Teaching Your Kids How to Avoid Sinning in Their Boredom

Years ago there used to be a saying, ”Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”. It was mostly said by parents to children who were inclined to get into trouble when they had too much free time. In some ways, I think it led to the idea of enrolling even very young children in organized outside activities for every waking moment of their lives. This over scheduling has created problems of its own.

By enrolling your children in activities planned, organized and executed by others, they never truly learn how to find worthwhile things to do with their free time. When they do have the rare free moment, they turn to their digital pacifier to relieve their boredom – which also comes with a host of problems. As strange as it sounds, your kids need you to teach them how to use free time in ways that restore them and hopefully are productive in some way.

God did not create your children – or any of us – for living lives of leisure. Even in the Garden of Eden, he put Adam to work. Jesus rested when he was here on Earth, but that rest was carefully planned to be truly restorative. He didn’t just sit there watching a long stream of YouTube videos. He spent intentional time with God and his disciples. It appears that Jesus spent his free time in ways that were either restorative or productive. Your children were created to connect with God through spiritual disciplines and produce in ways that point others to God. They were not created to be idle or to be constantly entertained by others.

Unfortunately, your children have probably never been taught how to follow the example of Jesus in how they spend their free time – not at church, school or perhaps even at home. So when they get bored, they may find themselves defaulting to the normal “entertainments” teens and young adults have used for centuries – alcohol, drugs, sex or other unhealthy and/or ungodly pursuits.

Time and time again, I have seen the rare teen or young adult who was taught to find fun, wholesome and even productive activities. They not only seem to avoid getting mixed up in the fallback pursuits, but often lead their peers in participating in these better options.

So how do you help your kids learn how to use their free time well? These ideas will get you started.

  • Make sure your kids have plenty of free time. They need the time to find things to do without someone planning it for them.
  • Make sure your home has some basics. If you can afford it, have art supplies and books that would interest them in your home. Perhaps a musical instrument to play or some basic sports equipment like frisbees and balls. If money is tight, try the public library and thrift or yard sales. If they literally don’t have other options that are approved and easily available, they are more likely to make poor choices.
  • Start small when they are young and give more freedom as they age. Children who have never had to fill free time will inevitably turn to devices or claim they are bored when they do have freedom. Don’t tell them what to do. Ask them to list some options they may have to amuse themselves. If they claim to not have anything, offer to give them chores to relieve their boredom! If you find them a few minutes later on a device or getting into trouble, redirect by asking them to choose a different activity. Over time, they should be able to find ways to amuse themselves without your help.
  • Let them help research and plan family outings and vacations. Teach them how to find those obscure, fun, often free things to do in any place. Often Googling terms like “off the beaten path” “free things to do” or “Atlas Obscura” plus the name of the location will give them lots of ideas (Be aware that some of these sites are paid to promote bars. Discuss why bar hopping is not a wise way to spend free time or prescreen sites before allowing your kids to use them for researching activities.)
  • Have fun! An activity doesn’t have to be boring or educational to be a good alternative to less wise options. Go to places at times that are just pure fun. Or go see weird roadside attractions to find the most unique or find the restaurant with the best key lime pie in the world. Teach them Christians can have fun without sinning.
  • Don’t forget spiritual disciplines and serving others. Add meaning and purpose to their lives and strengthen their faith by encouraging them to participate in spiritual disciplines like prayer and meditating on scripture as well as serving others with part of their free time.

Have fun with it, but make sure your kids are well versed in finding godly, productive fun before they leave your home. It can help them avoid sinning in their boredom.

The Secret Ingredient in Christian Parenting

Christian parenting adds an interesting dynamic to the parenting process. While the Bible does give a lot of guidance to parents, it is generally not quite as specific as many parents would like. For example, scripture tells us we should be teaching our children about God throughout the day, but exactly how many hours is that? What exactly should we say? What about the time school, homework and activities take away from family time? You may have wrestled with many of these questions yourself.

For thousands of years, young parents have relied on older parents, their parents, books and their own observations to try and pin down some of the parenting ambiguities in scripture. Some figured it out and many did not – which is why many young adults walk away from God.

Thankfully, we now have some data to also help us figure out what works and what doesn’t. It is important to remember that studies are often only a part of the picture and may even mislead us if they were set up poorly. Those that are done well, however, can give us some additional help as we try to parent our children towards God. (You may want to check out some of Barna’s and Pew’s research for studies on various Christian topics.)

Much of what they have discovered about successful Christian parenting is what many Christian parents instinctively know – even if they don’t always do it. There was one ”secret” ingredient though that may surprise you. The really interesting thing about this ingredient is that even though it is commanded in scripture, we rarely hear it mentioned in our churches. Even more fascinating is that it seemed to be the key difference between raising children to be church attenders only and children who were faithful, productive Christians as adults.

What is this secret ingredient? Hospitality! Having friends, neighbors and relatives in your home on a regular basis. It didn’t seem to matter how many people were entertained at anyone time or if they were invited to play in your yard with your kids or to a formal sit down dinner party for fifty. They don’t even seem to be able to pinpoint why it made a difference, although they had some theories.

Isn’t it interesting though that God commands Christians to be hospitable? He always knows what is best for us and our children. Start inviting people over. Encourage your children to invite their friends over. Host neighborhood and family gatherings. Remember it doesn’t have to be fancy and your home only has to be clean enough that people aren’t worried about getting food poisoning! In fact, one of our most popular parties requires no cooking at all. We just throw out a couple of kinds of ice cream and some toppings and call it a ”Make your own ice cream sundae” party.

If entertaining intimidates you, start small. Get your children to have a friend come over after school and serve a snack or ask them to stay for a supper of mac and cheese. Or invite the kids in your neighborhood over to play in your sprinkler and give them popsicles. (Check for food allergies before feeding children.) Entertain someone – any one. Your kids’ spiritual health may be enriched because of it.

10 Ways Christian Parents Can Impact Public Schools

Christians at times spend more time worrying about what they aren’t allowed to do in the public arena than actually doing the things they are allowed to do to impact various aspects of culture. This can be particularly true in public schools where educators and administrators may appear to brush off parental concerns. The truth is that a subset of parents has always had a huge influence on teachers and staff at our public schools. Some are Christians and some aren’t. They all, however, take advantage of every opportunity they can to put them in a position to be heard when they feel it is important.

So what secret do these parents hold? They have learned that supporting the teachers and administration in ways those people value, builds relationships. Those relationships can provide other opportunities to question or influence various policy decisions.

Here are some great ways to support the teachers and staff at your children’s school(s).

  • Get involved in the PTA and other parent organizations like booster clubs. Yes, it means extra work and more meetings, but when a group of parents bands together, they can sometimes achieve more than an individual parent could. When our daughter was in elementary school, the county cut funding for their daily German classes. The parents worked as a group to raise money to fund the positions and the county relented.
  • Volunteer to be a “room parent”. The position is more than planning parties. Some teachers take advantage of supportive room parents and use them as a sounding board or offer them other opportunities to engage with students.
  • Volunteer for ketchup mom, carpool lane dad or any other volunteer positions at the school. Yes, the jobs are mundane and boring for the most part, but it shows you are willing to invest in the school. Plus you often get to see the various teachers and administrators doing their jobs when most parents aren’t there. You can learn a lot about people by watching how they interact with students.
  • Ask for prayer requests in your interactions with faculty and staff. Public prayer may not be allowed in schools, but nothing prevents you from telling a teacher that you are praying for him or her and asking if there are any specific requests. You would be surprised how many will gratefully tell you a request. Even those who don’t believe in God understand the sentiment behind your offer. If you do it consistently, you may be surprised to have teachers track you down to give you a prayer request. In our daughter’s elementary school, a group of moms met at a church in the community weekly to pray for our kids, their teachers and classmates, and the school as a whole.
  • Reading time. This is not available at every school, but many elementary schools have a parent come in to read a picture book to their child’s class. While you can’t get by with reading stories from the Bible in most schools, we were able to bring in books like Berenstain Bears that encourage godly behavior and attitudes.
  • Break-room treats. This is your chance to finally see the inside of a teachers’ lounge! Seriously though, finding excuses to drop by an occasional batch of cookies or some other treat lets everyone know you are thinking about them as people.
  • Volunteer to tutor. This is not ideal for everyone, but if you do have the gift of teaching, many teachers would love to have free tutors for struggling students. Be aware though that some teachers use tutoring for extra income, so don’t be offended if they reject your offer.
  • Participate in county or statewide curricula reviews. This varies from place to place, but some school systems allow parents to review potential new textbooks. It’s time consuming and tedious perhaps, but even if your feedback is ignored, you will be more aware of any problematic material before it is taught to your children as “truth”.
  • Volunteer for any school system committees that include parents. There may not be many, but if you do your volunteer job well, you will earn the respect of system wide employees who impact the bigger decisions for all of the schools in a district.
  • Run for school board. Okay, this one is for the truly passionate and those gifted in politics and diplomacy, but this is the one place where your voice will be heard – even if it isn’t heeded.

If you work outside of the home, you may think this article doesn’t apply to you. The truth is that many parents with full time jobs make the time to get involved. Ask teachers for projects you can do at home at night – like cutting out things they need or other flexible tasks. Many schools have meetings at night so more parents can attend. Schools also often have weekend work days to make improvements in their landscaping. (If not, why not volunteer to organize such a day?)

Yes, all of this takes a lot of extra time and effort. It is not about manipulating people or situations, but rather accurately and consistently reflecting God’s love to people who are often criticized by parents. Also remember, this can be a ministry in and of itself….. where you can point faculty, staff and students to God in perhaps subtle, but entirely legal ways.

Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids About Consequences

Consequences are a part of life. When your children say or do something – good or bad – there is often a natural consequence resulting from their choice. The problem children and teens have is that word “often”. Bad things don’t always happen when they make a poor choice and good things don’t always happen when they make a good choice. Why? Because we live in a fallen world and consequences don’t always appear consistent or even fair. Why does a teen who had his first drink of alcohol die in a horrible car crash while another teen who drives high regularly never even has a fender bender?

Which is why conversations about consequences are often ignored – especially by teens. They think they have seen enough people make bad choices with zero consequences that they can play the odds and make poor choices safely, too. I’ve even heard more than one teen explain a life plan that includes “enjoying” living a sinful life as long as possible and then becoming a Christian when they become “too old” to enjoy sinning.

While it is important to discuss hidden consequences (like mental anguish), cumulative consequences (like bad health or broken relationships), and even eternal consequences, sometimes a more hands-on practical, approach can help. If you consistently give natural consequences for rebellious behavior, hopefully your children will eventually understand their words and actions have consequences.

There are, however, some fun things you can do with them that might help speed the process up a bit.

  • Which comes first game. Young children need to first learn about cause and effect before they can understand that actions have consequences. You can play the game with pictures cut from a magazine or just verbally. Pose questions like, “Which came first, the scraped knee or tripping and falling?” Start with obvious, simple choices before you give more complex ones. Don’t forget to throw in a few fun ones like, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
  • Picture book consequences. As you read picture books together, pause periodically after a character decides to say or do something and have your kids guess what might happen next. Point out when bad choices had negative consequences and good choices had positive ones. If a character somehow makes a poor choice with no consequences, ask what they think could happen over time if the character keeps making the same poor choice.
  • Story change up. Kids who are older can play a variation of the game with news articles, books, movies or even history. In fact there is an entire genre in literature now of “alternate history”. Ask your child to imagine what might have happened had the person in question made a slightly different choice – or a radically different one. How would that have impacted not just that one incident, but perhaps the entire course of the story? You don’t want to frighten them into total inaction in life or make them believe they can’t recover from mistakes, but they do need an awareness that choices can have long term consequences for them and perhaps even other people in their lives.
  • Kitchen chemistry. There are all sorts of fun kitchen chemistry ideas online or you can also purchase books or even kits with everything you need to do certain experiments. While you’re having fun, periodically ask why certain reactions (consequences) happened when you did certain things. Ask them what might have happened had they left out a step or done it differently. (For teens who enjoy cooking, there are books with recipe formulas that they can then use to create their own original recipes.)
  • Bible trivia game – with a twist. This will require a bit of thinking on your part before playing. Write down every story you can think of that had an action and a consequence in it. Read just the consequence (with no names attached to make it more difficult) and see if your kids can guess what was done that resulted in that consequence. For example “I turned into a pillar of salt.” Answer: What happened when Lot’s wife disobeyed God and looked back.
  • God’s roadmap of consequences. Ok, this may be a little more serious, but it is important. Point our that God’s commands are not to prevent us from having fun, but are there to protect us. In many places, God even takes the time to explain what negative consequences can come from certain behaviors and attitudes individually (in addition to the major consequences possible from rejecting God’s commands). Encourage your kids to find examples in Proverbs and some of the books in the New Testament. This is also a good exercise for helping them practice how to find relevant answers to their questions in the Bible. If they are well versed in finding scriptures they want or need, make it into a game by seeing who can find the most examples in five minutes or who can come up with an answer for every letter in the alphabet, etc.

Have fun with it, but make sure your children thoroughly understand that actions have consequences. It can help them make wiser decisions.

5 Ways Your Kids Can Reflect God’s Love at School

School has started in our area. I don’t know about you and your family, but I think of every new school term as an opportunity to make positive changes. One great change to encourage your kids to adopt is for them to intentionally reflect God’s love to others during their days at school. It’s a great way to be salt and light to their teachers and peers.

So what are some practical ways they can reflect God’s love at school? Here are some of our favorites.

  • Thank their teachers after each class or at the end of the school day. Many teachers put in lots of their “free” time and spend their personal money to make their classes the best possible. Yet most are only thanked on teacher appreciation days or at the end of the year. Get in a family habit of truly appreciating your children’s teachers every day.
  • Encourage the struggling. Life is hard and school can be even tougher at times. It doesn’t help those who are struggling when other kids tease them or show obvious impatience. Teach your kids to be that encouraging voice that cheers those struggling on to hopeful victory of whatever their challenge.
  • Be kind to the kids who don’t “fit in”. Believe it or not, every child feels like an outsider at some point in school. Some kids, unfortunately, are perennially on the outside looking in. It’s great if your children can befriend them, but they should, at the very least, go out of their way to be kind and friendly.
  • Welcome newcomers and help them get acclimated. Your children will naturally have more in common with some children than others. They should always be the first to help any new children, however, and help them get used to everything, make introductions, etc. – at least for the first couple of weeks.
  • Go the extra mile. See a piece of trash? Pick it up and throw it away. Someone drop papers everywhere? Help them gather them back together. Volunteer for little tasks. Look for small opportunities to serve and do them. Be known for going the extra mile to be kind and helpful.

If your children can consistently reflect God’s love at school, they will be the salt and light God wants them to be.