Recently I found a very honest and inspirational book on parenting at the local thrift store, entitled, The Key to Your Child’s Heart, by Gary Smalley. Published in 1984, Smalley (an author, educator, pastor, husband and father) shares some of the fundamentals of human relations that apply to the parent-child bond and family life. Below are two insights on a) a closed or open spirit, and b) stereotyping youth that are most helpful for parenting today. I added my two cents as these insights offer relevant, hopeful instruction for parenting in a cyber-powered world.
Connection with an open spirit. Smalley provides an image of an open and closed spirit, with three concentric circles: body (at the center), soul (is the next layer) and then the spirit, which is the outer circle with tentacles. When the spirit is open, the tentacles are stretched out in a position receptive to make connection. In a closed spirit, imagine in your mind’s eye that the tentacles are pulled inward, less receptive to connection as a defensive posture.
My two cents. Instinctively we all know that communication cannot happen without connection. In human relations an opened and closed spirit is the door to this connection with another person that makes communication possible. And each human being is responding to people and events with an open or a closed spirit.
In a cyber-powered world parents need to be especially mindful that children who are withdrawn, hostile, incommunicative and/or rebellious are experiencing a closed spirit. It is a form of suffering. This awareness of the state of a child’s heart and mind, which is the spiritual realm that parents cannot control, is critical for parenting because when devices are involved it is easy to blame the devices for a lack of connection. Once we blame the devices, we have given up our own power to correct ourselves and open our own spirit so that children feel secure in the home and to respond with an open spirit to our guidance and love.
Keep in mind that children may have a closed spirit simply because they are offended by the legitimate guidance and discipline of a parent. This is not about coddling a child or being a perfect parent. Rather, understanding this truth about the human condition of our youth is about accepting they are first and foremost fellow human beings in charge of their own thoughts and actions with the power to open and close their spirit. And then we can relate to them as their parents.
According to Smalley, some signs of a closed spirit include: arguing and refusing to like anything you like; seeking friends who are the opposite of what you want them to have; bullying; use of foul language; drug and alcohol misuse; and sexual promiscuity. In a cyber-powered world, I will add device and gaming addiction, wherein a child appears to be living primarily on line and is hostile to being called into the physical presence of parents and family. Some of this hostility is a normal part of adolescence which involves at times a closed spirit to home life.
These are what I call the adult issues that children are experiencing in family life (which are adult communities) and carried into their peer communities. It is all learned behavior. So the big question parents need to ask themselves is this: am I aware of how my own state of heart and mind in my response to what is happening inspires an open or a closed spirit with my child? And it is important not to assume you know what is going on with your child. The big danger that inspires a closed spirit is stereotyping your child. When you have formed an opinion about your child and their peer community, and especially their use of devices like a pair of shoes (pretty much always on), it is not possible to get interested and listen. And when you stop listening, the child’s response will be a closed spirit.
Stereotyping youth. Smalley explains that “if you feel that your child is a complainer, a whiner, a bully or a procrastinator, it may affect what you think he is saying.”
My two cents: Equally important, you may wind up minimizing their concerns because children’s concerns are not as important as an adult’s concerns, and we miss learning something about our child and how to offer guidance, another way of thinking about a problem or a situation.
For example, a child may be in a situation that requires some support or intervention from you for them to realize their own capabilities in dealing with adult issues. One time my younger son was complaining to me that an eighth grade female classmate was being sexually harassed by another student. After listening to what he was experiencing (having to defend her) and his belief that the school administration would do nothing to help her, his Dad and I agreed to advocate with him for her defense if her parents agreed to come with us. Apparently they didn’t speak English. So my son encouraged his classmate to talk to her parents about it and our offer of moral support. As it turned out, her big brother had no problem speaking English and her family approached the administration together and resolved the situation. My son learned a lesson about empowerment…that a victim of harassment can be expected to use their voice and advocate for themselves. Had I not been open to listening to what was breaking my son’s heart, I would not have had the opportunity to impart this wisdom.
By the same token, as parents we can stereotype our children by thinking they can do no wrong. This is a very dangerous belief in a cyber-powered world wherein screens can lower inhibitions and it is easy to get caught up in drugs, gossip, bullying and sexting. When parents have already formed an opinion that it is not possible for their child to become caught such a snare, then it is not possible to help them get free. They suffer in silence keeping up appearances (with anxiety and depression) and sometimes with outrageous and hostile behavior. Alas, their spirit remains closed.
Family culture and an open spirit. I read something online today about corporate life that people are loyal to culture (which are shared beliefs and values) not to strategy. This is true for children and families as well. Your family culture offers tools to connect with youth in the spiritual realm of heart and mind. To learn more, about the family culture tools to facilitate connection and instill discipline among tech-savvy youth, contact Joanna.
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.
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