Is Your Parenting Style Undermining Your Children’s Faith?

Have you ever met someone who had been raised by an abusive father or had an absentee father and struggled to understand God, the father accurately? Or maybe you have experienced this struggle yourself. The Bible tells us God is our father and if we have not had a father who accurately reflects God’s image, then we may struggle to truly understand the character of God.

Your parenting style in general can also become a stumbling block to the faith of your children. You don’t have to be an abusive or absentee father to negatively impact your children’s faith, and you don’t have to be a perfect parent to strengthen it. You just need to monitor your style of parenting a bit more carefully.

There are three basic parenting styles – authoritarian, permissive and authoritative. They are on a continuum, but most parents fall primarily into one of the three styles. These styles, in turn, tend to model for our children how we believe God “parents” us. When our style doesn’t accurately reflect God’s parenting style, our children grow up with serious misunderstandings about God, scripture, Christianity, obedience and other areas impacting their faith. So what does that look like in “real life”?

The authoritarian parent is the classic “children should be seen and not heard” parent. They are strict, with lots of rules and consequences that can be harsh. There may or may not be other toxic parenting behaviors present. Authoritarian parents are not emotionally close to their children and would not be considered particularly loving or nurturing in the ways they interact with them. When their children want to talk with them, they are often unavailable physically and/or emotionally. Children raised in these home environments often view God as overly strict, mean, judgmental and unloving. They may reject God because they cannot bare more strict rules and harsh consequences from a God who seems to be far away and uncaring. If they attend church as adults, it may be primarily from a sense of fear and/or duty only.

At the other end of the parenting spectrum is the permissive parent. These parents have few if any rules. If a child misbehaves or gets in trouble at school for breaking rules, not only are no consequences given (consequences aren’t given for disobeying parents, because there are few rules to disobey), but these parents may even rail against the teacher for having rules, enforcing them and giving consequences when those rules are broken. Children raised in these homes often reject God because He has rules, expects our obedience and hands out consequences for rebellion. They, too, may describe God as harsh. If they attend church as adults, they tend to only see God as a loving giver of blessings and reject any or all of God’s commands – even when they clearly appear in scripture. They may also reject the idea that there is a hell or that anyone deserves to go there for rebelling against God.

Authoritative parents are what one might call moderate parents. They are often strict, but their rules are in their children’s best interest. These parents are willing to discuss rules and boundaries and may adapt some of them as children grow older. Their rules are consistently enforced and just consequences given for rebellion. Authoritative parents are physically and verbally affectionate and nurturing. They listen to their children with respect, but expect respect in return. They apologize when they make a mistake and they forgive their children when they repent. They are the most reflective of how the Bible portrays the character of God and how He treats us. Children in these homes are most likely to not only remain faithful, but also obey God’s commands (as much as possible) out of respect and love. They are most likely to be productive Christians – serving others and sharing their faith. They tend to have an image of God that most accurately reflects scripture, accept God’s commands as Truth and understand Heaven and Hell are real – as are the eternal consequences for a rejection of God and His commands. Children raised in these homes are also more likely to see the wisdom in God’s commands and view them as a way God protects them from the natural negative consequences of disobeying them.

It’s important to be honest about your parenting style. Ask close friends and relatives which parenting style best describes you. Think about your parents’ parenting style – yours is probably a close replica or the exact opposite. If your children are older, ask them. Or think about how you view God and how your children see Him and which parenting style that view matches..

If your style is not authoritative, make necessary changes. Apologize to your children, as changing your style will impact them. Make sure the ways in which you describe God and discuss His commands is an accurate reflection of scripture and not a response to how you were parented. Being an authoritative parent is best for your children in general, but it can also make them more likely to be faithful Christians as adults.

Teaching Your Kids About Wisdom

If your children are to reach their full God given potential and grow up to be mature, productive Christians, they will need to learn to find, respect and obey wisdom. While all wisdom comes from God, one of the problems with being young is that it isn’t always easy to apply God’s wisdom to the situations that they encounter in their every day lives. They will need wise people to help them understand how to apply God’s commands and principles to the situations they are encountering that are perhaps slightly different than those the people in the Bible encountered.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where knowledge is easily confused with wisdom. Where those most respected are those who are tech savvy and not necessarily wise at all. Where those who are older and hopefully wiser are considered out of touch and not worth listening to at all… much less asking for and heeding any wise, godly advice they may have.

To counteract that dangerous cultural norm, you will have to teach your children how to recognize wisdom and to find the people who possess it and will share it with them. They need to learn how to compare it to scripture and then follow the advice if it is a match for God’s wisdom.

You can start by having a fun little devotional about wisdom. Call your kids together and ask them who is the smartest person on Earth. Their answers will vary depending upon their ages and interests. Ask them why they believe those people are the smartest on Earth. After they explain how they chose those people, ask them who they think are the wisest people on Earth. If you haven’t talked about knowledge and wisdom much before, they may be stumped or tell you that they just answered that question.

Tell them the story of Solomon asking for wisdom and then the story of the visit from the Queen of Sheba. (1Kings 3:3-15 and 2 Chronicles 9). Point out that although there is a connection between knowledge and wisdom, one can have knowledge and little if any wisdom. Explain that knowledge consists of all of the things you learn. Wisdom is knowing how to use that knowledge to make a decision that involves applying the knowledge in such a way that it has a positive result.

For example, learning the ABC’s is knowledge. Learning spelling and grammar is knowledge. Wisdom is taking all of that knowledge and writing something that helps others. If you want to take it a step farther, godly wisdom is applied knowledge that encourages others to obey God. Ask them if they can think of other examples of knowledge and wisdom that uses that knowledge.

Explain that sometimes the two get disconnected, even when they seem to still be the same. For example someone who has a lot of technical knowledge can design a computer game. While that is applying knowledge, if it isn’t helpful or in fact harms people, then it isn’t true godly wisdom. This concept is more abstract and children may struggle with understanding the difference. Teens, however, should be able to begin to understand the difference… especially after giving multiple examples in both types of situations.

Explain that true wisdom will never contradict scripture… even if everyone else claims those contradictory statements are wisdom. Show your children some popular affirmations that sound wise, but are contrary to God’s wisdom, like “You are perfect just the way you are”, or “You deserve everything you want in life”. See if they can find the flaw in each affirmation and explain how it is different from God’s wisdom.

Take it a step farther by inviting godly older people over to your home for dinner. Let them know ahead of time that you would love for them to share a few tidbits of godly wisdom with your children. Also encourage them to tell an interesting story from their lives. Children and teens often fail to realize that the old “boring” people at church often have had very exciting, interesting lives. Hearing some of their stories will help your children begin to realize that older people just may be different than they thought they were.

If your children are teens, you may want to have later devotionals using Proverbs and Ecclesiastes – examining the wisdom and the later folly of Solomon. No matter the age of your children, regularly talk about wisdom and humility. They will need both to live a mature, productive Christian life.

Could This App Make Family Devotionals Easier?

Recently I received an email from Focus on the Family sharing an initiative they have started to get families reading and talking about scripture together. Since I am a fan of daily family devotionals as one way of parents and children interacting with scripture, I decided to check it out.

Full disclosure. I am in general a fan of many of the Focus on the Family resources. Our daughter loved the Adventures in Odyssey series when she was little and subscribed to several of the magazines they had for children at the time. On the other hand, I am perfectly happy with the Bible app I already have on my phone and am always reluctant to add any new app to my overcrowded phone unless I believe it adds real value. For this review, I did download the app, register and interacted with it as suggested by Focus on the Family.

The app is called Public Reading of Scripture. If I were involved in promoting this app, I would suggest a quick rebranding. The name sounds a bit overwhelming – especially to young Christians…. almost like a Pilgrim from the 1600’s named it. The other odd thing was that by clicking through the email to their landing page and then clicking the download app button, it took me straight to GooglePlay… not my preferred app store. I was able to find it by using the search function in the Apple app store.

Downloading and registering on the app was pretty standard. Focus on the Family suggested clicking on their icon and looking at the Daniel reading plan first. The first thing you see once you get into the Daniel plan is one of those cartoon introduction videos by The Bible Project. At just under nine minutes, it has decent information but I think is probably not something that will grab the attention of the average child or teen.

You can skip the video though and start right into the suggested reading for the first session. For me, this is where it really started going off the rails. First the graphics for the scripture reading are horrendous – like old time DOS horrendous. It’s white graphics on a black background and the five chapters of scripture are so run on, it is hard to tell where one chapter stops and the other begins. For the amount of money these groups have, I would have expected a reading interface similar to my regular Bible app. Instead it looks cheap and messy. The reading did begin with a few interesting facts, which I appreciate, but honestly they are more of a summary than actually adding facts that would be interesting to children and teens about things that would spark their curiosity. It would also have been nice to have a guiding question they could consider as they listen to the reading.

My next problem is the amount of scripture they expect a ”normal” family to read (presumably) each day. Five chapters? That’s way too much to expect from most families. It is probably more realistic to ask families with little or no current Bible reading in the home to cut each session down to one chapter. Also, many children have trouble understanding large chunks of scripture read aloud to them. Having been translated from other languages, the phrasing is sometimes awkward sounding and the text is often filled with unfamiliar words and cultural references. Telling them a Bible story covering that many chapters is difficult enough, but reading them five chapters in the allotted 23 minutes (Is that supposed to include discussion, too?) means many younger children will get little if anything from the reading.

The devotional suggests questions for the entire family to discuss and a couple of additional questions for each age group of children in the home. I like the idea of the age appropriate questions, but once again I wonder if they actually field tested these with real families unused to having family devotionals. The graphics for the questions are the same as the scripture – horrible. There were some prettier pdfs you could print on the Focus on the Family website, but that’s an extra step you are asking people to do or a second website they have to toggle to during the discussion. It’s just awkward.

The app does have an Adventures in Odyssey section under the Focus on the Family tab. It is various characters reading passages of scripture out-loud. Once again, the readings are multiple chapters and I am not sure how much the hook of a character reading it encourages young children to listen.

My conclusion? Great idea, poor execution. Maybe after a lot of improvements it will be helpful to more families, but right now I believe using family devotional books or just choosing to read a book of the Bible together and discuss it at your family’s pace will probably work better.

Fun Family Devotional on Friendship (With a Twist)

Quick. Name the Bible story most often used when discussing friendship with children and teens? If you guessed David and Jonathan, you are probably correct. Have you ever noticed though, that the story is often told from the perspective of the benefits David got from the friendship – namely getting advance notice from Jonathan that Saul wanted to kill him? What if we looked at the story – and its aftermath – from a different perspective … What kind of friend was David to Jonathan?

This is an important family devotional. Parents and ministries often spend a lot of time discussing how young people should choose friends who help them be more godly rather than encouraging them to disobey God. We may mention that they should have some of these same qualities to benefit their friends, but most of the focus is still on choosing “good” friends and not on becoming a great friend for others.

Call your children together and ask them what they remember about the story of Jonathan and David. If they don’t remember the details, go back and read over it again. Ask them how they know Jonathan was a good friend to David. Then ask them what kind of friend David was to Jonathan based on the story.

Read to them 2 Samuel 4:4 and 9:6-13. If you have teenagers and the time to dig a little deeper, you may also want to share the story in 2 Samuel 19:9-30 and 21:1-14. These two passages are more complex (and a bit gruesome), but show that David still respected the promises he had made to Jonathan, even after Jonathan’s death. Discuss how David show he valued his friendship with Jonathan in the way that he treated Mephibosheth. Remind them that the customs of the day would have demanded that David kill Mephibosheth as a possible threat to his kingship. Yet he and Mephibosheth both appeared to value the relationship between Jonathan and David more than money or power.

Ask your kids to list all of the qualities of a great friend. Have them draw a picture of a great friend. Encourage them to write descriptive words on their artwork to illustrate their definition of a great friend. Write down a master list of all of the words so everyone can see the complete list. If they miss some you believe are important, feel free to add your ideas to the list. Then ask them which of those qualities they believe they exhibit in their friendships. Are there any with which they struggle? What are some ways they could be a better friend?

If time allows, think of something nice your kids can do for their friends. Perhaps you can all work together to bake some cookies for their friends or make something they would appreciate. Encourage your children to put as much focus on being a good friend as they do in searching for good friends.

Reframing Your Children’s Strengths (and Weaknesses)

Childhood, like life in general, isn’t fair. Some children seem to be born knowing what gift(s) God has given them. Their gifts are so obvious, the adults around them easily recognize the gift and offer regular praise and encouragement. Other children struggle – not just in identifying what gift(s) God has given them, but just in general. They seem to always say and do things that result in adults being upset with them – even when they are genuinely trying to do their best.

As they get older, it often seems like those young people with obvious strengths continue to build on their early successes, while those who struggled continue to focus on their weaknesses, mistakes and failures. Many times those who are successful can become over confident or even prideful, while those who struggle may stop trying to find any strengths in themselves.

Yet, there are a handful of young people who don’t follow the normal pattern. They have obvious gifts/strengths, but they are humble and often offer to use their gifts to serve God. Or despite early struggles, they persevere and eventually find their gifts and use them to serve God as well. The difference isn’t really how early young people find their gifts (although the earlier, the better) or how obvious those gifts are to adults. Those who avoid some of the pitfalls of strengths and weaknesses have been taught to look at both in slightly different ways.

  • They are taught that both strengths and weaknesses have a flip side. Every strength has a corresponding weakness and every weakness has a strength that can be attached. Children and teens need to be made aware of these connections and the possible ramifications. For example, a child who is always being corrected for being too laid back/lazy, could possibly also be a child who has great patience. Meanwhile, children who are given lots of visible roles at school because they are confident, may also realize that they struggle with arrogance. Both children should be encouraged to work on their weaknesses and their strengths, rather than one child being constantly considered a “problem” and the other a “joy”.
  • They are taught people with strengths or weaknesses different from their own are not necessarily “better” or “worse” than they are. Yes, in certain situations some gifts are more helpful than others, but every gift is needed at some point. Many weaknesses can encourage people to make sinful choices, but those temptations can be avoided and better choices made. It’s really never a good idea for your children to try and determine their value based on the behaviors or attributes of others. The standard should always be that set by God – and God loves them even when they struggle.
  • While many gifts/strengths can also be used to help earn a living for the people who have them, financial gain, fame or power should never be the primary goal. God gives us gifts to use in service to Him. Some gifts can also be used to earn a living. For some people, like for many of those with the gift of teaching, the two can be combined and they can earn a living using their gift, while their career is also their ministry. Encourage your children to think about using their gifts to serve God first, then explore whether or not those gifts can also be used in a future career.
  • As gifts/strengths are identified, the focus should be on developing them to their full potential and using them to serve God. Even a child born with an obvious gift needs help developing it fully. Mozart had to be taught how to capture the tunes he heard in his head and write them as sheet music others could play. Arrogance often takes root in the hearts of those who believe they have nothing to learn from others in their area of giftedness. Likewise, your kids will need help finding ways to use their gifts to serve God. This may require creativity for some gifts, but if God gave the gift, He must know there is a need for it somewhere.
  • Most gifts/strengths are best used to serve God outside of the church building. Too many hours have been wasted with people arguing about whose gifts get to be on display in front of the congregation. Often though, the most impact on the world for God comes from those using their gifts to serve God outside of the confines of the church building.
  • Encourage godly self esteem – a realistic understanding of both strengths and weaknesses. Your children should be humble about their strengths, but not so humble they “bury their talent” like the man in the parable. Likewise, they shouldn’t become so focused on correcting their weaknesses that they fail to see their strengths that could be developed and used to serve God.

Helping your children navigate their strengths and weaknesses isn’t necessarily a quick or easy process. Done well though, it will make living the Christian life much easier for them.