Why Your Child’s Choice of Words Matters

Why Your Child's Choice of Words Matters - Parenting Like HannahHave you ever paid attention to the words your kids choose when they talk or write papers for school? I was listening to something the other day, when the speaker made a comment that really resonated with me as a parent – especially as a Christian parent.

He was talking about the use of the term “hater” by people today. The speaker pointed out that in his youth, when someone disagreed with something you said or believed, they were called your critic. You were encouraged to research and hone your arguments in order to persuade your critics you were correct in your beliefs or in what you said or did.

He went on to point out that the minute you begin calling the people who disagree with you or criticize you in any way, “haters”, you automatically excuse yourself from listening to what they have to say. You no longer have to consider their arguments and whether or not there may be truth to them. You don’t have to go back and research your beliefs or re-play in your mind what you said or did. You feel no need to improve your arguments, your words or your actions in response to what you may have learned from the criticism. The person who criticized you is after all a “hater” who doesn’t even deserve to be heard.

The vocabulary your child uses matters. Because that vocabulary will reveal which things they are reading or hearing from others that may be changing their beliefs – even pulling them away from God in some circumstances.

For example in many university religion classes, they will refer to the stories in the Bible as “novellas”. They don’t come right out and say they believe the stories are fictional, but when they use the term novella, you know that is the professor’s or writer’s underlying theology. For Christians, who believe most of the stories in the Bible are historical accounts of actual events (parables would be an exception), a worldview that thinks of them as fictional is extremely problematic.

Yet your child – now an adult – probably won’t understand the implications of someone using the term “novella” in a religion class or text. As a parent, noticing this term can open an important discussion about terms and theologies that can undermine the Bible and by extension God.

I wish I could give you a list of all of the vocabulary words you need to catch when your child uses them in speaking or writing. Unfortunately, it’s an ever-growing list. Some things worthy of a thorough discussion might include words like tolerance, peace, love (as in it’s not loving to help someone face their own sin and need for God’s redemption), and terms like “multiple paths”, “my/his/her/your truth”.

These discussions, can’t be lectures. Your kids will tune out and any influence you might have had will be lost. Instead, ask your child what they think the word or term means to them, the teacher, author, etc. What evidence do they have that supports that assumption? Point out what people usually mean when they use that particular word or phrase in the setting in which your child heard it.

Explain to your child why that philosophy goes against what God wants them to believe. Help them understand what God wants from them instead. Talk about why accepting that term at face value and leaving it unchallenged can endanger their own faith as it moves them slowly away from God.

Rarely will you be able to cover this all in one conversation. It can take weeks, months and even years of revisiting these topics before your children accept what you are trying to teach them about what God wants from them in their beliefs and words. If your child is an adult, you may have to tread carefully as you have these conversations.

Regardless, you must have these conversations. Because left unchallenged, these words will create beliefs and world views that are often in direct opposition to what God has commanded. Our churches are filled with people who have entrenched secular world views and get angry with Christians who point out their beliefs don’t match what is written in scripture. In fact, in some places, it has gotten so bad, Christians have begun to undermine scripture – saying things that are clearly stated in black and white don’t apply to them because they don’t live in those times and the book wan’t addressed to them but to someone else.

You can keep this from happening to your children, by listening to what your kids are saying. Ask questions. Have those deeper conversations. Allow them to debate you. Encourage them to read the Bible for themselves and find scriptures that apply to the discussion. Encourage them to consider the possibility that their teachers and professors could be wrong about any number of things. Challenge them to look for logical fallacies and other rhetorical methods that can be used to convince young people something is true when it may not be at all.

Through this though, it’s important to remember your children often believe these things because of their naive faith in their teachers and the authors of books. They may be impressed by advanced degrees. They may not know scripture well enough to immediately realize when something they are being taught is in error. They may not even know the real meaning of the word or phrase they are using.

Yes, some children will say these things out of a rebellious spirit, but if your relationship with them is strong and they are giving other signs of having a strong faith in God – it is more likely they are using these terms out of ignorance than spite. Your attitude needs to be that of a patient, loving teacher – not of a tyrant ready to throw them in the dungeon! You will most likely need and want to have these types of discussions well into your children’s adult lives. Making them interesting and fun rather than a ugly battle in a war, will mean it will be easier to have them when you feel the need to do so.




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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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