Monthly Archives: October 2014
Here is an excellent article by Kevin DeYoung, a pastor in East Lansing, Michigan.
Does it seem like parenting has gotten more complicated? I mean, as far as I can tell, back in the day parents basically tried to feed their kids, clothe them, and keep them away from explosives. Now our kids have to sleep on their backs (no wait, their tummies; no never mind, their backs), while listening to Baby Mozart surrounded by scenes of Starry, Starry Night. They have to be in piano lessons before they are five and can’t leave the car seat until they’re about five foot six.
It’s all so involved. There are so many rules and expectations. Kids can’t even eat sugar anymore. My parents were solid as a rock but we still had a cupboard populated with cereal royalty like Captain Crunch and Count Chocula. In our house the pebbles were fruity and the charms were lucky. The breakfast bowl was a place for marshmallows, not dried camping fruit. Our milk was 2%. And sometimes, if we needed to take the edge off a rough morning, we’d tempt fate and chug a little Vitamin D.
Trial by Error
I don’t consider myself a particularly good parent. I was asked to speak a few years ago at some church’s conference. They wanted me to talk about parenting. I said I didn’t have much to say so they should ask someone else (which they did). My kids are probably not as crazy as they seem to me (at least that’s what I keep telling myself anyway), but if I ever write a book on parenting I’m going to call it The Inmates Are Running the Asylum.
There are already scores of books on parenting, many of them quite good. I’ve read several of them and have learned much. I really do believe in gospel-powered parenting and shepherding my child’s heart. I want conversations like this:
Me: What’s the matter son?
Child: I want that toy and he won’t give it to me!
Me: Why do you want the toy?
Child: Because it will be fun to play with.
Me: Do you think he is having fun playing with the toy right now?
Me: Would it make him sad to take the toy away?
Child: I guess so.
Me: And do you like to make your brother sad?
Me: You know, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as ourselves. That means loving your brother the way he would want to be loved. Since Jesus loves us so much, we have every reason to love others–even your brother. Would you like to love him by letting him play with the toy for awhile?
Child: Yes I would daddy.
I try that. Really I do. But here’s what actually happens:
Me: What’s the matter son?
Child: I want that toy and he won’t give it to me!
Me: Why do you want the toy?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: What’s going on in your heart when you desire that toy?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: Think about it son. Use your brain. Don’t you know something?
Child: I guess I just want the toy.
Me: Obviously. But why?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: Fine. [Mental note: abandon “why” questions and skip straight to leading questions.] Do you think he is having fun playing with the toy right now?
Me: Really?! He’s not having fun? Then why does he want that toy in the first place?
Child: Because he’s mean.
Me: Have you ever considered that maybe you are being mean by trying to rip the toy from his quivering little hands?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: What do you know?
Child: I don’t know!
Me: Nevermind. [I wonder how my brilliant child can know absolutely nothing at this moment.] Well, I think taking the toy from him will make your brother sad. Do you like to make him sad?
Child: I don’t know.
Me: [Audible sigh.]
Child: He makes me sad all the time!
Me: Well, I’m getting sad right now with your attitude! [Pause, think, what would Paul Tripp do? Thinking . . . .thinking . . . .man, I can’t stop thinking of that mustache. This isn’t working. Let’s just go right to the Jesus part.] You know, Jesus wants us to love each other.
Child: I don’t know.
Me: I didn’t ask you a question!
Child: [Pause.] Can I have some fruit snacks?
Me: No, you can’t have fruit snacks. We are talking about the gospel. Jesus loves us and died for us. He wants you to love your brother too.
Me: So give him the toy back!
Then I lunge for the toy and the child runs away. I tell him to come back here this instant and threaten to throw the toy in the trash. I recommit myself to turning down speaking engagements on parenting.
Growing What You Can
I want to grow as a parent–in patience and wisdom and consistency. But I also know that I can’t change my kids’ hearts. I am responsible for my heart and must be responsible to teach them the way of the Lord. But nothin’ guarantees nothin’. I’m just trying to be faithful, and then repent for all the times I’m not.
I have four kids and besides the Lord’s grace, I’m banking on the fact that there really are just a few non-negotiables in parenting. There are plenty of ways to screw up our kids, but whether they color during church, for example, is not one of them. There is not a straight line from doodling in the service as a toddler to doing meth as a teenager. Could it be that beyond the basics of godly parenting, that most of the other techniques and convictions are nibbling around the edges? Certainly, there are lots of ways that good parents make parenting a saner, more enjoyable experience, but even the kid addicted to Angry Birds who just downed a pack of Fun Dip and is now watching his third Pixar movie of the week (day?) still has a decent shot at not being a sociopath.
I remember years ago hearing a line from Alistair Begg, quoting another man that went like this: “When I was young I had six theories and no kids. Now I have six kids and no theories.” I must be smart. It only took me four kids to run out of theories.
Getting a Few Things Right
I look back at my childhood and think, “What did my parents do right?” I watched too many Growing Pains reruns and played a lot of Super Techmo Bowl (LT could block every extra point and Christian Okoye was a stud). I never learned to like granola or my vegetables (kids, stop reading this post immediately!). But yet, I always knew they loved me. They made me go to church every Wednesday and twice on every Sunday. They made us do our homework. They laid down obvious rules–the kinds that keep kids from killing each other. They wouldn’t accept any bad language, and I didn’t hear any from them. Mom took care of us when we were sick. Dad told us he loved us. I never found porn around the house or booze or dirty secrets. We read the Bible. We got in trouble when we broke the rules. I don’t remember a lot of powerful heart-to-heart conversations. But we knew who we were, where we stood, and what to expect. I’d be thrilled to give my kids the same.
I worry that many young parents are a) too adamant about the particulars of their parenting or b) too sure that every decision will set their kids on an unalterable trajectory to heaven or hell. It’s like my secretary at the church once told me: “Most moms and dads think they are either the best or the worst parents in the world, and both are wrong.” Could it be we’ve made parenting too complicated? Isn’t the most important thing not what we do but who we are as parents? They will see our character before they remember our exact rules regarding television and twinkies.
I could be wrong. My kids are still young. Maybe this no-theory is a theory of its own. I just know that the longer I parent the more I want to focus on doing a few things really well, and not get too passionate about all the rest. I want to spend time with my kids, teach them the Bible, take them to church, laugh with them, cry with them, discipline them when they disobey, say sorry when I mess up, and pray like crazy. I want them to look back and think, “I’m not sure what my parents were doing or if they even knew what they were doing. But I always knew my parents loved me and I knew they loved Jesus.” Maybe it’s not that complicated after all.
I know this is an area as a parent you want to stick your head in the sand and hope it goes away, but it is real and my experience with your children through teens brings a confirmation to what this author writes. As he says, we don’t want to be alarmist but this is real.
Chances are your teen is looking at porn. But it’s worse than that.
I live in a quiet subdivision in rural Ontario. I mean very quiet—all summer long, I rarely saw any kids outside biking or playing street hockey or running flimsy lemonade stands or just roughhousing around. Then, the day school started, I was shocked when I left my house in the morning and I saw kids everywhere, backpacks in tow, heading to bus stops and walking to the nearby school. This many kids live in my neighborhood? I thought to myself. Where were they all summer?
There are a number of possible answers, of course. Some were probably on vacation. Some were probably shipped off to camp by their parents. But many of them were likely inside the house, glued to screens. One recent Canadian overview found that, “10- to 16-year-olds in Canada get an average of 6 hours and 37 minutes of screen time per day. The largest source of screen time is television (2 hours and 39 min) followed by computers (2 hours and 7 min) and video games (1 hour and 51 min).”
I’ve met more teens than I can count whose first exposure to porn—and not just “normal” porn but dark, violent porn that in 2014 is now mainstream—was at the ages of ten or eleven.
The problems apparent in these numbers go far beyond stunted creativity, childhood obesity, and, I would argue, the fact that these children are being deprived of a childhood by zoning out in front of screens. The problem is that many, many of these children will end up finding and looking at pornography. That pornography will shape the way they view sex as they grow older. Those views will shape how they treat themselves and others. Keep in mind that the average boy, for example, is first exposed to pornography at the age of eleven.
I speak on sex and pornography in high schools quite often, and every time I do I’m faced with a dilemma: The adults in the room are likely to be shocked, horrified, and upset when I confront the students with the reality of what online porn is and why it is so dangerous. However, the teenagers for the most part are not even remotely shocked. Most of them have seen the things I’m talking about. Increasingly, and chillingly, they have even been coerced or pressured into trying the dark perversions they see unfolding on their iPad, computer, and smartphone screens. It’s gotten to the point where I’m relieved when teenagers are shocked by one of my presentations—it means that they’ve heard the information in time to avoid the clutching webs of the Internet porn industry.
I’m quite often accused of being an alarmist by adults and church leaders who can’t quite believe just how pervasive porn use and porn exposure is among the very young. I’m often told that this is the reason that having a presentation on pornography would be “too controversial.” Quite frankly, I wish they were right. But consider just a few of these statistics:
35% of teen boys say they have viewed pornographic videos “more times than they can count.”
15% of boys and 9% of girls have seen child pornography.
32% of boys and 18% of girls have seen bestiality online.
39% of boys and 23% of girls have seen sexual bondage online.
83% of boys and 57% of girls have seen group sex online.
I’ve met more teens than I can count whose first exposure to porn—and not just “normal” porn but dark, violent porn that in 2014 is now mainstream—was at the ages of ten or eleven. I’ve met parents who tell me how relieved they are that their children never had a porn problem, when I’ve spoken to their children and I know that their children did, in fact, struggle with porn. After one presentation, I even had an anonymous letter sent to me by a wife and mother who revealed that throughout my presentation on pornography, she felt relieved that her husband would never look at such things. She found out a short time later that he had been looking at pornography for a long time.
It is not alarmist to say that this problem is everywhere. It’s a grim fact.
Last week I spoke at a high school conference for Christian schools. One of the things I like to do to show the teachers and other adults just how essential it is to provide teens with the truth about pornography is to hold an open forum—let the students write down any and all questions they have about the topic and submit them to be answered. Every time, teachers are shocked by what the students are asking as they realize just how far this menace has spread and how badly it has infected our schools.
At the last conference, for example, I had a fourteen-year-old girl ask me what girls should do when their boyfriends pressure them into anal sex (hugely popular in mainstream porn right now.) I had teen boys asking me how to deal with their masturbation problems. I was asked why porn sites were so addicting. I was asked by one girl why so many boys were demanding oral sex. And I was even asked questions about bestiality in porn, questions I even had a hard time believing teens of that age could be asking.
With access to the Internet everywhere, it is not simply enough to filter the Internet in our homes and install accountability software on our electronic devices, although all of these steps are absolutely essential. In today’s day and age, where kids and teens are going to find porn if they want to or if they’re curious, they have to be spoken to honestly about what pornography is and why it will destroy their minds, their relationships, and their souls. They need to know why so much of what they see in porn is dark and evil, and why these things have no place in the context of a loving relationship.
I read a column from Anthony Esolen called “What they will never know” a few years back, and he beautifully highlights what the teens of today are being robbed of: “Our teenagers who know so much about the mechanics of copulation miss the sweetness of simple humanity. People used to sing merrily about holding a girl’s hand while walking home from the dance—holding a hand. With that touch, they knew the thrill, perhaps for the first time, of being deemed worthy of love. What is it like, to be a boy or a girl who could be made dizzyingly happy by so simple a touch? We will never know.”
The porn plague has spread far and dizzyingly fast. But if we talk to teens openly, and show them not only why the darkness of pornography is so dangerous but why the alternative of healthy human sexuality is so beautiful, then this generation will still have a chance. It is up to us to provide that chance.
Trying to figure out a teenager is not really as hard as it seems. As previously posted, they are just like you the parent. Their lack of experience and many times focused teaching makes them susceptible to making foolish decisions. The last 2 items of who are these teens are perhaps the ones that bring the largest amount of fear and frustration to their parents.
5. Teens typically think they are wiser than they really are or in other words, they have a very distorted view of themselves. But, of course, so do I most of the time of myself. Oh, the deceptiveness of sin! (Hebrews 3:13) However with many teens, they tend to lack a real hunger for wisdom and look at what we older adults have as very little practical insight to give to them. I can’t count the number of times in working with teens I was told I just don’t understand. What we as parents and youth workers must do is make wisdom much more appealing to our teens. By using demanding words and tone of voice, confrontations and verbal struggles we easily shift the problems we want to address to ourselves. The teen tends to become defensive and not interested in listening.
6. Believe it or not, teens tend to be more legalistic than their parents. Pushing the limits on rules, they want to know and will test just how far they can go. They become quite the literalists. Ever hear, “I did exactly what you told me to do” to your frustration that they knew what you were intending in a situation? This is a heart issue that needs to be addressed in both their hearts and ours. Legalism as a parent is a form of self-righteousness that denies the saving grace of God and the need that our teens need to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit and their actions need to flow from their being born again.
7. Our teens tend to choose some of their friends without using wisdom. It is impossible to not be influenced by friends. We need to help guide teens in how to choose relationships and how we can step outside the emotional pulls to honest and biblical criteria.
8. Teens are susceptible to sexual temptation. Here the strength of youth, changes in life, the freedoms they experience and the lack of an accurate view outside the home and church all contribute to the potential problem. As a teenager physically awakens, fantasy and lust are common private sins and to help a teen, they must be open for discussion. Are you comfortable with this topic with your teen? Do they really have a biblical view of sex? Do you know where they struggle in this area? Can they critique the world’s view? Do they have a heart for sexual purity? Are they modest?
9. The final point to discuss is that teens tend to be focused on the present. What is not in their scope of view is to delay anything, especially gratification. Right now is the most important moment of life. Galatians 6:7, “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” is not so much in the scope of their day to day thinking. The physical moment tends to be what matters and temporal happiness is the priority. Some of this comes from the saturation of entertainment in our lives where the meaning of things is found in how good it makes me feel. As a result, things like church are boring regardless of how nourishing it is for them.
All of these things that describe a teen does not mean every teenager nor every item. They only are representative of the culture today. For us as parents and workers of teens, it gives us a place to understand and enter their world so we can help shape it to God-centered meaning. More to come….
What do you do when your child seems to be addicted to bad behavior? Being back at school I am reminded of the time when I was principal and there was a community of kids that wore a path out from their classroom to my office for behavior issues. My gut reaction and training was to use behavior modification on them and throw some Scripture in it to make it spiritual. The result at times was teaching them that God is pleased with them when they conform and displeased when they break school rules, which many had little correlation to the Scriptures. Though I sometimes now get involved with student issues, my approach has drastically changed. Yes, I still use the Scripture and still give consequences when it is my call, but now the strategy is to address the heart which only can be changed by the power of God.
One of my top books to recommend to parents is “Give Them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Here is a real life where the rubber meets the road story from a parent dealing with a stubborn heart and learning how grace works with the tough ones.
PARENTING A BAD KID WITH THE GOSPEL by Jon Wood
I had reached the point of exhaustion that every parent of a disobedient child eventually reaches. I was utterly exasperated from having to explain to my 5-year old son for the hundredth time why it’s not okay to smack, hit, scratch, or spit on other children. But day after day, my wife would discover in his backpack another red-inked note from his teacher revealing the sin of the day. And day after day, I would recite the same speech to my little boy with the same set of warnings only to be further disillusioned by another teacher’s note.
Around that time, my wife and I started reading a book titled Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick. The truth Fitzpatrick communicates through scripture forever changed the way we parent our children. It’s a ridiculously simple concept and should have been obvious to a dad like me who grew up in the church. Here’s the gist of the book:
Raise your children to know and love the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s that simple. Fitzpatrick encourages parents to be strategic with their kids in generating daily encounters with the message and implications of the gospel. As the frustrated parent of an unruly little boy, I was looking for clever techniques to get my kid to behave better. Yet Fitzpatrick begs her readers to take the long term approach and focus their efforts on teaching children to depend on God’s grace rather than a parent’s approval.
To even the most bible-based parents, the truth of the gospel seems about as useful as a plastic hammer when trying to chisel your child from a statue of sinful rebellion to a model of loving obedience. It wasn’t until my son uttered a few tender words one night that this gospel-centered approach began to take shape in our home.
Redrawing the Battle Lines
One evening, I was berating my boy yet again for another behavior blowup. Unwilling to show the least bit of clemency, I furiously recited a list of consequences that he would bear as a result of that day’s transgressions. Then through exasperated and tear-filled eyes, my little boy looked up to me and said “Dad, I can’t stop. I want to stop but I can’t.”
My heart sunk as the sincere sadness in my boy’s voice reminded me of me. My boy was telling his dad what I had prayed a thousand times before to God. I want to stop sinning but I can’t.
That evening, my parenting tone forever changed. My loud boisterous threats gave way to a restrained and determined demeanor. I was no longer trying to convince my son to behave better, I was now determined to show him his need for Jesus. While it takes many people a lifetime to understand their need for grace, my boy had discovered his corruption at an early age. For this little 5-year old, Total Depravity was not just some theological topic to ponder, it was a quiet war that he had been waging in his mind.
From that point on, each time he came home with a teacher’s note I would sit with him to pray and confess sins. Granted, I still delivered a similar set of consequences which occasionally included a spanking but it never ended with that. We’d talk about our desperate need for Jesus to change us from the inside out and ask for His supernatural power over temptation. The battle lines in our home were completely redrawn. No longer was it Parent versus Child. It was God versus Sin, and we were co-warriors in this battle.
Eventually my son’s behavior improved. It’s likely that he would have eventually just matured out of that phase regardless of our parenting style or he would have found more socially-acceptable ways to harbor sin. Yet without those red-inked teacher’s notes declaring my boy to be a rebel, my son might only understand the cross of Christ as an historical fact to be learned and not a soul-sustaining truth to be treasured.
I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing… Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! – Romans 7:18-19,24-25 (ESV)
The term teenager has not been around long in our language. You do not find it in the Bible nor in most literature until the middle of the 20th century. One of the reasons is that in most cultures, including the western culture, a young teenager was considered a young adult. Using the term teenager or adolescent becomes almost an excuse for not acting like a young adult. So who are these beings in many of our homes?
- They are sinners like you. Romans 3:9-23 gives a description of the teen and their parents. As a parent, you need to see your teen accurately so that you are not surprised by them. They will do some things that will affirm these verses. As sinners, it means there is hope for them as Christ came to save sinners.
- They are a young adult. The Bible does not recognize teenagers but calls those who are traditionally at puberty up to 30 a young adult. Jewish tradition puts it at 13 years old with the Bar (Bas for women) Mitzvah. Your teen needs to be treated as such and leave many of the childish things behind. The biggest challenge of being an adult is making decisions. They have the capability to begin making important choices and living with the consequences of them. Using good wisdom as a parent for sometimes to let them fail is the best thing for them.
- Your teen is self-centered and that will get in the way of accomplishing #2 above. Oh yeah, so are we self-centered and how often that gets in the way of our parenting! For both the teen and the parent, godly virtue is appreciated but our biggest problem in practicing it will be ourselves.
- Your teen is a “meaning-maker.” Paul Tripp in his books on parenting speaks of how we are all interpreters, thinkers, organizers and responders to life and it is not so much based upon the facts of what we see and hear, but moreso on how we interpret the facts. Read back through Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:1-6 and see how the facts were received and interpreted. You will see your teen (and yourself) in the narrative.
I have several more that I will post but what does this mean? To better understand your teen is to see how you can better help and reach them. I hopefully will be able to show you that your teen is not that much different than you. The biggest difference is the wisdom of experience. More to come…..
Amazon books lists 122,714 resources on parenting. The information available is overwhelming, paralyzing and leads many Christian parents to not believe that the Scriptures are sufficient to guide in raising children. When we do use the Scriptures, the problem is that we seek the Word of God primarily how to guide our child’s behavior. In doing so, many of the books such as Proverbs become primarily a moral instructional guide or the life of Jesus is seen as a moral example of how to live. Though these are certainly true, they are not the purpose of the Scriptures.
Rather than focus primarily on how we are to live, the Scriptures first are to expose our depravity as both children and parents and our desperate need for a Savior who suffered on a cross and saves us from the wrath of God.
Obedience and ethics certainly are important and addressed in the Scriptures, but they must be taught from the point of view that they are related to and proceed from the cross and the redemptive work of Christ. So, as you discipline your children (we will eventually get to this), it becomes a means to declare the gospel.
What’s so freeing about this? It simplifies your parenting to gospel-centered purposes. You see that you stand as a parent on behalf of God to your child and the goal of parenting is to pursue the glory of God in your child’s life.
How to start? Think and speak to your child on who they are in Christ or who they can be in Christ. Then focus on what they can do because of Christ rather than the things it seems they can’t do. Set them free through the forgiveness and redemption we have in Christ and allow their actions to flow from that rather than law.