A few decades ago elementary aged children may have been involved in an activity other than church and school maybe one or two afternoons a week. Now, it seems the average child is involved in activities from the time they leave school until bedtime every day and all day Saturday and often Sunday. As young people struggle more and more with various aspects of life – particularly living the Christian life -could it be all of this extra activity is undermining our efforts to parent our children?
The answer is a resounding “Yes”. While there are some benefits to your kids being involved in an activity or two, constant participation in activities can actually hurt them in critical ways.
Here are 4 critical things you and your kids are losing when every free moment they have is spent involved in an organized activity.
True emotional closeness. Watching your children participate in something is important to your kids. If that’s all you are doing, however, it can give the illusion of a close emotional relationship when you actually don’t spend enough time engaging with each other in meaningful ways to have much of a relationship at all. It’s deceptive, because it feels like we are spending time with them, our interactions with them are limited to cheering them on which feels positive, but it’s all very shallow in the end. You need true emotional closeness in order to really know your kids’ hearts and how they need molding in God’s image. They need to be emotionally close to you so they will listen to your teaching and correction. That requires a lot of time spent interacting with each other in meaningful ways. That can’t happen if you barely have a few minutes together a day.
Accessibility, time and energy to teach your kids about God and what He wants from them and for them. The things God wants your kids to know and live are complex. You can’t teach it to them in a few minutes a day and you definitely can’t mentor, coach and correct them when they aren’t around or neither of you have the energy to deal with it. Extra curricular activities used to be about having fun, but now they are huge revenue generators and are run as if every child will become a professional in their activity of choice. While that may be helping professional sports teams and other fields, it’s robbing your kids of the time they need to spend with you, so they can be learning how God wants them to live their lives.
Consistent, godly moral lessons. All activities are run, coached or advised by adults. These adults may be operating from a very different moral perspective than you. In fact, their beliefs may cause them to openly oppose what you want your kids to believe. They may also repeat over and over sayings that they believe help participants, but which may be in direct opposition to what God teaches. This can be true even if the adults in charge call themselves Christians. In addition, many adults running activities pay little attention to the interactions between the kids or teens participating in their activity. If I had a nickel for every child that was introduced to drugs, sexual activity and other ungodly pursuits by fellow participants in an activity, I would be wealthy!
Choice of whose lives they will emulate. Participation in an activity at a high level often means those who are successful in that activity are held up as role models for your kids. Often, these people make ungodly choices as money and fame tempt them. It is rare that even Christian activities will consistently hold up Jesus as the model for your kids to follow.
There are other ways your kids’ constant involvement in activities can undermine your efforts to parent them towards God. Saying no to over involvement in activities won’t be easy. Your kids may be upset. Other parents and activity sponsors may try to pressure or even bully you to let your kids remain active. You will have to be strong for your kids to get the parenting they need from you, so they can truly grow up to be who God created them to be. It may seem counterintuitive to limit your child’s activities, but it really is in their best interest.
There is a misconception that teaching kids the stories in the Bible automatically means they know how God wants them to live their lives. Most kids need help finding the commands and principles in Bible stories, as well as guided practice in learning how to live those commands and principles on a daily basis.
You could choose to do this through lectures, but it’s not the most effective way for kids to learn. You can actually have fun with your kids and teach them at the same time. Here are some of our favorite ideas.
Make English muffin pizzas. Pizza isn’t mentioned in the Bible, but taking English muffins, pizza sauce and a few toppings can give you a great forum for teaching your kids about the practical application of what they are learning from the Bible. As your kids are creating their pizzas, encourage them to talk about what is happening in their lives. Find ways to reinforce what God would want them to do in specific situations. Or instead of telling them what God wants them to do, ask older children how they think God would want them to handle certain situations. See if your kids can think of examples in the Bible when someone encountered a similar situation.
Complete a family project together. Whether it’s planting a family garden, cleaning the garage or serving someone, working together gives you lots of opportunities to remind your kids of relationship principles and commands in the Bible. You can also spend time teaching your kids godly conflict resolution skills or help them develop strategies for better self-control of the things they say to others.
Have a family game night. Competition can bring out the worst in many people. Games are a great way for everyone in your family to work on godly traits like honesty, patience, perseverance and more. Spend time after the game is over talking about the principles they can practice when they are playing games.
Go for a long walk or hike. Kids tend to gradually open up if you are present and available to them. Make sure the walk is long enough to give them time to relax and talk and for you to respond as needed.
Hang out in the yard together. Blow bubbles, play in a sand box, watch the clouds or stars go by, mall driveway chalk drawings. Once again, your undistracted availability as you do quiet things together gives them opportunities to share their thoughts and concerns with you. It also gives you a relaxed way to teach them what God wants them to know.
Use one of our free application activity ideas. Our primary ministry website has dozens of application activity ideas with meaningful ties to Bible stories. Just click on the application tab for dozens of great ideas. Originally meant for Bible classes, many can also be adapted for families. http://teachonereachone.org/activity-ideas/
Taking the time to make sure your kids understand the application principles in Bible lessons and giving them guided practice can increase the likelihood they will be able to live the lives God want them to live. As a bonus, you will be creating fun family memories.
You don’t have to look at the world around you for very long to find people who are acting in unkind and unloving ways to others. Unfortunately, a quick scroll through social media and you will even find some of the meanest, most unloving posts written by people who think of themselves as Christians.
We know from scripture and the life of Jesus, that God wants our kids to be kind, considerate, loving, generous, forgiving, selfless people. If the world doesn’t support those qualities in our children and they don’t see them reflected in the lives of many of the Christians they know, how can we ever convince them to live the lives God wants them to live?
Obviously, talking about scriptures and Bible stories is crucial, but you also need to help them develop a loving, servant, empathetic heart. There are some exercises you can do with them to encourage them to think of others instead of only themselves. (Philippians 2:3-5) Here are some of our favorites.
Encourage them to put themselves in the shoes of other people. While this is suggested frequently, it’s not as easy to do as some might think. Try this exercise when discussing a character in a show or book first to make it a bit easier. At various points stop and ask your kids what the character may be thinking or feeling at that point in the story. What clues do they have to support their ideas? (Bonus, this will help them in literature class at school, too!)
Teach them to ask questions of new people they meet that will help them find things they have in common with the other person. Brain science has found if we view someone as too different from ourselves, our brain tends to dehumanize the other person. It’s a trick politicians use to solidify their power base, but it’s a counterproductive way as Christians to interact with those who may seem very different from us. Have your kids practice on older relatives and family friends who understand the purpose of the exercise so your kids will be comfortable doing it with peers.
Encourage them to read biographies and other non-fiction books that give an insight into the lives of people in a wide variety of circumstances. A great way to develop empathy for someone is to hear their story. Even situations you think you understand are probably a fraction of what the real people in those situations experienced. If possible, read about multiple people in similar circumstances. It’s important for your kids to understand that people in the same basic circumstances can still have very different experiences.
If you travel outside of your region with your kids, visit the local market or grocery store. Our family realized sticking to the tourist spots didn’t give us a realistic view of what life is really like for those who live there. Hang out at the market or other places where locals gather, however, and your kids may get a much more accurate perspective.
Help them understand the difference between forgiveness and condoning. Our secular world is struggling at the moment with the concepts of forgiveness, atonement and redemption and their understanding of those terms is often far from Biblical. The life of Jesus provides plenty of great examples. Jesus forgave Peter, for example, for betraying him, yet did not condone what Peter had done. Jesus also fully restored his relationship with Peter and did not expect Peter to suffer at his hands in order to have a relationship with him again. Zacchaeus not only asked for forgiveness for his sins, but tried to atone for them by repaying what he had stolen…plus some extra. Your kids will struggle with empathy if they expect to exact revenge on everyone who hurts them. Learning to truly forgive can change how they treat others when they make mistakes or sin against them in some way.
Some children seem to be born empathetic, while others struggle. Wherever your kids fall on the spectrum, they will need encouragement to treat others empathetically. And don’t forget….if you treat others with empathy, your kids will also learn from your example.
One day soon, the weather will start to cool even in the Deep South. Sweaters will come out of storage and the air will be filled with the smells of apples cooking and everything pumpkin spice. It’s also a great time to plan a few Fall themed service projects to do as a family.
Here are a few of our favorite ideas:
Go apple picking and share them with someone who is food insecure or can’t get to the orchards. Fresh fruit is a luxury for many families who are food insecure. Make sure the apples are handled gently, because any bruises will make them spoil more quickly.
Make pumpkin spice muffins and share them warm from the oven with shut-ins or anyone who needs encouragement. Mix a box of spice cake mix (you don’t need the other ingredients called for on the box), a regular sized can of puréed pumpkin and about ½ of that empty can filled with water in a bowl. Spoon into muffin cups and bake at 350* until firm to the touch. It’s an easy first recipe for kids to make and who wouldn’t appreciate some warm, freshly baked muffins?
Make fleece blankets and give them to those who can’t afford to heat their homes to a comfortable level. You can often find fleece blanket kits on sale at craft stores or you can make your own by layering two squares of fleece, cutting inch wide, four inch long fringe along all four sides and then tying the two squares together by tying all of the fringes. If your kids can tie their shoes, they can do this project and help someone stay warm this winter.
Sponsor a church or neighborhood warm clothing drive. Children often outgrow their clothes before the next year, so you should be able to collect plenty of gently worn sweaters and coats. Others may be interested in donating new socks, hats and gloves.
Rake leaves in secret. Can your family sneak onto the lawn of someone who is elderly or ill and rake and bag their leaves without getting caught? The added excitement can make the hard work seem more fun.
Make sure your family shares your faith as you serve others. Make a card with an encouraging scripture or leave a Bible or encouraging Christian book behind. Find ways for your family to be a light in the world this Fall.
Every year, it seems there is confusion about what students can and cannot do in public schools regarding their religion. Since most of you reading this are Christian, I am writing from that perspective, although these rights also extend to other religions. I’m not a lawyer, but I am summarizing the information found in a U.S. Department of Education document. While the document addresses lots of other aspects of religion in the public schools, I am only sharing the gist of rules that apply to students.
The truth is your kids are actually allowed to do much more than most people think. It’s important to realize that teachers and administrators may not have read this document and may assume rules that may or may not actually exist. (If you need to access the article for a discussion with school personnel, the title is Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer and Religious Expression in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools.)
Here’s what the U.S. Department of Education has to say about possible religious activities in public schools.
Students may pray and read their Bibles and other religious materials when not engaged in school activities or instruction. In other words, during lunch, recess or other times when students are given the freedom to engage in personal activities, your kids can pray, read their Bibles or a Christian book. They can’t disrupt others, but hopefully they wouldn’t do that anyway.
Students may pray and study religious materials with fellow students during lunch, recess or other times when students are allowed to choose activities and interact with one another. The one thing to watch here is that there is some discrepancy on the part of the school to allow any freedom of choice during the school day. If it is allowed though, it appears they cannot differentiate between allowing secular or religious activities.
Students can organize prayer groups, religious clubs etc. as an extracurricular activity if students are allowed to form such groups for secular activities. This one is a little trickier, because it gives the administration the right to limit any extracurricular activity from using the facilities or advertising meetings. If they allow secular groups to do so, however, they cannot discriminate against religious groups who want the same rights. The school may choose to disclaim sponsorship of any group, but they must be careful to not make it appear as if it is only against religious groups.
Students may express their religious beliefs in any writing, art or other assignment where doing so makes sense and cannot be discriminated against for doing so. This one can get tricky. A teacher has latitude to say an argument is weak or the grammar is bad and take off points for that even if it is a cover for their disagreement with the religious views. It would be hard to fight those types of comments. Most teachers, however, are pretty open to allowing their students some freedom of expression and in some areas may actually agree with the students’ Christian ideals.
Schools can allow students to be released for religious instruction or activities. This one is at the discretion of the school, so don’t expect it to be allowed in most places.
Student speakers cannot be chosen based on their religious beliefs or lack thereof. This is another one that can go either way. In general, if the school allows the student freedom of expression, they aren’t considered responsible for what the student may or may not say and can include religious content. If the school insists on prior approval of what will be said, they can and most likely will remove all religious content so as not to be seen as endorsing religion. On the other hand, they also cannot allow pre approved content to be anti religious either.
Go over these regulations with your kids. Discuss the most impactful ways for them to be salt and light in their school. Make sure they aren’t afraid to admit whose they are at school. They are still allowed to be a Christian light in public school. (Note: Private schools are not bound by these rules. You will need to contact school administrators for their rules.)