January 7, 2016 by J. Truett Glen
Dear First World, media consuming parents, 2015 was a year that made many of us even more pessimistic about what kind of world our children will inherit. Many of us have been blessed with a lifestyle, sense of security, and level of comfort that has insulated us from the anxiety that the majority of people in the world face on a far more consistent basis. Even though history has shown that the United States has had a far more problematic and conflict driven past than the talking heads and deceptive pundits would like to admit, the once predominant Judeo-Christian culture in the United States did provide a more stable, and broadly shared, worldview for several generations in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Times have been quickly changing. Over the last couple of decades, pop culture has conformed to an uneasy reflection of pluralistic relativism, which tries to please everyone while grounding no one. Some prominent sociologists have observed that this drift in culture has now produced a new religion that our young people are tempted to unconsciously buy into: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (Soul Searching by Christian Smith & Melina Lundquist Denton). Some sociologists have also reported on the increase of narcissistic personality disorders (The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge & W. Keith Campbell). The widely respected MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle pointed to our technology saturated society, and social media consumption as causal factors in some of the aforementioned social changes (Alone Together by Sherry Turkle). These sociologists are pointing to sociological factors that I believe are deforming the generations. It seems that our children’s hearts are only growing harder, and their skin thinner. We can no longer look to public education structures, or the moral messaging of pop culture to safely partner with us in the healthy formation of our children’s character.
My observations and propositions are made from a Christian worldview, and thus my advice will center on nurturing our children to walk in the way of Christ in a world that I believe is increasingly hostile to our beliefs and values. As a college educator, I have consistently interacted with a high percentage of students over the past 5 years who do not show signs of having the necessary character and attributes to successfully maintain their Christian worldview while engaging with a deformative culture. There are no neutral citizens in reference to worldview and culture. Our children will be ambassadors of some worldview whether we like it or not. It is my hope that we can more adequately equip our children to be ambassadors of Christ. Never before have our children and we had so many resources to increase our knowledge of godliness, and yet we are faced with far more temptations than at any time in history. With this in mind, I’d like to propose some methods for nurturing gracious hearts and thicker skin in our children. Some of these ideas might be seen as rudimentary or mundane, but their consistent exercise frames the body, mind, and soul. I’ve included a few things that I wrote about in a prior post about fathering. If you feel like you can add to the discussion, I’d love your feedback. Here are the 10 prominent principles that came to mind:
I. Engage in consistent CONVERSATION with your children about your hopes, convictions, failures, and successes. This conversation must be characterized by a level of honesty that the children can both understand and trust. There is certainly a line between placing your burdens on your children, and empowering them by showing them that you too have carried, or continue to carry burdens. Since a couple of my daughters are still young, I speak in terms of “bad mistakes,” “sinful habits,” and a “darkness that was in my soul.” I’m also open to share with them that “I too struggle with sinful desires,” and “am still tempted” with things that I know are not healthy for me. I share more specifics with my two teenage daughters, but nothing I feel will be too weighty for them to deal with emotionally at this stage of their lives.
2. Assign consistent CHORES that you hold them accountable to. Assigning them without accountability might actually be worse than never assigning them at all. Make sure to converse with them about the importance of investing in people and places that bless people. For instance, help them see how a clean house is inviting to visitors and healthier for everyone’s mind. You may want to use another word than “chores” that communicates a deeper understanding of the responsibilities. And it is critical to join them in their investments from time to time, and to invite them to join you in your investments from time to time.
As an important side note, it is healthier for their wellbeing if they are given opportunities to invest in outside environments and get their hands dirty in nature. Cyberspace may be a trending virtual meeting place, but it is not our home. We are embodied creatures who are healthiest when we engage the ground from which we were formed.
3. CULTIVATE respectful postures in them. All things being equal, children will grow to value what you consistently value. Show them the value of people by holding them accountable to formal standards of respectful language and gestures when interacting with adults and peers. A teacher made fun of my brother when we lived in Michigan because my brother used the terms “yes sir,” and “yes ma’am.” That teacher did not value the respect that my brother was showing her, but that respect has served my brother well as he has climbed through the ranks of law enforcement and the military. I don’t know many, if any, neighbors that have complained that our children are “too polite.”
Also, everyone has that friend that is uncomfortable with being approached with this level of verbal respect (Some say that it makes them feel old). Don’t let that person dictate to your children how they will be addressed. Just because I didn’t vote for President Obama, doesn’t mean I’m going to have my kids running around calling him Barack. Everyone needs to decide what that standard is going to be, but it needs to be consistent based on relational dynamics. Even though my kids call some of our close adult friends “Uncle First Name” does not mean they no longer speak to that man with respect. You want to foster an unwavering respect for humanity, and especially for those who have lived this life for a significantly longer period of time.
4. Train them to CARE for their siblings, friends, neighbors, and broader community members. Respect can certainly be seen as a type of care, but a broader sense of empathy is not always something that children naturally pick up. To think of the other first is the foundation of friendship, marriage, and our relationship with Christ for that matter. As with most of these suggestions, you must set the example for them from day 1. Praying for the health and livelihood of all the aforementioned people is an easy way to start orienting their minds towards the other. Also teach them the great value of HOSPITALITY. Inciting satisfaction and comfort in the soul of a guest is an accomplishment that fosters inner joy. When properly guided, nurturing this habit and gifting in your children can lead to a lifetime of strong relationships, edifying experiences, and inviting spaces. Teach your children to carry such value with them, so that they can share it on the go. That’s what thinking of the other empowers; it allows one to see how the other can be blessed by you and your gifting whether at home or on the go. Foster this posture in your children through trips to nursing homes, orphanages, soup kitchens, and even to prisons as your children grow into adults. Your money must speak just as loud as your mouth and actions. Show them who you value with your money.
5. Provide consistent DISCIPLINE for rebelliousness and disobedience. Discipline is not punishment. Proper discipline is the execution of a strategic consequence meant to train, and educate. Our children need to understand that laws and boundaries are in place for healthy reasons. Don’t just go after your child in anger. Most parents are guilty of overreacting to a situation and yelling at their kids. I know I’ve been guilty of that. The healthiest thing we can do is to sit our child down and communicate clearly the principle/rule that has been violated and that the discipline that is to come is done in love, and done for the purpose of healthy formation. Consistency is CRITICAL in the realm of discipline. You don’t want your child to live in an unhealthy fear of an unknown consequence. Nor do you want your child to distrust your intentions to follow through with the disciplinary actions. When they know you are going to waver, they will press.
Always be aware of the laws in your state concerning different types of discipline. If legal in your state, never execute corporal discipline in anger, or to the extent that you injure the child. Communicate your love before and after the discipline is enacted. Never discipline the child beyond a level that they can physically, mentally, or emotionally cope with. You are looking to educate and train their will, not destroy their will.
6. Get them out into CULTURE and walk the world with them. Be CAREFUL what you expose them to too early, but increasingly allow them access to view consequences of the harsher, more transgressive aspects of life. Teach them to listen and observe without overreacting or becoming numb to the brokenness they engage. Talk them through it. Ask them questions. Show them the beauty and grace that is present even though pain and hardship reside there. Let them know how you have appropriately and inappropriately dealt with some of these same situations in life. As they grow older, talk about how they might join and serve people who find themselves in those circumstances, and offer what safe opportunities you can for them to actualize those ideas. Work against fear.
7. CELEBRATE life in front of them and with them. I can be an animated person so this one comes easier to me, but I know that many parents are introverts and weighed down by the burdens of life. It’s the normative weight of adult life that makes it even more critical to intentionally celebrate the accomplishments, victories, creativity, and moments of awe that your child brings to your table. If you have trouble participating in the celebrations of your children, then chances are you need a perspective change in your own life. I know the sense of wonder I get when I look at the green mountains and valleys of Tennessee and North Carolina. I know the celebration of scoring a goal and building a fort. I know the awe produced by a stormy evening. I invite my children into these moments of enjoyment and wonder and they invite me into theirs.
8. CARRY a ready sense of GRATITUDE and FORGIVENESS in your hands, and teach your children to do likewise. For the rest of my life I’ll continue to drive home the point that “sorry” is not the same as “will you forgive me.” This principle is amplified in the ears of children. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful gifts you can offer someone, and asking for forgiveness can be the most meaningful request to make of another. Not every disagreement or transgression between my wife and me is helpful for my children to know about, but it’s important for them to see me ask her to forgive me when I wrong her in their presence. It’s even more important for me to be willing to own up to the moments when I have sinned against them, and then humbly ask them to forgive me. It doesn’t solve every problem or heal every wound, but it shows the child that you value them as a person, made in the image of God. It shows them that love seeks reconciliation where it can be had, and that parental authority is not built on the façade of perfection.
In addition to forgiveness, few things are more powerful in this world than a sense of gratitude. Being truly thankful for something is definitely empowered by one’s perspective on life. If you think that you deserve every good thing that you work for or that comes your way, then there is a good chance that gratitude is foreign to you. If it is foreign to you, then it will be hard for your children to learn it by watching your life. We are owed nothing by the world, and every good thing is a gift from God. Our children watch us in the hard times and the easy times, waiting to see if we will shake a fist at or extend a “thank you” to our government, neighbor, and God.
9. Watch their CONSUMPTION of social media, video gaming, and screen-time closely. There are plenty of studies out right now on the malformation that takes place in a child’s brain from too much screen time. On top of that, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is solid evidence that too much social media interaction raises the potential of personality disorders in you and your children. If you teach a child to carve something out of wood, crochet, weave, paint, draw, play an instrument, or craft awesomeness…they’ll most likely want to spend time doing that in addition to a little video game playing. But YOU have to sponsor and support that sort of learning.
10. Several of the points already mentioned play into this principle, but it’s one that needs to stand alone none the less. Teach your children to have CONTEMPT for their CONTEMPT. Life gives us plenty of opportunities to criticize others, and it can be easy to simply categorize someone else as less than us, as unwise, or as heartless. Our children hear us in the kitchen as we chat after work. They hear us in the car as we converse on long trips. They learn to think of others as worse than themselves. We have turn that habit around in our own lives, and then teach them to engage their elders, peers, and siblings with a “better than one’s self” perspective. Having contempt for your contempt nurtures both grace, and thick skin at the same time.