

This is a biblical idea.  Solomon wrote in Proverbs: “If you find honey, eat just enough. If you eat too much of it, you will throw up.”  Short, sweet, and vivid.  You can have too much of a good thing.

Whether it’s honey or the video game Undertale or the musical Hamilton or Facebook or their latest fave on Netflix–none of those things by themselves are bad.  But too much of those things?  Not good for them.

It’s easy to see this as a parent.  We are quick to see what our kids need to stop doing, because we how it affects them.  Their schoolwork suffers, their relationships with others go south, they sleep poorly–you get the idea.

It’s harder for us as adults to catch this for ourselves.

Seahawks.
Exercise.
Television.
Career.
Disneyland.
Candy Crush.
Money.
Politics.

All of these things are fine, in themselves.  Rooting for a team is great.  Being healthy is awesome.  Enjoying a good show is relaxing.  Having a job is always a plus.  Getting away from it all is good.  A few minutes with an app is a fun way to kill time.  Money sure helps take care of the bills.  And we kind of need to make sure our country has leaders.

But too much of any of these things will make you sick.  And I don’t just mean feeling sick when your favorite team doesn’t do well.  Anything–anything–that you get too much of will hurt you.  Each of these things can consume you, become all you think about–and that’s the deepest trouble: they will distract you from what really matters.

Time with the kids.
Talking with your spouse.
Growing in your faith.
Deepening friendships.
Trusting in and relying on God.

You can have too much of a good thing.  Solomon learned this the hard way.  Once he filled his life with wealth, women, success, power, he lost his way.  He stopped focusing on the one who gave him all of that, and his kingdom fell apart.  He didn’t listen to his own warning.

I’d never want that for my kids.  But God also doesn’t want that for me–or you.  He’s not out to dispense heavenly Pepto-Bismol so we can feel better about ourselves after overindulging.  He’d rather we make the wise choice to begin with.

So, before you lecture your kids on how much Xbox they play, or that singer they’re obsessing over, take a second to think about the “honey” in your own life.  What’s distracting you from what really matters?  It might be time to admit that you have too much of a good thing.

And stop before you throw up.  Because that’s just gross.

Making Memories On Any Budget

If you’ve known us or followed us for any length of time, you know that we love Disney.  We have a little history with Disney, though. Duane and I met working at The Disney Store back in 1996 and we were married just two short years later in Disneyland.  We have raised our kids in a “Disney home,” following many of Walt’s own traditions.  And we visit the Happiest Place on Earth whenever we can get away for a few short days.  Many people wonder how we can afford it, but we’ve visited so often that we know how to spend and save money. Also, working for Disney allows us several benefits that not all guests can afford.  And even though Disneyland will always be our go-to vacation, we also love going on other adventures outside of Disneyland.  So, how does one go on adventures on a budget?  I’m going to share with you my top 5 money-saving adventures.  And yes, Disneyland is one of them.

  1. DAY DRIVES.  I think one of our favorite things to do as a family is to find a place just a couple hours away and take a day drive.  It’s always fun exploring new things.  Last week’s blog was about how to make memories anywhere and this is one of the easiest, and cheapest ways to do it.  Usually all it takes is a full tank of gas and some research.  Pack a lunch, grab your smart phone for directions, and you’re off!  Here in the Seattle area some of our favorites are Leavenworth, Mt. Rainier, any place a ferry can go, or even the city itself.  You just need to get creative.
  2. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SEASONS.  Every town, city, state offers seasonal adventures.  In the fall, visit your local pumpkin patch.  Summer time is great for fruit or veggie picking.  Regardless of the season, find something new and fun and go for it.  Again, with just a little research, you can find adventure just about anywhere and at any time.
  3. VENTURE OUT TO A NEARBY BIG CITY.  One of our favorite getaways as a family is Portland, OR. If we have a couple of days off in a row, we try to head out of town. Portland offers great shopping and dining.  And it doesn’t matter how often we go, the kids love staying in hotels.  It’s a different experience for them. And who doesn’t love going for a swim or soak in the hot tub after a long hard day of eating and playing?
  4. GO FIND YOUR PARK!  Did you know that you can purchase an annual park pass for the entire family for just $80?  And it pays for itself in 2 park visits.  Every state offers several national parks, historic sites, or historic reserves.  Again, just pack a lunch, several snacks, water bottles, jackets and/or hats, and fill up the car.  The National Park Service also offers a Junior Ranger program with fun activities and adventures for your kids and an opportunity for them to earn a Jr. Ranger badge.  All of my kids, including my 17-year old, love earning their Jr. Ranger badges! Just visit The National Park Service to find out more information and programs near you!
  5. DISNEYLAND!  OK, you knew I had to! Like I said, we visit Disneyland as frequently as we can.  Each visit is different and depending on the kids, they all experience something new.  So, how can we afford it?  Before I was worked for Disney, we had annual passes.  If you visit the park more than 5 days, you will have paid for your annual pass.  Plus the annual pass gets you discounts on food and store purchases.  There are several hotel offerings around Disneyland Resort, so just choose the one that best suits your family’s budget and needs.  For our family, I’m all about saving as much money as we can.  I bring a backpack with me filled with snacks and waters to save on food purchases.  Our kids have learned to split meals so we only end up purchasing 3 meals at a time instead of one for each of us.  If they’re still hungry, they can have a snack, but most times, they’re just fine.  And I’m not big on souvenirs, but we give each of our kids a $25 gift card to spend on souvenirs, dole whip, churros, etc.  And the biggest money saver for us is transportation.  We load up all 4 kids in the minivan for a 18-hour-straight-thru drive.  We have done this so often that we know where to find the cheapest gas, cheapest food, and best times to travel to save time. I guess you could say we’re experts on Disneyland on budget!

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to find adventure!  Just a little imagination and research.  Now go find adventure!  It’s out there just waiting for you!

5 Restaurants to Try On Your Travels

On all of our adventures across the United States, we’ve enjoyed some great food.  There’s nothing better than experiencing local culture, and there’s no better way to do that than eating at restaurants you may not find elsewhere.  There’s nothing wrong with the familiar, but part of the adventure of life is trying something new–and when we’ve tried something new, we’ve typically been blown away by the people, the food–the whole experience.  Here are five of my favorites–stop by when you’re in these towns for a fantastic food experience!

Mother’s Bistro • Portland, Oregon

The city may want to keep itself weird, but there’s nothing weird about the food at this amazing restaurant.  You may feel like you’re sitting in your mom’s kitchen, surrounded by crisp white cabinetry, white linens, and feeling of home.  That’s because Chef Lisa Schroeder’s goal was to create a fantastic food experience around “Mother Food,” the kind of food she would cook for her family if she had the time.  Each month, a different real-life mom’s meals are featured along with familiar favorites like pot roast, chicken and dumplings–comfort food created with a distinct flair and excellence.  We discovered this place on accident while in Portland for a concert–and now go back every time we’re in the city.  Stop by Mother’s, because you will not be disappointed.

Carver Brewing Company • Durango, Colorado

The town of Durango has a long history of cowboys, mines, and railroads, and when we were there last summer, we wanted to eat somewhere that would give us a chance to enjoy some of that history.  Walking up Main Street, we found Carver’s, featuring some sidewalk dining.  The chalkboard sign was filled with promising ideas for meals, so we walked in.  As the hostess walked us through the labyrinthine maze, we were disappointed to find we wouldn’t be on the street, where the action was.  Instead, we were back in a back patio area.  Bummer, right?  Right–until the little kids discovered the swings available for them to play on, and once the food started coming out.  Our waiter was from Seattle, too, which was fun–but it was the food that really knocked it out of the park.  We eventually found out that this is a local institution with a long history, and the second-oldest brewpub in Colorado.  Enjoy some great food and drink while the kids play on the swings.

McGlinn’s Public House • Wenatchee, Washington

We decided to get away for a few days a couple summers ago and headed over the mountains into Washington’s apple country.  Driving through the town of Wenatchee, we couldn’t find anywhere that appealed to us (well, the parents–the kids would have loved to eat at Sonic) until we saw the sign for this place, located in a historic building with a storied history.  We couldn’t have made a better choice.  The wait staff was fantastic, the decor was full of history and great personality, and the food was stellar.  McGlinn’s was such a great experience because it was fun for adults to eat there, but also so good and that the kids liked it, too.  A short walk from the riverfront, McGlinn’s is a winning combination of history and contemporary excellence.

Black Bart’s Steakhouse, Saloon, and Musical Revue • Flagstaff, Arizona

When we arrived at our hotel in Flagstaff last summer,  I asked the clerk about good local food.  He said, “How do you feel about singing waiters?”  That’s when I knew our family had to check out Black Bart’s.  Of course, for someone out of town it can be a bit disconcerting, especially when it’s dark outside and you have to drive past a bunch of RV’s to find the restaurant.  It’s a Flagstaff institution for more than 35 years, but it still looked totally sketchy.  The inside looks like it hasn’t been updated since the 1970’s (except for theatrical musical posters which featured more recent hits like Wicked and Hamilton).  The menu was pretty impressive, though, and the portions were plentiful.  Everything was cooked to perfection and we agreed it was a good choice.  My theatre-loving daughter and I were enjoying the posters–and suddenly a waiter began singing “Be Our Guest.”  This was  where the experience went from good to great.  The entire wait staff joined the song and eventually all of them had a chance to shine–along with a stellar accompanist.  If you want a great experience beyond just good food, definitely check out Black Bart’s next time you’re on your way to the Grand Canyon.

El Gaucho • Bellevue, Washington

I have to put this local favorite in this list, because it’s our favorite place to go for an incredible steak dinner (served to perfection by the fantastic waitstaff) or even a quick bite on a Sunday evening.  El Gaucho is a throwback to 1960’s steakhouses, with tableside preparation of flaming deserts or steaks, salads, jazz music, and a style that is both classic yet contemporary.  There are four El Gaucho locations (the original in Seattle, a lesser one in Portland, one in Tacoma), all with their own flavor, but we really prefer the Bellevue restaurant for the quality of the servers, the high ceilings, and ease of parking.  We have celebrated anniversaries, promotions, birthdays, and more here, and we have never been disappointed.  While its multiplicity of locations may make it more of a “chain,” the specificity of its Northwest theme, commitment to local food and wines, and its long history wth the city of Seattle make it feel more like an original.  Whether you want to eat steak served on a flaming sword or try bananas foster prepared en flambé as you watch, El Gaucho‘s Bellevue restaurant is a wonderful dining experience.

What about you?  What great restaurants have you discovered on your family adventures?  Share them with us–we can’t wait to try them out!

 

How to Make Memories Without Even Trying

I love my family, almost to a point where if we were the only 6 left on earth, I would be totally OK with it.  I’m very protective of us and our time together, which as the kids get older and we get busier, seems to be a little bit fewer and far between. So when we are all together, either purposefully or accidentally, we are very intentional with our time.  I saw a sign today that read,

We didn’t know we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.

This is my new mantra!  With that being said, let me help you create memories with your family without even trying.

1. Don’t over schedule yourself.  I can’t stress this enough.  Work, school, PTA, sports, dance, music, karate, homework, housework, yard work, … the list can go on and on.  Over scheduling yourself and your kids is easy to do.  But it’s also not necessary.  Pick one extra curricular activity for you and/or your kids. The days off are a bit more frequent when you don’t have too much going on. Believe me, I get it.  Both me and my husband work full time, both of my teenagers have jobs, my youngest daughter is involved in basketball and brand practice, so I know how easy it is to get caught up in busy.  But try to set aside one or two days per month where you and your family is 100% “off.”  Let the vacuuming wait.  The dishes are fine in the dishwasher.  And there will always be laundry to do.  Take your free day and go make a memory or two.

2. Sneak in fun things even when you have a lot going on.  As much as I would like to say the Christmas season is full of baking days and relaxation for us, it’s not.  It’s easily the busiest time of year for me.  I don’t get to drop everything and go play with my kids when they are outside making snowmen.  But I do sneak in moments with them when I can.  Whether it’s driving around looking at Christmas lights or dining out at their restaurant of choice, creating moments for them will also create memories.

3.  Document your moments so you can relive your memories. Most people have some kind of a camera on their phone.  It’s there for a reason, so use it.  You may not even realize you’re creating memories until you look back a week or two later and you are able to relive it. One of my favorite moments, which I didn’t even realize would turn into a favorite summer memory, happened two summers ago.  We took a few days to get out of town.  We stumbled upon a restaurant that we all decided looked decent enough for us to have dinner. It turned out to be one of my favorite memories of the entire trip.  The kids all got along, our food was amazing, we explored the restaurant after dinner which just happened to be full of history.  But I didn’t even realize how much I loved those moments until we were able to look back at the photos (played as a screensaver on our family Mac) and remember what an amazing memory it was!

What can you do this week or even this month to create special moments with your family?  Next week, I’m going to be sharing some of our favorite things to do as a family for every budget. I’d love to hear your ideas, so send them my way!