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.
There’s a well known book that was written for educators called, One Thing I Wish My Teacher Knew. The premise is that often teachers could be more effective in educating any particular student if they knew what that “one thing” was. It’s an interesting premise and the author has a valid point. Often adults struggle to reach a young person, not realizing that child or teen holds the answer to the issue.
I believe that same principle can apply to Christian parenting. Often kids know and can easily articulate the issue that they have with the way they are being parented. Their “one thing” may be that they can’t hear what you want them to know when you are yelling at them. Or maybe it’s that they are really tired after school and they can’t handle the deep conversations you always seem to want to have when they first get home. Or maybe their “one thing” is actually a question they have about God that is a stumbling block for their faith.
Your kids’ “one thing” may actually be several things. Each of your kids may have a different “one thing” from their siblings. The problem is that without knowing their “one thing”, you are parenting by trial and error against a wall that has an unknown building material. You may get lucky and guess the “one thing” that is getting in the way of your Christian parenting efforts with your child. Most likely though, you won’t. At least, not without your kids’ help.
Fair warning though. Your kids may not believe you truly want to know their “one thing”. You will have to make them feel safe enough to reveal it to you. If you immediately get angry when you hear it, that will probably be the last time your kids will open up that much to you. And that’s unfortunate, because their “one thing” will probably change over time. You will need to have them share periodically their current “one thing” with you.
You may be thinking, “What if their “one thing” is something outrageous, like wanting to never be corrected?” If that were to happen, ask some follow up questions. Explain that correction is in your job description as a parent, but can they think of a way you can correct them that will be more effective in helping them make crucial changes? Agree to try it their way for a period of time and see if it works better. If not, talk again and come up with a new strategy.
Asking your kids to share their “one thing” with you can be scary. If you can listen calmly to your children’s “one thing” and make needed adjustments, however, you may find your Christian parenting makes great strides in its effectiveness with relative ease.
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.
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.