What We’re Tracking This Summer: Social Interaction

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Last summer I shared a reading list we prepared for our children and how we planned to encourage, track, and reward time spent reading.

We still want our kids to read. They enjoy reading. We’re glad! And we’re already off and running in the reading department.

But this summer we’re facing a different challenge: saccharine substitutes for social interaction that are made available through technology. We limit screen time and only subscribe to a couple of different streaming services. Television is not our greatest temptation and is far from our default activity. Instead, our biggest time vortex is text messaging, YouTube, and a couple of other social media services. In our household we’ve limited access to social media, but we encourage our children to interact with their friends and stay in touch through a messaging app. We see the connections and conversations as positive. But we’re aware of the pitfalls.

What’s our foremost concern? At Forbes, psychologist Mark Travers writes, “Social media can create a false sense of connection and belonging. Online interactions lack the nonverbal cues, physical presence, and emotional intimacy that are crucial to building and maintaining meaningful relationships.” Online interactions are illusory. They aren’t a zero calorie substitute, but they are a lite version of social interaction. You feel like you are in community, but those connections lack the depth, satisfaction, and opportunities for growth in social aptitude that in-person interactions yield. We want our children to connect with other human beings beyond the limited capacity that the online spaces allow.

Many of our summertime in-person interactions are built into the calendar. We’re participating in camps, church life, teams sports, sending our kids to the pool, encouraging play with neighbors, trips, and family time around the dinner table.

But to make sure we’re balanced, we’re adding evaluation and intention to our weekly planning conversations.

What will we track, and how? Each week, Molly and I plan to cover a recurring to-do item during our weekly family meeting: “Evaluate Kids’ Total Social Interactions for the Week, Create Opportunities.” After taking a quick tally, we’ll adjust our plans accordingly.

Routinely taking stock will help us see how we’re doing. Locking down screens is a step in the right direction. But we have to do more than cap screen time. We’ve generated a list of activities our children can choose from (with their help) during downtime. However, we’ll also proactively plan time with friends, people they’d like to deepen their relationships with. We’ll invite their input along the way.

A little bit of boredom is okay. Boredom is often the first step on the way to expressions of creativity. We want our kids to rest, unplug, relax, and find renewal during the summer months, too.

We also want them to learn the art of conversation, to make connections, practice friendship and develop social skills. The best way to do that is presence with people. As parents, we create those opportunities for connection. That’s our responsibility. Then, we cross our fingers. The rest is up to them.

The Household: A School of Love

In Habits of the Household: Practicing the Story of God in Everyday Family Rhythms, Justin Whitmel Earley states, “The most Christian way to think about our households is that they are little ‘schools of love,’ places where we have one vocation, one calling: to form all who live here into lovers of God and neighbor.”

The everyday habits Earley explores include waking, mealtimes, discipline, screen time, and family devotions, marriage, work, and play, and conversation and bedtime. His comments on waking and marriage focus on the parents. The explorations of mealtimes, work, play, and conversation are shown to be crucially formative for the family, and family devotions, discipline, screen time, and bedtime are shown to be of heightened importance in the formation of children.

Think of the things that happen in each of these spaces. How are each of these areas, as mundane as they can be, pregnant with possibility for formation in love? If you are a parent, how many of your habits around waking, sleeping, and meals are derived from your inherited family rhythms? How many of them have been recast as part of your new family? How many of these habits are shaped by faith commitments, even if in subtle ways?

I’m certainly a believer in the importance of making clear commitments, developing systems that work, and establishing habits as avenues for transformation and change. I also believe in the importance of family formation, building a strong marriage, and choosing to have children. I understand why many today are delaying marriage, and some are opting to forego having kids. But I also want to challenge those trends. Having a family, and building a good one, takes a lot of work. But so does anything else worth doing.

Earley’s book provides a helpful frame for thinking about the family and the formative nature of the rhythms and habits of family life. If you possess a clear vision for establishing your household as a little school where those within it can learn how better to love God and love neighbor, you can also build in the practices, ways of speaking, and value commitments that move those within the household toward that end.

A clear vision of the kind of household one wants to be part of also makes it plain when that standard is not met. Our family has said that we want our household to be filled with the love of God, and that this is evidenced when we have peace at home, when everyone is encouraged to pursue their unique callings, when we celebrate victories large and small, when we serve others, and when each of us are good stewards of the life God has given us.

Habits of the Household is one of those books I will recommend to young married couples and those who are on their way toward or who have welcomed children into the world. While it is possible to figure it out as you go, adopt habits that work along the way, a book like this helps you think deliberately about the choices you are making, raising good questions about the desired outcomes parents have for their children, their marriages, and the overall constitution of the household.

Children are formed by their parents. Parents, at their best, are being formed by God. And all, together and with God’s help, can be schooled in love everlasting.


Photo by Kobu Agency on Unsplash

The past several years I’ve had the itch to draw and this year I took a step forward and enrolled in two art classes at McLennan Community College. I’m taking an art appreciation course online, and attending an entry level drawing class. I’m loving it.

As my kids have matured they have both expressed an interest in art, as we all tend to do, and from an early age my daughter impressed me with her ability to conceptualize ideas and put them on paper. She was very fortunate to meet a few of our young adult friends who were skilled in drawing and painting and making, and, when we invited them to babysit, they’d create alongside our kids, inspiring them to do their own work. When my son entered the picture he jumped right in and started expressing himself with pencils and markers. The past two years we’ve enjoyed doing stuff together at Art for Kids Hub.

It has been a blast to watch them make. I know everyone’s kids are virtuosos and geniuses, math whizzes and little artistic masters from the moment they crawl out of the womb. But mine are exceptionally exceptional. Mine are the best one’s I’ve ever had. So I’ve tried to encourage them. The biggest way I think I can do that is to do the work alongside them. As Austin Kleon writes, “If you spend more time in your life doing the things that you love and that you feel are worthwhile, the kids in your life will get hip to what that looks like.” That’s translatable to sports, faith…anything really.

In order to be the best teacher, I decided that I would become a student. The best teachers are usually those who never ceased to learn. I was asked by my friend Matthew yesterday why I’m taking a drawing class. Here are my reasons.

1. Pleasure. And I Have the Time.

When I think back to my growing up years, I can remember making stuff with my hands and being interested in drawing, even though I didn’t think I was very good. I would take comic book images, like Spider-Man and the Hulk, and I’d break out an old notebook and take a pencil and some colored pencils, and I’d do my very best to replicate what I saw. Then I’d step back, think it was horrible, and then quit, all because it wasn’t realistic. It wasn’t “right.” It wasn’t true to what I saw. And though my parents had enrolled me in a couple of art classes, and my great grandmother was a painter, and my mom and aunts and grandmother made stuff , I got to the point where I stopped drawing, stopped coloring, stopped painting.

Except I didn’t. I’d doodle in class, and when I had my own computer, I’d draw cartoons using the rectangles and circles. My friend Jason can probably remember me spending more time in seminary classes creating panels than I did taking notes. Most of my cartoons had something to do with the class.

So I have always enjoyed drawing, even when my work hasn’t been “good.” But the more I’ve practiced the better I’ve become. When stepping into the classroom, it helps to take pleasure in the work, it aids the learning process, and helps me to keep going even when it is tough.

In addition to enjoying it, I have the time to take the class, to learn. Both kids are now in school, and my writing schedule allows enough flexibility where I can complete my coursework, keep my volunteer commitments, and complete my writing projects. So far, I’ve found that drawing engages another part of my brain and helps me see things a little differently. I don’t know. It’s a nice complement to other things I’m doing.

2. For My Kids

As I mentioned before, I’m taking a drawing class for my kids. Now, I have work to show. This has led to my kids wanting to show their work, so in the future you may be seeing what they’ve created on this website. Art has basic concepts and principles that guide the work. By learning those ideas and principles, I can teach them to my kids and help them grow. Simple, really.

I also think I got kind of inspired when I made this tank for David last Halloween:


3. Because of My Influences

Members of my family were creators, makers. There are several paintings by my Nanny, rural landscapes and farming scenes, that are still with us, hanging on the walls. So when I take photographs and share them, or when I make something, maybe I hope it’ll be around after I’m gone. Maybe I hope that the work of my hands will be established, at least for a little while.

But I also had a seminary professor named Howard Hendricks who encouraged us to be creative, to draw, to make, to find ways to express ourselves and to tell stories that pointed others toward the glory of God. He understood that God was a creative being, and that people, created in God’s image, were made to create, to reflect the glory of the Creator in the things that were made.

Hendricks did not limit this idea to crafting words, preaching sermons, or making presentations. He saw that the arts could powerfully convey truth and encouraged his students to use their gifts. Most of the things I made for his courses involved photography or poetry. But I drew stuff, mainly on my computer. I own Betty Edwards Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (and the Workbook) because of Hendricks, and worked my way through some of the exercises. He inspired me to draw.

Lastly, I’ll loop back to comics. I used to enjoy trying to recreate the heroes I encountered in the Marvel and DC stories. I collected comics in middle school. I’m so thankful my parents hung on to my collection. As comic book stories have come alive as movies, I’ve gone back to them, checking out the bound collections from my public library, reading backstories, checking out the evolution of the artwork. And I’ve become a patron of Bankston’s, a local comic books store. Right now I’m reading Detective Comics (Batman), Miles Morales: Spider-Man, The Batman Who Laughs, and Wolverine. The art is incredible.

That’s why I draw.