Saturday, February 4, 2017

Humbled

It has been almost two and a half years since I have posted a blog, but it feels like only a blink of the eye. To all of my dedicated readers (OK . . . reader. Thanks Mom, I knew I could count on you!) it might seem like changing schools and positions  caused the drought in blog posts here. After all, work took (and still takes) an inordinate amount of my time. 

That's not the reason for my absence, though. The reality has more to do with the fact that I had nothing to say. Well, not only did I have nothing to say, I had come face to face with the fact that I was a complete and total fraud. That's right, a fraud. Here I am, writing a blog about raising kids to be faithful, and I had come to the realization that I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about.

What brought about this revelation? 

My daughter. My sweet, loving, and obedient little girl. She turned three years old, and she proceeded to molt her angelic outer skin, to reveal the dangerous creature within. Her feisty personality leveled my stern expectations. Her emotional outbreaks cracked my controlled temper. Her endless questioning eroded my will to answer.

Taking it a step further, she confounded every technique I'd honed to perfection while my son was in his toddler and preschool years. 

Yes, that's right. I learned the truth. I discovered that I wasn't a capable parent with something to share about raising faith-filled kids. I learned that my first child-- God bless him-- was . . . easy. 

God read my ramblings here on Blogger, saw that I needed humbling, and sent me a daughter.
--

In all seriousness, both my own children and the many thousands of children I've had the pleasure of working with over the last 19 years have taught me that no one knows it all. I have had the great blessing of being able to get advice and wisdom from my own parents/in-laws and the parents of my schools. We share many things in common-- we love our children, we want them to know that God loves them, and we don't always get the parenting thing right.

So I'm back, occasionally, to share with you the tidbits of wisdom I've been able to glean from my own experience and that of the many folks I have the pleasure of talking with on a daily basis in my work as a school principal. 

In the time between, know that I'm praying for our country and our world to put God at the forefront, enabling our children to grow to be faith-filled, responsible, and active believers!


Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thelightningman/12190541595/in/photolist-jzeHiD-b2LJLc-gVErR9-qjh8QQ-ccML1w-9zqCqq-aYnohT-93S4UN-fQAX8X-894nt6-s6GxqQ-axKxrm-diH3jL-dVBeWC-97bCG6-jPjKmT-daxQEz-bp2dzo-rJ4QAG-dMS4WD-gHEzJz-bodsq4-eWUb2b-8snfyc-dermiu-rmWoGQ-dDaHgN-qsE4u6-qbeYsD-iEtPpK-hBD4Jq-qbduig-9znZCn-ipy8m9-auj18x-bxdzMk-834e5Y-9dtAFL-m7NcMz-dZzgLv-amL8F4-amL7T6-bwWjUB-auv1b6-9cEp33-dvTCWZ-jm2upx-dvTCFT-dVgsDK-idMDQC

Time to Raise Our Kids

https://www.flickr.com/photos/dgoomany/4976874188
What are we parents doing to ensure our children grow up with faith and morals? I know it's tough-- there's a lot out there that teaches our students values and lessons contrary to what we're trying to teach them. If we take a moment to consider the influences on them, we might find that we're still allowing bad media into their eyes and ears.

Consider the issue of time. How much time are our children spending with any kind of media that reinforces negative views, violent behaviors, or anti-faith attitudes? This would include apps where this media can be found (Instagram, Snapchat, Musical.ly), games (either on iPads, smartphones, or game systems), on the Internet (YouTube), television (including movies and "teen/tween" shows), and music.

Surprised by any of this? Sit down with your child the next time he or she is watching a teen/tween show, like those on the Disney channel, and observe the show's attitude towards and portrayal of parents and adults. Or, watch and listen the next time your child is playing Call of Duty or Counter Strike over the Internet on their Playstation or XBox. Sometimes we don't even realize what our children are being exposed to. As the old saying goes, "You reap what you sow." I might amend that to say, "You reap what you sow and allow to be sown unknowingly." It may be time to make some changes in the media that our children are exposed to.

However, we can take this a step further and ask, of the time we spend with our children each day, how much of it builds up their faith, their sense of right and wrong, or their sense of service to others? Gratefully, Sunday Mass makes for a weekly reminder to our children, and seeing us worship with them builds up its importance in their minds. Daily prayer is another way to sow good seeds in our students' faith lives. This can be done on the way to school by turning off the radio, mentioning intentions to pray for, and praying together during the drive. Each night, we parents can bless our children as we're putting them to bed. We can trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads or place a hand on their heads and pray aloud for their health and well-being. 

Ready to step it up to the next level? Try praying the Rosary together as a family once a week, or add an extra day per week if you're already doing so. We can get a children's bible story book and occasionally read a bible story to our children, especially young children, and talk about how each story shows God's love for us. One great way we can really show our children how practical the Catholic faith is would be to take the family to Confession once a month. 


Raising Faithful Kids
One of my favorite radio programs is Catholic Answers Live which airs on Immaculate Heart Radio (AM930) each day from 3:00-5:00p.m. I recently heard an old episode via podcast called "Raising Faithful Kids" with guests Greg and Lisa Popcak. Greg Popcak is a psychotherapist and Catholic author, and he wrote a book with his wife Lisa that focuses on what Catholic parents can do to raise faithful children. They mention four things Catholic parents must do in order to increase the chances that our children will own their faith personally and carry it into adulthood:
  1. Children need to experience and understand the faith as the source of the warmth in the home.
  2. Dads need to take the lead in faith and character formation.
  3. Parents need to facilitate their children's personal and meaningful prayer relationship with Christ.
  4. [Parents must spend time] Creating relationships with other families and giving kids the opportunities to create relationships with peers who value their faith as well.
During the course of the show, they talk about each in greater detail, and they cite data, personal experience, and common sense to support these claims.

Hearing this really convicted me. Were all of these requirements in place, my children's spiritual "soil" would be effectively tilled so that the Holy Spirit could work in their lives. They'd understand the faith is not something we do only on Sundays, but something we live out in each moment, each interaction, and each decision.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Too Distracted to Think

"Distractedness = Loss of Depth"

Jesuit priest Fr. Bill Watson recently proposed this in a talk I had the pleasure of hearing. 

Try an experiment with me: take one minute to think about the last time you silently reflected on something deeply important to you. Ready? Go.


Now, I'm not going to ask you the question you're expecting (i.e., what did you think about?). What I'd really like to know is how many distractions occurred, internally or externally, during that minute?

My minute had barely begun when my phone chirped that one of my tweets had been favorited. Then, I noticed my Gmail inbox counter jumped by one more email, so I closed my eyes to avoid the computer screen. That's when my two-year-old said, "What you doing, Daddy? You sleepy?" 

You get the idea.

Distractedness vs. Silence
As I wrote last month in Silence!, distractedness seems to be developing into the rule of the day. I have started to feel like it is becoming my default mindset. Even while alone, a constantly shifting stream of thoughts, distractions, and needs keep vying for first place in my consciousness. I've become used to the "chatter," almost expecting it or needing it to feel comfortable. If you've ever turned on the TV while alone in the house, just because you needed the background noise, you may have a sense of what I'm describing.

Last month, I simply considered the benefits of finding silent time to contemplate, pray, or just be at peace. However, when Fr. Watson crystallized this issue into the simple yet disconcerting equation: distractedness = loss of depth, it really got me thinking about the negative side. I wonder:

  • If I'm rarely able to enter deeply into thought, what am I missing?
  • If I can't move beyond the distractedness and chatter to think about my life, my relationships, or my purpose, how well can I truly live?
And, even more importantly:
  • If I don't carve out daily quiet time for prayer, am I living an authentically Christian life?
  • If I don't regularly seek to be peaceful, at rest, contemplative (i.e., distraction-free), how can I hear God speaking His will for my life?
To use a metaphor, if my life is a birthday cake, am I just tasting the frosting off the top?


Spiritual Implications
Fr. Watson quoted C.S. Lewis as saying: "The world of noise and chaos will in the end silence every heavenly voice as well as human sensitivity to the inner stirrings of conscience." This is the last thing I want to happen to me, my children, or my students.

I don't know about you, but as good as the frosting can be, getting the full flavor of the cake means plunging your fork down into the layers. Getting the full "flavor" of God's calling for my life means deeply, intimately, quietly sitting as His feet.

My Smartphone: The Great Distractor
As much as I love both technology and my phone, it is the "Great Distractor"! Smartphones, wearables, tablets-- these shiny gizmos are designed to get our attention and keep it. I'm not saying smartphones are bad! Used well, they are a wonderful tool. However, the technology needs to have its appropriate time and place.

So I suggest the following to parents and teachers:

  • Make quiet time a part of your daily routine-- as many minutes as the child's age. Don't even play music!
  • Balance children's screen time with non-screen time-- conversation, art, play, walks outdoors. 
  • At bedtime or end-of-day prayer, prepare children to "see" God the next day by sharing how you experienced Him during your day. (I.e., in the sunset, in your child's smile, during prayer, or in the Eucharist).
  • If old enough, ask children to share where they saw God that day.
  • Set the example for a balanced life by having a distraction-free family time. Perhaps this is while driving to soccer practice, or on Sunday morning before Mass.
  • Have a "screen curfew" after which time all screens are turned off for the evening.
  • Speak positively about these times. Be careful not to negate the message of quiet time by making it a chore to complete that is rewarded by video game time, TV, etc.
God Bless.


Photo credit: blakespot via photopin cc

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Silence! Finding God in the Quiet

We've gotten used to noise in our lives-- smartphone, iPod, car stereo, television, video games . . . life feels like a constant barrage of noise. If you're like me, you're starting to wonder where the silence has gone!

I heard one of my favorite Old Testament passages at Mass today (Aug. 10, 2014). The First Reading from 1 Kings 19 tells the story of Elijah, fleeing into the wilderness, and then hiding in a cave on "the mountain of God, Horeb"(1 Kgs. 19:8). While there, the word of God directs him to the mouth of the cave because "the Lord will pass by"(1 Kgs. 19:11). 

You know the rest of the story-- Elijah experiences incredible natural disasters: winds, earthquakes, and fires. But, God is not to be found in any of these. Instead, Elijah recognizes God's presence in the "light, silent sound"(1 Kgs. 19:12, N.A.B.R.E.) In another bible translation, the verse goes "and after the fire a sound of sheer silence"(NRSV). 

Sheer Silence
Whether a parent or teacher, noise seems to be life-- especially with young people around. Home and school are vibrant and loud with laughter, chatter, music, and more. We focus our energy on engaging our kids in activities that will develop them physically, academically, socially, and artistically.

Lately though, I've been trying to bring more silence into the lives of my children. Yes, my kids are seven and two years old, so in the interests of full disclosure, this may have more to do with dad than with them! 

But the truth is, the most powerful experiences of God I've had have happened in utter stillness and silence. Being at peace internally and externally allowed me to hear God's whisper for my life. I want my kids to be prepared to have this same experience of God someday, too.

For that reason, I'm trying to ensure that noise doesn't always rule their lives. Whether it be car rides without turning on the stereo, quiet time during nightly prayers, or moments of reflection before beginning a meal, I'm trying to share with my kids the joy of giving God my quiet, peaceful heart that is waiting and listening to hear His voice. I'm trying to give them age-appropriate experiences of silence.

Have you been thinking about this, too? Do you have other ways you help the children in your life become accustomed to silence? Please share in the comments! 

Photo credit: bernat... via photopin cc

Monday, July 14, 2014

Intentionally Complimentary



Take the time to point out to others what we can see but they don't.  #Leadership #Caring #Sharing pic.twitter.com/R4JUQGNFSy— Bruce Van Horn (@BruceVH) June 26, 2013
I came across this tweet by Bruce Van Horn last month, and it struck deep. Although possibly not the interpretation he intended, the beauty of the quote is that it made me stop and think: 
Do I take the time to point out to others the positive things I see in them? Things they may not see themselves?
I'm forced to answer: not enoughIn just a few short words, this question convicted me of something that I've been considering in recent months-- I don't compliment people enough. I mean the real deal-- compliments that are specific, reinforce positive qualities, and make our world a better place.

I'm not saying that I am rude or ungrateful. The opposite, in fact, because I often think of the many wonderful qualities of the people around me. I just don't feel I point out these qualities to them enough.

Why not? There could be a number of reasons-- lack of time or energy, or maybe I just tend to be too "task-oriented." I'm left wondering how many opportunities I've had to share a compliment, and by extension, share a little bit of Jesus' love and compassion with those around me.

So today I pledge to point out the positives. I pledge to be observant enough to note the things about others that they might not even notice themselves. I pledge to compliment others in ways that are life-giving and affirming. I pledge to try to validate the actions, characteristics, or qualities of those around me that make a positive impact on our environment, helping to create a caring, compassionate, and truly Catholic community.

Will you join me?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Everyday Unbelief

Forms of Unbelief
Whether an everyday Catholic in the pews or someone like me who works in a ministry of the Church, we're meeting more and more people who profess not to be Christian. This comes in many forms. The following three tend to cover the most basic categories of unbelief:


  • Some people have left the faith and profess nothing. They simply don't think about it, try not to, or in many cases are just too busy.
  • Some people claim it is impossible to have an answer to the question of God's existence (agnostics).
  • Some people profess a belief that God does not exist (atheists).
Most people fall into the first category, and these are the ones we frequently meet, work with, or even love as family members and friends. They're not hostile to the idea of God. In fact, they may say that they still believe in Him on some level. However, the fact that this belief doesn't seem to impact their lives in any measurable way is really a form of unbelief. 

The "God void" gets filled with many good things (and as with all of us imperfect humans, some bad), not leaving much time left over for God. (Have you seen the Church of Softball taking place at most parks on Sunday mornings? Again, softball is great, but it's not God.)

This became abundantly clear to me recently as I was speaking with a person who had seen a picture of our seventh grade students carrying the flower-strewn litter with a statue of our Blessed Mother on it during the May Crowning. He asked, "And who is that they're carrying?"

Making the Case for God
At the extreme end of the spectrum are those who are hostile to the faith. I had the pleasure recently of viewing a DVD of a debate between Catholic Answers apologist Trent Horn, and atheist Dan Barker on the topic: God: Supreme Being or Imaginary Friend? I've enjoyed Trent Horn's approach to engaging atheists on Catholic Answers Live for over a year now. Trent is intelligent, logical, and well-read, while at the same time being kind and considerate to those who disagree with him. I'm in the middle of his book Answering Atheism: How to Make the Case for God with Logic and Charity

The debate was an even match and ended cordially. However, I couldn't help but feel that Trent took it more seriously, having prepared arguments based on science, philosophy, and logic-- that's right . . . science, philosophy, and logic! I won't try to be Trent here in this blog by explaining these arguments (he does it much better in his book), but I encourage anyone who is surprised that reasons for God's existence could come from these very UN-faith-related disciplines to check him out.

Dan Barker, on the other hand, while definitely an intelligent and well-read person, appeared frustrated and insulting, as if he couldn't believe a smart guy like Trent could be duped into believing in an imaginary friend like God.  

Responding with Charity
What impressed me most about the debate was the way that Trent respectfully responded to Mr. Barker. He wasn't a pushover by any stretch of the imagination, but Trent was confident in his beliefs and knowledge, and that gave him a peace that couldn't be shaken by the insults and taunting.

I believe this is the approach we all should take: to respond with charity, remain calm and confident in our beliefs and in our knowledge that God loves us and cares for us. Where does this confidence come from? Where can we find an abiding peace that remains, even when someone responds negatively to our belief?

Peace and confidence (fortitude) are gifts of the Holy Spirit, and fruits of prayer, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and reception of the Eucharist, among other things. These three aspects of our faith have fortified saints, popes, and martyrs down through the generations of Catholics since the time of Christ-- and they can help you and your children, too!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

"You Can't Measure Up"

Funny thing . . . on the surface, society and God both tell us the same thing:


"You can't possibly measure up."

Society-- through media like television, music, movies, print, and digital-- tells us we can't measure up to its standards.  Through these different outlets, society has set the standard for perfection: the perfect life, perfect family, perfect job, perfect body, etc. Society keeps sending us the message that we aren't good enough. "You're not rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, popular enough, etc." Society looks on us with disdain, disapproval, even disgust, and we can get caught up in a restless, ceaseless struggle for unattainable perfection. 

In a way, God says we can't measure up, too-- that is, we can't merit salvation on our own (CCC 2007). We need His grace just to come to faith in Him, and even that faith is a gift we are given freely by a God who looks at us as we are, takes us as we are, and loves us as we are. After all, He created us! This is an incredibly different outcome of what seems to be a similar message on the surface. 

When it comes to my own children and my students, I'm going to do my best to help them learn not to worry about failing to measure up to society's impossible standards. I want my children and students to know that:

  • God accepts them, loves them, and died for them, making their salvation possible.  
  • Even though they couldn't earn this gift on their own, it's attainable.
  • With God there's no need to struggle. No seeking perfection through 10 easy steps found in the latest People Magazine or Facebook post
I want my students to know that with God, they don't need to worry about not measuring up because He doesn't look at what they're lacking.  He only sees children He loves so much that He sent His Son to die so that He would not to have to spend eternity without them.

Come to think of it, I could stand to hear that more often myself. How about you?

Photo credit: Sepehr Ehsani via photopin cc

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Time to End the Lie

"God won't give you more than you can handle."
I'm tired of hearing that.  Aren't you?

Don't get me wrong. Well-meaning, believing, folks say this to people who are struggling under some weight or difficulty in an effort to help them cope. You've probably said it. I know I have. We say it so much it becomes trite, like a greeting card message.  Our goal is to diminish the challenge, build up the person, and in the process lay out a path to overcoming the trial or difficulty. It's the equivalent of saying: “YOU can do it because God has measured this trial and found your strength just barely adequate.  You are only being stretched and challenged right now. That’s all."

The Truth
What's the truth? 
As I have become convinced of it, when God allows trials into our lives, He often gives us more than we can handle. Most of us need only look around to find the evidence of this: the family member struggling under the crushing weight of a medical diagnosis; the friend challenged by financial ruin; the young child caught in the grips of his parents' contentious divorce.

Can we honestly say that no problem is too great for us to handle? 

The Good News
This is the good news! When we realize that there will be problems too great for us to deal with on our own, t
hen and only then are we brought to the point of utter dependence upon God's grace, mercy, love, and power to sustain us in the face of these pressures and difficulties-- and that’s precisely what He wants from us!  Cease the struggling, the striving, the restless seeking for an answer or solution . . . and trust Him. His “grace is sufficient.” St. Paul would say this is when we can “boast gladly” of our weakness, so that Christ’s power “may dwell” with us. (2 Cor. 12: 9) We have access to a power source that will never be found lacking!

We, our friends, our school parents and our students need to hear this message: that their true power comes not from their own struggling, but from Christ. YES, we must keep living and working. We have to do our part. But, while we push on through the difficulties, our internal condition must be one of peace and the absence of struggle or fear because of the confidence that comes from knowing Christ’s power is with us. 

Doesn't that sound like fertile ground for facing the different challenges that might come into our lives? Saying that God won't give us more than we can handle is a lie that is poisonous to the kind of true faith that can actually help us overcome the most difficult problems we'll face.

Remember: The truth is that God loves each and every one of us, and He therefore provides us with His grace to endure even the most crushing blows.  Let's share this truth!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Happy Children

"Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery - the preconditions of all true freedom." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2223)
One phrase stands out for me in paragraph 2223 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "self-denial." 15 minutes of television is all you need to know that there's not a lot of self-denial preached by mainstream society. Seems to me that the commercials might be right-- after all, I know how unhappy I am when I desire a Double-Double from In 'N Out and can't have it. I also think about how happy I would be if I had that Double-Double . . . and some fries . . . animal style.  

In teaching self-denial, does the Church have it wrong here?

Of course not. Like so many things, Church teaching as found in the Catechism, seems backwards only when viewed through the fallen perspective of the world. In reality, my reaching out for that Double-Double brings only temporary, sensory-based happiness, but it damages the true, lasting happiness that comes from being healthy, eating right, maintaining a healthy weight, etc.

Happy Children
I think that's what we really need to distinguish for our children-- the difference between temporary, sensual or sensory-based happiness, and true, lasting happiness, particularly through the kind of education we provide them.  

Please, don't get me wrong-- our senses are gifts from God, and it's okay to enjoy them! However, the Catechism is pointing us toward an education that prepares our children for something much deeper than success or the fulfillment of the material desires of their hearts. In fact, I'd go so far as to propose that if the education we provide as parents and teachers leaves our children bound by their own desires seeking only to satisfy their wants, instead of able to control them through self-denial and self-mastery, we will have failed in teaching our children one of the most important lessons prescribed to us by the Church.

Let's begin teaching self-denial and self-mastery during this Lenten season by setting realistic and virtuous limits on our children's expectations, and by emphasizing charity and generosity before wants and desires. Though successful careers and material things are definitely blessings granted by God, they are not the ultimate purpose of our existence, and they don't bring us the true freedom achieved through the virtue of self-denial.

After all, true happiness is not being bound by the desire for something (and thus frustration when not able to possess it).  True happiness is found in the peace that comes from being able to master these binding, overpowering desires.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Internet Safety for the Children in Your Home

As a school administrator, I'm having an increasing number of conversations with parents regarding problems they're having with their children and the Internet at home. Social websites have impacted many students' emotional well-being and/or social development by exposing children to around-the-clock access to their friends. Video and image sharing websites have negatively affected many students' developing sense of beauty or purity.

After so many of these conversations, the realization struck me-- students are well-protected while using the Internet on our school grounds, but so few of our families are aware that they can provide this same kind of protection at home, free of charge.

In my mind, there's no good reason not to set up a content filter (a means of controlling which websites can be accessed) at home-- I have one on my home network, and I'd recommend that every parent, regardless of the age of their children, thoughtfully use at least one form of Internet safety tool. Though the Internet is a powerful tool for education, communication, and entertainment, the reality is that it is just as powerfully capable of causing intellectual, moral, emotional, and spiritual harm to our children. 

This recommendation is not about censorship. It's about protecting our children from exposure to images, ideas and experiences before they have the tools to deal with that exposure. Unrestrained, the Internet is clearly having an impact on our children's moral development. I think it's time we stopped playing "catch up" with the fast-paced spread of the Internet into every corner of our family life, and we start to make thoughtful, informed, effective decisions about what role it will play in the growth and development of our children. As a parent, it's our right and duty to be the primary educators of our children.

Offering these thoughts, I'm fully aware that I could be accused of advocating Big Brother-esque control, or censorship. Although I assure you this is not the case, I encourage anyone with concerns or counter-arguments to leave comments below so that we can have a civil discussion. As I've said to parents on many occasions, "I believe that our children must develop the tools to integrate the Internet into their lives properly, and this comes from experience with these tools. However, there's a reason why we don't give drivers licenses to kids under 16!"

Tools for Content Filtering at Home
I have personal experience with two specific tools, which I'd recommend any parent looking into. They're free, simple to set up, and effective for protecting your children. Please note-- these recommendations are not the result of exhaustive research and comparison. I'm sure a simple Google search will reveal sites that have done this. I simply offer these two tools to exemplify what is possible.

Before implementing either of these tools, I recommend you set up your child on a limited user account. (I apologize to Mac users for my lack of experience with OSX-- this first recommendation is PC-centric.) Allowing your child full "administrator" access to a computer enables them to bypass any security restrictions set up. If this recommendation isn't familiar to you, or you need help setting it up, visit this link: "How to Teenager-Proof a Windows 7 PC."

Tool #1: Microsoft Family Safety
http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/set-up-family-safety#set-up-family-safety=windows-7 
If your child uses a PC that runs Windows 7 or later, setting up Microsoft Family Safety is simple. It does require that you have a Microsoft email account (i.e., Hotmail, Live, or MSN). Once set up, Microsoft Family Safety enables you to implement an Internet "whitelist" or "blacklist" on your child's limited computer user account. With a whitelist, your child will only be able to access the sites you specifically clear for him or her. I have this set up for my 6 year old's account on our home PC. He's currently whitelisted to visit our school's math practice website, National Geographic Kids, and PBS Kids. If he tries to visit any other site, Microsoft Family Safety blocks it.

Even better is the weekly report I receive via email from Microsoft Family Safety. Each Sunday I get an email that charts out how much time my son spent on the Internet each day, which websites he visited and for how long, and which websites were blocked (if any). I haven't found anything that is this easy to set up and maintain, and is this useful.

Tool #2: OpenDNS
http://www.opendns.com/
Where Microsoft Family Safety only filters the activity that takes place on the particular PC on which it has been configured, OpenDNS has the ability to filter Internet activity on every device that connects to the Internet at your home. This is key with so many mobile devices in the home today (iPads, iPods, laptops, cell phones, etc.). You'll need a little more technical know-how to set this up, but OpenDNS provides clear, step-by-step instructions here: https://store.opendns.com/setup/router/ and a video introduction on this page: https://store.opendns.com/setup/

When you create a free OpenDNS account and set up a content-filtering profile, you'll be able to block websites by category (weapons, alcohol, pornography, etc.), or by setting up whitelists or blacklists of sites. My school used OpenDNS successfully for about six years, and we never experienced any problems. If you're unsure about any of the technical aspects at the links above, it's best to seek out the help of someone who can assist you. 

I offer these as examples of two simple, quick steps parents can take to provide safety and security for their children. If we are to grow faith-filled kids, should we do any less?

Image:
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/75/Internet1.jpg