I live in a very competitive community. The majority of the parents have college educations and most of the mothers stay at home at least until their children are teenagers. These parents want the best for their children. I have watched many of these parents hold their children back a year in school so they can appear more advanced academically and athletically than other children in their grade. These children have parents who make sure they have lessons in music, sports, foreign languages and even extra academic classes to give them the competitive edge in life. Yet many of these same parents will do almost nothing to make sure their children know God’s words.
My daughter has had her fair share of advantages. She has taken music lessons, traveled extensively and been taught foreign languages. What we constantly tell her though, is that the most important thing she can do in her life is to make sure she gets to heaven. This means she will sometimes have to make decisions that will make her appear “uncool” to her peers. One of the most important gifts we can give her is the ability to feel confident when she has to be different.
I often wonder about the families during the Roman persecution of Christians. How did parents teach their children to be so strong they could grow up and face lions with unwavering faith? What tools did they give these sons and daughters that had to last some of them through a lifetime of persecution that often ended in a horrible death?
In our family, the decisions we make will probably expose her to some teasing or even some exclusion from certain peer groups. While this doesn’t compare to facing a hungry lion, in the heart of your child it can still be a painful experience. We have had several activities she was not allowed to attend because they prevented her from worshiping on Sunday. She often chooses to wear clothing that is more modest than some of her friends. Even though she understood our reasons, at times it was still painful to be different.
Over the years, we have gradually realized that some things do help gradually build confidence in your faith and the decisions you make because of it. We are just beginning the teen years in our house, but hopefully after years of reinforcement, she will be able to withstand the pressures so many teens face.
1. Perhaps one of the most important gifts you can give your child is to explain “why”. Why is purity important to you? Why is it important to God? What does purity look like? What consequences have you seen in the lives of friends and acquaintances who did not remain pure? Or sober, or respectful or any other decision your child may face. Explaining the reasons behind the rules helps your child not only make sense of that rule, but it allows them to see patterns of thinking. There are very clear themes, especially in the teachings of Jesus, about how we are to live our lives. More importantly, how are hearts are to be. Showing your child how rules tie into these themes, helps them to make better decisions when they are faced with a different but similar situation.
2. Teach your child God’s words. I’m not talking about preaching sermons to your child, but making sure you work God’s precepts into your instruction. I hear many young parents teaching their children color names. You will see these parents in the park, store or library constantly talking about the colors of objects. Eventually the child absorbs all of this information and it becomes a part of her knowledge base. If you ask the average ten year old what color an object is, she rarely hesitates before answering.
You want to create the same effect with his knowledge of God’s word. In Deuteronomy 6:6-9, God gives the Israelites specific instructions about teaching their children His laws. He makes it clear it is an ongoing and constant process. I think the concept is as true today as it was in Moses’ time. When you see something that reminds you of God’s words, tell your child. My daughter frequently hears, “That’s why God says…”. We make Bible study and worship a priority. Personal Bible study is encouraged. (Actually, we homeschool, so it is also assigned!) Hopefully, when she is faced with a decision, some of those words will come back to her and help her make a better choice.
3. Reinforce with your child that being different is fine. The Bible teaches we are to be in this world, but not of it. As Christians, we are different and should always be. If we aren’t different, maybe we need to re-examine some of our choices. The sooner we teach our child to embrace his uniqueness, the happier he will be. Encourage her to read stories or tell him stories of people in the Bible and in other histories who went against the crowd. Not all of these stories have a happy ending in the world’s view, but many of these people made a huge difference because they were willing to do what was right no matter what the consequences were.
4. Finally, make sure you give your child lots of love. Love that includes showing a real interest in not only what is happening in his world, but his feelings. It is sometimes easy to minimize a child’s feelings because as an adult we know things can be a lot worse. Try to remember how you felt at her age and how you wish you had been treated when you were upset. Listen to him with respect and you may be surprised at what a wonderful relationship you begin to have with your child. She will be more willing to give you more glimpses not only in to her head, but in to her heart. This will only give you more special times to share with her how to dedicate her life to the Lord.