Book Discussion: ‘How the West Really Lost God’ by Mary Eberstadt

Mary Eberstadt’s new book How The West Really Lost God covers some familiar ground, but with a new twist.

Everyone knows that expressions of faith, any way you measure it, have fallen off throughout Western Europe, and to a lesser extent, in the United States. The great cathedrals of Europe are little more than tourist draws, the parish church, the duomo of Italy, dom of Germany, and dóme of France stand empty and vastly underused. Abbeys and monasteries are converted into condos. Attendance is down, baptisms are down, everything is in free fall.

I saw this firsthand when I toured Italy last summer, although the vibrant parish at Bovolone and the revered churches of Assisi were exceptions.

Everyone also knows that by any measure, the traditional family of married opposite sex parents and biological children, has been on the decline as well. The effects are greater so in Europe than America, but demonstrable both sides of the Atlantic. Fewer people marry, they marry later, fewer have children, they have fewer numbers of children, and they often do not raise those children with their full set of biological parents. Furthermore, almost no one lives with extended family.

Everyone knows this.

But Eberstadt does two things with this presumptive truth: She questions the conventional wisdom to see if it holds up, then she draws some intriguing connections.

What if the decline in faith is not only a cause of but an effect of the decline in family?

Like the chicken and egg, it’s hard to tell what came first. Did people stop having families, at least in the traditional sense, because they stopped believing in the teachings of the church? Or did they stop believing because they don’t experience the community, sacrifice, and transcendence of family life?

Eberstadt makes a good case for both.

Rather, she makes a case that, like a chicken and egg, the two forces are interwoven, existentially connected to one another. Families make churches. Churches make families.

Eberstadt writes from a Catholic vantage, but she rigorously addresses all the questions that a devil’s advocate would raise, up to and including “Why should we care?”

She grounds her arguments in solid social science. In fact, no social science is more firmly established than the benefits to children of being raised by married parents. Almost equally established is the benefit people of faith bring to society, from charitable giving to foster care, to feeding the homeless.

What I liked most, however, is that embedded in all the academic questioning and social science research, Eberstadt allows that people aren’t primarily logical. Secular thinkers can’t adequately explain either the decline of faith or the stubborn persistence of faith because, as Eberstadt posits, “secular modern thinkers have never had an adequate explanation for why people believe in God in the first place.” (pg 213).

We debate a lot about ideas in this country. Is the Bible infallible? Was the world created or evolved? Does sin exist? What behaviors constitute sin and how do you defend that? And so on.

But the thing is, very few are convinced by argument. People may say they are convinced by the logic of atheism or by the apologetics of C.S. Lewis, and no doubt some are, but most of us are brought to faith or away from faith by something more primal. There is a breath across our souls that convinces and logic is only one factor.

Eberstadt rather mystically suggests that the very atmosphere of family breeds transcendence: participating in creation by bringing new life into the world; the awe over a little one’s tiny foot or a young adult’s growth; the knowledge that a parent would sacrifice their life for their child without hesitation; that a spouse continually lays down their own interests for their beloved.

Conversely, more adults live longer alone: A prolonged time between childhood and childbearing, if it happens at all, and an extended solitude after children have left. Could it be that this solitude, this absence from community, makes it easy to avoid the community of the Creator?

This connection is fascinating and I’m glad Mary Eberstadt was sufficiently intrigued to write a book about it. I will certainly ponder these ideas at length.

The Caged Bird is Free: Remembering the Life and Words of Maya Angelou

Legendary author, poet, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou passed away on Wednesday, May 28th at her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She was 86.

Her achievements, which are numerous and far-reaching, ranged from Pulitzer Prize-nominated writings to civil rights activism with social justice figures such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela. In remembrance of her work, here are just a few examples of her legacy:

Quotes:

1. ”I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

2. “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

3. “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”

4. ”Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

5. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Poems:

Angelou’s poems often delved into the subjects of racism, identity, and travel.

In an excerpt from her most famous work, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which described her childhood growing up in a Jim Crow South, Angelou wrote:

“A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wing

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped

and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.”

Along with her autobiographical poetry, Angelou gave a number of spoken-word poems, such as “On the Pulse of Morning,” written for Bill Clinton’s 1993 presidential inauguration.

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Courtesy; William J. Clinton Presidential Library

The Horrible, Awful Story of How My Children Caged Me – Nic Cage, That Is

I still remember – I say this in the interest of full disclosure – I still remember the wicked glee I felt as I huddled in a pantry cupboard and stifled giggles as I waited for my poor, unsuspecting grandmother to pass. I – to my everlasting shame – jumped out at a key moment and shrilled – unoriginally – “Boo!”

In my memory, my dear saintly Nonny was carrying a large bowl of popcorn, or a basket of dried beans, or perhaps an opened box of uncooked pasta, the contents of which soared as she jumped like a lamb in springtime. The popcorn or beans or pasta clattered around us like hilarious rain as I choked with laughter.

This was not the limit of my delinquency. I once put a tablespoon of salt smack-dab in the center of my father’s avocado sandwich. I programmed my grandparents’ new-fangled TV to shut off two minutes into The Nightly News with Dan Rather.

I also failed to warn my grandparents when they set off on a rare cinema trip to see The Crying Game because “it has some nice shots of Ireland.” To be fair, however, that was more the universe conspiring against them than me.

I admit with shame I was a degenerate. My hands are not clean. I am not innocent.

And yet, I can not believe that any misdeed in my past merits the amount of Caging my children have brought into my life.

It started with the silverware drawer.

Imagine reaching for a spoon to stir your morning coffee, bleary-eyed, unprepared, and encountering that…that…face

And it didn’t stop there.

Embedded in the paper towels:

Lurking next to the tea:

I found Nick Cage on my pillow. In my drawers. When I least expected it, he’d pop up.

As you can imagine, I was getting pretty jumpy. Gone were the days I could casually open a cabinet or the refrigerator, trusting there were good things inside. I began inspecting a room slowly, as one gingerly tests a stove to see if it’s hot. I stopped looking in mirrors, afraid to see him over my shoulder, behind me, in the shadows.

Shouting “boo” is a shameful thing, and I regret it deeply, but a Caged life is a hellish life.

Then they infested my computer.

The New York Times

Buzzfeed

Even my own site, Patheos Entertainment

Nonny, wherever you are, I am sorry. I had no idea.

To my children: Revenge will be sweet.

Does anyone have any leads on a device that will project a life-sized Nic Cage hologram? Like, say, inside a closet?

How I Make Artisan Sourdough Bread Rounds Using the Bread Machine (With Photos)

I can now cross off “learn to make perfect sourdough bread” off my bucket list. These crusty loaves don’t last long in my family and I love to take them to potluck where they have a big wow factor. Sometimes I even tweet along when I make them, using the hashtag #LiveTweetBread (my Twitter handle is @Rebecca_Cusey).

I’ll try to tell you in perfect detail what I do. But a few notes before I begin.

1) This technique USES the bread machine, but not only the bread machine. In other words, if you want to put some ingredients in and come back in a few hours for a perfect loaf, this isn’t it. It’s not hard. The machine does the hard stuff for you, but it does take some effort outside the machine. This makes artisan style loaves that you would pay big money for at a bakery.

2) It takes about five hours. You have to start it in the morning to have bread at night. It’s mostly just waiting, so it’s not a working five hours. Your effort takes about 20 minutes. But the waiting takes a while. The times are flexible, which is nice. I often leave and come home before doing the next step.

Here are the instructions:

Part One – Making the Starter

I came across this starter by happy accident. It’s basically the Two Week Biga from the wonderful book The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger.

But one day I started to make the biga and went downstairs to watch TV. I fell asleep. Sometimes that happens, you know?

I staggered up to bed without remembering to refrigerate the biga. When I finally went to clean it out a few days later, it had such a wonderful, sour aroma that I just let it sit. And that’s how my starter was born.

Here’s the recipe: Put 1 2/3 cup warm water, 1/2 teaspoon yeast, and 3 3/4 unbleached all purpose flour in your bread machine. Set it on the dough cycle, push start. Immediately set a timer for 10 minutes. When the time beeps, turn off the bread machine, unplug it, and let it sit. Let it sit for three to five days at room temperature.  It will bubble and ferment. When it has developed enough of a sour smell for you, put it in a plastic container and store in the refrigerator.

It will have developed a watery substance on the top. This is called the “hooch” and you just mix it right back in.

This starter will last for two weeks or so in the refrigerator and make three or so batches of bread. They say you can freeze it but I’ve never tried. Bring it to room temperature before using.

Here’s the key: On your last batch of bread, save whatever starter is left over. For me, it usually ends up being a half a cup or so. Make the starter recipe again, but throw in the left over starter. It will give the new starter batch that sour flavor. No need to let it sit for days. I usually let it sit for 12 hours or so and then it’s ready to use.

Part Two: Making the Bread

I developed this by trial and error, but it works wonderfully for me.

Ingredients:

 1 cup starter (see above)

1 1/2 cup warm water

51/2 cups bread flour, divided

1 tablespoon sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons salt

Step 1 – Making a Sponge

 Mix 1 cup starter, 1 1/2 cups warm water and 3 cups flour in the bread machine.

Mix for 10 minutes, stop the mixer, and let rise for 2 hours.

Notice that we only use 3 cups flour here, not the entire amount. It will be very wet, like the picture at left. As it rises, it will bubble and smell amazing. Let it do that work.

 

 

 

 

Step 2 – Mixing and Kneading

When the time is up, add the sugar, salt, and 2 1/2 cups flour to the bread machine pan. Set the machine to “dough” and turn on.

You’ll need to watch it a little at this point. Sometimes, depending on your starter and the conditions of your house, you might need to add just a little flour or water. If it’s too dry and having a hard time mixing, add water, just a tablespoon at a time. If it’s too wet and really sticking to the walls, add a few tablespoons of flour.

Once it gets to the kneading process, it should form a nice, smooth dough ball that feels sticky when you touch it but doesn’t leave any dough on your finger when you pull it away.

Let it go through the kneading. When it’s done kneading (about 30 minutes on most machines), turn off the bread machine.

Step 3 – First Rise

Place the dough ball in a bowl.

Let it rise until doubled, about two hours.

This is what I do. I put a measuring cup with about three to four cups of water in the microwave and heat for five minutes or so. I then put the bowl with the dough in the microwave next to the cup with the hot water. Do NOT turn the microwave on. Just let it sit in there for two hours. The hot water gives enough heat to really get the dough rising. Plus, it’s out of the way and protected from drafts.

 

 

 

Step 4 – Shaping

The dough  has now risen.

In addition, usually, my dough has a bit of a thicker, dryer crust on top.

It’s time to shape the dough.

Put a light layer of flour on a hard, smooth surface. I use my granite countertops.

Turn the dough onto the flour, top down. That thicker, drier crust should be down and the wetter stuff that was on the bottom should be up. Sometimes I have to use my fingers to ease the dough out of the bowl. It sticks. This is fine.

That thicker, drier, crustier part? It will be the surface of the loaves you make and when you slice it, it will make lovely brown crisp crusty parts. So keep it down and as you cut the dough into pieces, remember where that crusty part is.

 

This is what the dough looks like turned out.

Next, make sure you have flour on your hands. Take something with an edge, I use a metal spatula, but there are tools made just for separating bread. Dust it with flour. Then press down, almost like a knife, dividing the dough into two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These will be your two loaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next you want to shape the dough into rounds.

Remember that crusty part? Keep that down so it will be the top of your round loaf. Just pull the edges toward the center and pinch them together until it’s shaped like a round. No need to pick it up or shape it like a ball. Just pull the edges in over the top and pinch.

The pinched part will be the bottom of your crust.

Have a piece of parchment paper ready for each loaf. I always use parchment paper. It’s like magic.

 

 

Step 5

Next, flip the dough over so the crusty part is on top.

Place on the parchment paper. Put the parchment paper on a cookie sheet for support.

Let rise another hour.

I heat up more water, and put the two loaves back in the microwave. I use cups with hot water to stack the cookie sheets so two loaves can fit in there. It’s very hodgepodge, but it works.

When you put the dough in to rise, turn the oven on to 425 to preheat. Make sure your baking stone is in there, on a rack set in the middle. The baking stone needs a long time to heat up, so an hour during the rise is perfect. Obviously, this works better in the winter than in the summer.

Honestly, the rounds don’t usually rise that much for me. Maybe just a little bit. They might increase by half. They don’t double. But they will when they bake.

 

 

Step 6 – Baking

Before you bake, cut a deepish slash in the top of the bread, through that crusty part that developed in the first rise. I usually do a cross, but you could do side by side or whatever.

Now you’re ready to bake.

Using the cookie sheets, slide the parchment paper with the dough directly onto the preheated baking stone. Do not put the cookie sheet in the oven. It’s just to help you get the dough on the stone.

I can fit both loaves on my stone, but if yours is smaller, you can do one at a time.

Now, these breads need humidity to really develop a good crust. What I do is throw five or so ice cubes in, right onto the bottom of the oven, immediately after I put the dough on the stone. They sizzle on the metal bottom of the oven and create steam. I shut the door and let it bake. Obviously, don’t do this if you have a heating element exposed on the bottom of your oven. It might break. Alternately, you could have a cookie sheet on a lower rack in the oven that is preheated. You could just thrown ice cubes onto it.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust looks amazing and brown.

Enjoy!

My DIY – Fun Instagram Type Photo Canvases of Tasty Food – With Instructions

I’m not really much of a DIYer. In adulthood, I’ve generally found paying experts to make bread, sew things, and build things ends up being cheaper and giving a better result.

But I recently took a trip to Italy and was looking for a way to use the amazing photographs I took. Putting up framed pictures of the kids at the Colosseum can only go so far, plus they look less than enthused in all the pictures I took. They loved the trip but thought it was fun to ruin my pictures. So the same child that was enthusiastically dodging through a medieval castle one minute before started looking like he wanted to skin the local cats the instant the camera came out.

That’s what you get for raising smart, um, bottoms. I can only blame myself. Probably just deserts for the time I told them Chuck E. Cheese was a made up place, like fairyland, Hogwarts, and the Hollywood Ethics Committee.

After extensive googling, I found this tutorial and was inspired to make my project. I loved her black and white project, as well as her apparent obsession with shoes, but I wanted something different. Plus, I had all these snapshots we’d taken of delicious meals we enjoyed and I thought they could be very cool as Instagram-y canvasses for the kitchen. I love how they turned out:

Those are memories right there. Tasty, tasty memories. Sipping a spritz on the shores of Lake Garda (bottom row), the cake we had outside Verona (bottom left), the time my son ordered pepperoni pizza and got pizza with peppers (bottom right).

Here’s how I did it:

I have Amazon prime and ordered all my supplies from there. No shipping costs. I love it. It saves a trip to the store only to find they don’t have what you need. I may never go outside again!

I am very happy with the final result. It makes my kitchen instantly hipper and cooler. (I hate my cabinets. Don’t judge me by my cabinets.) What do you think?

 

All About Apps: Advice for Parents About the Video-Sharing iPhone App VINE

Vine: the video version of Instagram, because pictures just aren’t enough anymore.

Vine is Twitter’s new video sharing app for the iPhone. It’s still fairly new and, judging by the lack of certain important features (like, say, privacy settings), you should expect to see many updates and enhancements to this app in the near future.

But, hey, I saw it on Ellen a few days ago so clearly it’s a hit and we should talk about it.

How the app works:

1. Create account.

The set up is the same as every other social media app. You set up an account, create a username, and find friends.

This app is a little tricky in the safety department. And by “tricky” I mean that it has zero privacy settings to protect accounts. I would guess that the developers will add in those features soon, but in the meantime, all videos and profiles are public.

2. Make a video.

Vine videos are created using the in-app camera, and are anywhere from 3 to 6 seconds long. Just a short 6-second-max snippet of life

The fun part of Vine is the way the videos are created: the camera only records while the screen is being pressed. So within your 6 second video, you can have several tiny clips. Think stop-motion video style, if you’re familiar with that. Better yet, I’ll just show you my favorite stop-motion Vine:

(To hear the sound, unmute the video in the top left corner.)

3. Share with friends.

Once a video is uploaded to Vine, a copy is saved to the iPhone’s Camera Roll.

Vine users can tag friends using @username, create #hashtags, and “like”/comment on others’ videos. (In other words, your kids can communicate with each other on Vine just like they can on Instagram or Twitter.)

A quick note about hashtags…

A hashtag is a hyperlink designed to group information together. It is basically a way to join in on a public conversation. On Twitter it groups tweets, on Instagram it groups photos, and on Vine it groups videos. (On Facebook it does nothing. So stop hashtagging there.)

When enough individuals have adapted a certain hashtag, it might show up under the “trending” section, allowing even more people to join in on the conversation.

For example, here are the trending Vine topics for today:

Seeing the trending topics, I might want to join in with a video of my own last day of school. I’ll create my video and use #lastdayofschool in my video caption. A quick search of that hashtag will pull up any and all videos using that tag (including mine). Make sense?

So, in a nutshell, Vine is 6 seconds of video clips, on a loop, with sound, shared with the world at large.

Parents: what concerns should you have about this app?

For starters, the lack of privacy controls. This is sketchy, especially if you have younger kids and are a protected-account-only family.

Also, stumbling upon raunchy messages and/or porn is always a risk in social media. With this app, I feel like I’ve seen a lot more filthy stuff than usual. I’m not just talking about naked people – I’m talking about more “f” words in 6 seconds than I’ve ever heard in my life. Part of it, I’m sure, is because video is more offensive to watch and hear than text is to read, but still. If your kids are on Vine, I would strongly encourage them to stick to their newsfeed to watch friends’ videos only, not do a whole lot of exploring. Videos from the Vine world at large are 1 part funny, 9 parts nasty.

There are a few types of Vine users: the girl making boring videos of every day life (me), the guy trying to record and edit a 6-second masterpiece (the flying broom guy), and the gross dude who should be voted off the internet forever (the one who favors the “f” word).

Still, concerns aside, Vine is unique and pretty entertaining. It has more of a creative element to it than other sites.

And, if your kids are on Vine, just like every other decision in life, they get to decide who they want to represent and who they want to follow. Their Vines can contribute to the filth, or they can showcase their creativity by flying around your living room on a broomstick.

Let’s encourage them towards the latter.

Because, really, Vine can be a fun place:

What do you think, parents? To Vine or not to Vine?

More Reading:

Sarah explains SnapChat here

Sarah explains Instagram here. The comments on her original Instagram post are here. 

Sarah’s follow up post on Instagram is here

Rebecca on explains why she Dumped Facebook.

Rebecca’s followup: Breaking Up with Facebook Feels so Right 

Rebecca two months later: Frankly, I’m Shocked at the Difference it’s Made. 

Check out Sarah’s blog, Life as of Late,  follow her on Twitter, or, yes, check out her Instagram account. 

Phone Apps Explained for Parents: Should Your Kid SnapChat?

The delightful blogger Sarah Brooks sent this in:

As if the internet doesn’t freak parents out enough, along comes a little smartphone app called SnapChat.

If you are familiar with SnapChat, you probably hate its guts. If you aren’t familiar with it, I’ll try to enlighten you, and then you’ll probably hate its guts.

I didn’t even want to write about this app because a) it’s very controversial and b) the amount of selfies I had to take to give you an idea of how your kids are using it is unnerving. But, alas, some parents have asked me about it and it is certainly worth discussing if you haven’t already done your research on it.

Here’s how the app works:

1. Set up an account and find friends.

Really important: the privacy on SnapChat is found under settings. Set to “My Friends” only, unless you want your child picture-messaging with strangers off the street.

 


2. Take a picture or video and add a caption or drawing.
(Or mustache and eyebrows in this case.)

Tapping on the picture opens up the keyboard to send a short line of text, as well.

 

3. Set the time expiration on the photo and send. (The most time allowed on each picture/video is 10 seconds.)


4. Friends open the message and view the photo until the time expires.


5. Photo disappears forever, never to be seen again.

According to SnapChat’s website,

Snapchat is a new way to share moments with friends. Snap an ugly selfie or a video, add a caption, and send it to a friend (or maybe a few). They’ll receive it, laugh, and then the snap disappears.

In a nutshell, the app is designed to be fun way for your kids to text with pictures. And, for the most part, that’s how they’re using it.

So…what’s the problem?

The problem is in the disappearing photo part.

When you’re a teenager alone in your room armed with a smartphone and a cute boy or girl on the other line, you might not just be sending “ugly selfies”. You might be more inclined to send selfies of the half-naked variety, especially when the photo evidence disappears into cyberspace.

The fine folks at SnapChat have also designed the app in such a way that taking a screenshot of a photo is next to impossible. It’s a circus act that requires all of your fingers, plus a few of your friends’. Even then you probably can’t get it.

The photo is gone. Any evidence of inappropriate usage is deleted.

“Well that settles it. My kid is never allowed to have this app.”

Fair enough. From a safety standpoint, this app is a parent’s worst nightmare.

That said, it’s worth pointing out that your child will send and receive half-naked pictures if he or she decides to, SnapChat or not. It’s depressing, but it’s reality. The app can certainly make doing so easier, but SnapChat isn’t to blame. Teenage hormones are. Or something.

I got this app a while ago to see how the teens in our youth group are using it – I snap, they snap, we all snap – and I’ve discovered a sliver of silver lining in all of this. From what I’ve seen (and heard), most of our kids aren’t using the app in a suspect way.

From 6th grade to college student to 25 year old mom, most are using SnapChat for good, clean fun.

An example convo might be:

 

Harmless texting with facial expressions attached. A way to send hilariously unfortunate selfies to your friends.

Is there room for this app to be used inappropriately? Absolutely, as is the case with all forms of communication.

Is every kid on SnapChat sexting (that phrase is the worst)? Absolutely not.

Should your child have a SnapChat account? Tough call.

This app should definitely give you pause, but I can’t answer that question for you.

All I can do is offer a little insider information on how I see/watch/hear most of our kids using it and hope that knowledge brings about great conversations with your own kids.

More questions about the app? Snap me anytime.

Check out Sarah’s blog, Life as of Late,  follow her on Twitter, or, yes, check out her Instagram account. 

More Reading:

Sarah explains Instagram here. The comments on her original post are here. 

Sarah’s follow up post on Instagram is here

Rebecca on explains why she Dumped Facebook.

Rebecca’s followup: Breaking Up with Facebook Feels so Right 

Rebecca two months later: Frankly, I’m Shocked at the Difference it’s Made. 

Instagram and Your Kids: Advice for Protecting Their Safety and Their Self-Image

Sarah Brooks posted about the picture-sharing phone app Instagram and her blog lit up. To date, she’s gotten 185 comments from parents and teens weighing in! I think she’s on to something! Here is her follow-up post in which she replies and explores the issue more. Look for more from Sarah in the weeks to come on other apps such as Vine and SnapChat. 

Um. Wow. I had NO idea the last post would hit such a nerve, but I’m so thankful some very important conversations have stemmed from it!

Thank you for all of your feedback, comments, suggestions, and shares. It’s humbling, to say the least.

A few things:

One resounding comment I heard was, “This topic isn’t just for middle schoolers.”

You’re absolutely right.

The topic is for everyone.

It’s human nature to always be on the lookout for someone/something to validate us; social media just happens to be our current medicine of choice. (Don’t pretend like you haven’t been disappointed when people didn’t think your status update was as funny as you thought it was.)

The difference is that we as adults should have the ability to keep it in perspective. It’s a little harder for our middle schoolers who tend to see black and white. Numbers don’t lie, right?

Some have asked, “What’s the deal with Instagram? Don’t our kids do the same on Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and Vine?”

Yes. 100 times yes. I brought up Instagram specifically because that’s what most of our middle school kids are on, but it doesn’t matter what social site it is. The temptation and tendency to get caught up in the number game is always present.

I have to confess that as I was writing the last post I thought, “My 6th graders are going to hate me. They’re going to think I’m trying to out them to their parents.”

The reaction I got was quite the opposite.

Here’s a comment I got from a middle school girl:

“I am a 13 year old girl in 7th grade. My mom showed me the thing you wrote about instagram. I really enjoyed it and took a lot from what you said. … I think what you did was great an I hope that a lot of parents will show that to their kids because it was true and made me think about it from a whole new perspective. I will admit I am guilty of many of the things you talked about, but after I read it, it made me not care anymore. Thank you for what you did and hopefully many other teens will take stuff from it too.”

And another:

“I’m 13 years old, and I wish that other kids my age would read this. I have an Instagram, but I don’t spend a lot of time on it, because honestly, it makes me feel bad. The popular kids always have to most followers, they always have the most likes,and sometimes I think that the only reason they actually post “selfies” is for reasurance and for the comments saying things like “You’re so pretty!!” Thank you for writing this. I hope it opens up more parents eyes to what kids are posting on the internet, and the real reason they are posting these things.

Ok and maybe one more. From my new friend, Courtney:

im 14 and in 8th grade. I read what you wrote.. it made me realize I have part of ny identity invested in social media. not in where it should be, which is The Lord! it showed me where my priorities should actually be at. thank you so much.”

Courtney even went on to suggest a future post for me about a different social site. (!!!)

I want to repeat that last sentence about 5 times because it is the very reason I’m passionate about these conversations.

Courtney, age 14, suggested additional material for me to talk about with you, her parents.

She wants you to know, but she may not be the one to tell you. She wants you to be in the loop and understand the pressure she and her friends can feel. She wants your advice and craves your guidance, despite the 137 eye rolls.

So…how does that work?

Well, if you read the first post and got panicky, go back through and read the comments. Those mommas/dads/youth ministers have some excellent, practical advice.

In fact, can I just share a few of their thoughts with you?

Click Here to Read More.

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Protecting Kids’ Heart-Deep Identity: A Note to Parents about Instagram

I found this post by Sarah Brooks on her delightful blog Life as of Late. She graciously allowed us to repost it. 

To the parents of middle-schoolers on Instagram:

 

There is so much information out there about internet safety and you should definitely read up on that, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

Over the past several months, I’ve been noticing some interesting stuff on Instagram from your kids that I want to share with you.

“Hey, weirdo, why are you following my kids?” Good question, and I’ll get to that.

I am 25 years old, which is not just a fun fact, but important in the history of social media. MySpace started during my high school years, and Facebook started the year I went to college (when it was still just a site just for college students). So while my generation didn’t grow up with it, we were the first to use it. We’re bilingual, in a sense.

Your kids, on the other hand, don’t know a life without it and you’re doing your best to learn and keep up with it. So would you mind too terribly much if I acted as a bridge for a second? Give you some thinking material?

Let me back up.

My husband and I, along with our friends Kylie and Trenton, help in the youth ministry at our church. (Shoutout to the GREATEST 6TH GRADERS EVER!)

Several months ago, Kylie and I were asked to talk to the 8th graders at the middle school girls’ sleepover.

The topic was “Finding your identity in Christ“.

I would have much rather talked to them about sex or drugs or something, because those are pretty concrete topics. We’d stand up and say, “Don’t do it.” End of talk. It would be so moving we’d be asked back to speak at every event, naturally.

Instead, we were tasked with talking about something that a lot of adults I know don’t even know how to apply in their own lives.

What even is identity? And how do you talk to a group of middle school girls about finding their identity in an invisible God? And if they aren’t finding their identity in Him, where are they finding it?

After much thought and prayer, we decided to talk about something we know: social media. We talked about Instagram specifically, since a lot of these girls aren’t on Facebook yet and think Twitter is stupid.

I’m sure you’re aware of Instagram if your kids are on it, but if not, here’s a rundown of the app:

1. Your child gets an account and starts following other users.
2. In return, other users follow your child.
3. Your child posts a picture to his or her account.
4. Other users comment or “like” the picture.
5. Repeat. 87 times a day.

an example: left is my Instagram profile; right is the photo feed of all posted pictures

I love the app. It’s a lot of fun, but there are some components to it that I’m not sure we’ve thought all the way through.

Think back to when you were in junior high. How did you know you were “cool”? A popular girl probably wrote you a note and put it in your locker or asked you to sit with her at lunch, right? There were a few eyewitnesses and it was pure joy.

Do you remember back-to-school shopping? You bought the trendiest new shirts and shoes. But how did you know if your new shirt was cute? Someone told you, probably. How did you know if your new shirt was hideous? Again, someone probably told you. Or made fun of you, but luckily it was just between you and that person. Or – worst case scenario – between you and that person and their posse. Still, not life altering.

That was then.

This is now:

Your middle schooler buys a new shirt and what’s the first thing she does? Takes a selfie (self-portrait, for those out of the loop) and posts it on Instagram.

Think I’m joking?

A quick search of Instagram shows us… oh, look! – this was posted 18 minutes ago:

Ok, so not a big deal, this is how the world is. Your kids feel the need to share every single decision they ever make with the world at large. It’s just “kids these days”.

It’s true. It is “kids these days”. But does the feedback they receive on Instagram impact them? Do you think they base their identity in it?

What happens when your daughter’s new shirt picture didn’t get as many “likes” or comments as the picture her friend posted of her new shirt?

Do you think she even cares about that stuff?

Yea, I’d say so. Your sons do, too:

This guy specifically asks for comments AND a certain number of likes. 40, to be exact.

[Side note: don't forget to read what your kids post in the hashtags of their photos. (That's the # sign with a bunch of words crammed after it, like #40likesplease.) They use it as an aside comment, which, parents, is just as important to pay attention to as the photo caption.] 

We’re no longer in world of handwritten “circle yes or no” notes between two people; your kids are living social lives on a completely public forum.

This is not new information.

But, taking it a step further: have you considered that your child is given numerical valueson which to base his or her social standing? For the first time ever your children can determine their “worth” using actual numbers provided by their peers!

Let me explain…

Your daughter has 139 followers which is 23 less than Jessica, but 56 more than Beau. Your son’s photo had 38 likes which was 14 less than Travis’ photo, but 22 more than Spencer’s.

See what I mean? There’s a number attached to them. A ranking.

And if you think they don’t actually pay attention to this stuff, read the hashtags on these photos:

sorry for the ghetto circlage, but you get the point.

Do you see what’s happening? #3newfollowers, #77likes #i#am#so#popular, #morefollowersplease

They’re definitely paying attention. And it’s definitely affecting them.

It’s not just about assumed popularity anymore. It’s explicit. It’s quantifiable.

At arguably the most awkward time in their lives, a crucial time of development when they are trying to figure out who they are and where they belong, this is what they’re up against. A quantifiable popularity ranking.

So, back to the lesson we were supposed to teach. I started thinking about everything I’ve mentioned above and thought, “Maybe our girls are different. Maybe their faith buffers them from being caught up as deeply in this as their friends.”

Wrong.

In talking to our girls, I was blown away by their responses:

They know exactly – to the digit – how many followers they have (and who they follow that isn’t following them back). They get their feelings hurt when the popular kids “like” the pictures above and below theirs on the Instagram newsfeed, but not their picture. They delete pictures of themselves when they don’t get as many likes as they were hoping for. They don’t get invited to parties, but see all the fun they missed out on in every photo posted from it. They post ugly pictures of their friends to get revenge for some heinous act they committed (like saying Louis is their favorite One Direction member).

Whoa.

Before we all freak out and delete Instagram and all other social apps, may I just say (with approximately zero authority or expertise on the subject):

This is no cause for mass hysteria. My intent is not to scare you away from these sites, because I don’t think the solution is to write them off entirely. This is a part of your kids’ communication that is here to stay. (I don’t just mean Instagram – it could die tomorrow. But social media? It’s here for good, in some form or fashion.)

Remember: social media can be SO FUN. (I know you love you some Pinterest, girl.)

Plus, not all kids are the same. Some place an unhealthy amount of self worth in their social media accounts, some could care less about it. Regardless, it’s important to think about no matter where your children fall on the spectrum.

My intent is to dig a little deeper into the impact these sites can have on your kids. To start thinking about how to safeguard childrens’ hearts and minds against what appears to a 12 year old to be concrete numerical evidence about their value and popularity.

How do you regulate activity on these sites while keeping it fun for your kids? How do you talk to them about the numbers (likes, comments, followers) provided by their peers not being an accurate representation of their value and worth? How do you teach them to base their identity solely in Christ – to be confident daughters and sons of the King?

I have no idea.

I can tell you what we talked about with our 8th grade friends:

We talked about posting photos of things other than themselves, to avoid setting themselves up for insecurity about their appearance. We talked about guarding their hearts with scriptures from God’s Word and reminding themselves whose they were. We talked about inner beauty and encouraging their friends’ strengths and…a whole host of other stuff.

What we said isn’t really important. What’s important is where you come in, parents. You know your kids and you know the insecurities they face.

I hope this information is helpful for you, or at least gets you thinking. Or, if all else fails, got you to smile at my own Instagram picture of my son in his Little Tikes truck at Sonic. You know that’s cute.

I love your kids so, so much and I want them to know just how special and wonderful and unique they are. I don’t want a stupid thing like followers and likes to tell them any differently.

Check out Sarah’s blog, Life as of Late,  follow her on Twitter, or, yes, check out her Instagram account. 

Other posts from Sarah:

Detailed advice for protecting your kids on Instagram

Should your kid SnapChat? (And what is SnapChat?)

Everything You Need to Know About the Vine App that Lets Kids Share Video

 

You Want to Honor the Boston Bombing Victims? Invite a Muslim to Dinner

We all want to honor those hurt in the attack on our country in Boston. We all want to honor the heroes. And we have poured out support.

We have thanked police officers. We sent money for the victims and sang Sweet Caroline. We were #BostonStrong. We #PrayedForBoston.

We learned the names Carlos Luis Arredondo and Sean Collier. We applauded their heroism.

All this is right and true and good.

But once the streets are cleared and the flags put away and the city of Boston resumes its rhythm, there is something you can do to make the world a better place and honor the memory of the Boston bombing heroes and victims.

Make friends with a Muslim.

They’re there. For most of us, they’re nearby. In the schools. Working businesses. Living and voting and worshipping alongside us.

So what’s the difficulty? Stretch a little and make a gesture. Nobody’s asking you to wear a chador. (Memo to self: Look up what a chador is.)

Invite a Muslim child to play with your children. Invite a Muslim family over for dinner.

It’s ok. (Don’t make pork. That’s easy enough.)

 

Make a little effort.

Do it because this is America and we believe in freedom. We welcome everyone. We give everyone freedom regardless of their creed, faith, ethnicity, or economic status.

We embraced English religious refugees and Catholics running from strife in Europe. We absorbed Irish and German and Norwegian and Chinese and Japanese and Vietnamese and Mexican and Laotian and Hmong and Russian and Armenian and and Salvadoran and Guatemalan and Cuban and Puerto Rican and Somalian and Ethiopian and Kenyan.

We made major mistakes, but people kept coming and America kept absorbing and learning.

Make friends with a Muslim because the only way to beat radical fundamentalist Islam is to be better than them. To reach out when they destroy. To understand plurality when they refuse to do so. To honor basic humanity when they dishonor it.

We do not hate people because they are different from us. That is America.

We do not restrict your choices to be chaste or promiscuous, to be selfish or kind, to wear a beard or not, to be Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or nothing. We do not bar you from saying what you like about a prophet or Jesus or the pope or the president. That is America.

We are fair enough and smart enough to separate the bad apples from the bulk of Islam, just as we can separate Westboro Baptist Church from the bulk of Christianity. That is America.

We can and do work and live along side Muslims, take the same subways, drive the same roads, vote at the same polls. That is America. Together, we are America.

We can cook you a hamburger or a hotdog (hold the pork) or sauté some salmon and talk to you about our kids and our jobs and whether or not a Sweet Frog shop is opening down the street. We can mix up some lemonade and put out some chips. That is America.

What do you say? Can we do some barbecue diplomacy? Can we grill for peace? Can we show that we are strong enough to overcome hate with love? Can we find understanding through potato salad?

Honor America. Honor Boston. Let’s break some bread together.


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