Parents, don’t buy a helicopter

I left my daughter at college this weekend. As soon as I realized she would be attending college 562.3 miles from my home I began investigating buying or renting a helicopter. A helicopter would allow me to drop in from time to time and hang out with her, and her friends therefore easing her transition away from home. My quest has ended. Even renting a helicopter is cost prohibitive. Further, I’ve learned there is a name for parents like me; the researchers call us helicopter parents. Dr. Haim Ghinott coined the term back in 1969 to describe parents who hover over their child like a helicopter. Helicopter parents have been known to call professors about their child’s poor grades, and even to set up exercising schedules for their college students.

Actually, helicopter parenting can even be found in elementary aged school children where parents complain about the amount of homework their child receives or interfere when they do not feel their child is playing enough on a sports team. Helicopter parents often intervene to spare their child from pain or worry. How do you know if you may be a helicopter parent? Consider your child’s grades and activities. Are you more concerned about their grade point average than they are? Are you more concerned about their performance on a team than they are? If you are, you are at risk for becoming a helicopter parent.

As a parent we are always trying to find the proper balance between nurturing and developing our children. The key to their growth is that they feel the pressure (more than us) over a poor performance or low grades. When the parent is more concerned about the grades of their child than the child is, they are in an unsustainable situation. We cannot carry that dynamic into adulthood where a parent would be more concerned about their child’s job performance or marital relationship than the child would be.

In the long run, being a helicopter parent is detrimental to the development of a child. In one study of college students, those with helicopter parents experienced more depression, decreased life satisfaction, and lower levels of autonomy.* So, I have decided not to be a helicopter parent. Keep me in your thoughts. I’ve got to break the news to my daughter that I will not be getting a helicopter and dropping in all of the time. I know she is going to be disappointed.

*Schiffrin, H. H., Liss, M., Miles-McLean, H., Geary, K. A., Erchull, M. J., & Tashner, T. (2014). Helping or Hovering? The Effects of Helicopter Parenting on College Students’ Well-Being. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 23, 548-557.

Getting Ready for School: Preparing Your Child

Parents, what you say and do with your children greatly influences whether they succeed or fail in school. Here are a few thoughts to consider as you embark on the school year.

You May Fail

Tell your children it is possible that they may fail. Too often today parents convey that it is a certainty that their child will succeed. Some go even so far as to intervene and even try to do the school work for their child. We have learned from some well designed research studies that students who believe failing a class or a task is a possibility are more likely to succeed at that task. The possibility of failure appears to lead a student to work harder toward succeeding, and significantly increases the likelihood that they will succeed. On the other hand, when a student does not believe they can fail they are less likely to put forth the effort to succeed, and are actually more likely to fail at the task.1

Choose Friends Wisely

Your child’s report card and test results will look very similar to those of their closest friends. In one study of high school students, this result was even found to be true with grade fluctuation. If a student’s grades went up, their closest friends grades went up. If a student’s grades went down, their closest friends grades went down.2 How your child’s friends think about coursework determines how your child views coursework and vice versa.

Be Counter Cultural

It seems like school today has less to do with well, school. In other words, when a typical student thinks about school they are more likely to think about sports and clubs (extracurricular activities) and friends and associates (socialization). All of these are important to their development but let us not lose sight of academics. Researchers from John Hopkins University conducted a robust study of 11,000 children who immigrated to the United States. They found that students from other countries were more successful in U.S. schools (and on into adulthood) than their counterparts that grew up in the U.S. They also found that the longer an immigrant student attended a US school (the more they were influenced by the culture), the less successful they became.3 It appears that a focus upon learning is counter cultural so tell your child to have fun at school but to also take advantage of the academic opportunities they have. They will need to know as much as they can in our increasingly global economy.

Respect Your Teachers

If you are a Christian I am sure this goes without saying (Romans 13) but teach your children the importance of submitting to their teachers and giving them respect. From a practical standpoint, remember that your child’s teachers spend more time with them that you do so partner with them for the best results for your child. Reinforce what is happening in the classroom. When you ask your child about their day, ask what they have learned, and question them about upcoming projects and tests.

Your interaction with your child about school issues and academics sets the tone for the school year, and determines the quality of their year. It also sets the stage for your child’s future, so be intentional about what you say and do.


1 Autin, F., & Croizet, J. C. (2012). Improving working memory efficiency by reframing metacognitive interpretation of task difficulty. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 141 (4), 610-618.
2 Blansky, D., Kavanaugh, C., Boothroyd, B., Benson, J. Gallagher, J., & Hiroki S. (2013). Spread of Academic Success in a High School Social Network. PLoS ONE, 8 (2): e55944 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0055944).
3 Hao, L., & Woo, H. S. (2012). Distinct Trajectories in the Transition to Adulthood: Are Children of Immigrants Advantaged? Child Development, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2012.01798.x

Back to School: Should you write or type?

Over the next few days classes are beginning all over the country in schools and colleges. Classrooms today are a lot different from just a few years ago. Student after student will be typing notes on a laptop or using a keyboard to type into their iPad or other tablet device as they try to capture important material. At the end of class, many will quickly upload their notes into the cloud with no worries of misplacing their notebooks and losing this material. But is this the best approach? I tend to write down what I hear in meetings in notebooks and have been known to even retype the material into a laptop later. Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur but in my own experience it seems like I retain more with this approach.

So what should you do to get the most out of your coursework? Recently a study was published in Psychological Science examining this very issue. Students watched a TED Talk and one group was given a laptop (disconnected from the Internet) to take notes on and the other group was given a notebook and pen. Thirty minutes after the TED Talk both groups were tested with factual and conceptual questions. The two groups performed similarly on the factual questions but those who took notes by hand performed significantly better on conceptual questions. The researchers utilized a variety of conditions (take notes on key concepts versus taking more verbatim notes) and yet the results remained the same. The longhand note takers still beat the laptop note takers one week later after both groups were asked to review their notes before taking the test.

So does this mean you need to switch back to a paper and pen to take notes? The researchers noted that it is important to examine the medium and strategy that one uses when taking notes. In other words, it may be that the nature of taking notes on a laptop that leads one to try to record more information (the laptop recorders in this study had longer notes) rather than conceptualizing the content during the class. Most people write slower than they can type so they must think and process what to write down when they are using a pen and paper. I also think there is something to writing material down. Consider how many people doodle during meetings or even classes. There may be something about taking notes on paper that allows us to more fully engage our senses. So whether you take notes on a notebook or with a laptop carefully consider the concepts you are hearing. You might even consider using a pen and notebook. They may laugh and think you are a dinosaur but when the test results come back you may be the one smiling then.

Suicide Facts

There are many dangerous myths about suicide. In this post I want to look at some of these and focus on facts that can help us prevent suicide.

Only depressed people kill themselves

This isn’t true, around 40% of those who commit suicide do not appear to have been clinically depressed. In many cases (especially among young people) the suicide comes after the breakup of a romantic relationship. In other cases it may be in the aftermath of a major disappointment or embarrassment.

You shouldn’t ask someone if they are suicidal

Actually you should ask someone if they are okay if you are worried about them. Many are afraid that they will be putting the idea of suicide into a persons mind. When you ask, “Have you ever thought about hurting yourself?” You are showing your concern for the person. If they tell you they haven’t, you can ask them to promise to tell you if they should ever feel that way. If they tell you they have, you can take them to someone who will help. Many schools have implemented the QPR approach which involves questioning the person about suicide, persuading them to get help and then referring them to an adult, parent, pastor, coach or counselor that can help. These programs appear to be very effective.

Just get them to the doctor

A visit to a physician is a good first step for a suicidal person, however, in one study 20% of older people who committed suicide had visited their primary care physician on the same day of the suicide, 40% of them had visited their primary care physician within one week, and 70% within one month. Effective interventions will involve church congregations, pastors, and involvement with friends and ongoing participation in professional counseling. Participation in ongoing professional counseling drastically reduces the risk for suicide.

There is nothing I can do

False. Having a solid friend (like described in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) has been found to be a great deterrent to suicide, especially for those who are depressed. The little things friends do go a long way toward suicide prevention. For example, helping a person who is depressed get into a routine (get up, get out, get busy) is priceless. Walking with someone can help elevate his or her mood. Friends can hold each other accountable by following up on someone when they miss church or an appointment, taking the extra step to get them going.

If they kill themself it is my fault

The person who commits suicide is responsible for their own actions. We can help deter them but whether they live or die is their decision. In my previous work I placed people on suicide watch regularly, and would always recommend an involuntary commitment for a suicidal person. But a person cannot be monitored in that manner indefinitely. Eventually they will have an opportunity to take their life if they so choose. The Golden Gate Bridge is the second most used suicide site in the world in spite of numerous suicide prevention measures. It appears to me that one is always in view of a suicide prevention sign wherever they may be on the bridge. And yet many continue to jump. Real suicide prevention comes when a person realizes that in spite of their pain and hardship they have a loving God who reaches out to them. He has helped others in pain just like them (Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist), and He personally understands their pain because He too has experienced it. Dependence upon Him is the key to real suicide prevention.

There is nothing like suicide

Less than 24 hours ago Robin Williams made the decision to end his life. Actually, Williams probably made this decision some time ago. Perhaps as he struggled with depression he saw no way out of his pain. He may have concluded that suicide was the way to end his suffering. It appears that many view suicide as an option to ending this pain. Today, suicide is the leading cause of injury-related death (more people die from suicide than from falling or car crashes or homicide). Death by suicide has increased by 15 percent in a decade with 38,000 people in the United States dying every year from suicide. My fear is that when a person like Mr. Williams takes his life that suicide becomes a bit more palatable for those experiencing intolerable pain.

But dying from suicide is far worse than dying from a fall or car crash. A few years ago I rushed to a hospital where a young man had attempted to take his own life. As I approached the receptionist at the hospital I observed a man asking for this young man. The receptionist frantically searched for the patient but she couldn’t find his name. I think we both realized simultaneously she couldn’t find his name because he was no longer a patient; he had passed away. I offered to take this man to the young man’s family. When we got on the elevator he asked, “Was it an accident?” It was at that moment that I realized there is really nothing like a suicide. Though it would have been tragic if he had died by other means, nothing seemed as tragic as what had transpired.

In my previous work I talked with many people after they had attempted suicide. A common theme emerged, “I just wanted to end the suffering.” If you find yourself contemplating suicide I want to dissuade you of the notion that you will be ending the suffering. A completed suicide is just the beginning of incomprehensible suffering. The family and friends of a loved one are left to ask, “Why?” and “What if . . . ?” There are the nagging thoughts of “If I had only . . .”

On some level the suffering can be quantified. Children of parents who commit suicide are three times more likely to commit suicide than children whose parents are living. People who have a sibling who committed suicide are more likely to commit suicide and on and on it goes.

Should you find yourself contemplating suicide please consider the impact it will have upon others. Get some help, and there is real help. Visit your physician, enlist the help of a local church, get involved in counseling, and let your friends and family in on the ways that they can assist you. Your situation can be better. Lean on the God who can help you through this pain and will walk along side of you making intercession for you even when you hurt so bad you cannot pray.

A word fitly spoken even applies to Facebook

Recently a study applying an automated text-analysis system to sort Facebook status updates found that emotions expressed online are contagious. Using this approach, the researchers were able to review the posts of 100 million users in the 100 most populous United States cities over three years. They found that rainy days directly influenced the tone of a persons post, which in turn affected the Facebook status of one or two friends in other cities where it was not raining. Additionally, each positive post resulted in a further 1.75 positive posts among friends, and negative posts resulted in 1.29 more negative posts among friends. It looks like the Proverb (25:11) on a fitly spoken word can even be applied to Facebook. So the next time you are preparing to post on social media consider, “Will this post encourage or discourage others?” And as you read posts, be aware that what you are reading can be contagious, is it impacting you positively or negatively.

Is Facebook Bad for Your Health?

A recent study of female college students published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders indicated that more time on Facebook was associated with higher levels of disordered eating. When student’s browsed for 20 minutes or more they reported more body dissatisfaction than those who were instructed to use the Internet to conduct research. Also, women who put a greater importance on receiving “likes” and comments on their status reported the highest levels of disordered eating. What can we learn from this study?

I’m reminded of the passage from Ephesians 5 that says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” A little time on Facebook or other social media is fine, and it can even be good as it helps us keep connected with friends. However, we need to monitor the kind of impact such an activity has upon us, just like we should with anything else. If we find ourselves impacted negatively or are finding ourselves impacted by the number of “likes” received, then we need to cut back on the amount of time we are spending on that activity. It is probably good to have periods where we have a social media fast. If you do so, notice the difference in your mood, and perhaps increased productivity.

How does reading the Bible help you survive the culture?

Dr. Dan Ariely has conducted a lot of research on why people lie and cheat. He has found that cheating is far too prevalent on college campuses. However, there was one situation where he found people to be reluctant to cheat. In one study, a group of students was asked to recall the Ten Commandments before taking a test. Most of these students did not know the Ten Commandments and none could recall all of them. A few were even atheists. However, taking the time to recall the Ten Commandments significantly reduced the likelihood of those students cheating. Though this was not the purpose of his research, it demonstrates that taking the time to think about the Word of God can help you stay on track. Imagine the results that could be achieved for a person motivated to obey the Word. So take the time to read your Bible and everyday, and as you make decisions, think about the Scriptures that apply to it. You just might find that the Bible helps you to stay on track.


Why “Surviving Culture”?

As of today, “Surviving Culture” can be purchased at a bookstore near you (or at least on Amazon, CBD and at Randall House).  This book is for the next generation of believers who will take the salt and light of Christianity into the culture. To do this, a young person must Be Ready, Be Substance, Be Yourself, and Be an Investor.  There is a chapter on each of these topics. 

There is nothing new about the problems our young people face today.  Long ago some youth from Judah found themselves thrust into a corrupt culture. Most succumbed to the culture, but there were four who were certain about their identity. They possessed great competence that catapulted them into positions of influence. They were authentic to the core.  Though they were not perfect, they continuously served God to the end and influenced their culture.  Their example can help our youth some 2,600 years later as their character collides with the world.  This book is a departure from most of my earlier work and is my first attempt at writing to a younger audience.  It grew out of the Forlines Lectures Series I presented at Welch College back in 2012.  However, the book draws upon my experience of over 20 years of work in secular settings.  The purpose of this book is to equip believers in the 21st century with the tools they need to influence their culture rather than being influenced by it.  I hope you will get a copy for the young people in your life.