Governing One’s Mind

Diligently add to your faith virtue: who I am in Christ.

Diligently add to virtue knowledge:  who He is in His unchanging nature and how that changes me.

Diligently add to knowledge self control.

2 Peter 1:5

Josiah, our four year old grandson, flails his arms and legs wildly about when he gets very frustrated. Haddie, our two year old granddaughter, throws herself on the ground in a heaping fit when told “NO”. Three year old Kate scratches her brother in the face when he gets in her space and her cousin  Jude sneaks a piece of candy when mommy is not looking.

Self control and haddie

Haddie is thinking "should I scream or should I cooperate?"

Your competitive 2nd grade son slugs his friend in the face at school when he crowds in front of him in line. You teenage daughter fires angry accusations back at you when confronted and chats in class when bored. Your son glances at his neighbor’s test when he does not know an answer to a test question or at porn on the internet when no one is around.

Your athlete argues rudely when the referee charges him an unwarranted foul or throws down his racket when he loses a tennis match. Your teen struggles to complete her homework choosing instead to respond to each and every text that comes to her all hours of the day.

You find yourself struggling to stay focused in prayer with all the distracting thoughts and concerns that continually pull your attention.

What do all these scenarios have in common?

A lack of self-control.

Self control is the capacity to govern oneself and it comes by way of the willingness to struggle.  It’s counterpart, self indulgence, is the refusal to struggle or to make oneself fit.  We often consider self control with regard to eating and exercise habits or in controlling emotions or avoiding temptation, but self control begins with a fitness in the mind – in our thinking habits.

Thinking is not just something that happens but it is a physical process we gain control over as we cultivate habits of the mind over time.  Maggie Jackson in her book Distracted defines self control as the “essence of looking- literally and cognitively before you leap—a constant balancing act between thought and emotion.”

Every generation has its challenges.  Today’s students challenge is distraction.  Parents today must vigilantly guide their children to win this battle over the mind, so that they develop strong attentional control in a culture that constantly pulls at them and works to distract them.

Today’s kids have 24/7 access to distraction via media and via peers.  Many are constantly attached to external noise via ipods and other media devices. Their eyes seek after screens. Their fingers remain ready to text friends at all hours of the day and night. Today’s parents are the first generation that must establish a new style of boundaries having to do with the communication networks that continually flood their homes- and the minds of their children.  As a result, they have to address what is NOT taking place.

The ancient Greeks defined impulsivity as a deficiency of the will.  The media age we live in and the ability to communicate immediately with others is growing an impulsive life style and thinking process in our kids and even in adults.  It encourages a deficiency in our willpower. We can pour tons of money into schools, hire the greatest of teachers, build amazing facilities and have the most up to date technology but if students have not developed the skill of attentional control – self control over the physical process of thinking – none of it matters.  They will simply go through the school day, turning to their phones each time they get bored, or tune into their ipods when the task before them feels too difficult.

Attentional control is the drive behind willpower and the means by which students will successfully resist immediate gratification.   Attentional skills are vital in order to live in a complex world without constantly falling prey to distraction. They need self control to read and comprehend a book, to finish a project, to persevere through tedious tasks, to direct their emotions, to plan for tomorrow, to have deep conversations, to turn off the TV, to contemplate truth, to pray.  Self control grows into deeper forms of focus and diligence that engage a student and fuel both academic achievement and depth of thought.  Without self control, they can have the strongest of motivations and set the highest of goals, yet they will invariably get sidetracked by the distractions, temptations, and obstacles of life.  The failure to exercise this self discipline is the major cause of underachievement among American youth today.

Today’s teens prefer instead an impulsive, self indulgent pattern of thinking that leads to impulsive actions and self indulgent decisions.  It feels like freedom. To get what you want and to be free in your thinking feels right at the moment but it is a lie of the enemy and the road to becoming enslaved for “whatever overcomes a person to that he is enslaved.” (2 Peter 2:19).  Impulsivity narrows their perceptions down to whatever their strong emotions call for at the moment. Impulsivity is the opposite of a planned, disciplined life.  Impulsivity promotes immediate gratification over deferred gratification keeping one under the influence of the temporal.   Many teens today remain disordered in their thinking about the future because they are doing little in their minds to prepare for its arrival.

If the devil can’t make your kids bad, he will work to make their minds too busy and distracted, wearing them down by nature of what is not happening  knowing that eventually all else will tumble down as well.  “Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”  1 Peter 5: 8

I hear a lot of talk among parents today about the importance of down time for their kids.  More important than making sure they have down time, is what that down time actually consists of.  Many of today’s kids are overly busy and stressed but not necessarily by the external expectations placed on them.  Rather they are stressed out by way of cluttered busy minds that continually search for stimulation and pleasure.   A schedule full of challenges and pressures that form strong mental and physical habits is what a teen needs during a season of their life in which they are growing and developing.  Their future is what is at stake and not the fleeting present which they prefer to focus on.

What’s Really going On Inside Your Teen’s Head

by Judith Newman in Sunday, November 25th edition of Parade Magazine

“At birth our brains have an operating system loaded and primed for growth.  In a baby, EACH neuron (a cell that transmits electric signals) has around 2,500 synapses; that increases over the next three years or so to around 15,000.  These synapses are the wiring that allows our brains to send and receive information.  Until recently, scientists thought this huge surge in brain wiring happened only once, when kids are young.  Wrong.  A study of 145 kids and adolescents scanned every two years at the National Institutes of Health has shown that there’s another huge surge right before adolescence, followed by a process of ‘pruning’ those connections in a kind of use-it-or-lose-it strategy.  In other words, says Jess Sharkin, assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and pediatrics at the NYU Child Study Center, ‘if you’re a chess player or an athlete, the areas of the brain responsible for those skills will continue to develop- while others will fade away.’  The skills you practice as a child and pre-teen become much sharper in the teenage years; and those practiced reluctantly, if at all, will diminish on your brain’s hard-disk drive. ‘The brain is very efficient allowing you to become more adept at the life skills you’re going to use – which is why these are the years to set good work habits in place,’ notes Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work.  Adds Sharkin, ‘this synaptic pruning in a sense makes you become the person you’ll ultimately be.’ “

TIPS

  1. Expect your children to grow their ability to stay on task and to pay attention.
  2. Focus on learning skills such as concentration, comprehension and memory.
  3. Encourage your child to recognize thinking as a physical function that they have control over.
  4. Convey that “want feels good to do right now, may not be good for them later on.”
  5. Encourage your child to think about the consequences for their actions.
  6. Remind your child to take deep breaths, to pray, to take a break when tempted to act impulsively in response to frustration, anger, temptations, etc.
  7. Reinforce times when he or she shows self-control by noticing and commenting on the good choices.
  8. Teach your children the “even when – still I will” principle.  Self control is easy when everything is smooth but essential even when
  • When mistreated, I will forgive and respond in peace and gentleness
  • When overwhelmed I will go to God for His strength
  • When anxious and worried I will put my trust in the nature of God
  • When studying or praying I will shove aside distractions and remain on task
  • When training for a sport, I will not take short cuts
  • When reading a book, I will dig deeply for comprehension
  • When driving a car, I will stay off the phone
  • When faced with temptations, I will turn my back and say NO

3 Comments

  1. This is really thought-provoking. Great post.

    Reply
  2. Ellen…this is fantastic!!

    Reply
  3. Thank you! I needed a reminder to praise my son when he is persistent and patient for something. Those are skills worth noticing!

    Reply

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