5 Fun Ways to Learn More About Your Child’s World

Have you ever met parents who seemed totally clueless of how their child behaved out in the world? Sadly, it’s more common than you think. Too many parents think their kids are doing just “fine” and have “great” friends when that isn’t even close to their child’s reality. If you already have a great relationship with your kids – the type where they freely tell you anything and everything about their lives – good, bad and ugly – you probably don’t need to worry. On the other hand, if you know very little about your child’s life outside of your home and even less about his or her friends, you may be missing out on crucial information to help you parent more effectively.

For Christian parents, knowing if your child lives differently outside of your home can be crucial as it may reveal serious issues with the heart. Hearts that are beginning to view lying and hiding things as acceptable are generally not headed in a very godly direction. Spying on your kids by invading their privacy is rarely the best choice. There are more honest, fun ways of seeing your kids in their daily environments that give you opportunities to see how they are living while also giving you opportunities to get to know their friends and peers better, too.

  • Volunteer. You would be surprised how much the “catsup” mom learns about all of the kids in school – her own included! Most schools and extracurricular activities need volunteers to do various tasks. Look for ones that give you opportunities to interact with your children and their peers while volunteering. Instead of talking with other volunteers, observe the kids and interact with them in ways that are considered appropriate. Most kids desperately need someone to listen to them, so you will be ministering to them as well.
  • Sponsor or lead. Some activities need adults to lead them. This requires a bigger investment of time, but also gives you more long term access and involvement in the activity lives of your kids and their peers. Once again, many parents find this is also a great opportunity to minister to young people who need mentoring.
  • Host their friends. Whether it’s a play date, sleep over or Friday night pizza and game night, having your kids’ friends in your home is the best way to really get to know them. If you entertain enough, you may even find yourself with a few extra members in your family after a time. It’s important to remember that opening your home and leaving them to their own devices is very different from being accessible and available. You don’t have to hover, but popping in with cookies or a question periodically is a great way to remind them you are available and that you are aware of what is happening.
  • Treat to ice cream or coffee. Kids and teens love special time with adults. Whether it’s just your child or your kid and a friend, taking them out for ice cream, “coffee” or some other special treat gives you relaxed time to have deeper conversations with them. Sometimes framing questions with “I heard/read kids/teens your age ———-, do you think that is accurate?” can often yield a wealth of insight into their world.
  • Learn something new together that they choose. This is a great way to learn about your kids’ gifts and passions. If they’ve always wanted to learn how to weave a basket or play the ukulele, taking a class together can be fun. Even if it’s not your gift or passion, it gives you a better understanding of what they love and why they love it.

Taking extra time to join your kids in their worlds is a great way to make sure your kids are doing as well as you hope they are. If you discover issues, it also gives you time to parent them before things get too serious. It’s worth taking some extra time and effort.

Raising Agenda Savvy Kids

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.

4 Ways Your Kids’ Activities May Be Undermining Your Parenting

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.

Can Your Kids Practice Christianity in Public School?

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.)

7 Things to Know Before Your Kids See the Latest Movie

Summer is a great time to go see a movie. It can be a fun family outing in air conditioning. It can also have unintended consequences for your kids. Are you allowing your kids to see movies they aren’t ready to handle psychologically or spiritually? Here are some things to consider before you buy those tickets.

  • What is the rating? Ratings only help you weed out the most inappropriate movies. There are still movies with “acceptable” ratings that still aren’t good for your kids – including “G” rated movies. Ratings are a starting point for deciding what your kids should see, not the only criteria.
  • Are you willing to let their brains think they have actually experienced what they see in the movie? The dirty little brain science secret Hollywood doesn’t want you to know is that when the brain watches sexual or violent content, it can’t differentiate between reality and fiction. With younger kids, it’s even more pronounced because they are concrete thinkers and may not totally understand the story isn’t true. Experiences change your children’s brains – for better or worse. Violence changes the brain in negative ways and so does early exposure to sex.
  • What are the themes of the movie? Beyond the plot, what are the main messages the movie is pushing? Are they godly? Are they even moral? A current hit children’s movie is pushing the idea that evil should be celebrated and that some people are just born evil and there’s nothing they can do to change. Not a message I want my child to believe is true.
  • Have you read the review at www.pluggedin.com? If you are in a rush, skip to the conclusion for a summary. If you have more time, they break down any content a Christian might find objectionable. Then you can make a more informed decision about what you want your child to see.
  • Have you explained the concerns you have about a movie they want to see? Just forbidding a movie is not helpful for your relationship with your kids and can create faith stumbling blocks. Explaining your concerns in age appropriate ways and agreeing to revisit the idea of watching the movie when they are older or admitting they can make a different decision as adults breaks down walls, even if you disagree.
  • Have you discussed the movie and their thoughts about it afterwards? It’s natural to talk about what you liked or didn’t like, but take it a step farther. Ask your kids if they thought the movie was trying to make a point and what it was. Then discuss the pros and cons of it. Make it fun and you can have a great conversation.
  • Remind your kids (and yourself) they don’t have to do everything everyone else is doing to have friends or be successful in life. (In fact, they probably shouldn’t.) The pressure your kids feel to see a particular movie is often more about everyone in their peer group seeing it and wanting to fit in than the movie itself. This is an easy example of how peer pressure can impact your kids. Give them tools to handle being different or making different choices with confidence. If you can, they will be much more likely to avoid more negative and potentially destructive peer pressure later.

Seems like a lot of trouble, doesn’t it? Philippians 4:8 talks about the things we need surrounding us to be healthy Christians. If the latest movie doesn’t fit the bill, then it is hurting your kids. Why not take a few minutes and make sure it’s what they need to see.