Brand New Grandparents

By: Francine and Byron Pirola


As a grandparent, or expectant one, your relationship with your grandchild comes bundled with your relationship with the parents. It can be helpful to reflect upon your own grandparent encounters in order to better understand your expectations and hopes  for your grandchildren.

Reflect on your grandparent memories.

  1. What is your fondest memory?
  2. Revisit your experience of a grandparent’s death and funeral — what stands out as particularly painful, awe-inspiring?
  3. Perhaps you never knew your grandparents, or knew them only briefly — how did that impact you?

Reflect on your parents as grandparents to your children.

  1. What did you most appreciate?
  2. What did you find difficult or frustrating?

Reflect on your future grandchildren.

  1. What kind of relationship do you hope to have with your grandchildren?
  2. What are you doing now to help make that a reality?

Credit to Francine and Byron Pirola and CathFamily.


Family Prayer

By: Francine and Byron Pirola

family prayer

Some kind of regular family prayer ritual is critical to fostering your child’s emerging relationship with God. Some families say a whole Rosary after dinner, some have a routine bed time prayer. Others read scripture stories together or adopt faith activities like those provided in CathFamily.

You hear it consistently in in many vocation stories from priests and religious; a family that prays together gives birth to vocations of all kinds.

If you have young children, establishing a habit of prayer is often easier as they will be less likely to resist the change. The best way to get older children praying is by extending an invitation and going ahead with or without them. It might take a couple of weeks, but if you stick to a routine, they will notice and influenced by it, and may even join you.

Like many family traditions, they require effort, and an active choice. However starting such a habit can be daunting so we’ve put together some simple prayer cards and pooled together the other prayer rituals we have created over the years to help you get started. The downloadable PDF contains a simple prayer that could be said at bedtime or after dinner. It also contains another set of prayers that are specifically for discerning vocations. It can be said on your own or in a family prayer time.

Download Prayer Card Here.

Credit to Francine and Byron Pirola and CathFamily.

Parenting Teens

By: Kim Cameron-Smith


I recently became the mom of a teen.   My oldest son is 13.   I’m excited about these coming teen years, as I witness my darling boy maturing,  growing closer to God, and finding his calling in life.

I’ve read about parents who dread the teen years.   They see years of pain ahead.     Fighting.   Rejection.   Disrespect.     I read one mom’s account of her son’s teen years and it really caught my attention.   He was a sweet kid until he was 14, then he became withdrawn and gloomy, offering only grunts to basic questions.   She said that by 18 he was himself again.   Is this sort of withdrawal and rudeness inevitable?   I hope not.

Dr. Gregory Popcak writes in his Catholic attachment parenting book,  Parenting with Grace,  that the primary goals for our children during their teen years are:

  • The search for  identity,
  • Developing a respectful  separation  from mom and dad,
  • Fostering their own  spirituality, and
  • Dealing with  sexual  issues.

We need to ensure our teens have both the  guidance  and the  freedom  they need explore these goals and  to respond to God’s unique call for their lives.

There’s a necessary tension in parenting the teen.   We need to let go, but still hold on just enough  to  ensure  the teen is more attached to us (his parents) than to his peers.   In his groundbreaking book  Hold On to Your Kids, Dr. Gordon Neufeld explores the danger of believing our culture’s message that it’s normal for a teen to become  primarily identified with his peers, to find his identity and values in his peer culture.   The teen’s parents must remain  the go-to people for his sense of meaning even while he’s spreading his wings and defining himself apart from his parents.

Credit to Kim Cameron-Smith of  Catholic Attachment Parenting Corner.


"But I don't Want To!"-A Mini-Article on Praying with Your Children

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

child praying

Sometimes my two year old loves to pray, and sometimes when it is time to pray he says “No thanks.”   Whenever this happens, I just envision episodes of rebellion and negativity towards the faith years down the road.   What’s the best way to handle this situation?


Dear Sarah,

It is good to give children choices about things like the clothes they want to wear or the games they want to play. That can be quite empowering. It is less useful to give children choices about things like whether they should take medicine when they are sick, when they need to take a bath, or when they need to pray. In those times, we simply give the child their medicine, plop them in the tub, or pray. It isn’t a choice–but it doesn’t have to be a power-struggle either. If your 2yo says, “No thanks!” to prayer, that isn’t rebellion. Prayer is a very abstract concept for 2yo’s. He isn’t fighting prayer so much as he’s saying that, right now, he’s more into something else. Instead of reacting negatively, make a big smile, scoop him up in your arms, give him a big kiss and say, “‘No thanks?’ Wow! What a polite young man you are! Let’s thank Jesus for helping you be sooooo polite! ‘Dear Jesus, thank you for giving us such a polite and respectful young man. Help him to grow up to love you with all of his whole heart, just like I love him with my whole heart and you love him with your whole heart. AAAAAmen.”     Resistance overcome. Prayer accomplished. For more suggestions, check out our sections on faith development and toddlers in both Parenting with Grace and Beyond the Birds and the Bees.


"Where Did I Go Wrong?"-A Mini-Article on When Children Leave Their Faith

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak


woman praying

I have adult children who have grown lukewarm to the Faith.   I see the pain they are going through as a result, and I am torn that they don’t have the peace that they could have in Christ.   I often feel as if I did something wrong in raising them.   What more can I do for them now?

-“Where Did I Go Wrong”


Dear “Where Did I Go Wrong?”

It’s hard to escape life without racking up a few regrets. Even when we do our best, things don’t work out the way we might hope.     When older children fall away from the faith, there are several things we can do, but wasting time feeling guilty isn’t one of them. That just stops us from being the effective witness God wants us to be and our kids need us to be. First, make sure to pray without ceasing. St. Augustine is one of the most well-known saints of the Church, but almost as well-known is his mother St. Monica. It was due to the persistent prayers of this faithful mother, over the course of many years, that eventually won over the heart of her pagan son.  Second, ask yourself how your faith is making you a more joyful, stronger, confident, loving and charitable person. Work on specific ways to keep developing the connection between your faith and those qualities. Let your kids really see the difference your faith is making in your everyday life and relationships. Effective evangelization occurs, not by talking about the importance of faith, but by giving people the opportunity to see the faithful difference in our lives.  Third, be as emotionally close to your kids as circumstances permit. Attachment isn’t just something babies need. All people crave attachment. The closer you are to your kids, the greater part you will ultimately play in their decisions over the long haul. Finally, don’t ever lecture or preach at your kids. Instead, bite your tongue and pray that the Holy Spirit would give you natural opportunities to share your faith in times when it would be well-received instead of just generating another eye-roll. For more suggestions, check out, God Help Me, These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace with Difficult People.


Wrestling with Sibling Rivalry: A Mini-Article on Cultivating Peace in Your Home

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

bro and sis fighting

I have two children, ages 3 and 5, who often push each other’s buttons.  They do play well together sometimes, but my three year old son loves to hear his five year old sister scream, and she seems to prefer to scream rather than being generous with her time and toys.  Many times, this exchange has escalated into her screaming very unkind words at him, after which he wrestles her to the ground and begins hitting her.  How should I handle these volatile moments when they occur, and what can I do to build a more amiable relationship between two personalities that at times seem like oil and water?

–“Wrestling with Wrestlers”


Dear “Wrestling”

Socialization doesn’t come easy to small children. Little people have a hard time managing the big emotions siblings can generate and they need our help. By 6 or 7, children have an easier time handling feelings, impulses, and reactions, but until then, they still need a lot of supervising, coaching and structure.  The best way to handle the volatile moments you describe is to anticipate and prevent them. Track when your children play well together. What are the circumstances that allow them to get along and how are those times different from the times they don’t? Is there a structured activity? Are you more present? Are they more rested or fed? Identify the differences that make the difference and then do your best to set up more of those situations. Catch them being good and ask yourself what you can do to create more of those times when success comes more naturally to them!     For more ideas, check out my chapter on Sibling Revelry in Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.

Give It A Rest: Reclaiming the Meaning of the Sabbath Day

By: Emily Stimpson


Once upon a time, in a land we call our own, the Lord’s Day was an occasion for great piety … and even greater gloom.  On Sundays, the people of Connecticut, circa 1781, were forbidden to run, dance, play cards, kiss their children or bake a minced meat pie.  Their neighbors to the north, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, attended church by order of the state. Wardens patrolled Boston’s streets, ensuring the law was obeyed.  Later, in the pioneer West, the child Laura Ingalls uttered the sentiments of many when she proclaimed: “I hate Sundays.” She recorded that proclamation decades later, in 1934’s “Little House in the Big Woods.”  For her, like for most American children who lived after the Mayflower and before moving pictures, Sunday was a day of shiny shoes, starched shirts, stiff backs and solemn Bible reading. It was a day when no fun was to be had.  Today, a century after Laura Ingalls denounced Sundays, plenty of Sunday fun can be had by children and grown-ups alike — that is, fun can be had for those not racing off to soccer practice, catching up on homework or heading into the office.

Gloom to Glee

Although the Lord’s Day in the 21st century has lost the Sabbatarian gloom heaped upon it by our Puritan forefathers, it’s also lost the Sabbatarian rest written into it by God the Father. For most Americans, it’s become more a day of shopping than solemnity, a day — almost, if not quite — like any other day.  According to Stephen Miller, author of “The Peculiar Life of Sundays” (Harvard, $28), part of the blame (and credit) for that goes to Catholics.  “The United States was 95 percent Protestant until 1850,” he said. “That Protestantism was heavily influenced by the strain of Calvinism that went through England and Scotland, a strain that mandated strict observance of the Sabbath. But as soon as large influxes of Catholics and Lutherans began arriving in the middle of the 19th century, that began to change.”  Those Catholics and Lutherans, Miller continued, favored the merrier Sundays of Continental Europe and didn’t take kindly to Protestant attempts to keep them from gathering in pubs and dance halls after church. Attempts to shut down New York City’s beer gardens on the Lord’s Day actually led to rioting in the city’s streets.  Finally, Miller explained, the Sabbatarians’ battle to keep Sunday holy in the strictest and gloomiest sense of the word was lost for good during World War II. With men overseas and women working in the factories five and half days a week, the only time left for shopping was Sunday. Some shops started keeping Sunday hours at that time, and more and more did so over the next two decades, as dual-income couples found themselves with the same dilemma as Rosy the Riveter.  “Now, Sunday is the second biggest commercial day of the week,” Miller said.

Much Needed Rest

Sunday’s transformation, of course, has its pluses.  “In Protestants’ very strict observance of Sunday, a lot of the joy of the day was lost,” said Kimberly Hahn, author of “Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker’s Heart” (Servant, $15). “Rather like the Pharisees, some took the idea of the Sabbath rest to the extreme.”  And indeed, the Sabbath rest on the Lord’s Day was never meant to be about gloom and doom. But it wasn’t meant to be about shopping ’til you drop either. The whole idea of a Sabbath rest, explained Hahn, originated in the Old Testament.  “The Sabbath was part of the pattern of creation described in Genesis 1 and 2,” she said. “God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.”  His resting, however, wasn’t a kicking back and watching the game kind of resting. It was actually a hallowing, a making holy kind of resting. God’s rest made the Sabbath sacred.  In the centuries before Christ, the Sabbath was celebrated by the Jewish people on Saturdays, the seventh day. Early converts from Judaism to Christianity, however, moved their celebration of the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day, gathering on Sundays, the day of Christ’s resurrection, to pray and celebrate the Eucharist.

Now, as then, she said, Christians need to observe some form of the Sabbath rest on Sundays because, “It’s one of the big 10” — the Ten Commandments, that is.  “We don’t just set aside the prohibition against adultery, and we shouldn’t set aside the Lord’s Day either,” she said.  Hahn also noted that we need the rest on the Lord’s Day because as human beings we are all “Sabbatarian creatures.”  “God didn’t make us to work seven days a week. We need a break. The Sabbath is stamped into our very beings,” she said.

Family Time

But what exactly does it mean to “keep the Sabbath holy”? How, in a globalized economy and a wired world, can Catholics make Sundays a day set apart? And can it be done without all the starched collars and glum faces of old?  “Of course it can,” said Father Edward Connolly, a pastor in the Diocese of Allentown, Pa. “We’re not anti-fun. The Church is in favor of fun.”  Rather than give up their fun on Sundays, Father Connolly advises families to think about the true purpose of the day.  “Sundays remind us that we’re immortal beings — spirits with materials parts. We’re destined for the Great Sabbath — eternal rest in heaven — and Sundays prepare us for that.”  That preparation happens first and foremost through worship. In the Mass, the veil between heaven and earth is pulled back, and men and women are invited to worship with the angels in time as they will one day in eternity.  Accordingly, when it comes to how we spend our Sundays, attending Mass is an absolute must for Catholics. (Missing Sunday Mass without good reason constitutes a serious sin.)  But, if all a family does is attend Mass together then go their separate ways, Father Connolly said they’re missing out on a precious part of what it means to keep the Lord’s Day.  “In heaven, besides getting to see God face-to-face, our greatest joy will be getting to know other people,” he explained. “So, we should spend our Sundays doing that now, investing in human relationships, caring for our fellow human beings.”  Rather than heading to the mall or watching television, Connolly urges families to “invest emotionally and intellectually in one another.”  “Play ball with your children, read to one another, go for a drive, be affectionate, just listen to one another,” he said.

Sabbath Feast

Hahn also stressed the importance of dialing back on outside activities on Sundays, forgoing sports practices and trips to the office, putting away schoolwork and “to-do lists,” and most important, bringing back the tradition of the Sunday feast.  Several years after converting to Catholicism, the Hahns abandoned their 20-year practice of eating cold cuts on paper plates after Church, and started pulling out the china, crystal and silver for an elaborate Sunday dinner.  “The Eucharist isn’t only a family meal, but it still is a family meal,” said Hahn. “There seemed something lackluster about participating in that marvelous feast, then coming home to ham and chips. We wanted what went on in our home to be more a reflection of what we experienced in Church.”  As for how Catholics trying to reclaim a bit of their lost Sabbath rest can ward off any creeping legalism that might leave children (or grown-ups, for that matter) sympathizing with Laura Ingalls’ contempt for Sundays, Hahn passed along a piece of wisdom from her own mother: “Play as much as you pray.”  Added Father Connolly: “If you want to mow the lawn, mow the lawn. If you want to wash the car, wash the car. But whatever you do, make it a family event. Confusing means with ends is where we get into trouble. If there’s laughter and joy and people coming together to relate to one another in healthy ways, almost anything can be a way of keeping the Sabbath holy.”

Even baking minced meat pies.

Credit to Emily Stimpson of

Can Teens Stay Connected Without Losing Touch?

By: Emily Stimpson

teens texting  On a Saturday morning in April, a young girl — maybe 15 — sits in a crowded restaurant at a crowded table. Surrounding her are her parents, two younger siblings, and what looks to be an aunt and uncle. The family talks and laughs while they eat, jumping from one topic to another with ease.  But not the teenage girl.  Slouched down in her chair, shoulders hunched, hands under the table, she doesn’t seem to see or hear the chatter going on around her. Her focus is on the cell phone in her hands, not the people at her table. She types something. Waits. Then types again.  She is immersed in a digital world, a virtual conversation, and the real conversation, taking place in the real world, can neither capture nor hold her attention.  When the Internet went viral a decade ago, educational experts and social critics predicted it would make young people smarter, happier and more engaged with the world than ever before. With the advent of Web 2.0 — interactive social media such as blogs, texting, Facebook, etc. — the same experts repeated their praise. But the actual evidence — the hard data about American teenagers’ academic performance and social lives — as well as the anecdotal evidence from teachers and parents, paints a somewhat different picture.

Virtual Realities

Pick a study, any study — the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the National Survey of Student Engagement, the Kaiser Family Foundation Program for the Study of Media and Health, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute civic literacy surveys, studies by the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Geographic Society. They all say the same thing: The virtual worlds teens enter when they’re texting under the table (or blogging, posting pictures online, leaving comments on people’s Web pages, etc.) is harming them as much as, if not more than, it’s helping them. Teens’ “totally connected life” is shortening their attention spans, narrowing their worldview, damaging their ability to communicate, and leading some down a very dangerous path.  There are, of course, many exceptions. There are teens who use cell phones and computers wisely, teens who spend hours on the Internet researching religious orders or trying to understand the connection between Virgil and TS Eliot, teens who film video podcasts to spread the Gospel, and who still love curling up with a good book. But they are not the norm.  “It’s not that this generation is less intelligent than previous generations,” said Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future. “And, of course, digital technology can and does deliver good content to them. The problem is that’s not what the vast majority of teens are using these tools for. They’re using them for what 15-year-olds care about: Other 15-year-olds.”

Constant Connections

As Bauerlein sees it, social media has locked teens into a world where peer contact and social life no longer ends at 6 p.m. when it’s time to join the family for dinner. Instead, it goes on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via blogs, social networking sites and, of course, texting.  “When I was 16 and walked into my parents house, my connection with my peers was over for the day. I had to sit at the dinner table and listen to my parents talk about money or politics. Walter Cronkite was on in the background talking about the Vietnam War. I didn’t care about those things, but I couldn’t help but overhear them.  “Today’s teens shut all that out,” he continued. “They’re text messaging at the dinner table, then they spend the rest of the evening in front of the computer, posting on blogs or chatting with friends. Even when they’re logged off, social life is still going on. Someone could be posting a comment on their blog or writing something about them online. There is no escaping their peers.”  That never-ending peer contact leaves little room for learning about politics or reading Jane Austen. It also leaves little room for adult voices, the voices that, in the past, have taught teens the art of conversation, modeled maturity for them, and ushered them into the adult world.

“Teenagers can’t grow up if their main contacts are with other 17-year-olds,” said Bauerlein. “You grow up by modeling older people. They’re the ones who teach you there is a bigger horizon than high school, a bigger timeframe than last week.”  They’re also the ones who teach you the difference between right and wrong. And with adult voices increasingly drowned out by the voices of their peers, many teens are navigating the digital world with those peers as their only guides. Which has something to do with why 42 percent of children ages 10 to 17 have already viewed pornography online (according to a 2007 University of New Hampshire study). It also has something to do with the latest teen trend involving technology: “Sexting.”

Dangerous Trends

In a nutshell, “sexting” is sending sexually explicit pictures of yourself to someone else via text message. This trend first hit the headlines in 2008, when a 17-year-old Cincinnati girl, Jessica Logan, hanged herself after a nude picture of herself that she texted to her boyfriend was sent on to the phones of hundreds of her classmates. “Sexting” resurfaced in the news again some time after, when students at a Massachusetts junior high made headlines by “sexting” a video of two of their classmates having sex to half their school.  Unfortunately, those examples aren’t isolated instances. According to a study conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 22 percent of teenage girls — that’s more than one in five — admit to “sexting” or posting pornographic pictures of themselves online.  Only in a world where the primary voices you hear are those of your peers, does anyone think it’s a good idea to send naked pictures of themselves out into digital space. But, like Bauerlein, Father David Marstall, a high school teacher and campus minister in the Diocese of Wichita, said that is the world many teens inhabit.  “In terms of getting a message across, I have a lot of competition,” he said. “As much as I try to teach students in the classroom or Mass, there are a lot of other people teaching them other ideas, ideas opposed to what we want them to have. And they’re listening, accepting post-modernism and all that goes along with it.”

Losing Personal Touch?

Father Marstall is no stranger to technology. He uses Facebook to get in touch with teens or post information about campus events. He posts podcasts of his Sunday homilies on his campus ministry website and recognizes social media’s value to his ministry as a communications tool. But, he also recognizes that all the texting teens are doing (an average of 2,272 texts per month according to the Nielson Co.), as well as Facebook posting and instant messaging, is changing the way they communicate and understand friendship.  “They communicate more frequently, but less personally,” he explained. “They struggle to express what’s important to them and to organize their thoughts because they’ve grown accustomed to having conversations one line at a time.”  Rebecca Arnold*, a mother of five girls, is witnessing that struggle firsthand. According to Arnold, her two oldest daughters — ages 23 and 14 — both prefer texting or instant messaging their friends to talking with them. And although she strictly limits 14-year-old Kathleen’s computer use, (and encourages personal get-togethers and phone calls), her efforts are normally met with frustration.  “Phone calls last five minutes at the most,” she said. “I’d be happy to get Kathleen a phone for her room, but at this point, she doesn’t want one.”

The reason why?  Explained Kathleen, “I don’t know what my friends and I would talk about.”

Instant Gratification Faith

Beyond changing how teens communicate with one another, Father Marstall also sees social media changing how teens communicate with God.  “Young people today have grown up with Google,” he said. “They’re accustomed to asking questions and finding answers quickly. But when they get to questions that they can’t answer in a few minutes, they give up. And when it comes to the spiritual life, to discerning a vocation or understanding the mysteries of the faith, answers don’t come quickly. Conversion is harder for teens today compared to 15 years ago.”  It’s not, however, just matters of faith that teens struggle to reflect upon. Studies cited in Bauerlein’s book point to digital media’s across-the-board impact on shortened attention spans.  The blinking, flashing screens, brief amounts of text, and hyperlinked information in the digital world “conditions minds against quiet, concerted study, against imagination unassisted by visuals, against linear sequential analysis of text,” summarized Bauerlein.  And because their social life hinges on their participation in that world, it’s not easy for teens to walk away and work on developing the skills necessary to counteract those problems.  “At 17, there’s nothing worse than being excluded,” said Bauerlein. “A kid can’t risk not getting the message that everyone is meeting at Starbucks at 4 p.m. When a parent takes away a cell phone because it’s getting too expensive, they see it as taking away their teenager’s toy. The teenager sees it as taking away their life.”

Hope for new media

Given all these problems and pitfalls, it might be tempting for parents or teachers to attempt a reversion back to the pre-digital age, issuing a ban on computers, cell phones and the like. But Eugene Gan, professor of new media technologies at Franciscan University of Steubenville, said Catholics need to be wary of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”  “The Church has actually been very positive about these new technologies and about youth using them for the glory of God,” he explained. “Every year on World Communications Day, we get yet another message from the Church talking about the good that can come from these tools.”  The trick, of course, is using those tools wisely, and Gan conceded that the younger generation is far from mastering that.  “We have to look at what needy young people are trying to fulfill through all the texting and sexting and posting on Facebook,” he said. “That’s where abuse of these tools is coming in. And then we need to develop guiding principles for the use of these technologies, principles that can help us use them as the gifts they truly are.”  Those principles, Gan continued, have already been laid out for Catholics in Church documents on communications. They include: using the media to facilitate, not replace, real world relationships; encouraging balance and moderation in use; always respecting the inherent dignity of the human person; and using the media to inspire a love of the good, the true, and the beautiful.

“Media has the power to attract people to beauty and truth and to inspire a greater desire to learn about the world,” Gan concluded. “It really is a gift from God. The question is not: “Do we use it?” It’s: “How do we use it?” We need to give young people a better map than we’ve given them so far. They’re adrift in a sea of media, and if we’re not careful, they’ll be lost in it.”

Limited Access

Contrary to what the culture says, parents don’t need to turn their teenager’s bedroom into a computer command center.  In fact, they need to do just the opposite, said Dr. Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation,” and Christopher Chapman, a senior educational consultant for the Diocese of Pittsburgh.  Our Sunday Visitor recently asked both specialists what parents can do to limit technology’s harmful effects on their children. Their suggestions include:

Banning computers from the bedroom: Computers should only be used in public areas and with a parent’s express permission, which both limits the time that can be spent in front of them and prevents teens from going where they shouldn’t in the virtual world.

Require full access: Parents’ should only permit their children to have a Facebook or MySpace page (or blog or website) if they have full access to the site. They also need to use this access regularly to monitor content and activities.

Filter, filter, filter: Take advantage of different software programs that allow you to filter Internet content and/or monitor where each user of the family computer goes when they’re online.

Limit screen time: Set a time limit for computer use (and television watching) during the evenings and on weekends.

Have a required reading hour: Make it a nightly event. One full hour with no interruptions (that means no sending or receiving text messages).

Table calls at mealtime: Institute a cell phone ban at mealtimes and during family time.

Limited calling plans: When purchasing a cell phone plan for a teenager, if possible, make it an “emergencies only plan” (i.e., “pay as you go”). At the very least, have the phone’s picture taking capabilities turned off and strictly limit the text messaging capabilities.

Plan intergenerational events: Invite grandparents and older neighbors over for dinner, so that teens are exposed to stories and ideas outside of their peer group.

Family time, unplugged: Spend time together doing things that don’t involve technology. Go for a drive or a hike, play games, talk about current events, work on projects around the house and in the yard, or volunteer together at a local charity.

Be an example: Limit your own time on the cell phone and computer, modeling for your children what the balanced use of technology looks like.

Introduce them to Eucharistic Adoration: Drop them off at the Church once a week for one hour of silent, focused prayer. It’s the perfect antidote to flashing screens, beeping phones and other noise-producing machines.

Falling Behind

Despite the billions of dollars invested by parents and schools in educational technology, American students still aren’t making the grade:  On the 2005 NAEP tests: 53 percent of American twelfth graders scored “below basic” in history, 46 percent scored “below basic” in science and 27 percent scored “below basic” on literary tests — all results comparable to or worse than those from similar tests administered in 2003, 2001, and 1994.  According to a study conducted by the National Conference of State Legislators, only 10 percent of teens can name the current speaker of the House of Representatives. Sixty percent, however, can name the current “American Idol.”  In the 2006 Geographic Literacy Survey, 63 percent of teenagers could not identify Iraq on a map.  In May 2007, ACT reported in “Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in High School Core Curriculum” that “three out of four ACT-tested 2006 high school graduates…are not prepared to take credit-bearing entry level college courses with a reasonable chance of succeeding.”  The Internet may put a veritable Library of Alexandria at teenagers’ fingertips, but most seem only interested in the magazine and music sections:  Only 7 percent of 18-29 year olds go online to read about political news and current events, says a 2005 Pew Research report.  The same study reports that 48 percent of teens visit social networking sites like Facebook at least once a day….and that 30 percent of teenagers host their own blog or Web page.

Tech time

A 2009 study by a British research group found that teens spend an average of 31 hours per week online. The breakdown includes:

3.5 hours  instant messaging their friends

2 hours  on YouTube

3 hours  looking for homework help

9 hours  on social network sites

1 hour  looking for weight loss or beauty tips

1 hour and 40 minutes  viewing pornography

and  1 hour and 40 minutes  downloading music


Credit to Emily Stimpson of

The Sexualization of Girls: New Study Confirms Disturbing Trend of Children Dressing and Acting Provocatively

By: Emily Stimpson

little girl dress up

As a pediatrician, Dr. Meg Meeker thought she had seen it all: eating disorders, sexual abuse, self-mutilation.  Then, a 5-year-old walked into her office in a push-up bra.  “Just over a decade ago, younger and younger girls started coming in dressed in sexually provocative clothes, underwear with suggestive writing on it, and inappropriately cut underwear,” Meeker said. “These were young girls – 5 to 7 years old. It was incredibly disturbing, to say the least.” Since then, Meeker, who is the author of “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know” (Ballantine, $14.95), said that she has only seen the problem grow worse, both in the numbers of young girls dressing and acting in a “highly sexualized manner” and in the degree to which they do so.  “The shorts keep getting shorter and the shirts keep getting tighter, for the little girls, as well as the older girls,” she said. “That’s changing the way they perceive themselves, and not for the better.”  Few observers of the culture would disagree with Meeker. From the chain smoking pageant princesses on “Toddlers and Tiaras” to miniature stiletto heels for 4-year-olds, anecdotal evidence of early sexualization abounds. Whether they’re 5 or 15, increasing numbers of young girls have seemingly been following the lead of older women and vamping it up, valuing “sexy” more than “sweet.”  Now there’s a study that confirms that.

Sexy dolls and grade schoolers

Published in the journal “Sex Roles” this past summer, the study was the brainchild of then Knox College psychology major Christy Starr.  Starr said she became interested in studying the sexualization of young girls after seeing so many dolls done up in fishnets and heavy makeup in stores.  “I was surprised that such products would be marketed to young girls, and found that the companies who made them claimed that this was what little girls wanted,” she told Our Sunday Visitor. “I wondered if that was really true, and if so, what would cause young girls to have sexualized preferences.”  To find out, she teamed up with her professor, Gail Ferguson, and recruited 60 local girls between the ages of 6 and 9, some from public schools and some from a nearby dance studio, to participate in the study.

In the study, they showed girls four pairs of dolls. In each pair, one doll was dressed in provocative clothing – fishnet tights, mini-skirts, midriff bearing tops – and the other in less-revealing  but stylish attire – cargo pants and fitted hoodies or sweaters. The girls were then asked to choose one of the two dolls in answer to each of four questions: 1) Which doll looks more like you? 2) Which doll do you want to look like? 3) Which doll looks like she would be more popular? 4) With which doll would you prefer to play?  Overwhelmingly, the girls picked the “sexy” doll as the doll they would like to look like and the one who would be the most popular in school.  A slightly smaller majority picked the sexy doll as the one whom they looked most like. When it came to which doll they preferred as a toy, there was no noticeable preference.  “Although I had hypothesized it during data collection, it was a little surprising to watch so many young girls [none of whom were dressed ‘sexily’] choose the sexualized doll as who they wanted to look like,” Starr said.

The preference was also concerning.

Stunted development

While some adults may think it’s cute when their 6-year-old strikes sexy poses in pictures or clamors for tiger-striped mini-skirts, experts say that such behavior is harmful for them in both the short-term and long-term. Greg Popcak, author of “Beyond the Birds and the Bees: The Secrets to Raising Sexually Whole (and Holy) Kids” (Ascension Press, $14.99), said encouraging girls at an early age to develop an identity rooted in sexual desirability can stunt their psychological development.  “Developmentally, kids at various stages are supposed to identify themselves with different ends,” he told OSV. “In grade school and junior high, they’re supposed to be identifying themselves by their skills, talents and abilities, as well as with healthy groups that can enable them to become well-socialized responsible people. In adolescence, they should be learning to identify themselves by their values and ideals.”  “But, when we give our kids an identity that’s entirely sexualized from the earliest ages, they don’t have to do any of that other work,” he continued. “They don’t have to identify their skills and abilities. They don’t have to find healthy groups and decide what principles they want to live by. They think, ‘I can just be sexy, and have other people drawn to me. That’s where I’m going in my life.’”

That, in turn, creates a whole host of other problems.  To start with, as Meeker pointed out, seeking sexual attention (and getting it) at a young age is a precursor to high-risk behaviors such as early sexual activity.  Girls who do that, added Popcak, also become far more sexually aggressive and less open to being told there’s anything wrong with such behavior.  “They don’t see being objectified as a problem anymore. They think of it as empowering. Their whole goal in life is just to be the prettiest object they can be,” he said.  With “pretty” and “sexy” at the top of a young girl’s goal pile, other, much more worthwhile goals tend to fall by the wayside.  As Starr noted, different studies on self-sexualization have linked teen girls and women objectifying themselves with poorer performance in school (most notably in mathematics) and in competitive sports.  “It’s deeper than simply not wanting one’s daughter to dress in a sexually provocative way,” she told OSV. “If we want girls in our culture to grow up to be healthy teens and confident grown women, it is important to ensure they do not begin sexualizing themselves at a young age.”

A hostile culture

Popcak said such attitudes among young girls only reinforce the tendencies in men to objectify women, sending the message that using women for sexual pleasure is perfectly acceptable behavior. And for those adolescent boys who are trying to be chaste and to treat their female peers with respect, it becomes that much harder.  It’s not just girls, however, who suffer from their early sexualization. Sexually aggressive young women who are ready and willing to be seen as objects of male desire aren’t exactly helping the boys and men in their lives, either.  “I’m talking to parents of 12 and 13-year-old boys whose girlfriends are getting mad at them because they won’t do sexual things,” he said. “Boys who are attempting to live some kind of values are getting feedback from their male and female peers that there’s something wrong with them.”  Then there’s the long-term forecast for the culture as a whole, which, when it’s increasingly made up of men and women sexualized at an early age, isn’t a pleasant one.  “Down the road what we’re likely to see is a culture that will experience greater degrees of narcissism, depression and anxiety disorders – those things being driven by not knowing how to be effective as a person and not being valued as a person,” Popcak said. “We’ll also see more and more relationships breakdown as marriage is redefined even more, as a temporary institution based on adult desire, not commitment between the spouses and commitment to raising children. Essentially, we’ll see all the trends we’re seeing now, only amplified.”

Parental misguidance

Reversing those trends begins with understanding the reasons underlying them.  One piece of the puzzle is the media and its sponsor, the advertising industry.  Over the past 15 years, little girls and big girls alike have been treated to different advertisements for Skechers tennis shoes featuring a pigtailed Christina Aguilera wearing a short, tight, Catholic school uniform and unbuttoned blouse, for padded training bras courtesy of the tween clothing store Justice, and for the Barbie Basics line – heavily made-up dolls with collagen-plumped lips sporting black mini-dresses.  Girls have also sat in front of the television watching the adventures of mini-skirt wearing, eye-rolling tween sensations Hannah Montana and iCarly, have received their first manicures and blowouts at the age of 4, courtesy of the Disney Princess Salon, and have performed in dance recitals to those classic odes of American girlhood, “Wild Thing,” “All the Single Ladies” and “You Shook Me All Night Long.”  All that exposure quickly adds up, and if parents don’t step in to help their children make sense of what they’re seeing, the wrong messages sink in.

It’s not the media in and of itself, however, that’s necessarily to blame. The Knox College study found that one of the prime buffers to prevent early sexualization wasn’t a complete ban on media, but rather mothers with a healthy self-image who helped their children become discerning viewers of media, pointing out problematic messages and discussing them with their daughters. When mothers didn’t step in, tended to define themselves in a sexualized manner, or banned media almost altogether, problems arose.  Those findings agree with what Popcak and Meeker have observed in their work: It’s parents, more than the media, who bear the responsibility for young girls’ early sexualization.  “I don’t think there’s a parent out there who wakes up and thinks ‘I want to turn my child into a sexual object,’” said Popcak. “Rather, it’s a commentary on the culture as a whole. What they’re thinking is ‘I don’t want my child to stand out.’”

And these days to be innocent is to stand out.

“To not go along with the trends, to not keep your child ahead of the curve, whether in how they dress or by signing them up for 30 different activities, is making a statement that you reject the culture,” he explained. “But the only reason someone rejects the culture is when they have another culture to promote. If not, they’re just going to drift with the tide.”  Mothers in particular are at fault in that regard, said Meeker.  “It’s the mothers who are buying these clothes for their daughters, not the dads,” she explained. “On one level, some are living vicariously through their daughters. On another level, it’s extremely important to mothers, even mothers of faith, that their daughters are accepted by their peers. Many want them to fit in more than they want them to have a healthy psyche. So they allow the sexy clothing, even though they know it’s not good for them.”  Parents, however, are only the product of the larger culture, and it’s that larger culture, which identifies happiness with sexual fulfillment, that has convinced them that blue eyeshadow and leather mini-skirts are acceptable for second-graders.  “Everything we’re seeing now is a direct result of the celebration of sex without personhood – without the acknowledgment that a human being is a person who deserves to be loved, not an object, not a thing I can use and throw away,” Popcak said.

Changing course

Changing that culture of objectification and use won’t happen overnight, but parents can take action now to protect their daughters from the damage of early sexualization, starting with their own attitudes.  “Dads have to become more assertive and let the moms know why the sexy clothing is inappropriate,” said Meeker. “Moms also have to remember that sexiness and ‘fitting in’ does not equal healthy self-esteem. Dressing modestly may not make their daughters popular, but it will help them develop into strong, confident women who value themselves rightly.”  Helping children become intelligent media consumers should also be high on parents’ priority list. Doing that requires more than a simple media ban. In fact, the Knox College study found that young girls who came from homes where the faith was important but media rarely viewed, actually opted for the “sexy doll” at a higher rate than those who regularly watched television.  Starr’s faculty adviser, Ferguson, who now teaches human development and family studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, posited that result may have something to do with a “forbidden fruit effect.”  “It is possible that girls whose exposure to the real world is too restricted at home … actually crave that exposure more and idealize sexy things in the world more because they are forbidden at home,” she said.

She continued: “Perhaps the implication of our findings supports Christ’s advice from Matthew 10:16: ‘I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’ Shrewd parents will prepare their daughters to understand what is out in the world … and will guide them in responding to what they see – both the good and the bad. Perhaps this is a way to live the Christian principle of being ‘in the world but not of the world.’”  Getting your children to listen to what you say can be a trick in and of itself, which is why Popcak urges parents, above all else, to prioritize forging strong bonds of attachment within the family.  “Most parents want to check these problems by simply controlling their kids’ behavior – what they watch, who they hang out with, what they wear,” he told OSV. “Kids need guidance in all those areas, but just trying to control those things is not enough. Kids are buying into the culture, as shallow as it is, because they feel affirmed by that culture, more than they feel affirmed by us.  “Our families have to be more attached, more loving, more connected,” he concluded. “We have to work to spend more time with each other, to develop rituals and routines that bring the family together and help us like each other better than the average family. If parents can achieve that, then they can provide guidance on what to wear, who to associate with, how to behave. If they can’t achieve that, their attempts to give guidance will become a power struggle, and the parents will always lose.”

Credit to Emily Stimpson of


You've Got Style

By: Dr. Gregory Popcak

learning styles

Chances are you have spent a great deal of energy trying to discover your children’s “learning styles.” These styles represent the easiest ways your children can learn new things and communicate with others. They are all based on the particular sense (sight, sound, touch) that is most acute in your child. So, if your child has a visual learning style (i.e. his sense of sight is the one he relies on the most to learn and communicate), he probably learns best through reading and other visual presentations like videos, or show and tell type activities. Alternatively, if your child has a more auditory learning style (i.e., his sense of hearing is the one he relies on the most to learn and communicate), your child may learn best by being talked through certain tasks, or by singing educational songs and listening to read-aloud stories (and for older children, classroom lectures). Finally, if your child has a kinesthetic (kin-es-TET-ic) learning style (i.e., his sense of touch is most acute) he probably learns best by doing hands on projects. He may also be a “slower” learner who has a hard time sitting still in class and doesn’t enjoy reading very much–unless the stories are action packed and short, like comic books.

Learning Styles and Family Relating.

“So,” you might ask, “what’s this got to do with parenting?”  Learning styles, because they are neurologically based, aren’t just relevant to education. They translate into the ways people need to give and receive love as well, and in this context, they are called, Relating Styles. In order for people with more Visual Relating Style to feel loved, they need to be able to see the things you’ve done to show your love (like give cards, notes, or other special, tangible tokens of affection). People with a more Auditory Relating Style need to be talking with you to feel connected–if you aren’t listening or conversing, you aren’t being loving. Finally, individuals with a more Kinesthetic Relating Style appreciate more physical displays of affection. They are also grateful when a parent takes the time to quietly work on projects together. Understanding and becoming fluent in your child’s learning/relating style has a major impact on both your child’s behavior and the amount of peace you can experience at home. The following example might help illustrate this concept.  Danny was a six year old boy who was referred to the in-home family therapy program I was working in while I was a graduate intern. The most immediate issue was that Danny was throwing horribly violent tantrums which frightened the mother. On separate occasions during his many tantrums, Danny pulled a knife on his mother and even kicked the family’s television set, breaking it. One time, Danny threw a tantrum in front of me and my pregnant supervisor, threatening to “Kick her tummy and kill the baby!”  Our first reaction was that Danny wasn’t getting enough attention from his single mom. The only problem with this hypothesis was that his mother was very affectionate. Each day when Danny would come home from school, she would spend a good deal of time telling him how much she loved him, looking at his work for the day and talking about all the things he did.  All-in-all, it seemed as if she was pretty clued in to her son.

We decided to back up and attempt to assess the intention behind the violent tantrums by asking, “What does this mom do differently when Danny throws a tantrum than she normally does?” What we discovered was that when Danny had a tantrum, his mother would have to get off the couch and physically restrain him. This was no small feat for the woman, who was permanently disabled with chronic back problems. Not having much else to go on, we suggested that perhaps Danny was not getting enough kinesthetic (touch) attention from his mother (who had a more auditory relating style, that is, she loved him by talking to him) and his tantrums were actually a very clever adaptive response he had developed to meet his need for increased touch.  We explained our theory to the mother and offered the following suggestion. When Danny came home from school, she was to continue their usual ritual of looking at his schoolwork and telling him she loved him (visual and auditory attention). But from now on, she was to do this while he sat on her lap and she cuddled him, giving him physical affection for as long as he would stay.  The mother took our advice and ran with it. Even though it made her physically uncomfortable, she held Danny, rubbed his back, stroked his head, and cuddled with him–sometimes up to an hour–while she talked to him and reviewed his day. Amazingly, within a week, the tantrums decreased significantly. Within a month, they were gone completely.  While there remained other issues for treatment, understanding and attending to Danny’s relating style enabled this mother to prevent his imminent placement in foster care and establish the control and safety needed to build a new relationship with her son.

If you found this information helpful, and would like to learn about how relating styles affect marital relationships, please see the chapter on Love Languages in For Better… FOREVER!