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!

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!

A Battle for Life: August’s Birth

12314574_10153283054171608_6435122065943222663_oAugust turned 8 years old on Monday, which is hard to believe.  The night of his birth was definitely one Robyn and I will never forget.  After three kids, we didn’t expect that our fourth child’s birth would be the most difficult, and easily one of the scariest things we’ve ever gone through.

Luckily, I wrote the whole thing down just two days later.  Here’s the original version of what happened on September 12, 2008–the night we battled for the life of our youngest child before he was even born.

It has been a whirlwind weekend. What was supposed to be an easy delivery turned into a night of fear and worry and a battle between life and death. Sounds melodramatic, but it’s not, because life is what we are always fighting for against the Evil One. He hates life and will do anything he can to snuff it out.

Some may call it just a delivery with complications, but I will truly forever remember the birth of my son August as a day when God confirmed for me that my children are a gift of life, precious beyond words, and each to be cherished and protected against the powers of the enemy.

We went in at 1:00 pm on Thursday, September 11, to be induced. The doctor was worried that August was going to be too big. That Robyn would have a difficult time delivering him if he went all the way to term.

We made arrangements for the older kids. Got to the hospital and were placed in a room with a great view of the outside–lush green trees and beautifully, unseasonably blue, Seattle skies. The process began, and within hours, the contractions were strong and things looked good.

But an alarming pattern started as well–with every strong contraction, August’s heart rate dropped. At first, it only dropped a few degrees, from a baseline of 145 to 120. But as the evening wore on, and the contractions got stronger, the more his heart rate fell. 90. 80. It would always go back up after, but the consistency was beginning to worry our doctor and nurse.

They decided to slow down the process. Austen had had a drop in heart rate during birth, but it had rectified itself. Perhaps the umbilical cord was in the wrong place, being squeezed too tightly? I went out to the family members who had been waiting and gave them an update. It wasn’t going to happen tonight. Go home, we’ll call you.

We said goodnight. It was around 10 pm.

Our doctor came to the room and would not leave. She stayed as Robyn received her epidural, holding her hand through the process. Now the pain was less–but the contractions, and August’s reactions–were getting worse. We signed a consent for a Cesarean, just in case.

As I wrote the words above 8 years ago, I suddenly realized that the story was much more intense than my narrative made it sound.  This is why the rest of August’s birth story is written in the present tense.

At 12:23 am, August’s heart rate drops to 60, fights its way back, and drops again. In an instant, what was routine becomes a battle for the life of my son.

Robyn is moved to a gurney. There is a rush of activity, nurses coming from nowhere, the rushed conversation of “there’s someone else scheduled–no, I’ve called it–we’re going first.” Robyn is being readied to leave the delivery room and head to the OR. I have time for three thoughts, all of them involve prayer.

I call my mother, who is watching Audrey and Austen. I quickly tell her that Robyn is on the way to the OR–please pray. I call my mother-in-law and tell her the same–and to come quickly, Robyn wants her there. I quickly compose a text message and send it to a random selection of friends and family. I ask them again to pray.

By 12:34 we are in the OR, I am putting on scrubs, a mask. I am terrified. Thoughts of loss and death overwhelm me. I am going to lose either my child or my wife. Life will lose tonight.

I enter the room and see my wife on a table. She is being covered, prepped. There are three doctors, several nurses, and the team from the Infant Intensive Care Unit awaits in case they need to revive my boy. I cannot hold back the tears. I weep.

Robyn sees me. “Don’t cry. I need you to be strong.” I tell her I am not crying and I manage to stop the tears–but I am still terrified. I can’t see straight–tubes, scrubs, machines, a sterile clang of instruments. The doctors begin working in hushed tones–I focus on Robyn and try to distract her from what is going on. She is awake, only slightly uncomfortable, and getting very tired.

The noises stop. The doctors do not move.

Robyn and I fear the worst. Then suddenly, a cry. I see my boy. He is screaming, angry, scared. But alive.

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He is quickly wiped off and taken to the nurses who examine him and determine that whatever happened in the womb did not hurt him. He is beautiful, loud, and pink. A little dried blood is on his nose, but he stops crying when they hand him to me. I take him to Robyn and we both cry. Life has won.

Turns out that the umbilical cord was wrapped around one shoulder, through his legs, and over the other shoulder–almost like a harness. There was no way he was going to come out the natural way. But he is here, alive, and sleeping loudly in the room next door.

Life wins. The prayers of the faithful are answered, and a little boy whose name means “Revered and Exalted,” helps me do both to the very giver of Life. I revere Him for His power, His glory, and the fact that He reveals Himself to me. I exalt Him for His life, for His nature, and for His providence.

Sleep well, August. The battle for your life has just begun.


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I am thankful for Doctor Robertson, every nurse, every attendant, friend and family member who did their part to bring this sweet and wonderful boy into this world.  We can’t imagine our lives without our Goose, Gus-Gus, or any other name he goes by.  He’s one incredible kid.

Maybe This Country Just Needs to Go on a Big Road Trip

I love road trips.

I love the idea of getting in a car and driving across the country, seeing things you can’t see at home, experiencing places you only read about in history books or see in documentaries you stream on Netflix, eating food you can’t get close to home, and talking with people whose life experiences are different than yours.

I grew up taking road trips, thanks to my missionary parents.  Every summer from my 1st grade year until my freshman year in High School, my parents and my brother and sister and I loaded into whatever vehicle we had at the moment and traveled from Seattle to Indianapolis, and then from there to everywhere else.  By the time I graduated from high school, I’d been through the entire lower 48 states.

I’d seen Yellowstone.  Devil’s Tower.  Plymouth.  Washington, DC.  Trenton.  Lexington and Concord.  Niagara Falls.  You name it, we’d been there.  You can read about our country all you want–but when you start seeing it, living it, experiencing it, it does something to you.

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It helps you realize that everyone isn’t like you,  that there is greatness in people who talk different from you, who eat different foods.  We share the same nationality, but we are all as wonderfully diverse as our country’s landscape.  The coast of Maine is not like the prairies of Kansas or the tree-lined roads of Alabama or the huge redwoods of California or the small towns of Texas.  And the people who live in each of these places are wonderfully different from each other, too.  When you actually sit and talk to people, you realize that although we are different, we do share a common heritage as Americans.

So this is a value I grew up with, and something I am excited to pass along to my children.

People think we’re crazy.  Six people in a minivan, driving more than 4,000 miles across the American landscape.  But if you don’t drive that far, you’ll never see it.  You can’t fly to most of the most amazing and beautiful parts of our country.  And like the Pixar film Cars so aptly celebrated, if you don’t get off the highways and onto the old two-lane roads, you miss the small towns and amazing people that make America great.

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In less than thirty days, our family embarks on our next great road trip.  We will be traveling from Washington to Idaho to Utah, through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  We’re going to get off the interstate, on to some small highways, and stay in small towns and eat in local restaurants that aren’t part of a large corporation.  We will visit National Parks like Arches, Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Joshua Tree, and more.  (Yes, we are squeezing in a day at Disneyland, but that’s just a bonus.)

As the National Park system celebrates 100 years, there’s nothing better than getting in the car and going.  Get out of your routines and the normal places you travel.  Sure, it make take some getting used to, driving hundreds of miles for hours to get to a location, but when you get to see the sunrise over the Rocky Mountains, experience the heat of the afternoon sun and the clearest skies in the United States at Rocky Mountain National Park, you realize it’s worth it.  Visit Wall Drug, drive on Route 66, and walk the towpath of the Erie Canal–and talk to the people in these places and discover just how great these crazy places, and the people who live near them, actually are.

If you need to stay closer to home, that’s fine, too.  But don’t be content to just stay at home, and don’t get on a plane.  Visit a local National Park (they are all over the place, and sometimes they are in your backyard–we just visited the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Preserve a short drive from our home and loved it), take a drive and get ice cream at a local place, stop  at small store and get a soda.  There’s a lot of fun to be had out there, you just need to get out and find your family’s adventure.  You’ll discover you have a lot more in common with folks than you realize, and you’ll have some fun along the way.

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It’s just a thought, but maybe if we all took a few more road trips and traveled through the towns and neighborhoods of our country, seeing just how incredibly beautiful it is, we’d see each other in a different light, too.  There’s a huge value in the road trip experience, because not only does it create memories and bring your family closer together, it can bring you closer to the incredible ties we share as Americans.

 

The 5 Must-Haves for Every Disneyland Mom.

IMG_2587We just got back from The Happiest Place on Earth and I’m still on my Disneyland-High.  June Gloom in Seattle is no joke, so the only thing to keep me from my post Disney vacation is to keep reminiscing about my week.  Even though we go several times a year, each time is unique and special.  August got to finally ride California Screamin’ and Audrey got to meet her faves from Zootopia.  Even with summer time crowds, it was a trip well spent.

The bonus to our frequenting Walt’s park so often is that I have learned what to take and what not to take for a fun-filled day.  I want to share with you my top 5 things that I always take with me to Disneyland.

  1. A BACKPACK.  I used to be anti-backpack because I didn’t want those giant straps getting in the way of my cute clothes.  After all, sometimes you have to sacrifice comfort for fashion.  Well, not in this case.  My backpack serves as a refrigerator, a closet, and a purse.  And bonus, it helps burn more calories!  If you forget your backpack at home, don’t worry, the stores at Disneyland have a nice variety, so make sure you pick one up then pack it up.  So, what goes in my backpack?
  2. HEALTHY SNACKS.  Although I will always choose to eat my way through Disneyland, we try to keep our meal purchases to a minimal cost by splitting.  The upside to splitting is not overloading yourself with too much food which makes you sleepy and you get to try MORE food which leads to eating churros or Mickey ice-cream sandwiches. The downside is, if you have a 15-year-old boy, eh-hem, they are constantly hungry, which is why it’s important to keep them fueled during the day with healthy snacks like apples, bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, and granola bars.  I like to over-pack snacks just to be on the safe side.
  3. WATER BOTTLES.  I typically bring two 24 oz disposable water bottles and reuse them during the entire trip.  Did you know that Southern California gets really hot in the summer time?  Disneyland has graciously put several water bottle filling stations throughout the park.  To find out where they are located, you can visit The Disneyland Dad to find your closest refill station.
  4. JACKETS.. Yes, it’s hot during the day, but as soon as the sun goes down, so do the temps. I’ve been without a jacket at Disneyland before and when the temps go down so does the level of fun.  And yes, I can fit 6 sweatshirts into my backpack.  It has taken some practice, but it can be done.
  5. CELL PHONE. This one is two-fold, communication and picture taking.  Ever been separated from your party or wanted to snap a pic of your youngest giggling on Tow Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree?  That’s the beauty of modern technology!  Bring your phone.  Just make sure to cherish every moment and save your social media posting for  your hotel time.

These are just a few of my favorite mom tips. If you have any tips you’d like to share, I’d love to see them in the comments section.