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Do you have a kid? Do they have a phone? This is a resource for you.

Everyone should have a friend like Christine Carter. Oddly, since Christine and I became acquainted through blogging, we've never met in person (yet). That doesn't dilute my opening statement -- everyone should have a friend like Christine Carter. She's full of life and wildly encouraging. She's left comments on my blog that are so complimentary I've wanted to tattoo them on myself. 

In a nutshell, Chris Carter is for people -- when you read her writing (she publishes broadly and blogs at The Mom Cafe) or interact with her online, you feel like you have a personal cheerleader in life. In fact, the only thing I can find wrong with the woman is that she's an Ohio State fan. (Being that my home team is Penn State, that's a doozy, but Christine is so incredible I can even overlook her misguided college football allegiance.)

Last month Christine, released her second book titled Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen's Guide to Navigating the Online World.  If you have a kid, and your kid has a phone, this is a resource you'll want.

Structured as a workbook, Follow Jesus invites teens to think about their online habits in light of eight distinct values: love, grace, humility, compassion, truth, wisdom, integrity, and faithfulness.  Each section provides practical tips (ex: "always pause and pray for God's guidance before you post any response to bad behavior you see online"), applicable memory verses, checklist questions that invite personal introspection, and action-oriented prompts that challenge readers to take concrete steps to ensure their online habits are safe, reflect their Christian values, and ultimately, give glory to God.

As a person who's grappled with my own online presence and habits -- and as a mother who's raising a young teen and rising tweens who are dipping their toes into the online world -- I found the checklist questions and action-oriented prompts to be most useful.  While I can envision teens using the workbooks personally or in the context of a youth group, I also imagine that parents will benefit from using the resource to prompt healthy discussions that go deeper than the default, "you've-been-on-your-phone-all-afternoon-get-off-of-it" comment, which hits more on the quantity of time our kids spend on devices, rather than the quality of the content they're viewing and interactions they're having.

Follow Jesus hits on those "quality" aspects of the online world -- areas like knowing how to respond kindly (or even walking away) when you encounter inflammatory comments, not using social media to boast, not linking self-worth with the number of likes you receive, learning how to tune into the needs of others as they share online, ferreting out truth in a crowded environment that easily disseminates lies, and interacting online in ways that preserve our personal integrity.

Daresay, these reminders are good for adults to read, too.

I'll be honest: I've felt skiddish and inept as I've mulled over how and when my kids should have access to the online world.  I'm not sure I've always made the right choices.  When should they have a phone? How long should they be permitted to be on their phone each day? How do we best monitor this largely private device?  I want to bubble-wrap my kids and protect them from the corners of the the online world that are trashy and unhealthy.  At the same time, I want them to be able to connect with their friends and have access to online resources and platforms that are productive and entertaining.

Therein lies the rub: as parents, we can't just hand over a device that lets a young person explore EVERYTHING -- good and bad, helpful and harmful, edifying and destructive -- without also arming them with guidance on how to best handle that device.  That's the goal of Follow Jesus: to provide a lifeline of wise biblical guidance so our teens can swim, not sink, and engage online in a healthy, thoughtful, and God-honoring fashion.

And THAT is something I can get behind.

Get your copy of Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen's Guide to Navigating the Online World on Amazon. And while you're at it, visit Christine Carter to hear more of her wit and wisdom at The Mom Cafe!

It's May. Let's Chat.

Envision me tapping a microphone to check if you can still hear me.

HELLO dear readers!  Is this thing still on?  Somehow we've managed to launch ourselves squarely in the month of May. It's been too long since I last wrote, and there's so much for us to catch up on, so let's chat!

When the Yard Comes Alive.  Did you see those beautiful peonies at the top of this post?  Those are in my back yard.  After winter's long stretch of gray, I can't get enough of the vibrancy.  Many evenings my husband and I walk together, observing the daily addition of new blooms, marveling at how green everything is, and commenting on how the grass needs to be cut again. Everything is coming alive.

Funny how a simple walk outside can bring new perspective and peace. Nothing seems urgent when you're admiring tulips, you know?

Another Semester is Complete.  After posting final grades and wrapping up loose ends, last weekend I had the privilege to walk as my department's faculty marshal alongside an incredible student marshal at Penn State's graduation ceremonies.  Spring graduation is always a definitive punctuation mark, as if the university is gently nudging you and saying, "Your work is done for now. Go ahead, put on an awkward hat to celebrate that milestone."

And I'm like, "Sure thing. I always enjoy wearing a board attached to a cap on my head. Let's do this."

An observation about the graduation ceremony: The real hero, beyond the graduates themselves who have put in such exhaustive work to cross that stage, shake those hands, and receive that diploma, is definitely the person who reads all the names.  We're talking about multiple hundreds of names, rapid-fire, back-to-back, with no chances to pause or practice. At one point, I looked at the student marshal, nodded toward the name-reader, and admired: "That man is a champion."

The Week Off.  Tucked between the end of the spring semester and the start of summer classes (which begin on Monday), was the most glorious week where I started to catch up on my own life. I finished editing a piece I'm writing for work. I read two books. I cleaned my house, including closets, baseboards, tops of ceiling fans, and my oven, which prompted multiple introspective questions: Does food get actively murdered while it's cooking in my oven? How does that much splattering happen?  I scheduled a hair cut, squeezed in an appointment at the dentist, and went to the Avengers movie on Tuesday's $5 ticket night with my husband. I prepared my summer syllabi and websites, spray painted two outdoor garden stools that had faded from prior summers, and -- as a cherry on top -- I devoted the entirety of my Friday morning to one task: garage sale shopping.

It's been perfect. I'll return to campus Monday morning feeling like I've exhaled, which is a good way to start the next leg of the race. Even more, it's made me wish I could distribute a week off to everyone I know, that I could be like Oprah during the giveaway episode: "You get a week off, and you get a week off! Everyone gets a week off!"

Now THAT would really be something.

And that, my friends, is what's been happening since I last wrote.  Blogging periodically ebbs and flows given the rhythms of life, but I'm always grateful for you taking the time to visit and read.  Thank you for joining me here!  We'll chat again soon!

End-of-Semester Survival Tips

I recognize that this will seem impossible given my remarkably young age (ahem), but I'm currently in the throes of competing my 28th semester of teaching at the collegiate level.  You learn some useful lessons when you complete an activity 28 times.  For example, I've learned that no matter how smoothly a semester wraps up, the process always takes something out of you. If you let it, it'll deplete you to the core, which is why it's not uncommon to end a semester and immediately experience a total immune system collapse.  That's never fun.

Thankfully, there are several tips that can help you to finish strong.

Stay Organized.  I've joked with my students that the end of a semester is like triage.  You're required to move briskly between All The Things, treating the most urgent cases, reviving what's fading, and minimizing casualties.  Everything vies for your attention at once, and when this occurs it's easy to grow disoriented.  My mind becomes like a bulletin board covered with post-it notes with a high-powered oscillating fan blowing on it.  Every thought is flapping in the breeze, dangerously loose, capable of being whisked away and eternally forgotten.

That's why it's so essential to stay organized.  I write lists with incremental goals so I have concrete incentive to maintain a productive grading pace. I create distinct blocks of time to check and reply to email so it doesn't morph into a perpetual, yet halfhearted, task.  I (mostly) abstain from social media.  I plan easy dinners that don't require much thought or effort.

Order is a powerful antidote to being overwhelmed.

Remember Self-Care.  I'm not perfect, but I aim for a baseline of three self-care goals when a semester ends: maintain regular exercise, get 7 hours of sleep each night, and stay hydrated.  This not only keeps a semblance of routine, but it also keeps my body functioning.  Short breaks -- like a walk around my building when I'm on campus or around my yard when I work from home -- stave off computer-screen fatigue, restore energy, and provide helpful diversion.

As Mr. Miyagi once wisely said, "Don't forget to breathe. Very important."

Set Clear Boundaries.  In my final classes as we're wrapping up logistics, I relay an example from the reality show, Survivor.  At the end of each episode, Jeff Probst, the host, says, "Once the votes are read the decision is final. I'll go tally the votes."  His statement is definitive; it's not the time for negotiation. Similarly, I explain, once final grades are posted, the decision is final.  I don't fulfill last-minute special requests for extra credit.  I'm not swayed by students' unexpected discoveries that they need a certain grade to get accepted to this internship or that graduate/med/business school.  I don't entertain Hail-Mary questions like, "What is my grade and how can it magically become an A?"

And -- I explain to my students -- I do this out of fairness, consistency, and integrity to standards, not from a lack of kindness or empathy.  Every single time, I observe students nodding as I speak.  They understand the game, after all.  When I proactively set boundaries in a firm, yet neutral, way, they also accept that I don't play it. 

This simple talk makes the end of a semester so much easier!  It's significantly less draining to calmly explain this principle to a classroom full of students up-front than to receive multiple emotionally draining and personalized emails with the subject line "Final Grade" later.

Once the grades are tallied, the decision is final.  I'll go tally the grades.  Clear expectations and boundaries for the win!

And those, my friends, are my end-of-semester survival tips.  I will now be grading until I die, come to my senses, give up, or reach the bottom of the multiple stacks. I'm banking on the latter option.  It's almost in the books.  Here's to the close of another semester!

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