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by Pepper Pratt, Ph.D.

I talk a lot with kids and families. There are very mixed reviews when it comes to going back to school. Parents really enjoy the return to a routine and the structure that function like gutter guards at the bowling alley, keeping everything moving and going in a good general direction. Kids at summertime are often like rogue kitty-cats, making final scrambles for freedom before having to go back inside for a season. Our children, on the other hand embrace all things summer: swimming, being outside, vacations, sleeping in, lower pressure, low expectations, working and being paid for it, etc…. The list goes on. A few youngsters, whether they admit it or not, get a little bored in the summertime and prefer to have a plan for the day. Going back to school has a “plan” that is pre-packaged.

As a psychology-trained therapist, I have also done my share of work with athletes. The majority of my sports-psychology clients? Golfers. The #1 complaint of golfers is that once they have experienced a bad hole or a bad shot, it gets in their head and it is difficult to get back on track. The self-talk and internal tapes that begin playing so distract them from their game, they live up to the negative language in their minds. L

Many kids going back to school feel the same way. Academic confidence, especially transitioning from middle school to high school, often determines the grades they make, the colleges they seek and the jobs they ultimately get. When a child has a bad academic experience during this time of life, it can be derailing. But, just like the golfer has to do some self-coaching to get their focus back and play to their ability, a student may need some life-coaching from time to time, even over tutoring. This is where you come in.

While you may not be able to make your child any smarter, you very well may be able to help him or her get focused on the books in such a way that her potential is maximized. Here are a few suggestions for getting off to a good start.

Coach them to get organized. Now-a-days, schools are pretty good at acknowledging and helping with this very foundational study-skill. Often, during the first week of the school-year, teachers may require or even give out a planning notebook that helps your student keep up with dates and assignments. Of course, we also have Franklin-Covey Planners, Moleskins, iPhones, iPads and laptops. Which one is the most effective? The debate rages over paper vs. electronic organizers. The answer is very clear. The one that works the best is the one you actually use!

Coach them to build relationships with adults. There is a correlation between students who excel academically and a positive relationship that same student has with faculty and staff at the school. Most teachers step in to that calling because they want to help students! If you look hard enough, you can find something wrong with any teacher. Avoid falling into the middle-school temptation to make fun of teachers, even passively agreeing with you child when they may blame the teacher for their own lack of academic performance. Teaching your child to build relationships with adults begins with you having your own partnership with your child’s teacher as the school-year begins.

Coach them to experience more at school than just the classroom. When you think about it, your child spends more waking moments at school than just about any other single location during childhood. There are not just opportunities to learn the basics, but also fantastic moments in which your child may develop as a leader, an athlete, an artist, or as a friend. There are many teachable moments. Lean in to them.

Coach them to follow through. I have gone about as far in school as most people would ever want to go and I have learned this one thing: school success has less to do with high intelligence and much more to do with persistence. That’s right, most people with doctorates aren’t necessarily higher IQ than everyone else, they just didn’t quit. Following through begins with this week’s homework. Following through is not just blowing off a bad grade but seeking to understand what went wrong and determining to learn from it. Following through is showing up to football practice when you didn’t earn the starting spot. Following through is continuing to put forth a best effort when the subject area doesn’t come naturally. Just don’t quit.

Coach them to keep it simple. Complicated will come in its own time, but try to stay in this week. Try to understand what is happening this week. Don’t become a prisoner between last week and next week.

There are many challenges, but many opportunities for delight as school begins. As a parent, seek to stay in tune with the challenges and the delights of your child. This school year is about your child’s experience and not your own. In the meantime, enjoy the delightful things that happen and be prepared to coach them through the challenges.

Pepper Pratt, Ph.D. LPC/MHSP is the Executive Director at Youth Town of Tennessee

For nearly twenty-five years, I’ve sat down with parents who seem to struggle with a single issue between the two of them— balancing love and discipline. One parent is all about some love. His delight in his child is plain for all to see. It is not that he believes his child can do no wrong, but wrong seems to be relative and less noticed while the focus seems to be more on potential. It may seem this parent, who could be Mom OR Dad, is afraid of conflict or lazy, but it is more likely that the rearing of this parent is lavishly spilling over into a new context of parenting without being checked at the door, examined and evaluated in terms of the needs of a child born in this century.

This, of course, drives the other parent nuts. She most likely grew up in a home where structure ruled the day and there was a place for everything and everything in its place. She knows that her child’s behavior is not always black and white, good and bad, but she firmly believes that for every action, there is a reward or consequences. For an unwanted behavior to continue without negative consequences is a nightmare! A child should learn upon entry into the world of breathing on his own that there are firm boundaries. These boundaries may exist at first around feeding schedules and sleep, but layer upon layer is added as the child gets older and he or she is expected to tow the line. 

So, who is right and who is wrong? Well, the truth is both styles, in their extreme, increase the chances that the child will keep a psychotherapist in business someday! When both styles are fruitful and multiply, then little does the little guy (or girl) know that the light they see at the end of the birth canal is really an oncoming train. It may often take new parents years for these differences to rise to the surface, but when they do, the problem is not contained in the process of parenting, but spills over into marital conflict. At best, inconsistent parenting weaves through the years. At worst, tensions saturate the entire marriage and bitterness is born and grows with each parental disagreement. What’s worse is the great divide, is that the child does not get what she needs, and she is caught up in a competition of parental styles. So, what is the right answer? Who is right? Who is wrong?

Maybe the wrong question is being asked. Rather that permissiveness or strictness on center stage, consider the possibility that the star of the show is really the child’s heart. “Love” and discipline are attempts to manage behavior. Parenting in such a way as to gain the attention of his or her heart moves past training for behavior and gets to shaping a child’s operating system, values and motivations. Behavior training certainly has a place, but evaporates as a child gets older unless heart-training is engaged with fully present parents who pursue a relationship of depth and age-appropriateness with each stage of a child’s development.

It is a child’s heart that makes effective decisions when parents are not on the radar. The heart of a child has motivations about authority generally, about justice, mercy and compassion for other human beings. A child with lots of love and no discipline may be sweet at times, but potentially entitled and spoiled. A child dunked in discipline knows how to put up a good front, but may rebel without the relationship that is aimed at shepherding the heart. When a parent is self-aware, purposes to pursue the heart of his or her child, knows the child intimately, then love and discipline begin to balance themselves.

Written by Mike Roby

“When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices.” Proverbs 11:10 That scripture is true because the righteous of any society shares with their city or village as they prosper rather than hoarding.

Mike plays with the Morgan-Briar Bluegrass Band at last year’s “Evening with Patsy Cline featuring Kellye Cash Shepherd.”

One particular scene of the 2006 comedy, Talladega Nights-The Ballad of Ricky Bobby– was hilarious but sadly realistic. The camera panned on NASCAR Champion Ricky Bobby’s home before his famous Grace. The driveway is full of cars, boats, Hummers etc.As a person who works in fundraising for struggling non-profits I immediately saw what the movie was depicting….Gross Excess. I thought of Solomon’s observation in Eccl. 5:13 “I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners.” At some point I believe we are all guilty of over-indulgence, selfishness, rather than sharing.

I know people who have little but like the widow in the Bible give sacrificially and are full of joy and contentment. I also know successful wealthy people who bless others and find great joy in supporting their church, local non-profits and individuals in need. Without question they live the most fulfilled lives that Solomon also mentioned as he concluded his pondering of life:

Eccl. 5:18 “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. 20 They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

So live, love and be blessed. There should be no guilt for success and prosperity. True fulfillment comes when one takes it to the next level of giving to others. You can take it with you. “Whoever gives a cup of water in my name will not go without his reward.” The only thing we can take to heaven is what we give away on earth. If you are like me, I have more than I can store.

By Paige Blesdoe, LCSW

Paige Bledsoe, LCSW is the Program Director for Eden of Youth Town, a responsive, Christ-centered treatment program for girls, ages 12-17 set to open in January of 2015.

What do you think of when you hear teenage girl?

I think so many things! Girls are silly, chatty, mean, dramatic, fun, moody, beautiful, special, daddy’s little girl, easily influenced, emotional, self- conscience. They are all these things and so much more. I love working with girls. They keep things interesting to say the least.

When I am approached about Youth Town opening its doors to serve girls in January, 2015, I am often met in one of two ways. The majority of people share how overjoyed they are that Youth Town will begin to provide services to adolescent girls, others look at me and ask me, “Are you ready for girls?” The latter question often makes me laugh out loud. My answer never waivers, YES! I am ready for girls. Yes, I am ready for the “drama” that girls can bring. Yes, I am ready for a range of emotions. Yes, I am ready to connect with them. Yes, I am ready to provide the guidance, treatment, support, safety, and love of Christ that so many girls fighting the battle of Chemical Dependency and other struggles have not yet received in their short life. YES! I am ready!!! I am over the moon!

My passion for working with females began when I started my career serving survivors of sexual trauma. This experience ignited a passion within me that could only come from the Lord. Girls are special! They are not like boys! They are different!

What do we know about girls?

Girls are relational. They are created with a desire to connect to others. It is through this connection with others that girls develop a sense of self-worth, whether that worth be strong, healthy, and positive or whether they view themselves sad, unworthy, unlovable, and even bad. Their relationships to their parents, their peers, others, and God help them develop into the women that they become. Sadly, many girls don’t grow up in Christian homes full of love, support and encouragement, guidance, a listening ear, positive discipline, all of which build healthy self- worth. Many grow up in families that are unsafe physically and emotionally; that unfortunately do not teach them how to cope, problem solve, to find their value in their relationship with our heavenly Father. It is these precious girls that are at risk of chemical dependency, trauma, depression, anxiety, and a wealth of struggles. These are the girls we will serve. These are the girls that we will seek to show God’s love! His healing!

So what do girls need to support healthy development? To build a strong sense of self?

1. To know that she is loved and accepted.

2. To be encouraged! Praised! Tell her how proud you are of her- her good decisions, her accomplishments, how she has faced struggles, and worked hard.

3. Listen to her! It is in her daily conversations that you will truly know her- what she cares about, who she is hanging out with, where she is struggling and needs support and guidance.

4. Limits! Teach her where the limits are; tell her your expectations; give her information. Help her learn to make decisions that are in her best interest and when she struggles provide guidance and love through conversation, not just telling her what to do.

5. Teach her through your example how to treat people, how to be kind, assertive, Godly.

Girls are awesome! Girls are dramatic! Girls are worth the connection!

By Randy Church

Randy is the Marketing/Court Liaison at Youth Town. He has served in this ministry over 20 years as a house parent, direct care worker, aftercare officer and camp director. He raised his children the better part of their childhood on our campus and his lovely bride, Lisa, supervises our food service. His servant’s heart bleeds through in the following words.

As a child, I was fortunate, no wait, blessed. Yeah that’s a better word. As a child I was blessed to be raised in a tiny agriculture-based town. The community was really small. Small enough that simple things still meant a lot. The county fair was still our “big deal” every year. It was popular not for the midway games and shows. The carnival rides weren’t the big draw either. It was, in fact, the handmade quilts and preserves. The homegrown fare was such as corn, pumpkins, tomatoes and beans. The craftsmen showing their best in hopes of the coveted blue ribbon and bragging rights for the next year. Another of the competitions that people looked forward to and prepared for was the animal showings. A pig farmer would take his prize hog, clean him, train him how to stand and show him. When the fair ended the farmer would take his prize animal back to the barnyard. What do you think that pig did when he got home? Yep, went right back to the mud. If nothing had changed in the barnyard, he went back to the same muck and mire.

At Youth Town, we see young men, on a regular basis, come from that muck and mire. The majority of these young men make life changing decisions and do all the “right stuff.” We witness awesome young men of God grow in their relationship with a Creator. In this relationship they learn they don’t have to continue to live in the trap of addiction. They can be set free! They see, many times for the first time in their young lives, there is a better way of living. We are blessed with watching these once broken and muddy young men walk out with their heads held high. They leave with good intentions.

What happens to these young men when they return to the same environment? Sadly, some go right back to the same old way of life without the family making any changes while others are staying clean and sober. The difference is change of environment. Many of the staff continue to pray for the guys and their families even after they have gone home.

You can join with us by giving and in praying for the families that need to make changes. Having been at Youth Town for more than 20 years, I have seen my share of well intending young men go home to the same turmoil from which they were delivered. I have also witnessed a greater number go back to the barnyard and not end up in the mud hole. Those are what keeps us going.

One of my least favorite things to hear a believer say is “All I can do is pray.” When we say that we send a message that the enemy hears. That message is that we don’t believe prayer is the most important thing we can do. What we should say is, “I can pray!”

Guess what? We can pray! Partner with us and lift up the families of these great guys. Oh yeah and give! God bless.