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St. James Bubble by Dr. Lucie Pentz

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Sometimes I hear our parents talk about the St. James Bubble. Honestly, there are many things I love about our St. James Bubble— children are allowed to grow up at their own pace; parents are protective regarding outside influences and take an active role in screening any potentially toxic or destructive external impacts; parents believe in the importance of character education that starts at home; just to name a few. On the flip-side, the pursuit of the Bubble Life gives us the false sense that we are safe, that cultural influences are impacting only folks outside the bubble and that we can control completely our children and their experiences. We believe that we are rewarded for the pursuit of the Bubble Life by enjoying the illusion of a comfortable and safe environment and perfect children. When we hear about things that make us feel uncomfortable, we want to become an ostrich and bury our heads in the sand or retreat into our own false utopias. So, here’s the warning: this post may make you feel uncomfortable, but if you are a parent of a high/middle schooler, pay attention. If you are a parent of a younger child, become aware of the issues that may be coming your way in a few short years.

Recently I was having a dinner with a high school girl (who in my mind has been significantly sheltered and one of the most innocent girls I have ever met). We got into a conversation about boys, social media, and other realities associated with the current adolescent experience. Given her upbringing and her sweet nature, I really did not anticipate for this conversation to take a different turn. In a matter-of-fact way, she was telling me how boys in her high school text/Snapchat her and her friends asking for nudes (or bra and underwear) photos. I was speechless. Of course, I have read and heard about sexting, always portrayed as something rather abnormal and sleezy, but here I was hearing from someone much closer to home referring to this as a common request with much casualness that used to belong to the category “can I copy your homework?” So, what has gone wrong? The short answer is–a lot. It has started with giving our children (with underdeveloped, impulsive, pleasure-seeking prefrontal cortex), electronic devices that can essentially unlock the virtual sewer of the cyberspace. Giving our children a smartphone is like putting our 5-year-old in the driver’s seat and handing them the car keys–without education, preparedness or mental capacity to use it as a means for transportation, but rather as a vehicle with the potential to cause injury, possibly fatal, to self or others. While you and I are fully aware that the cyber world can be a cesspool of information, our naive, uneducated, undiscerning children treat the internet as the classroom, the lab, the fountain of enlightenment. In their mind, if it’s on the internet, it must be true and good.  To put it bluntly, pornography is just a click away. This issue is further exacerbated by the fact that our children can easily outsmart us with their tech savviness. When you question the practice of sending nudes, the response is “everyone is doing it so it can’t be that bad.” Given the amount of exposure to social media, our digital natives have become bombarded with information, news, opinions resulting in a gradual numbing, which unfortunately includes the numbing of the conscience. As I was talking to my high school friend, I realized that it was my chance to help her unpack these requests (often pressured ones) as I was asking her questions: “Why are they asking? What do you think they do with these pictures? Are they asking other girls? How do you feel about this?, etc.” I realized that this represented an opportunity to extend both understanding and a courage- filled pep talk. So as we hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, here are a few simple suggestions:

  1. Keep the lines of communication open with your child by not acting shocked or shaming them. Instead, seek to understand their thoughts, feelings, and the context. It’s easy to jump into quick judgments. Before losing your mind in a heated screaming match, talk to a trusted friend, confidant that can help you to calm down and talk you off the ledge.
  2. Some parents feel uncomfortable checking their children’s devices feeling that it is an invasion of privacy. If your child needed a life-saving medicine, would you not give it to them because it tastes bad? Or would you tell them to get over themselves because you are saving their life? Yes, your vigilant and consistent monitoring of your child’s electronics may preserve your child’s emotional, social and mental wellbeing.  And of course, if there is any possibility of harm or abuse, be aware of the laws and legal requirements.
  3. If your child has been receiving requests for inappropriate pictures, formulate a plan (e.g. create a script, if appropriate, talk to the other child’s parent).
  4. If your child has disclosed sending pictures of themselves to others, talk about ways that your child (with your help if needed) can have those pictures erased. Explore whether your child should be trusted with electronics.
  5. If your child has been asking for inappropriate pictures, explore the underlying thinking and the impact not only on their own self-concept but also on the other person. A conversation regarding respect, dignity, and personal boundaries are necessary. Perhaps, taking away the electronic device or instituting more stringent online monitoring may be necessary.

Finally, don’t be an ostrich.  While it is tempting and much easier to bury your head in the sand, deep down inside we know when we’re trying to avoid reality. Let’s live in the St. James Bubble because we believe in the developmental benefits of protecting (not over protecting) our children and letting them mature on their own timetables, not because we are driven by fear to face the outside world. In fact, you don’t have to be an ostrich, because hopefully all along you have been teaching values. Teaching internalized values, instead of behavioral modification or policing, presents the child with a roadmap, the bird’s eye view. According to Dr. Sax in his book Why Gender Matters, instead of wagging your finger at your children with “don’t sext” message you will be much more effective by teaching your children how to be gentlemen and ladies of moral character. Instilling in them ideas of self-worth, dignity, and self-respect is like teaching them to fish instead of simply catching fish for them. They will not sext, not because they shouldn’t, but because they don’t want to. They are simply destined for far greater things.

By: Dr. Lucie Pentz

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It seems like everyone is offering their editorial views regarding recent events in the news, but all these opinions only seem to create more questions and few satisfying answers. Between the school shooting in Parkland and much closer to home threats made to multiple schools in Southern York County, PA, the foundations of our world appear to be crumbling and unraveling at a rapid pace. Typically we seem to prefer to feel angry rather than to allow ourselves to grieve and to experience the overwhelming sadness triggered by these tragic events. I found myself seeking the discipline to process all these events while sitting in the sorrow and sadness (rather than being caught up in the whirlwind of anger). On the Sunday morning following these events, I found myself in church singing a famous hymn, God of Grace and God of Glory, written by Harry Emerson Fosdick. It was the third verse that really got to me.

Cure your children’s warring madness;

bend our pride to your control;

shame our wanton, selfish gladness,

rich in things and poor in soul.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,

lest we miss your kingdom’s goal,

lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.

We are meaning driven creatures. We are always seeking to make sense of the world around us. We create our conclusions, theories, and hypotheses just to make our world more understandable and hopefully more predictable. So what happens when the events facing us far exceed our capacity to achieve some understanding? As I was singing the hymn, the lyrics began to offer me some increased sense of clarity. Doesn’t all evil fall into one of the categories of being rooted in madness, pride, and poverty of the soul? If our human condition can be traced to this fundamental brokenness within us, what then is our responsibility in the face of tragedy? What shall our response be? Perhaps this hymn offers a few ideas. Curing our children’s  (and our own) warring madness. Humbling our pride. Leaving our selfishness behind. Abandoning our temporary material riches in the pursuit of the transcendent treasures of the soul. What if, as a community, we took action to cure warring madness within the confines of our homes, our school, and our community? As I was examining our own response to the warring madness, I realized that here at SJA we already have been making our contribution to curing the madness by teaching values. Instead of nostalgically mourning the erosion of values and the decline of the human condition, we endeavor every day to implant within our students’ positive fundamentals of character through “Values on the Manor,” during morning announcements. The values of integrity, respect, reciprocity, generosity, gratitude, empathy, perseverance, humility, responsibility, acceptance, loyalty and kindness are daily reminders of our responsibility to the world as global citizens with local impact. Every morning students are reminded to move away from being rich in things and poor in the soul to cultivating the inner attitude that in return will transform the school culture and the world that lies beyond.


New Year’s Resolutions

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By: Dr. Lucie Pentz

I’m not sure about you, but I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s resolutions. It feels so wonderful to make them, setting our hopes high, experiencing that warm feeling of anticipation and success. But then it usually it takes a few days, or maybe even a few hours, and there we are back to eating sugar, wasting time on social media and losing our patience. One of the fourth grade students gave a great definition of New Year’s resolution when she said, “It’s a promise you make to yourself.” Perhaps that is the reason why it feels devastating when we break our New Year’s resolutions because it feels like breaking a promise that we truly meant and were determined to fulfill, but for some reason, we did not.
For the last several years, I have personally shifted my thinking and, instead of coming up with New Year’s resolutions, I have replaced them with a “guiding word.” I decided that it was more important to focus on a theme, some guiding principle, rather than a situation-specific behavioral prescription or modification. Instead of curbing consumption in all different spheres, I have focused on the “enoughness” in my life. Instead of controlling anxious thoughts and increasing the number of positive thoughts, I have embraced the word “joy” to encourage me on gloomy mornings. Over the years my guiding words have correlated with the longings and the stressors of life, reflected in choices such as “Let God, let go” or “joy,” “enough,” etc.“ It seemed that guiding words were broader and more encompassing, like focusing on climate changes as opposed to specific weather patterns.

So why a guiding word? A guiding word gives us a quick reminder that over time becomes an instinctual reaction. When our immediate impulse is to go to a place of negativity or cynicism, our guiding word redirects us to a new path of living and thinking. It presents us with the opportunity to reorient, readjust our thinking, and get back on the right path. It helps us to remember who we are, and who we are not. Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. (Proverbs 4:23). Guarding our heart includes carefully sifting through our thoughts and being the gatekeepers of our inner lives and, most importantly, feeding our minds the guiding thoughts that will spur us towards right living. …”Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8). We cannot underestimate the power and energy of our thoughts.

So here are a few questions to help you craft a guiding word/phrase.
— What do I want in 2018?
— What are the things you are missing in your life and you desperately need or want?
— What is your greatest current fear?
— Where do you see yourself in 2018? How are you going to journey there?

Wishing all of you happy 2018! I’d love to hear your guiding words and how they came to you.

Lessons from Christmas Carp

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By: Dr. Lucie Pentz

As we are working our way through the Advent season and getting ready for Christmas, our lives are filled with festivities, yearly chores and eager anticipation of activities which may include decorating a Christmas tree, listening to carols, watching Christmas movies, baking cookies, buying presents and getting ourselves into the holiday mood. But, for me, growing up in the Czech Republic, one essential Christmas tradition was all about the Christmas carp. Yes, the bottom-feeding creature that, in my part of the world, has been elevated from the humble fish family to a status of freshwater rockstar, raised in the carp farms of South Bohemia. (A little history lesson: supposedly the tradition of the Christmas carp dates back to 1253 and the missionary activity of Vilem of Rubruk. The popularity of carp is credited to lakes being built outside of Catholic monasteries during the Middle Ages to supply fish for the Catholic tradition of fasting from eating meat on certain days.).

So, you are likely wondering, how does a carp make it from a lake to your plate? It is an arduous and emotional journey for all. A few days before Christmas we would venture out to the city market with our crocheted bags and choose two or three fish for our family. Then, we would quickly walk home and release our new family members into our bathtub (keep in mind that the majority of families had only one bathtub in their homes). Honestly, I have a convenient amnesia regarding the lack of national showering for a few days as the entire country was renting out their bathtubs to these sweet freshwater creatures.

On Christmas Eve my dad would quietly disappear (to spare us from a traumatizing farewell to our new fish friend) and would take on the unpleasant task assigned to the man of the house: putting an end to the poor carp’s life. The next we saw of our recent bathtub visitor was as fillets of fish doused in milk marinade. My favorite responsibility was breading the fish, frying it, and serving it with a slice of lemon and potato salad during Christmas dinner. As I approach the Christmas season, I am reminded that of some of the most valuable lessons I learned from my beloved carp.

Lesson number 1: Sometimes it is okay to miss out on experiences. Now and then we need to give ourselves permission to sit out and be spared from certain events. Although I used to be curious about the actual “farewell” as my dad would club the carp, I realized that my fish was much tastier without the accompanying visual images of the fish’s ultimate fate. Sometimes there are events in our life that, despite our curiosity, are better left not experienced directly. We may, in fact, benefit from leaving some experiences unlived. Living our lives with intentionality means that we are guided by the questions: What am I trying to accomplish here? What is the purpose? If we are mindlessly wandering or rushing through life, we run the risk of missing the big picture, the bigger lesson, the meaning behind our experiences. Life is not about collecting or accumulating a multitude of experiences, but rather about living selectively and processing life with clear intention and purpose in mind.

Lesson number 2: Don’t take more than you can handle. Every year I would learn this lesson over and over again. My eyes would get big as I salivated over my piece of carp, but what I would often not remember is that carp is super bony and even the smallest piece takes forever to dissect and eat. Of course, this becomes a real issue for children who cannot open their first gift on Christmas Eve until all their fish is gone. Similarly, in life, we are prone to quickly commit to activities, events, and obligations only to later realize that we have overloaded and overextended ourselves. We are then left to feel like we are headed down a one-way street towards a brick wall. An event that seemed like so much fun all of a sudden turns into a burden and something to endure instead of something to enjoy. Especially during the holiday season, prioritize, prioritize, prioritize and then decide to do one less thing. Then thoroughly enjoy that one less holiday party, one less batch of cookies to bake, one less gift to make the season of celebration. Christmas season is something to be enjoyed, not something to check off our to-do list.

Lesson number 3: Taking shortcuts rarely works out. What do ER doctors do on Christmas Eve in the Czech Republic? Mini surgeries with their special tweezers as they are removing pesky carp bones lodged in the throats of folks who were trying to take the shortcut by consuming undissected bites, not taking the time to analyze each bite to deem it safe for chewing, swallowing and digesting. We can all relate to the little temptation to do something boring quickly so that we can move to the next, more enjoyable part, but that strategy of time management rarely works. Most of the time we pay for it in lost time, sometimes lost money, and often with our nerves bubbling over. Deep down inside we had a feeling that it was not a good idea to cut corners but we did it anyway, just to pay for it later. There is a false promise in shortcuts, making us believe that the process is unimportant and that reaching the end product quickly is paramount. Based on our experiences, we all know that often the course towards something can be just as enjoyable, enlightening and joy-filled as the final result.

So as we walk (yes, walk, don’t run) through this holiday season, let’s embrace each Christmas moment and experience as one of a kind because, in fact, that is what it really is. Each Christmas holiday will represent an amalgamation of the season of life in which we find ourselves, impacted by our current circumstances and the people with whom we are now close. Trying to replicate the Christmas magic of our childhood or years past will only leave us feeling unfulfilled and disappointed. Putting expectations on ourselves or others will make us vulnerable to feelings of frustration and emptiness. As we prepare our hearts and minds for Christmas, let us always remember the reason for the season. Veselé Vánoce a šťastný nový rok!