Ageism has always existed – otherwise God would not have had to command people to take care of their elderly parents. Over the centuries though, some cultures have realized the value of respecting older people and considering whatever wisdom they may have to share. Ours is not one of those cultures. To be quite fair, we should treat everyone with respect regardless of their age – as Christians it is one of our “top two” commands. And, I hasten to admit, not everyone grows wiser as they grow older – some just continue making poor choices and advising others to do the same. Throughout the Bible though, God commands older people to teach and mentor younger people and younger people to be willing to take advice and learn from them (when it matches God’s Word).
Perhaps you are reluctant to try and create opportunities for your children to spend time with older adults. You may think your schedule is already overbooked or that all the older people you know aren’t very wise… after all, they know nothing about technology or the latest trends. Before you close this post and continue isolating your children from “old” people, consider these thoughts on providing your children with lots of interactions with the senior citizen set.
Your children need to know the value of wisdom – especially wisdom from God. Wisdom that isn’t from God isn’t wisdom. (Godly wisdom can, however, can be shared by people who have rejected God – although they are often unaware from whence it came). Knowledge is not wisdom, although it is necessary to have knowledge to become wise. Tech savvy – or the lack thereof – has no relation to wisdom. Older people are not the only ones who can be wise, but there is a element of wisdom connected to life experience. Proverbs 1:7 reinforces that fools despise wisdom and that wisdom is rooted in the fear/respect of the Lord. Wisdom can protect them from making poor choices and reaping the negative consequences.
Teach your children that knowledge and wisdom should be actively sought. Wisdom isn’t going to just fill their heads because they ate the right foods, exercised or slept well. Pursuing wisdom – reading scripture, listening to wise, godly people and other active pursuits of knowledge and wisdom are needed to become wise.
Teach your children to recognize the signs that someone is wise. Thankfully, God gave us a pretty thorough list in James 3:17… godly wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. Godly wisdom will never contradict the Bible. No Christian is perfect, but a wise Christian will regularly display these attributes – and so will their advice.
Help your children understand the value of life experience. Here is where older adults can help your children in all sorts of ways in addition to spiritually. Maybe after years of cooking, they have learned what ingredients can add something special to a dish or be substituted – and what happens when you don’t keep their advice in mind. Or they’ve learned a quicker way of doing something or a way to hold something together with paper clips or duct tape until you can get it fixed. Spiritually speaking, they have seen a lifetime of examples of people who did or did not obey God and what happened. They know from experience that disobeying and rejecting God never ends well.
Encourage your kids to find things in common with older people. Realizing they have things in common is a great first step into developing empathy, love and respect for older people.
Take advantage of the time to listen and mentor that many older adults have to share with your children. Today’s young people are in pain today in part because they have no one to listen to them and mentor them. The adults in their lives are too busy to give them much time and attention. Finding an older mentor for your children can give them the extra attention they need and someone to support the godly things you are telling them.
Find older people who are encouragers. Everybody could use another person in their lives who will encourage them. Keep your older friends aware of when your children have events or could use an encouraging conversation to keep trying.
Teach your children Paul’s formula for using people as inspiration. In 1 Corinthians 11:1, Paul advises readers to follow him only as he followed Christ. Even the most godly Christian people sin. Your children’s ultimate example should always be Christ. If they admire something about someone older, it is fine to use the person as inspiration – as long as the person was following Christ in what they did.
Make the time in your family calendar to spend time with “old” people. All of your lives may be richer because of the experience.
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.
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.
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.
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.