Proverbs 22: 5 “In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them.” Looking at our life so far, we have guarded our children’s souls from the thorns and snares of the wicked by building a fence. We have directed them away from the allures of this world. With mostly teens in our home now, we are transitioning to taking down the fence and allowing them to make more choices for themselves. As we see their departure from our home looming, we feel the need to find out what they are made of. Have they learned to guard their souls? I am hopeful because of the choices I’ve seen thus far. Even while discussing this verse with our children, Megan, stated, “The thorns must be roses since so many people are attracted to them. They see the outer beauty and go in and get snared.” Well said, Megan. So before you tear down the fences of protection you have built for your children, prepare them to recognize the path of the wicked and to stay far from it.
How can I train a child that is too young to understand that what they are doing is wrong? A nine month old may not understand that grabbing mommy’s glasses could break them, but the child can still be trained not to touch. Shouldn't we wait until they understand? My precaution is that if you choose to wait until you are sure your child understands your command or reasons –you will have a ton of “untraining” (new Kim slang) to do. How much harder it is to teach a child to not touch your glasses when you have allowed them to do it for perhaps over a year, then to never allow them to touch your glasses in the first place.
Today, while at a baby shower, a one and a half year old was sitting on her mom’s lap next to me. Suddenly, the little tyke started lifting her shirt. The mom pushed down the girl’s hands and whispered in her ear, “No lifting your shirt.” The little girl had to try one more time. As the toddler started to lift the shirt again, without hesitation the mom flicked the sweetheart’s hand two times soundly. Another whisper to not lift the shirt was given. Although the child obviously considered her options, the battle was over. Note the mom did not feel she had to explain to her daughter about the importance of modesty before she required her daughter to keep her shirt down. The little darling may not have understood why she shouldn’t raise her shirt, but she very well knew she shouldn’t raise her shirt.
Even as children get older, we will have are moments of second guessing ourselves. Every parent feels that at times they are not sure if their child was disobedient or disrespectful because of difficulty in understanding or communication, or if they did it deliberately. Our wavering can cause us to over analyze and under parent. Remember, it is better to error on the side of action, because consistency is always easier for a child to understand than inconsistency.
Chores, that word sounds like music to my ears. It summarizes that many hands make for light work. When we all pitch in, there is no need to be overwhelmed. Actually, when I start to feel overwhelmed by my to do list, it is most likely because I am doing too much myself. Often I am amazed after breaking the list down among the family members how quickly the tasks get marked off.
The children have had morning chores since before they could read. Their first chores were eating, getting dressed, picking up room, etc. We had a picture chore chart hanging in their rooms that they could reference to see what came next. It was a great beginning to instilling personal responsibility for morning duties.
At this point in our lives we have split up tasks like spiffing up bathrooms, dusting, feeding cats, garbage collection, laundry, and loading dishwasher (plus more) amongst each child. They do their same chores every day for one year. Having chores for a year creates a real pride in their job. By the end of the year they have become an expert at that particular job. It also allows me to focus on teaching a specific job vs. having to do every job for every child at one time.
Although this “system” made most chores run smoothly, we still had one glitch. I had this romantic idea that all four children should be able to clean up the kitchen after supper without bickering. The problem lied in one child was always trying to organize the time and the others begrudged the “bossing.” Finally, my husband stepped in and set up a “lead” for each night of the week. Now it is the leads job to organize the clean up and the other‘s job to obey.
One last bonus that goes with supper clean up is: the person that makes supper, does not have to clean up. At the stage we are in, neither Todd nor I help with supper clean up, we sit on the couch or go for a walk. But, each child has an assigned night they are to pick the meal and help prepare it. Again, I love this because it is much easier to teach cooking to one child at a time, then all four at once. Now, the person that cooks cannot leave the kitchen a disaster. So the reality is they are doing way more work than just cleaning up at the end. Yet, they would choose to cook over supper clean up any day.
Recently, I have been pondering work. Work seems to be a key element in training children in character. Here is an article by Jeff Myers that discusses the other side; how entertainment can damage our children.
Entertainment-Soaked Culture Damages Kids' Brains; Here's the Antidote
Jeff Myers, Ph.D.
Over consumption of media among Christians is an enormous concern. According to a study I conducted in 2003, the average Christian young man is involved in 33.25 hours a week of "screen time" (watching movies, playing video games, surfing the internet). Girls averaged 27 hours a week - the difference being that boys play a lot more video games.
That was seven years ago. Since then, the advent of Wii, smart phones, Blu-ray, and hyper-realistic video games have certainly only made the problem more acute.
While all of these so-called advancements have been coming about, brain scientists have been busy doing some fascinating research of their own - studying the hi-tech culture's effect on the brain. And the conclusions are simply startling.
How the Brain Works
We only have to understand a few basic brain functions to grasp how our entertainment-soaked culture affects the brains of teens. Bear with me for a quick anatomy lesson. (Sorry, picture did not copy, but I think you can follow the example without it.)
Take a look at this picture of the human brain. The frontal lobe, shaded in purple, is the executive center. This part of the brain lights up when you come up with a plan and execute on it. In the center, in red, is the nucleus accumbens - a collection of neurons that forms the brain's pleasure center. When a person experiences pleasure, this part of the brain displays stimulation.
Here's what to keep in mind: the brain was designed in such a way that work and accomplishment stimulate the executive center of the brain (purple), which in turn stimulates the pleasure center of the brain (red). Work brings satisfaction, and the desire for life satisfaction motivates people to work.
The Effect of an Entertainment-Soaked Culture on Kids
So what does a culture like ours do to the brains of teens?
In his book Boys Adrift Leonard Sax reported on a study of 7 to 14-year-old boys which found that playing video games lights up the pleasure center of the brain while simultaneously shutting off blood flow to the executive center of the brain. In effect, these games offered boys the sense that they had accomplished something without actually having done so.*
Consider the shocking implications. The games children play are designed to bring effortless pleasure (movies and music have the same effect). Over time, this slickly produced entertainment "tricks" the brain into by-passing the executive center, making it more rewarding to pursue entertainment and less rewarding to accomplish anything of value. Academic work plummets. Social relationships suffer. And massive entertainment corporations make out like bandits, reaping billions in profits.
Quite frankly, if you're a parent, teacher, or youth minster, this is horrible news. How could we have allowed the most privileged generation in history - in terms of spendable income, opportunity for education and travel, and access to information - to quietly amuse itself to death?**
The Antidote is Not What You Would Expect
If you're thinking, "Well, the damage is already done," here's some good news.
There is a clear, simple way to rescue teens from the cultural addiction: engage them in conversation in the context of doing real things. Let's look at two aspects of this answer.
1. Do real things. A Christian school headmaster friend of mine was recently approached by several parents whose children had been prescribed medications for ADHD and bi-polar disorder. They trusted their doctors but wondered, "Is there any way we can help our kids without having to turn to these strong medications?" The headmaster wisely proposed the parents give the following plan a try:
Take out TVs, Ipods, video game consoles, and computers from your kids’ bedrooms.
Amazingly - after a few months of this regimen - all of the children showed far fewer symptoms and were doing significantly better in school (without medication!). For these kids, there was an undeniable connection between unplugging and thriving.
In a similar vein, many parents are starting to take seriously studies done by Dina Borzekowski, Linda S. Pagani and others that demonstrate a correlation between a child's relatively innocuous television viewing and lower test scores. In fact, public health advocates have caught on and launched a "No Child Left Inside" initiative that appears to be gaining steam.
A quick word of warning: An entertainment-soaked culture affects the brain in similar ways to a chemical addiction. So don't be surprised if heavily plugged-in kids express bitterness, anger, accusation and even paranoia when they get unplugged. Many parents will cave in to the pressure because they can't handle seeing their children be unhappy, even for a short time. A few parents, however, will find wise ways to replace screen time with real things and intentional conversation. In the long run, kids who overcome this withering addiction will be significantly better prepared to live healthy, purposeful lives.
2. Engage them in conversation. Language lights up the brain. And as David Caplan, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, points out: in order to trigger the use of language, both motivation (from the executive center) and arousal (from the pleasure center) are required.
Language seems to be a bridge that reconnects the broken-down relationship between the executive and pleasure centers of the brain. Notice that this involves active language use, not just passive language reception. We're talking two-way, engaging, in-person conversations. And that puts the ball squarely in your court to communicate with kids in a way that engages them in communicating with you.
Isn't it interesting that expressing thoughts through language helps remediate the damage done by a culture built on amusement? The ancient Greeks called this kind of linguistic expression "logos." It's the same word used in John 1:1 to describe the ministry of Jesus: "In the beginning was the Word."
Reclaiming the Ancient Art of Life-on-Life Discipleship
Jesus is the model for engaging people in conversation while doing real things. One scholar estimates that Jesus spent 13 months of his three year ministry just walking from place to place. All the while, he engaged others in conversation: Paul Stanley says that Jesus asked 288 questions in the gospels.
"Come, follow me," Jesus said. They did. And along the way he equipped them to change the world, and they did that, too.
*See Leonard Sax, Boys Adrift. New York: Basic Book, 2007,p.91. **This phrase is drawn from Neil Postman's book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. I strongly recommend that you read it.
An interesting miscommunication happened at our house last night. It was about 7p and my daughters asked to watch some tv or a movie. Before answering,I was thinking about the weekend, weighing the fact that we had two late nights. After a moment, I agreed to watch some food network, yet stated, “We can watch for awhile, but I do not want to watch right up to 9p; I want us in bed and ready to sleep at nine.” So at 8p, when I declared, “all done for the night, turn off the tv” there was a quick plea for a 45 min video. When I held my ground there was an air of disappointment and frustration. Purposefully, I waited. Shortly afterwards my eldest sat close and said, “I am confused because I thought you said we could watch something until bedtime.” My response was, “I clearly stated, I did NOT want us to watch tv right up to bedtime, so we could be ready to sleep at 9p.” What do you think her response to that was? “Well, I thought that meant we could watch until 8:45p.” I couldn’t believe it. So we discussed how she was trying get as close to the line as possible and I was trying to stay as far away from the line as possible. In the end we were fine, because we talked through our miscommunication and did not let it fester. Oh how different that scene could have looked. If Samantha had fed herself negative thoughts and allowed her emotions to follow, she could have stirred up dissention in the ranks. Thank you Lord, she chose to talk and submit. It is in these teen years that we are bearing much of the fruit of their early training. Every day our children make choices that either build up our family or could very quickly tear it down. So if you are lacking motivation today, look to your future. Recognize how a little effort today can blossom into fruit during their teen years.
My father was a hard working self-employed plumber. He was dependable and personable. He also lived with the philosophy that as long as he paid the bills and remained faithful to my mom, then he was a success as a husband and a father. The house work and child care were my mom’s responsibility. After a long day of physical labor he was hungry and tired. Supper began at 5p sharp every day and after eating Dad would head for “his” chair, the lazy boy in the living room. Up would go the foot support and back would lay his head. Within moments quiet snoring could be heard from “his” corner.
It has been over twenty-five years since my father went to be with Jesus. Only two years of my father’s life were spent seeking God. It was hard to say good-bye to him, because I was just getting to know him. One of those years was spent fighting pancreatic cancer, so really only one year was available for us to bond. During that year we talked about life…..he gave me guidance……shared wisdom for me to ponder…..gave warning…….and related to me. I am very thankful for those talks.
Life can take over, if we don’t seize the moment. As parents we can become content to just raise our children. We can count our lives a success if we just provide food, clothing and comfort when they get a cut or bruise. The title “Mommy” comes with a greater responsibility than that. We are called to train our children, not to entertain or to just contain them. Training involves directing, correcting and nurturing. I remember a time when the children were small that I was going through my days with an attitude of making it through until the next nap. My days were marked with success as I achieved the sleeping landmarks I had laid out. There was not a lot of joy in those days—it was more like holding my breath, hoping time would go fast until the next rest. Amidst one of those dull days, God whispered my name. I barely heard Him, yet, the conviction was huge. “What’s your vision?” was what I heard. Vision?! I was surviving. God was telling me there was more. I had lost focus and was just raising my children; it was time to regain the vision God had given us and train these gifts from the Lord. As I turned back to the high calling I had received, a new energy and joy joined the purposeful parenting. My love for being a mom returned. Of course, I still had and have days that my vision is blurry, but to focus on training, over just raising children, has made all the difference.