Saturday, November 30, 2013


With Thanksgiving kicked to the curb this week in favor of Black Friday (and I don’t really know what to call the sales that started at 3:00 on Thanksgiving), it seems appropriate to consider the theme of gratitude as it applies to young people. There is a growing body of knowledge on affective emotions such as gratitude in research about adolescents. These studies seem to complement those having to do with the level of engagement by adolescents in all areas of life.
Recent studies have led researchers to speculate that “one factor that may inhibit the development of gratitude is materialism” (Froh and Bono, 2010). This being the case, it seems difficult to cultivate a strong sense of gratitude when culturally we sweep our national celebration of gratitude to the side in favor of what is becoming our highest value of materialism (masked in the celebration of the ancient Christ child, though it may be). If you are a parent looking to develop a healthy life outlook in your children, we might reflect on these initial conclusions: “gratitude seems to drive intrinsic goal pursuit, prosocial motivations, and the fulfillment of higher order needs, whereas materialism seems to drive extrinsic goal pursuit, individualistic motivations, and the fulfillment of lower-order needs” (Kasser, 2002; Polak & McCullough, 2006). Not only are extrinsic goals harmful in the development of positive learning habits, but adolescents who are extrinsically motivated report more tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana use, and a higher incidence of sexual intercourse than the intrinsically motivated youth (ibid).
Suggestions?:  Extend your Thanksgiving celebrations to include frequent messages of gratitude. Consider holding off the rush to consume at Christmas in favor of the virtue of giving. The benefits may go beyond simply having more thankful kids, but may even benefit your children educationally and socially. If you do join in on the post-turkey shopping sprees, work to communicate gratitude to those around you so your children see that the pursuit of “deals” is more than simply the feeding of our consumerist soul. Studies are beginning to show that young people are better-adjusted to life when they learn to be satisfied and grateful than when they have to satisfy the bottomless pit of materialism. Take time, enjoy, say “thank you,” and treat salespeople and checkers with respect and dignity. These examples of gratitude get passed on in the form of contentment and the enjoyment of life that go far beyond the fleeting satisfaction of stuff.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

New Hunters and Gatherers

                For millennia, those we now term “adolescents” transitioned into an adult working culture in a fairly natural way. Boys in hunting cultures would begin hunting small game, girls would begin working in the kitchen or managing the household, and shepherds would begin tending the smaller animals. The idea that “the world is their oyster” was not a consideration. Now, however, young children are told that they could be anything they want to be. Think about the difference in the stress level between, “son, today you are going to go hunting for rabbit with your friends and one day you will get to hunt the big buffalo with the rest of the tribe.” and “You better work really hard in all six of your classes. Also, don’t forget that ________ (football, chess, student government) is your ticket to a scholarship.” The transition into adult culture for those in the past would have been gradual and predictable to most in society, while today it is more mysterious and ominous.
                These questions about the future have an impact on our young people. As individualistic Americans we tend to hold the value of choice up as a civic virtue, but today the choices that young people will have are relatively ephemeral. Sure, some traditional occupations will continue in the future, but many of the high-level business and technological positions are changing quicker than our educational systems, or our psyches, can handle. We, as adults, should keep this reality in mind as we coach our children in the adolescent years—the questions about the future are great and nebulous for them. Perhaps we need to avoid the age-old question of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and replace it with, “What kind of person are you becoming?” helping adolescents move more gracefully into a character-driven life. Our focus, then, is to train them in how to think, analyze and synthesize ideas rather than how to do tasks.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Hi! I'm Troy a recovering non-reader.

Welcome to my new blog where I will be discussing things I find interesting. Those things can vary but usually cluster around great books, education, culture, reaching adolescents, philosophy, and at times theology. My name is Troy and I have been a recovering non-reader for about two decades now. That means that I was able to make it through college and almost to a masters program reading as little as I possibly could while getting by. Oh, it is true that I learned to read in elementary school, and my mom did occasionally coerce me from outside to come in to read my "favorite" Encyclopedia Brown books. But truth be told, I would have much rather read a Cliff's Notes (and did) than actual books (recently I re-read All Quiet on the Western Front to replace in my brain, what Uncle Cliff wrote about it). Like many, I thought the the goal was the A or B on my final report card (I got in trouble for Cs), and many of the books assigned had much more in them than the plot, characters, conflict, theme, and resolution. All of those could easily be gotten from some nifty summary materials. Since I am old enough not to have had the internet, I was at a serious disadvantage compared to today's kids in my self-inflicted education truncation.

What happened? A good friend (those pesky English majors) sent me To Kill a Mockingbird for Christmas. I read it and liked it. I really liked it! I actually related to Scout and Jem, but I wanted to grow up to be Atticus. That friend remembered me the following Christmas and sent Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I read the whole thing!--it was actually pretty short. I later went into education and then into classical education and became passionate about connecting ideas and watching our students begin to light up when they read and discussed a great book. Now I read books on culture (especially that culture influencing adolescence), philosophy interspersed with great stories, and psychology and sociology. Since I am a recovering non-reader, I have had to play catchup and have a lifetime ahead of me to keep reading, relating, cogitating, and exploring. I invite you to join me as I share some random and occasional coherent thoughts.