Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Eph. 6:4 ESV
In the last couple of days, I’ve read two articles on kids that rubbed me the wrong way. One was an attempt at humor about “The 14 Kids You Find in Every Youth Group“. The post was supposed to be descriptions of the types of kids in church youth groups:
Ahh, youth group. That sweet collection of terrible awkwardness and overpowering body odor. If you’ve spent any length of time in church, you’ve probably attended or sent your kids to youth group. If so, you know that it’s a perfect microcosm of both the church and society. Here are the 14 kids you find in EVERY youth group
The author outlines embarrassing sketches of various youth stereotypes:
The Homeschool Kid – The homeschool kid has the social skills of a highly trained manatee, but he/she manages to overcome this deficiency with stunning amounts of enthusiasm. No, they cannot sustain a conversation or eye contact for more than 4 seconds, but they go absolutely bonkers during youth group games. Their enthusiasm is primarily due to their ecstasy over getting to interact with other humans.
The Awkward Sullen Sound Guy – No one actually knows Awkward Sullen Sound Guy’s (ASSG) real name. Despite having never missed a meeting, he has said a grand total of 6 words over 4 years. He typically speaks in a series of grunts and clicks. ASSG is best friends with ASLG (Awkward Sullen Lyrics Guy) and will grow up to be Awkward Sullen Sound Grownup Guy.
The Too Spiritual For Youth Group Girl – Too Spiritual For Youth Group Girl (TSFYG) has never actually attended youth group because her family is fundamentally opposed to the idea. She, along with her 19 brothers and sisters, attends church functions with her parents. Often time TSFYG and Homeschool Girl are one and the same. She also only listens to The Gaither Vocal Band and wears her hair down to her ankles. She will graduate college by age 16.
It brought back every bad memory from junior and senior high. I’m thankful that if my youth leaders thought this about us they kept it to themselves. If I had known that they thought this about us, it would have confirmed my deepest, most humiliating fears.
The article was cruel in its execution. It did not show love and respect for our youth, nor did it protect the dignity of the kids in our churches. It wasn’t merely an attempt to laugh at ourselves. Despite the author’s attempts to identify himself with several of the caricatures, there is no way that he or the other two men who helped write the list were laughing at themselves in the description of “The Short Shorts Girl” among others.
Most of us had a rough time in our teen years. The best of what came from those years was empathy towards others going through such an awkward time. It helps to be able to tell them that their lives will not be defined by who they are in junior high or high school. But this article showed no empathy or compassion.
The other article I read was “When Quitting Soccer is a Moral Dilemma.” When I saw the title I guessed that it was going to be a piece on how soccer games and tournaments can put stress on families and can lead to tough decisions about attending church versus playing, etc. But that’s not even close. The topic of the post is on whether or not to re-enroll the author’s six-year-old son in soccer when he doesn’t like playing it.
My six-year-old son doesn’t like soccer, and it’s raised a surprisingly complex parenting dilemma. Should we sign up for the next session anyway, encouraging him to persevere and build mettle? Or should we let him quit and find his niche elsewhere? Perhaps gymnastics might be his thing. Or chess. I surveyed other parents for advice.
The author comes to the conclusion that they should continue to put their son in soccer, even though he doesn’t like it, to build his character and teach perseverance.
This brings me back to the soccer dilemma. For now, I think we’ll re-enroll him. A novice can’t find their niche. Honed skills, with their accompanying freedom and beauty, come with hours of sweat and discipline. Niches aren’t discovered so much as carved. So we’ll sign him up again, and let him carve his groove rather than hope he’ll find it. And if he complains, maybe I’ll resort to that line from parents older and wiser than me: “Stick with it, son. It builds character.”
The reasons I dislike this article may not be as apparent. I’m not sure it’s a wise or good thing to insist that a child continue with a completely optional activity when he doesn’t like it. Children are individuals with their own likes and dislikes. Certainly, they also are sinful with their own tendencies to particular faults and besetting sins. As parents, we must learn to address the sins without attempting to make our children fit into particular molds. Having preferences isn’t sin. Demanding our way can be.
I also find it unnecessary to manufacture hard things for our children to build their character. There are so many, many things in life that they are going to have to do when they don’t want to, crucial and important things, things they need to live productive lives. They are going to have to learn basic hygiene, even when they really, really, really don’t like to brush their teeth or wash their hands. They are going to have to learn to read, write, spell, and do math, even when they hate a particular subject or struggle to master it. They are going to have to fight every day against their indwelling sin, even when it’s so tempting not to. We don’t have to turn every choice into an object lesson. Nor do we need to make childhood as joyless as adulthood can be.
Ever had a job situation you hated? Certainly, we have to learn to persevere in such things. But, did you look for another job? Probably. As an adult, are there things you don’t like to do? Do you have preferences about the foods you like or the sports you enjoy? Do you have favorite clothes you like to wear? Our children do too. I’m not suggesting that we give way to their every whim, but life is full of enough difficult things that we do not need to make life more difficult on purpose. It seems arbitrary and unkind. Let’s not deny our children the opportunities we allow ourselves.
After reading these articles and the social media discussions around them, I had some thoughts about our children and how we should treat them. First, we need to remember that our children are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). They don’t become imago dei when they turn 18 or 21. They’re born deserving of the honor and dignity of men and women created in God’s image.
Secondly, the children of believers are covenant children and should be treated as our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 Corinthians 7:14). This means that we should encourage them and interact with them with mercy, grace, and forgiveness. They may grow up and leave the church, but we hope and pray they will grow in faith and love.
Third, our relationships with them, as parents and church leaders, should not be antagonistic. They are not the enemy. We are to discipline them, but out of love and for their ultimate good. We teach them to obey God’s commands and not merely our preferences. They need to know that the standard we hold them to is the same one we are held to and that it is not arbitrary or capricious.
My husband and I have two main goals as parents. We want to see our children become believers responsible for their own relationship with God and serious about their faith in Him for their salvation. We also want them to grow up to be adults we would enjoy being around. We want to have a strong relationship with them.
To achieve those goals, there are some important aspects to how we treat our children. These are what I found lacking in the two articles mentioned above. Children (or youth) need to be treated with respect and dignity. As adults, we need to protect them and not expose their faults publicly. We cannot ridicule them or leave them open to ridicule.
We do have to address sin in their lives, and that is not pleasant. But in doing so, we must not be harsh or hard to please. Their sin is ultimately against God, and we should care more that than for being embarrassed or inconvenienced by their behavior. Only He can change their hearts (or ours). We need to be more concerned about their hearts than simply their outward behavior.
We also need to be careful not to impose our preferences on our children. They may not like the same foods or sports or music we do. These things are not important in the grand scheme of things. We shouldn’t confuse their preferences which differ from ours with sin.
For example, my oldest may never like potatoes. But his dislike for them, while inexplicable to me, is not a sin. I’ve taught him how to politely refuse or kindly say “no thanks” when offered food he doesn’t like. Out of kindness for him, I don’t force him to eat potatoes, and when I fix them for the rest of us, I include other foods that he does enjoy.
Back to the two articles above. If our youth are behaving in ways that are sinful, we should address it gently because we love them. If they are behaving in ways that are just embarrassing to us or inconvenient, we should show them the mercy and grace we’ve been shown by our Heavenly Father. He holds us close even when we’re a mess. If our youth have foibles and personality quirks that seem amusing to us now that we’re older and “more mature,” we should learn to enjoy them for who they are as individuals and remember we were once as they are now.
If our children are developing character traits that are sinful, we need to correct them lovingly. If they are simply developing their own character, we should give them the space and encouragement they need to do so.
Our children are born with inherent worth and individual traits. We should remember that in raising them. It’s amazing to watch our children grow up and become the men and women God has planned for them to be. Each one is unique and has unique challenges and unique gifts. They may not fit our “mold,” but they were made to fit the place God designed them for.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture is from Matthew 18. Jesus speaks about the worth of children. He uses them as an example of the faith we should have. He welcomes them to Him. And He warns about those who would cause them to sin. It’s a beautiful passage and a good reminder to us all:
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:1-6 ESV)
Parents, our children are people too. Let’s not exasperate them through our actions.