Just a few more minutes!

The September 26 issue of USA Today included an opinion piece by Vicki Abeles entitled “Students Without a Childhood.” Abeles leads her piece by sharing that her middle-school-aged son Zak has trouble sleeping, often waking up in the middle of the night wondering whether or not he has finished everything on his to-do list. Interestingly, she then goes on to explain that Zak is, by design, “not the classically overscheduled child.” Zak’s only activities, Abeles says, are school, jazz band and homework. That would indicate that there may well be more to Zak’s troubles than the level of his activity, but I’ll return to that shortly.

Abeles uses Zak’s situation to segue into her assertion that the collective “we”–by which I assume she means parents, teachers, coaches and American culture in general–are causing harm to our children “by overpacking their schedules in the name of productivity, achievement and competition.” Let’s ignore for the moment that her son is not one of those children, because that is not the point I want to get at. Let’s instead examine some of the claims that Abeles makes about this “overpacking.”

First, she states that studies indicate that children in America “spend half as much time playing outdoors as they did in the 1980s.” I do not doubt that that is true, though Abeles does not cite any specific studies and I have not researched that myself. I do doubt, though, her implication that the decline in outdoor recreation is due to overpacking children’s schedules. In the 1980s very few children had access to a home computer and VCRs were just becoming common. Atari was the only gaming system for much of the decade, with Nintendo bursting onto the scene mid-decade along with the far-less-popular Sega. Extremely few people had cellular phones in the 1980s and those that did had to be strong enough to haul around the brick-like devices (that could do nothing but make and receive calls, of course). None of those cell phone users were children. So yes, children in the 1980s probably did spend twice as much time outside as they do now, but that’s because many of them are now spending their time inside, fastened to their cornucopia of digital entertainment devices.

Abeles then suggests that the “frantic pace of modern life has even trickled down to kindergarten, where students are already bringing home piles of homework.” According to on article in US News in February 2014, kindergarten through fifth grade teachers assign about 2.9 hours of homework per week. Given the range in grades included in that figure, though, it is impossible to say that kindergarten students are getting too much work. After all, the oft-cited rule of thumb that a reasonable among of homework for students is ten minutes per night per grade level would mean fifty minutes per week for 5-day kindergarteners and five hours per week for fifth graders. A January 2010 article from the Stanford Graduate School of Education, fifteen to twenty minutes per day for four days is appropriate for kindergarten students. That would mean up to an hour and twenty minutes per week. So I am not sure “piles of homework” are the norm for most American kindergarten students. There is also evidence that the amount of homework is not, on average, out of line for older students, either. According to “Changing Times of American Youth, 1981-2003,” by F. Thomas Juster, Hiromi Ono and Frank P. Stafford at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, the average American child between ages 6 and 8 spent 2 hours and 33 minutes per week “studying” in 2002-03, while students ages 9-11 spent 3 hours 36 minutes. Assuming “studying” and “homework” are synonymous, the US News report would indicate that the amount of time spent on homework by elementary students is holding, if not declining, over the past ten years.

Immediately after her suggestion that the “frantic pace of modern life” has led to kindergarten students being inundated with “piles of homework” Abeles suggests that it is no wonder that “young people nationwide suffer from alarming rates of anxiety, sleep loss and depression.” No wonder, indeed…but not because their homework loads.

A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that teenagers spend an average of 7.5 hours per day consuming media which, according to the Washington Post, includes “watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, social networking, and playing video games.” I would suggest that that figure has only gone up since 2010. Way back in 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics published a three-page handout for parents entitled “Understanding the Impact of Media on Children and Teens.” Some of the side-effects of excessive media use that were warned about included poor school performance, frequent nightmares and increased eating of unhealthy foods. PEDIATRICS, a publican of the American Academy of Pediatrics, published online on March 28, 2011 a study under the title “The Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families.” The study reported that “a large part of this generation’s social and emotional development is occurring while on the Internet and on cell phones.” And while the study touted some benefits of this expanded digital familiarity, it also warned of dangers, including cyber bullying, sexting and “Facebook depression.” This is “defined as depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression” and adolescents suffering from it “are at risk for social isolation.”

In November 2013 the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health warned, “Studies find that high levels of media use are associated with academic problems, problems with sleep, unhealthy eating, and more.” It also reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics “recommends that adolescents have less than two hours of screen time per day.” in November 2013, Rachel Ehmke, a senior writer for the Child Mind Institute, wrote “Teens and Social Media” in which she reported, “…experts worry that the social media and floods of text messages that have become so integral to teenage life are promoting anxiety and lowering self-esteem in the young people who use them the most.” Ehmke also wrote, “When they’re not doing their homework (and when they are) they’re online and on their phones, texting, sharing, trolling, scrolling, you name it.” Maybe, just maybe, the fact that so many teens are “multitasking” while doing their homework has something to do with the amount of time it takes them to get their work done?

Abeles ends her column with a plea: “These many concerns drive me to ask my fellow parents, teachers and administrators to help me give Zak back the time he needs to learn, grow and interact. The crazy demands schools place on our children’s time need to be scaled back–for their long-term health and emotional balance as much as for the optimum development of our children’s minds and the meaning they find in life.” The problem, again, is that Abeles never really connects Zak’s struggles with anything that schools are doing. I do not know how much time Zak spends on digital media and I do not know if he has learning challenges that make school work difficult for him. What I do know is that Abeles’ headline asserts clearly that schools are at fault for the overscheduling and “crazy demands” that are stressing out “our kids.” Her column fails to prove her assertion, though–citing some studies as well as anecdotal evidence, but failing to demonstrate that schools are demanding anything that is harming students. Maybe there are some other culprits Abeles should consider, as well. In fact, maybe she should have done her homework, because I suspect she would find that, more often than not, students are giving their childhood away for “just a few more minutes” of digital connectivity.

Promoting a Mental Disorder

Not unlike the issue of Common Core not too long ago, the transgender issue is taking entirely too much of my time and effort these days. Wait, who am I kidding? Common Core has not gone on away, is not going away, and could still be a source of topics for this blog every day if I let it. Since I have decided to move on from Common Core I probably need to do the same with the transgender mess, because I think I have made my position pretty clear by this point. Before I move on, though, I want to bring in one additional perspective, one that does not get much attention in the mainstream media. The reason for that, of course, is that it is not a popular position. But one mainstream media outlet did give voice to this position a few months ago–the Wall Street Journal, on June 12, published an opinion piece by Dr. Paul McHugh, the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The piece was entitled “Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution,” with the subtitle “A drastic physical change doesn’t address underlying psycho-social troubles.” You need read no further to identify why this position is not a popular one. After all, any suggestion that gender identity confusion is related to psycho-social troubles will quickly get you relegated to the status of right wing extremist or intolerant wacko. (Some people would consider those two terms redundant). But McHugh was able to give voice to the facts about the transgender issue in a respected national publication, due no doubt to his credentials and experience.

He wasted no time getting to the point, either. After setting the stage in an introductory paragraph that referenced the decision that Medicare could pay for gender reassignment surgery, Chuck Hagel’s statement about being open to the idea of transgendered individuals serving in the military, and the issue of TIME devoted to the transgender issue, McHugh writes the following:

Yet policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention. This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken—it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.

Clear, unequivocal language stating the reality of the situation! The feelings and confusion faced by transgendered individuals that are leading to policy changes and laws across the country are in fact the result, McHugh says, of a mental disorder. McHugh offers a comparison to anorexia and bulimia nervosa, calling all three “disordered assumptions” wherein the afflicted individual holds an assumption that is different from the physical reality. “For the transgendered, this argument holds that one’s feeling of ‘gender’ is a conscious, subjective sense that, being in one’s mind, cannot be questioned by others,” McHugh writes. “The individual often seeks not just society’s tolerance of this ‘personal truth’ but affirmation of it.” As I have written before, we can never allow rights to be granted on the basis of what someone feels or even has convinced themselves of. If someone wants to insist that they “feel” female when they are, in fact, male, there is nothing we can (or maybe even should) do to change that, but that individual cannot insist that everyone else recognize him as female and allow him to demand that he be treated as a female. That is because there is a reality that contradicts those feelings. Just as I said in yesterday’s post, there is an actual distinction between boy and girl! If anyone can demand anything based solely on the certainty of their feelings we will have to grant anything–we will have eliminated the possibility of saying that anything is wrong or unnatural and, soon, that anything is illegal.

Another very dangerous side effect of the transgender movement that McHugh highlights is the violation of parental rights. He explains that several states have passed laws “barring psychiatrists, even with parental permission, from striving to restore natural gender feelings to a transgender minor.” He further explains, “That government can intrude into parents’ rights to seek help in guiding their children indicates how powerful these advocates have become.” It is more than that, though. It indicates that those who have decided they know better are successfully removing the rights of those they have determined are wrong. Removing the right of a parent to seek counsel and treatment that they believe is in the best interest of their child(ren) is a serious and incredibly dangerous step to take. Historically speaking, it was not all that long ago that those who were determined to be right were allowed to restrict who could marry or who could reproduce, even going so far as forced sterilization of those not deemed good enough to procreate. Who would have thought we would be heading back in that direction early in the twenty-first century?

McHugh also highlights the fact that life-altering decisions are being made for and by young people who claim to be transgendered when, in reality, many of them will “outgrow” that feeling. “When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic, 70%-80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings,” McHugh writes. Yes, that means some maintained those feelings, but clearly that was a distinct minority. Yet, young people are being given hormones and even having gender reassignment surgery when we are all well aware that teenagers go through many phases and change their minds on many matters as they grow and mature.

[T]here is the subgroup of very young, often prepubescent children who notice distinct sex roles in the culture and, exploring how they fit in, begin imitating the opposite sex. Misguided doctors at medical centers including Boston’s Children’s Hospital have begun trying to treat this behavior by administering puberty-delaying hormones to render later sex-change surgeries less onerous—even though the drugs stunt the children’s growth and risk causing sterility. Given that close to 80% of such children would abandon their confusion and grow naturally into adult life if untreated, these medical interventions come close to child abuse. A better way to help these children: with devoted parenting.

No one would allow a teenager, or a pre-teen, to make a permanent, binding decision about their political party, career path, hair color or anything else, let alone allow their parents to make such decisions for them, so why would we allow such decisions to be made when it comes to gender identity? McHugh reports that the findings of a 2011 study at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden indicate that individuals who have sex-reassignment surgery begin, around ten years after the surgery, to have a severely heightened risk of suicide (“20-fold above the comparable nontransgender population) as well as other mental difficulties.

McHugh boldly asserts that one of the biggest problems young people are faced with is a culture which encourages them to do whatever they want, to resist those who challenge or caution their feelings or choices and even to move away from the advice and counsel of their families if that advice and counsel does anything other than support the feelings they have. “‘Diversity’ counselors in their schools, rather like cult leaders, may encourage these young people to distance themselves from their families and offer advice on rebutting arguments against having transgender surgery. Treatments here must begin with removing the young person from the suggestive environment and offering a counter-message in family therapy,” McHugh writes. School personnel and counselors used to teach students to respect their parents and seek out their advice and guidance. Now they are more likely to teach students that mom and dad are wrong and should be ignored because they do not understand and are just trying to prevent the child from being him/herself. Yet again, we see those who have been deemed to be the wise ones being given authority that exceeds the God-given authority of the parents.

We need to encourage and support Paul McHugh and others who are bold enough to take this stand against the insanity that the anything-goes crowd is trying to force on the rest of us. The future of our children, our families and, therefore, our nation is literally at stake. We are seeing, all across the country, states lining up to grant “civil rights” for what is nothing more than a feeling at best, a mental disorder at worst. McHugh closes his opinion piece with a point-blank reality check, and I’ll close with it, too:

At the heart of the problem is confusion over the nature of the transgendered. “Sex change” is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder.

You are what you eat

A recent article on everydayhealth.com entitled “6 Ways Food Affects Your Mood” offers the surprising (to me, anyway) finding that there is no scientific evidence for a link between sugar intake and hyperactivity. There is, however, a connection between the foods we eat and our feelings, the article suggests. Sherry L. Pagoto, PhD, associate professor of preventive and behavioral medicine at University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, is quoted as saying, “The link between emotions and eating is no myth.” As fascinating as the medical findings are on one’s physical health and how it relates to one’s diet, that is not really what I want to talk about here. You can find the article are explore it yourself if that’s of interest to you. Instead, I would like to examine the parallels between what the article reports about our physical health and diet to what the Bible teaches about our spiritual health and diet.

The first of the six ways the article examines is a connection between an unhealthy diet and depression. “Long-term exposure to an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression,” the article reports. The same is true of the “food” we eat mentally and spiritually. If we consume a diet high in worldly influences we will no doubt become depressed. If all one does is watch the news (or read the news), read fiction and watch sitcoms and Hollywood fare there will be a significant absence of spiritual meat in his or her diet. “What constituted an unhealthy diet, for purposes of the study, was one that was high in sugar and processed foods,” the article reports. The media influences offered up by the world definitely fall into the category of an unhealthy diet when one’s diet is entirely, of largely, made up of such influences.

The second link examined by the article is one between sugar and food addiction. “Foods that people were addicted to were high in fat and high in sugar,” the article states. Just like most of us tend to crave potato chips, cookies or ice cream far more often than carrot sticks and fresh fruit, our natural inclination will be toward the sugary/fatty “foods” of the world. Sin is attractive. If it were not, we would not be tempted by it. Let’s be honest–many sins are pleasurable during their commission. Far more often than not we sin because we want to–it feels good, it satisfies. Hebrews 11 tells how Moses chose to be mistreated with the Israelites rather than enjoy the temporary pleasures of sin. The Bible does not deny that sin is pleasurable–and Satan is a master at presenting sin in the most attractive and appealing means possible. What the Bible does teach, though, is that the pleasures of sin are temporary, and they come with very real consequences attached. I once heard someone glibly describe the realities of giving in to the temptation to eat unhealthy snack foods this way: a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. “Lifetime” may be a bit extreme, but the point was that the pleasures of that snack food would be very short-lived, while the effects of it would be seen and felt for a long time afterward. The exact same is true with the food we feed our minds. Just like I have to discipline myself not to eat all the yummy snack foods and ignore all the less-than-delicious foods that are good for me, I must discipline myself to restrict my intake of worldly influences and be sure that I am pursuing a healthy spiritual and mental diet.

The third link in the article is the sugar-stress connection. The American Psychological Association states that our bodies seek out the quick energy burst available that comes with a sugar intake when we are stressed. Dr. Pagoto says, “That may be why many people eat sweets when they are under stress. We teach people to use healthy behaviors to reduce stress instead of food. One of the best ways to reduce stress is with exercise. You can start to think of exercise as not just a chore but a way to feel better.” I do not know about you, but I am under considerable stress that is when I am most likely to yield to my flesh–to behave in a way that is not God-honoring or to seek out the “high sugar content” of sinful pleasure. Just as physical exercise is important, so is spiritual exercise. Just as physical exercise takes intentionality and discipline, so does spiritual exercise. Just as Dr. Pagoto says we should think of physical exercise as way to feel better rather than as a chore, so should we consider spiritual exercise. Reading the Bible, spending time in prayer and other spiritual disciplines should not be chores, they should be a regular part of our lives because they are good for us, they will help us to feel better and to stay on track.

The remaining three links are just as relevant spiritually as physically, and I could elaborate on all of them but I think the point has been sufficiently made–so let me just highlight one of the other three. The fifth link examined in the article is the connection between diet quality and the mental health of adolescents. While there is a connection at all ages, it is particularly important during adolescence because of the changes going on in the body and the mental development that is taking place during these years. The same is just as true–perhaps even more so–when it comes to spiritual diet. Precisely because teenagers are beginning to develop their own beliefs, convictions, habits and preferences, spreading their wings a bit and moving away from the default adherence to parental positions, the influences that teenagers have are incredibly important. The world is well aware of this too, and many of the most inappropriate and unhealthy influences the world has to offer are specifically targeted at teens. Parental instruction, church and youth group involvement in Bible-teaching churches and where the teen will attend school are all crucial influences during this time. The music they listen to, the shows and movies they watch, the web sites they visit, the amount of access they have to the Internet, the friends they spend time with…these are all influences that parents need to be mindful of and monitor. Parents need to let teens spread their wings, but they need to provide guidance, direction, structure and yes, discipline, when necessary.

The bottom line is, we are what we eat…both physically and spiritually.

Lower IQ and Brain Damage

It is no secret that several states in the U.S. have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. It still violates federal law, and federal law trumps state law when there is a conflict…but that’s not what I really want to write about today so I won’t go down that path. What I want to write about is that the legalization of the recreational use of marijuana is an excellent example of what can happen when laws are changed to allow people to do what they want whether doing so is a good idea or not…especially when the long-term effects are either not known or indicate that allowing it is not a good idea.

There have long been those who argue that marijuana is not addictive even though you can find plenty of people who will you from first hand experience that it is. There have long been those who argue that there are no serious side effects or marijuana use even though there is plenty of anecdotal and scientific evidence to say otherwise. It has long been known that marijuana functions as a gateway drug, often paving the way for users to move on to harder drugs.

Additionally, there are a number of scientific studies suggesting that the regular use of marijuana does indeed have serious and lasting consequences. In the April issue of The Journal of Neuroscience contains a study conducted by researches from Northwestern University in Illinois, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital on the effects of marijuana use on the brain. The researchers used MRI to measure “the volume, shape and density of the amygdala and nucleus accumbens, two brain structures related to emotion, reward and motivation” according to an article by Daniel James Devine. What did the MRI scans reveal? That smoking marijuana at least weekly produces abnormalities in these parts of the brain.

In the words of Hans Breiter, one of the co-authors of the study, “People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone is doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.”

This study is but one of several scientific studies showing the damage that marijuana can do to the brain. There is one study that indicates that people who begin smoking marijuana heavily as teenagers will lost an average of eight IQ points by age 38. Other studies indicate that there are fewer brain connections in the regions of the brain responsible for memory and learning among marijuana users.

Despite this evidence, Washington and Colorado are now allowing the legal use of marijuana for recreational purposes and the trend is likely to continue. It saddens me to say that I know a young man who moved from the east cost to Colorado specifically because he could use marijuana legally there. There are twenty-one states that allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes but none of us are naive enough to believe that it is used only for medicinal purposes and only by those with legitimate medical need for it.

One of the problems with the legalization of marijuana is that teenagers in particular will see that as proof that using it is perfectly safe, even harmless. The same article by Daniel James Devine reports a December 2013 study by the Department of Health and Human Services indicates that only 40% of high school seniors believe regular marijuana use is harmful and 25% of seniors have smoked marijuana in the past month (with 7% reportedly smoking it daily).

I can recall sitting in a seminar a number of years ago in which one of the nation’s leading experts on working with youth who had stabbed or shot an adult described the reality that most of the medications being prescribed for behavioral disorders (including, but certainly not limited to, ADD/ADHD) were developed for and tested on adults and there was absolutely no indication of what the long-term effects of the use of these drugs by children would be. I think in many ways we are still waiting to find out. In this instance–the recreational use of marijuana–it seems that we do know what the long-term effects will be: lower IQ and brain damage.

Are we being responsible as a society when we allow the legalization of something known to cause these results? Should the will of the people be followed even when what they want is not in their own best interest? Interesting questions which could yield a healthy and vigorous debate, no doubt.

Of course, one might argue–somewhat tongue in cheek–that those who use, or want to use, marijuana regularly already have brain damage and/or low IQs. Perhaps that’s all the more reason to “just say no”–they don’t have any brain cells to spare.

Digital Dementia

I read a report recently of a new ailment that seems to be afflicting young people around the world, though the term originated in South Korea: digital dementia. What is that exactly? Well, according to the South Korean doctors who coined the term, and as reported in the UK newspaper The Telegraph, it is “a deterioration in cognitive abilities that is more commonly seen in people who have suffered a head injury or psychiatric illness.” (Click here for the article). What causes this deterioration? An overuse of technology like smart phones and gaming devices. The article cites Byun Gi-won, a doctor at the Balance Brain Centre in Seoul, as saying that the overuse of such devices actually “hampers the balanced development of the brain.”

According to the reports out of South Korea more than 18 percent of Koreans between the ages of 10 and 19 are using their phones more than seven hours per day. South Korea is considered to be the most technologically-connected nation in the world, and more than 64% of Korean teenagers have a smart phone, a number that tripled from 2011 to 2013. The overuse of these devices is causing poor development in the right side of the brain, which is where concentration occurs. Doctors speculate that this could lead to the onset of actual dementia in 15% of those impacted.

South Korea is not the only place where technology is overused, of course. The article in The Telegraph references a book entitled Digital Dementia written in 2012 by Dr. Manfred Spitzer, a German neuroscientist. As best I can tell from a quick search on Amazon this book is not available in English, so I have not read it and am unlikely to be able to do so in the near future, but the article in The Telegraph reports that Spitzer warns that the damage caused by the overuse of electronic devices is irreversible, and he has called for banning digital media from German classrooms.

I can appreciate the good doctor’s position, but I do not think banning technology is the answer–not in classrooms, at least. Technology is a tool that allows teachers to do some wonderful things in their classrooms–things that were unthinkable even when I was in high school (which was not all that long ago really). I think a bit of caution on the part of parents is wise. I am surely not the only one who has wondered about the wisdom of parents equipping their pre-adolescent children with phones that cost hundreds of dollars, can take crystal clear digital pictures and have instant connectivity to the Internet. There is simply no need. Even worse, though, is when those same parents allow their children to use the device whenever they want, and for as long as they want. Don’t even get me started on cell phone etiquette! Forget digital dementia; maybe we should be on the look out for the complete loss of muscles in every part of the body but the thumbs when people are texting each other from fifteen feet away!

So where does the U.S. stand in this coming digital disaster? According to the March 2013 report from the Pew Research Center and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, 78% of U.S. teenagers (ages 12 to 17) have cell phones, with 47% owning smart phones. That means, the report states, that 37% of all U.S. teens have smart phones, up from 23% in 2011–a significant increase, but not nearly the tripling that occurred in South Korea. Yet, 74% of U.S. teens say they access the Internet on cell phones or other mobile devices at least occasionally, and 25% of teens say they are “cell-mostly” users of the Internet–a number significantly higher than the 15% of adults who identify themselves as such. A finding that I found particularly troubling given the predators that are out there is that a significantly higher percentage of girls than boys report being cell-mostly Internet users–and while 71% of teens who access the Internet on a home computer say they do so on a device they share with other family members, that is highly unlikely to be the case with those who use the Internet primarily via cell phone. (If you want to read the entire Teens and Technology 2013 report you can do so here).

So, what is my point? Well, first of all, I think the term “digital dementia” is a bit silly. I think the last thing we need is another label for mental health professionals to slap on teenagers (or adults) who are basically lacking in common sense and self control. At the same time, I think there are legitimate concerns over the amount of time teenagers are spending on digital devices. I would strongly encourage parents to limit both the amount of time their children and teens have access to cell phones and other digital devices and to seriously consider whether or not their children and teens need smart phones or cell phone access to the Internet. My gut instinct is that there are very few times parents will find that their children and teens do need such devices. That said, though, I feel just as strongly that prohibiting the use of cell phones and other tech devices by children and teens is equally unhealthy. We live in a world where technology is ever-present, and that is not going to go away. Effective parenting will involve training and equipping children to exercise self control and discernment in both how to spend money (hundreds of dollars on a phone that is basically a mini computer is seldom justifiable) and how to use technology in a safe, healthy, and God-honoring manner. Parents need to take to heart their God-given responsibility to teach and train their children, and they need to take to heart Psalm 37:30, which in the New Living Translation reads, “The godly offer good counsel; they teach right from wrong.”

The 10/30 Window

I think it would be a fitting follow up to yesterday’s post to address the 10/30 window. Many missionaries and missions agencies discuss the 10/40 window, the area between 10 and 40 degrees north latitude that is home to the bulk of the world’s “unreached people groups,” those who have yet to hear the gospel. Wikipedia quotes the Lausanne Committee on Global Evangelization as defining an unreached people group as “an ethnic group without an indigenous, self-propagating Christian church movement.” But Eric Larsen and Jonathan Taylor of Global Youth and Family Ministries have emphasized a different group, one they have named the 10/30 Window. This is the 2.5 billion people in the world between the ages of 10 and 30.

In a January 14, 2012 article in WORLD Magazine Mindy Belz quotes Taylor as saying that these people make up “the largest unreached people group in human history, larger than the 100 largest geographically defined unreached people groups combined.”

This is the same group that Ken Ham and Britt Beemer address in their book Already Gone. Though their study focused specifically on twenty-somethings in the United States who grew up attending church and have since left, they also look at the decline in church attendance in Great Britain and the points in their book would be applicable anywhere in the world. But the 10/30 Window does not include only those who grew up attending church and left; it also includes those who have never attended church and indeed some who have never even heard the message of the gospel.

While Larsen and Taylor look at the increasing connectedness of the younger generation thanks to “media, technology, and by the predominance of English as the language of the internet,” they are also specifically concerned about what Larsen has called the “systematic adult abandonment of the young.” Belz expanded on this abandonment in her article, writing, “The very things that unite young people divide them from adults. They learn the day’s conversation topics from a social media website, not the dinner table. They go to YouTube for direction on how to change the oil in the car, not Dad. If they have a question about who took the first walk on the moon or what is an HPV vaccine, they’re more likely to google it than to ask in the car on the way home from school.”

Larsen and Belz make valid points–the technology available today does marginalize many of the things that may have created default connections between adults and children in the past. When I would ask my mother a question growing up she would always say, “look it up.” Such an instruction now–if I even asked, as Belz suggested I wouldn’t–would likely send me to the internet, not the encyclopedias my mother had in mind when she gave that reply. (Most of today’s youth wouldn’t have a clue what an encyclopedia even is!). But technology is not the exclusive domain of youth; my grandfather was texting long before I was! Nor should the fondness that the younger generation often has for technology become an easy excuse for adults to allow the separation between generations to expand.

For example, if a child does ask who took the first step on the moon, an adult could answer the question and then go with the child to look up more information about the event, or could just go right to the computer with the child to look it up together. A child and an adult could watch a how-to video on YouTube together and then practice what they had learned. In other words, technology is a tool that can actually be used to draw generations together just as easily as drive them apart.

Larsen made this plea to Belz: “We are calling on an entire adult population to turn its hearts to the young.” The world does need an adult population willing to do that. And technology can help, but many of the very same things that have worked well throughout history are just as effective today. Back in 2003 Harvard professor of child psychology Dan Kindlon wrote Too Much of a Good Thing in which he examined what separates the successful young people from those who are not-so-successful; what makes the difference between those who are emotionally mature and responsible from those who are, well, we’ll just go with “not.” The book description includes this introductory sentence: “While many adolescents today have all the useful accessories of a prosperous society–cell phones, credit cards, computers, cars–they have few of the responsibilities that build character.” Guess what one of the most significant differences discovered by Kindlon happened to be? Those young people who were successful, mature and responsible had dinner together with their family at least a few times a week. That is an easy thing to do, and it makes a significant difference. And I would encourage parents to make it clear that technology will not be used during dinner. No texting, to talking on the phone, not even watching TV. Interact with each other.

The 10/30 Window is specifically about reaching the younger generation with the gospel, and Kindlon certainly was not addressing that. But the fact is, relationships between adults and young people need to be developed before the gospel can be effectively shared. As important as missionary efforts are–within and without the 10/40 Window–perhaps even more important is the 10/30 window, and we do not need to go anywhere to start making a difference in that area. Every adult has children in their lives–or could, with very little effort–whether they be biological family members, neighbors, youth league sports participants or attendees at church. Start building bridges between the generations, investing a little time now that could make a difference for eternity.

“Complete absence of parental involvement”

I have not seen the movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower. All I know about it is what I read in Stephanie Perrault’s review in the September 22, 2012 issue of WORLD Magazine. Neither have I read the book on which the movie is based, a book that Perrault describes as “a series of letters to an imaginary friend, the book tells the story of introspective and slightly awkward Charlie as he starts high school and struggles to find friendship.”

According to Perrault, the book is one of the American Library Association’s most frequently challenged books of 2009–justifiably so, she says. According to her review of the film, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is “a morass of teenage drug use, sexual experimentation, homosexuality, suicide, and obscene language. It originally earned an R rating, but Chbosky [the filmmaker] and his associates at Lionsgate Motion Picture Group appealed the rating and got it down to PG-13, removing nothing from the original footage.”

This is alarming to me for several reasons. Taking the last part first, that a film can contain that kind of content and still get away with a PG-13 rating serves only to remind me that I seem to find more PG-13 movies objectionable in recent years than I do R-rated films. Not that I watch all that many of the trending movies (I think the last time I was in a theater was to see Russell Crowe’s version of Robin Hood in 2010), but when I see a preview on television, read a review in a magazine or online, or even watch the movies, I find that the PG-13 movies tend to be more blatantly sexual, crude, disrespectful of authority and all-around offensive than many of the R-rated ones.

According to IMDb.com, the film earned a 15A rating in Ireland (not appropriate for children under 15), and a NC-16 rating in Singapore (children under 16 not admitted). In the UK children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult to see the film, and in the Philippines the movie is strictly for children 13 and up. Also according to that site’s information about the film, “Sex is a big part of the story, and it’s implied (mildly for some) all characters encounter it at some point during the movie, without any actual scenes shown.” The main female character, Sam, has apparently been sexually active since age 11, when she was kissed by her dad’s boss. Furthermore, while Sam does not “randomly hook up” with people any more, when she was a freshmen she would get drunk and engage in sexual activity freely. A homosexual student gets another boy drunk so that they can have sex. And, “On their first date, Mary Elizabeth tries to get Charlie drunk for sex, giving him a bottle of wine, resting her head on his leg, and pulling down her dress, revealing her bra. This fails when her parents come home.”

And this story is set in the 1990s–nearly twenty years ago!

IMDb’s report goes on to include additional scenes of alcohol use, instances of violence and abuse, use of profanity, and more.

According to one of the “Super Reviewers” on rottentomatoes.com, KJ Proulx, this film earns five starts (out of a maximum five). He writes, “This is not a film, this is a presentation of real-life events that stole my heart from the very beginning.” The movie info describes it as a “modern classic,” and “a moving tale of love, loss, fear and hope-and the unforgettable friends that help us through life.”

Eighty-six percent of reviews cited on Rotten Tomatoes like the film, and a whopping 95% of the 14,579 users of the site who have rated it liked the movie.

I do not know which is more troubling…that a movie with this kind of content is so popular, or that the movie is supposed to be such an accurate and true-to-life depiction of teenage life. What does it say about our culture if we are not only allowing teenagers to grow up this way, but we then make movies about it?

In her review, though, Perrault goes on to say that the behaviors depicted in the film are “not the most disturbing part.” What’s worse than that? “[T]he complete absence of parental involvement in the young people’s lives.” The movie’s character Charlie, Perrault writes, comes from a “functional two-parent home” but his parents have absolutely no idea what is going on in his life, or in the lives of his friends.

In reading this, I am reminded of Koren Zailckas’s book Smashed. In her troubling memoir of growing up as a teenage alcoholic, I was troubled by this same thing. She was from a functional two-parent family, as well, and she even interacted with them, but they were completely clueless that she was drinking regularly, and dangerously, all throughout her high school years. I have had experience with parents like this, too. On a personal level, I have never forgotten going to the home of a girl I was quite fond of in high school, meeting her parents, and having them retreat immediately to their bedroom, not to be seen or heard of again the entire time I was there. Yes, they were physically present in the house, but they had no idea what was really going on. I have interacted with numerous parents, throughout my experience as a children’s home administrator and educator, who seem to pay attention to their children only when they need something from them. Otherwise, so long as the kids stay out of the way, it seems not to matter what they are doing.

Teenagers need adults in their lives who are actively involved. Being present is not enough. Teens who have not had this kind of interaction are usually looking for it. That is why they are drinking, abusing drugs, and engaging in sexual behavior, in most instances–because they are seeking an escape from the pain of their life and/or they are looking for a sense of belonging and value from anywhere/anyone they can get it.

If you have children, make sure you spend time with them–really with them. Talk to them, ask hard questions, get to know their friends. And if their friends are missing an involved adult, take advantage of the opportunities you might have to be involved in their lives, as well. And even if you do not have your own children, there are numerous ways in which caring adults can be involved in young people’s lives, from church youth groups to mentoring programs to youth league coaching, and many more. Find opportunities, and take advantage of them.