Occasionally, I will watch popular shows to get a gauge for the current culture in entertainment – especially content created for kids and teens. I’ve noticed recently a disturbing trend in content that can have an extremely negative impact on young people being raised in Christian homes.
While it’s not new for popular content to subtly or openly mock Christians and their beliefs, this new trend may be more insidious. It seems to be more common on reality type shows, but can be found everywhere. A character or a member of the cast openly and often proudly claims to be a Christian and to value his or her faith. In fact, the person may say his or her faith is one of the most important things in his or her life.
Almost immediately, however, the person engages in what I would term a sin that is obvious to almost anyone with even a passing knowledge of Christian beliefs….like taking all of their clothes off in public, having sex with someone to whom they aren’t married, etc. Or the person will state a belief they have because they are Christians and then do that very thing, but in perhaps less obvious ways – for example, that they don’t believe in lying – but then proceed to detail all of the ways they will lie….but don’t “count” because they aren’t “real” lies.
When your kids are exposed to content like this – or even similar people and ideas in real life – their understanding of who a Christian is and how a Christian lives life becomes skewed. I don’t believe these people are lying when they say they love God, they just don’t know who they are supposed to be as a Christian. So they have become a secular person, living a largely ungodly life, but one who believes in God.
That is not even close to the Christian life God wants for you or your kids. He wants Christians to stand apart from their culture – not partake of it in the same ways as unbelievers. Your kids need you to define for them who a Christian is in real and concrete terms with lots of practical examples. They need to understand, not just the commands of God, but the underlying principles as well. They need to know what God wants them to do as much as they know what God doesn’t want them to do. They need to thoroughly understand they will be different from most people, because that is how they will stand out from the crowd so others know to whom they should go to learn about God and the life He wants for them, too.
Don’t assume because your kids attend Church and Bible classes, that they know any more about who God wants them to be than any other young person in the world. You need to be “quality control” and make sure their understanding of what it means to live a Christian life is thorough and correct. Otherwise, they may end up not living their faith at all.
Paul and the other New Testament writers mention people who are calling themselves Christians, but have agendas that aren’t godly. They also mention at times the various agendas of people who aren’t Christians. In fact, they even admit to having their own agenda – teaching people the Gospel message and helping them get to Heaven.
The writers of the Bible aren’t the only creators of content who have an agenda. In fact every author of an article or book, every screen writer, anyone who creates content has an agenda. Sometimes, the agenda is merely to provide entertainment for others to enjoy. Often, however, those who create content for you and your kids to consume have additional agendas. We don’t always notice them, but they still impact us anyway. Children are especially susceptible to being influenced by these hidden agendas.
Your kids probably understand the Bible and their textbooks are trying to teach them things someone wants them to learn. What they probably don’t realize is that their favorite video game, show, movie or book may also be created by someone who is trying to convince them to believe what the author believes. They also need to understand that whether or not they are aware of these messages, if they hear them often enough, they will start to believe they are true – regardless of whether or not they are. Your kids also need to be aware that often these ideas are not only questionable, but are in direct opposition to what God wants them to believe.
Your kids will need your help recognizing these hidden agendas and messages. They will need to learn how to compare them to the Bible and see if they are ideas they should accept or reject. As your kids consume content, discuss what messages they believe the authors hid in the content. Help them find scriptures that help them know whether they should accept or reject those messages. Teach them how to read between the lines of reviews and summaries to see if they can detect hidden agendas and avoid engaging with content that may increase the likelihood they will become desensitized to sin. Show them sites like pluggedin.com that were created to help Christians understand hidden agendas and messages in creative content so they can make wise decisions about what to consume.
Your kids may need to have several discussions about how false messages can desensitize them to sin and eventually convince them something God has said is sinful is not only okay, but praiseworthy. They will want to engage with the same content their peers are and will need to become strong to make better choices for their faith to stay strong. It won’t be easy, but your kids need you to help them be agenda savvy. It can protect them from having their Christian beliefs constantly undermined by people who have rejected God and His commands.
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.