Lately, my teenage daughter and I have enjoyed watching re-runs of the old Waltons show from the 1970’s. I love laughing about how the supposed Virginians mispronounce Monticello. My daughter enjoys spotting the road we saw at the Warner Brothers Studio in CA. The best thing about the show is that it celebrates something many people no longer enjoy – several different generations having fun spending time together and learning from each other.
Sometime in the last twenty years we have almost totally lost the ability to spend time with anyone who is not our age or in the same exact spot in life as we are. I am sure it started with the 1960’s version of “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Over the years, it has morphed into “If someone isn’t just like you, they don’t have a clue what you are going through or how to make it better.” The problem is that this attitude has also invaded our churches.
Teens are in Youth Groups where they do everything together. Any adults working with most groups are in their early 20’s, with only a few parents tolerated (if any). Gray hair is evidently banned for fear it may discourage teenagers from attending.
The Children’s Ministry in many churches is just as bad. Often children are not even allowed to worship with their families until they are in their teens. They are shuttled off into a special children’s wing, where they are kept away from any adult who isn’t a teacher.
Now defenders will say this is the best thing for young people. The activities are designed to meet their needs and they have more “fun.” If you have read my blog, you know I am a big believer in making the Bible hands on, fun and applicable. I think children and teens do not need to be isolated to achieve that. In fact, I think we are doing them more harm than good when we deny them the privilege of spending meaningful time with people of all ages.
Many children live no where near their grandparents. In fact, with many people marrying later, the grandparents may even be dead. Parents often work until almost time for the children to go to bed. The only adult exposure many children receive is a teacher or day care worker who is trying to give attention to multiple children simultaneously.
If a child is struggling with something, many times a peer is their only resource. Now, I know there are some very smart eight year olds in the world today. Unfortunately, none of them have the life experience to be of a great deal of help. In fact, what often happens is that they make matters worse, not only for the struggling child, but the child who is helping as well.
Suppose your child is upset with you for something that happened during your morning. The first person he can confide in is a peer. Suddenly, before they know it, they are launched into a full scale discussion of the “stupidity” of parents. Now both of them are furious at their parents, including the child who may have been just fine with his parents before the discussion.
Compare the situation to John Boy, who could go talk to Grandma. She might remind him that his Dad was tired from being out working all night and is normally not cross with him. Or a hundred other wise observations or possible corrections. The situation now has a much better chance of being resolved in a positive way instead of escalated to the next level.
In church and with more obvious moral issues, the effects can be life changing or even eternity changing. Suppose your child is struggling with a boyfriend who is pressuring her to become intimate. A peer is very likely to encourage them to “just get it over with.” (Don’t kid yourself, it happens.) The consequences of following this not so wise advice could be disastrous.
An older woman can put her experience into the equation. Not only can she tell the girl (or boy) the disadvantages of becoming more physical than God would want, she can coach her on strategies for staying pure. This conversation can never happen though, if your daughter doesn’t have a close relationship with older more experienced women.
The other advantage to being exposed regularly to godly older people is that your child has an earthly example to follow. I still have the picture in my head of several older women at church when I was a child. When I get stumped or discouraged, I think about how they would have acted. I know our ultimate example is Jesus. Sometimes though, it’s nice to see how a godly woman actually treats her husband to know better how to do it yourself.
Some churches have formal mentor programs as a step towards offering special mentoring relationships to their children. I believe it is only the first small step. There is a lot you can do as a parent to improve the odds your child will be exposed to lots of godly, wise, experienced people.
1. The easiest thing you can do is to spend a lot of time with these people as a family. Adopt some “substitute” grandparents. Have some church couples with older children over for a game night. Invite some empty nesters over for supper. Go bowling with the new young couple. Try to pick people who are living an obvious godly life. No one is perfect, but try to pick people who will set a good example. (I always look for people whose older or grown children seem to have a great relationship with God themselves. I figure their parents must have done something right!)
2. Encourage your church to have multi-generational classes and events. How about a parent/teen class one quarter or a mother/daughter service project? Have the empty nesters pair up with the young marrieds in a class on marriage and share what they have learned. There are a lot of ways to mix the generations regularly. I think the more we can do this the better.
3. Spend a lot of quality time with your child. The catch phrase for the last few years is that spending “quality not quantity” time with your children is what is important. I disagree. I think that just like you can’t hug an infant enough, it is very unlikely that an emotionally healthy parent will spend too much quality time with their child.
Therefore, I believe parents need to spend tons of quality and quantity time with their child. This means you often go into THEIR world and do what interests THEM. It also means you LISTEN and don’t just hear what they say. I will never cease to be amazed what children will tell me that is on their hearts. Often I am a complete stranger to them. I think it is because they can sense I am really listening to their concerns, treating them with respect and really care about them.
4. Teach your child to respect their elders and show respect for your own elders. Part of the problem is that society encourages us to think that the older generations are somehow “stupid” because they don’t understand technology. The problem is that some things don’t really change that much over time (Check out Ecclesiastes if you don’t believe me.). By discounting anyone not in our age group as “stupid”, we are missing out on the wisdom they may have to share. I have often told my daughter she can learn from other peoples’ mistakes and live a relatively easy life, or make them on her own and live a much more difficult life.
5. My last suggestion will be controversial to many of you. I would suggest that if you are able to do it, consider homeschooling your children. We actually started homeschooling after several frustrating years in “regular” school. Moral considerations and peer pressure weren’t really a major part of the original decision.
After several years though, we can see a huge difference in our child and her experiences compared to her peers. We have noticed this in other children also. Being exposed to peers for only two or three hours a day instead of the “normal” eight or more hours, makes life different for everyone. Let’s just say, everyone in our house is generally a lot happier than families of other teens we have seen. Bumps in the road are still there, but the more limited exposure to peers makes life a lot more pleasant.
If you think back to your own high school years (or your current work life!), exposure to any one group of people for eight, nine, ten hours a day can be annoying. If those people are also a less than desirable influence, the problem becomes one of daily exposure wearing down your own boundaries. Even the best teens just don’t have the life experience to give each other the advice they may need. If you take some of the peer time and replace it with adult exposure, the odds improve that your teen will seek advice from an adult as well.
Homeschooling may not be practical for your family, but there are a lot of ways you can increase the amount of meaningful time your child spends with godly adults. You may be surprised that your child’s “peer pressure” is suddenly coming from the substitute grandma from church who has developed a special relationship with her. Or you may find that your son’s favorite mentor is actually his dad. Take some time and take your child away from peers his age and spend some time with older, wiser, godly “peers”. You may find the Walton’s were actually pretty wise.