Shelters Shatter, Luck Runs Out, but Training Overcomes: Raising Kids in This Culture

youth-trainingCaitlyn (Bruce) Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs.

The United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states.

41% of 13-17 year olds are on Snapchat; 71% are on one of the 7 major social media platforms.

When should parents begin talking to their children about these issues? Yesterday.

As parents, we have three basic options when it comes to our children and how they will interact with culture. We can shelter them; work to preserve their innocence by cutting off harmful influences. We can hope it all balances out; trust they will assimilate enough good from the world to offset the bad. We can train them; take an active role in helping them process and interact with the world in a Christ-centered way. While all parents will sometimes shelter, sometimes hope, and sometimes train, we will all default to one of these as our main approach.

I contend that every parent’s default mode should be to train their children to approach culture in a Christ-centered way. Yes we must shelter them from harmful influences. Yet the surrounding culture is too pervasive to be ignored and shelters can collapse in a moment. Yes we must trust they will turn out alright because we can’t control everything. Yet the surrounding culture is eager to disciple our children if we sit back and let it.

Now is the time to train our children to engage the world in a Christ-like way. The world, now especially so, is actively seeking to disciple them into its ways. The Bible instructs us to train:

Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 – And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

1 Timothy 4:7-8 – Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

It’s amazing the time, effort, and money parents invest training their children for sports. I love sports and believe they do great good. What if we applied the same level of effort and intensity we do for a game to godliness? Here’s some of what that might like look like:

We make church a priority we schedule around instead of an option we schedule over.

We are as committed to learning the Bible and growing in faith as we are to learning math and growing in grades.

We watch and listen to entertainment together to discuss their meaning and morality.

We instruct regularly on God’s design for sex, marriage and gender. Josh McDowell (who has been speaking on these issues since I was a teen) recommends beginning in kindergarten.

We discuss the culture around us from same-sex marriage to Miley Cyrus to Caitlyn Jenner to Planned Parenthood so children know how to think about these issues.

We guide into the wise use of technology and install filters, set boundaries, and monitor use.

We invest family time into studying the Bible, prayer, serving, and being a witness.

We create an atmosphere of grace so children to run to us when they fail and fall and not away from us.

I won’t lie, this is hard work. But so is everything else worthwhile in life. The very word “train” should evoke thoughts of an Olympic athlete conditioning every part of their body and adjusting every part of their life to win a medal. We should do the same for a much greater prize. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

While children need some sheltering from the world, it is not enough. Shelters can shatter in one minute of internet access, five minutes with a friend, or ten minutes unsupervised. Our work crashes down and our child is unprepared. It is not enough to trust everything will work out. The culture is actively discipling them to follow it. Our passive resistance will not be enough to overcome its aggression.

Children are not tabula rasa – blank slates we can nudge into goodness. They are sinners who desire to “follow the course of this world” and “carry out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:1-3). They need a Savior and gospel-centered, grace-saturated, goal-oriented training to live successfully in this life and to prepare for the next.

-Brian

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children media

Digital Obesity: A Crisis for Our Children

children mediaA Fargo, North Dakota woman made headlines this past Halloween for announcing she would give letters rather than candy to children she deemed to be “moderately obese.”  In the letter, she states:

“Your child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season. My hope is that you will step up as a parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits.”

Childhood obesity has become a national problem. Parents are increasingly seen as irresponsible and derelict for allowing their children to over-consume sweet and fatty foods. Yet there is another form of over-consumption going on among children that won’t earn them a letter instead of a Snickers – the over-consumption of media. It is not as easy to spot, but it may be causing far more harm than trans-fats.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a new policy statement last month asking parents to change their child’s media habits out of concern for their well-being. According to the recommendations, parents should make a media use plan for their family, keep screen time to less than 2 hours a day, and keep screens out of children’s bedrooms.

Why the concern? A new survey from Common Sense Media shows that 72% of kids age 8 and younger have used a mobile device for some type of media activity – nearly double the 38% who had done so just two years ago. 17% use a device daily. The average 8 to 10 year old spends nearly 8 hours a day with a variety of media; older children spend more than 11 hours a day. 84% of children are online, 75% of 12 to 17 year olds have a cell phone, and 71% have a television in their bedroom.

We may be blind to any concern because of the rapid increase of media use in our own lives. The average American consumes 63 gigabytes of media a day; double what we consumed in 2008. This translates to about 15.5 hours of media consumption per day, per American – with our ability to multitask (consume multiple media sources at one time) factored in. Like a parent who loves fatty foods, our love for media may cause us to overlook the negative consequences for our children. A Northwestern University study from earlier this year found only 30% of parents are concerned about their child’s media use and a 55% majority are not concerned at all.

Victor Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico and co-author of the AAP report says children are, “spending more time with media than they are in school. They are spending more time with media than in any activity other than sleeping. You could make the argument that media have taken over the primary role of teaching kids from schools and parents in many cases.”

This statement should shock us out of our indifferent slumber. This is more significant than the problem that prompted the Fargo woman to hand out obesity letters. Media has taken over as the primary teacher of our children! The beliefs, values, habits, desires, dreams, and knowledge of our children is being shaped by the screen. Looking at the sheer number – and ever increasing – hours invested in media, it’s hard to argue otherwise. Turn on the television, browse through the internet; is this what you want to be the main influence in the life of your children? The AAP statement also noted that, “Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues.”

To Christians, this should be of even greater concern. Deuteronomy 6:7 instructs parents to teach the obedience of God to their children in all of life, “You shall teach [God’s commands] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Ephesians 6:4 instructs us to, “bring [children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This simply cannot happen if the media habits of our children conform to the averages. It is the smartphone that will be with them when they sit in the house, walk by the way, lie down and rise; not the Lord.

Make a media a media use plan for your family. Limit the time they spend with phones, tablets, computers, and television. Monitor what they do with special software and keep media consumption out in the open. Increase the power of other influences by spending meaningful time together as a family, investing more time in the church, and focusing more on academic, artistic, or athletic activities. Bring discipline to your own media habits to set a positive example in the home.

It is time for parents, especially Christians, to take action. If a doctor sits us down and informs us our child’s obesity will cause serious health problems if we do not act, we would be irresponsible and derelict not to change. Thus, we our irresponsible and derelict if we continue to put no limits on our children’s media consumption and allow that media to be the primary influence in our home. God has called us to so much more.

-Brian

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Friday’s Fantastic Five! 9.6

FridayFantasticFiveAre Late Abortions Politically Viable? – William Saletan
Saletan over at Slate.com examines a recent poll conducted by Planned Parenthood that shows voters oppose an abortion ban at 20 weeks. But as is usually the case with opinion polls, how they phrased the questions makes all the difference.

Dan Savage Launches “Not All Like That” – Denny Burk
Homosexual activist Dan Savage has launched a new website featuring testimonials from Christians who claim that homosexual behavior and support for it is not incompatible with their faith. Denny breaks down the problem with this approach.

I Don’t Remember Chemistry and I’m not Homeless – Stephen Altrogge
Parents today are scrambling to get their children the best education and extra-curricular opportunities available. Yet – as Stephen reflects on his own life – he realizes most of those things left no lasting mark on his life. Have we set the bar too high and missed out?

All His Breakers and Waves: Our Church, Suffering, and Stubborn Faith – Jared Wilson
This is a long but worthy post. It reminds us how suffering is a regular part of life and ministry, that God wants to be glorified in it, that God uses it, but that it can be unbearably difficult sometimes. Read and be encouraged.

Syria’s Rebels: 20 Things You Need to Know – CNN’s Catherine Shoichet
The situation in Syria has dominated the news for the past few weeks as politicians debate aiding the rebels fighting the Assad regime. This article from CNN on the identity of the rebels demonstrates the difficulty of acting on behalf of justice in a complicated world.

Don’t Hate On the Tiger Mom

Amy Chua, Yale Law professor and mother of two, published her controversial and highly criticized memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, in 2011. It chronicles her journey of parenting daughters the Chinese way on American soil. Rather than allowing children to become self-indulgent, underachieving drains on society (her perception of Western children), Chinese parenting aims for the child’s highest success in every endeavor at all costs for the glory of the family.  Chapter one opens with bullet points of things Chinese children are never allowed to do, including: attend sleepovers, watch TV, choose their own extracurricular activities or get any grade less than an A.

Since their toddler days, daughters Sophia and Lulu followed rigorous routines to pave their way to elite futures, academically and musically. Instruments dominated non-school, non-homework hours. Chua cashed in some of her pension funds to buy Lulu one of the finest violins in the world. On every vacation, the first order of business was securing the hotel lounge piano for practice. These practices were frequently punctuated with harsh remarks from Chua such as: “If you don’t get this perfect, I am going to burn your stuffed animals!” and “Oh my god, you are just getting worse and worse.” This intensity drove both daughters and Chua to shouting matches, public embarrassment and icy distance. Chua admits that being hated is part of being a Chinese parent but is ultimately worth it.

Did her method succeed? Both daughters are music prodigies, straight-A students and fluent in Mandarin. Such accomplishments might convince any parent of this strategy. One might expect her book to end victoriously with a ten step plan to copy her success. Instead, these five lonely sentences end her story:

“Given that life is so short and so fragile, surely each of us should be trying to get the most out of every breath, every fleeting moment. But what does it mean to live life to its fullest? We all have to die, but which way does that cut? In any case, I’ve just told [my husband] that I want to get another dog.”1

After accomplishing world-class results parenting her daughters, Chua is left pondering what it means to fully live in light of life’s certain end. Sure, her daughters have every success any parent could hope for, but in the quiet corners of her mind she is left wanting.

It’s easy to criticize her. We American Christian parents would never demand so much from our kids in such demeaning ways. We also want the best for our children but express it differently. Rather than berate them, we praise them endlessly. Instead of hyper-scheduling their days and months, we let them decide what they want to do and divide up taxiing duties with neighborhood moms. When it’s time to prepare for tests, think about college, compete or behave, we make deals and offer incentives (video games or cars), hoping for the best outcome. Children might forgo family dinners, church activities and even homework along the way; as long as they are well-behaved, moderately successful, attend church on occasion and are above all happy, we’ve done a good job – right? If so, why does parenting leave many Christians asking the same questions as Chua?

Both parenting strategies are problematic and lacking. One idolizes the family’s success; the other idolizes the child’s individual success. Neither strategy employs life-giving methods for God-glorifying ends. Neither strategy points parent nor child to Christ.

Because purpose and identity are found in Jesus, Christians do not have to subscribe to the world’s parenting methods. Tedd Tripp observes:

“You want your child to live for the glory of God. You want your child to realize that life worth living is life lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Your methods must show submission to the same Lord.”2 (emphasis mine)

It should not surprise us that “good church kids” grow up with similar habits, goals, worldviews and issues as non-church goers. God is often an add-on in Christian households rather than the focal point. While most Christian parents would affirm the quote above, their practices oppose it. Jaws drop at Amy Chua’s behavior, but are children served any better when they are affirmed as privileged, moral centers of their own universe?

Scripture consistently teaches that only God can quench the thirst of every soul, parents and children included. The Psalmist declares, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore (16:11).” In John 10:10 Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” All satisfaction, joy and purpose are found in Him, not in raising phenomenal kids or being phenomenal kids. As parents, we are responsible for organizing the lives of our children to reflect the gospel as the center of life. To do anything else teaches them the world’s offerings are better than our Savior.

Academic prestige and financial success are deceitful dreams to pass on, as are high self-esteem and extracurricular happiness. When Jesus is the goal of parenting, we are free not to demand our children bring home good grades; we are free to say no when they covet the newest, most expensive clothes. If children misbehave in public or lose another competition, we are not devastated. When they come home crying because they’ve been bullied, there is no retaliation or pumping them up about how great they are.  When a friend’s child is smarter, more popular and better looking, we thank God for the eternal, not temporal, work He is accomplishing in our children for the kingdom. God’s word is robust enough for the task and more satisfying than the world’s answer to child-rearing.

Short cuts don’t exist in raising children who worship Jesus with the whole of their being. This counter-cultural approach to parenting will cost enormous amounts of time, peer approval, affection from your children and many tears. The pay-off is a home structured around the worship of an eternal King, turning out generations who live for Him and not worldly success.

The violin and good grades will get a child far, but will they satisfy? Birthday parties and good manners are fine things, but can they sustain faith in Christ?  As Chua observes, we all die…will getting another dog fill the void until that day and in the days that follow?

-Emily

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  1. Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, pg. 229.
  2. Tripp, Tedd. Shepherding a Child’s Heart, pg. 71.