You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
You can scroll the shelf using ← and → keys
What could be more harmless than occupying your child with Children’s YouTube while driving or as you try to performs a few chores around the house? They are pre-screened and age-appropriate, right?
Many children have their own device, or most parents (grandparents, too) have downloaded YouTube for Children to their own devices as an easy safe way to keep them busy while in the a waiting room.
Not so fast.
Watch this TED Talk by James Bridle and you won’t think of Children’s YouTube the same.
I’ve never been on Facebook. I’m one of the few Ludites left who is concerned about privacy. Therefore, I’ve not seen firsthand the interest in one of my sermons on parenting that has resurfaced. I appreciate the kind words that have been forwarded about it
Based on that sermon, several parents have asked, “What are the questions to ask our children?” Since I entered retirement, I’ve been working on a book about this idea. The current title is Seven Conversations. I won’t try to preview the whole book here but in response to texts and emails, here are the basics:
How can we wait? Teaches delayed gratification.
How can you do that yourself? Teaches independence.
What shall we eat? Invites the family to a common table.
What are we thankful for? Teaches gratitude.
What shall we give? Teaches generosity.
What shall we pray for? Instills faith.
I’ll save the seventh as a tease. I’ll get to another post soon to explain why these questions and qualities are important.
If you are interested in more about parenting, scroll right and read my post “The Lottery,” if you dare.
“The Lottery” is a famous American short story. It has appeared in countless literature textbooks and anthologies since The New Yorker first published Shirley Jackson’s piece in 1948. The event which gives the story its title takes place in a small American town as residents prepare for the annual drawing of lots. Jackson describes the preparations and the emotional anticipation of the characters getting ready to pull slips of paper from a black box. Not until Bill Hutchinson draws the black dot do we begin to see that this is a lottery no one wants to win. After a second drawing among the Hutchinson family, Bill’s wife, Tessie, holds the single slip with the black dot. When the story ends with the rest of the village stoning Tessie, we realize that the only thing Tessie wins in this lottery is the opportunity to be a victim.
The story has sparked controversy for decades. Most readers find it hard to identify with a village that could turn its back on one of its own and ignore the cries about the injustice of the lottery of death.
My mind turned to “The Lottery” recently when I heard the story of Brian, a middle-school student diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. The treatments compromised his immune system and he was forced to avoid crowds. For months his mother home schooled him until his ability to fight infection recovered to the point that he could return to classes. You can imagine his anticipation as he prepared to get back to his normal routine and to be with friends again.
You can also imagine his surprise when he returned to school and his friends ignored him. Maybe we should say they shunned him. None of his friends had anything to do with him. Disturbed by her son’s account of the day, Brian’s mother called the mother of one of his friends to see what happened.
The friend’s mother reported that several parents met during Brian’s absence and decided their children could not be Brian’s friends any longer — because he was going to die. His death, the woman explained to Brian’s mother, would be too traumatic for their children, so it was best they cease being friends now, in order to lessen their grief later. No one has said that Brian is certain to die, but Brian’s friends ignored him to save themselves the possibility of pain.
Congratulations, Brian, you’ve won “the lottery,” where being one among thousands means losing, not winning. It means being cut off from the people who once surrounded you as community and friends — and now turn their backs on you as you die. Just like Tessie Hutchinson.
In case you are wondering, yes, this is a true story. I’ve altered the circumstances to protect both the innocent and the shameful. Though I will never meet them, I would like to address the parents of Brian’s friends.
If you only take one thing from this article let it be this: you cannot protect your children from grief. If Brian dies, your children will still grieve. Long ago I tested a theory of mine. I asked people, “Who was the first person your age that you can remember dying?” As most people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot or when the World Trade Center was attacked, every person I asked had an immediate answer. They remembered a child hit by a car. A teenager who died of a mysterious heart attack. A suicide. They remembered the name of those who died and their age when it happened. Your children will remember, too. You can’t protect them from knowing and you can’t make them forget.
You cannot stop death from coming near your children and you cannot stop them your from grieving when it does. By removing them from contact with Brian, all you have done is added the prospect of shame to your child’s grief if Brian dies. Your children will know he died and they will remember they turned their back on him when he needed them most. I have seen the grief of those who failed to do their part as a friend or family member died. No grief is pretty, but the grief of the guilty is the ugliest of all.
And, in your effort to protect your child, what if you do raise a son or daughter who has no connection to those in pain, no grief for the dying, and no guilt for their own actions? Congratulations, you have raised a sociopath. Look up the definition. Was that your intention?
And, if we follow the plot of Shirley Jackson’s story, what about next year? What if your child is the next to win the lottery? Will you voluntarily withdraw from public life so that their surviving friends will not have to love your sons and daughters, lest they grieve more when your children are gone? What if you get cancer? Will you move away from your children to spare them the pain of seeing you die? No, you will cling to every precious moment because, like Brian, you will need the presence of those you love.
I have a suspicion that the issue here is not the tender feelings of the children, but your own fear. The fear that you will have to think about death and try to explain it to your children. The fear of your own children’s grief. The fear of facing the prospect that your children are also mortal. It is a terrible thing to love that which can be taken from us.
The adage says “growing old is not for sissies.” Neither is parenting. So buck up and take the responsibility that you cannot put aside, no matter how difficult it is. You signed on for the task when your children were born.
Teach your children that true love is not without sacrifice, but it is the sacrifice that makes it most dear. Teach your children that real life cannot be avoided, but it can be lived courageously. Teach them that faith in Christ is strong enough to sustain us, even when we don’t understand all that happens around us.
You cannot control the events in your child’s life. Such control is an illusion. You can, however, help your children develop the virtues and the faith that empower them to bear with and to overcome life’s most painful moments. But first you will have to acquire them yourselves.
I believe the only financial advice anyone needs can be summed up in five words: spend less than you make. The earlier you learn that lesson the better off you will be.
Motley Fool contributor, Morgan Housel, offers financial advice to his new son. His points 3, 8, and 10 relate directly to my conviction about spending less.
I disavow his jibe at commissioned sales people as some have served me well.
It’s a simple read and worth the time for young parents.
Josie, our oldest grandchild turns three this week. She spent the night with us Friday, two weeks since I last saw her. I was amazed at how much she changes in a short time. She can now hold the leash when we walk Rocky, our dog. Her vocabulary increases geometrically and includes the words “actually” and “delicate.” I think I got my first eye roll when I asked her if she knew how a car wash works: “Yes,” she said with a heavy breath of impatience, “The brushes come out an whirl around real fast.” How silly of me to ask.
Once again she’s grown while we were apart and I find myself pulled by the old temptation. The one that doesn’t want her to grow up. The one that wants her to stay small forever so that I can I can enjoy her as she is now without having to worry about what changes are coming. It’s the temptation to limit her life for my benefit.
I am forced to remember my own advice which I gave in a column written in our church newsletter a dozen years ago when our daughters were much younger. I’m posting it for my own benefit – and in the hope it speaks to all parents and grandparents who would like to freeze their children in time.
This Saturday represents a major milestone in the life of our family: Rachel graduates from Samford University and Jordan graduates from Rome High. The sentimental streak in me has worked overtime in anticipation of the day— I’ve been involved in a month-long task of reorganizing our photo collection. What I see as I go through the stacks of old pictures are countless moments where I have frozen the girls in time, countless moments where I wished I could keep them this age forever.
There is a picture of a toothless six-year-old with her first softball trophies. There is one of a small red head skiing on my back while waving to the camera. Deeper into the stack I come across Jordan’s picture from the Rome News-Tribune the day after Rome High won their first-ever softball victory. There’s Rachel on a mission trip in China—the only Caucasian face in a sea of Asians. It occurs to me that if I could have had my wish and frozen my daughters at age six or ten or thirteen, there are too many wonderful experiences we would never have had later when they were older.
If you are a parent of smaller children or preschoolers, I want to share a lesson with you. It is a lesson I am learning both painfully and joyfully. However wonderful you find your child’s age today, there is more goodness to come. Whatever pleasure they give you now, there is more pleasure to be found in later accomplishments.
As much pleasure as I received from teaching Jordan a little more about softball or holding Rachel in the water while waiting for the boat to snatch us up on my skis, I receive more today from talking with two beautiful young women about common values and a common faith.
On graduation day, it would be easy to yield to the temptation of wishing we could go back to a time when they needed me more—to carry them to the car or to help with their homework. It would be easy to yield to the temptation of saying, “You will always be my little girls.” But I am going to resist temptation on Saturday. Instead, I am going to revel in the enjoyment of knowing two beautiful, independent, responsible young women who are ready to take their places in the world. In parenthood, this is my greatest joy yet.
If watching my daughters grow was a great joy of parenting, I need to learn that lesson again – today with Josie, tomorrow with Jace and Lucy. Thus, I wonder in great anticipation what they will learn next, what they will achieve next. What adventures lie in store as they grow in stature and independence? My prayer is not that they always stay young, but that I get to see the children, the teenagers, the adults they become.
Happy Birthday, Josie. You are on your way!
In 1955, Rudolph Flesh wrote a critique of reading education, which he entitled, Why Johnny Can’t Read. The phrase “why Johnny can’t” found traction in American culture; thus, in 1974, when Morris Cline wrote an indictment on the changes in math education, he borrowed heavily from Flesch when he called his book Why Johnny Can’t Add. Fast forward another two decades to 1992. William Kilpatrick challenged the nation’s drift away from morality and virtues in Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong. Kilpatrick saw the same type of failure demonstrated in in reading and math education replicated in character education.
According to Kilpatrick, the moral education framework in our country was failing children and American culture. The system did not communicate the common core of accepted virtues which serve as the norm for constructive participation in society. One might expect such a book like Kilpatrick’s to tend toward moralism or preachiness in tone, but the author avoids these temptations. The end product is one of my personal “bucket books,” an essential influence in my life.
The Boston College professor makes four salient point in his thesis. First, various forms of a failed moral education relied primarily on information to influence students toward safe and healthy conduct. He uses as his examples the approaches to drug and sex education which were common to the era of his writing. The contemporary wisdom was to teach youth facts about these subjects in the hope that they would make good decisions about them. Kilpatrick believed the deficiency of this approach centered on the fact that it did not provide a character component.
On the need for common virtues to ground society, Kilpatrick says:
According to Aristotle, a culture that neglects to cultivate good habits will soon find itself the prisoner of bad habits. p. 98
Communities and cultures depend for their existence on shared knowledge. Without such specific knowledge and a shared ethos, it becomes difficult for members of a community to communicate and cooperate. Those without this knowledge will always be condemned to the margins of society. If the knowledge deficit becomes widespread, the culture will collapse. p. 117
With regard to morally neutral sex education, he asks:
How safe is any sex without character? p. 63
Kilpatrick’s second point focused on a common practice of moral education from the 1970’s and 1980’s: Values Clarification. VC most often presented moral dilemmas to children or youth and asked them to resolve the dilemma based on their feelings or prejudices. The dilemmas might present a hypothetical group of thirteen people occupying a fallout shelter designed for twelve. In an unfortunate foreshadowing of the popular Survivor TV show, classes (and church youth groups) were asked to determine which individual to exclude from the shelter: the pregnant teen, the selfish business owner, the local drug dealer, etc. Kilpatrick correctly pointed out that such exercises were popular with teachers because they created engaged discussion, but they failed youth because they provided no basis for making the decision beyond the opinions of the participants.
Kilpatrick’s solution was not to teach the morally correct answers to such dilemmas. Nor was it to preach certain values vis a vis all other values. Instead, Kilpatrick’s thesis was to ground children and youth in virtues. The difference between values and virtues is a key distinction in all character education and represents Kilpatrick’s third point. Values are always debatable. Who’s values trump all other values? Virtues, on the other hand, are qualities of character that pass the test of time and cross all cultures.
[My review on How Children Succeed highlights the importance of functional virtues like grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity for a fulfilling life.]
The solution offered by Kilpatrick, and the fourth point I take form the book, is to capture the imagination of youth with classic stories of virtue. Examples of virtue inspire virtue in others. Kilpatrick offers a significant portion of the book to an annotated list of age-appropriate classics that encourage time tested qualities of character. The list includes such works as Diary of a Young Girl and Gulliver’s Travels. Kilpatrick also suggests music and singing as a way to inspire virtues.
Kilpatrick’s book introduced me to the concept of character education, along with the role of stories and songs as a part of that process. These approaches to teaching character evolved into an approach of “teaching” faith, which we have called “faith development” here at First Baptist Church of Rome. Faith Development, as we practice it, stems from the belief that children need exposure to a core of Bible stories and scripture verses that serve as a foundation to a more mature faith later. Too often we’ve asked children “what does this (Bible) story mean to you?” as if children come with a built in understanding of all faith matters.
This error reflects the same type of mistake made in Values Clarification. Instead, we’ve taken the approach that, at the earliest ages, children need to be taught specifics stories, led to memorize specific scripture passages, and to sing particular songs of faith – all of which provide a foundation of knowledge about matters of faith. Later in life, as they grow and mature, the basics serve as the foundation for the faith they appropriate as their own.
Kilpatrick’s book in on my list of life -important books because it served as the catalyst for one of the most distinctive part of our our congregation’s ministry to children and youth. Here are a few more quotes:
The first incident happened five or six years ago during an exam. One of the questions concerned sex education and contained the word “abstinence.” It was a poor choice of words. In a few minutes a student came up to my desk. “What’s abstinence?” she asked. I thought for a moment, then said, “Oh, just substitute the word ‘chastity.’” There was a brief pause, then . . . “What’s chastity?” she asked. I mentioned the incident the next semester to another class, thinking that it might amuse them, but I was wrong again. Half of them had never heard of “chastity” either. I was reminded of Orwell’s observation about the difficulty of practicing a virtue or principle when one lacks the very words for expressing it. p. 118
Referring to Bruno Bettelheim: “The question for a child,” says Bettelheim, “is not ‘Do I want to be good?’ but ‘Who do I want to be like?’” p. 167
It is a myth that parents don’t have the right to instill their values in their children. Once again, the standard dogma here is that children must create their own values. But, of course, children have precious little chance to do that, since that the rest of the culture has no qualms about imposing values. Does it make sense for parents to remain neutral bystanders when everyone else—from scriptwriters, to entertainers, to advertisers, to sex educators—insists on selling their values to children? p. 249
I read because my father read to me. And because he’d read to me, when my time came I knew intuitively there is a torch that is supposed to be passed from one generation to the next. And through countless nights of reading I began to realize that when enough of the torchbearers—parents and teachers—stop passing the torches, a culture begins to die. p. 267
Three trips with Lizardhead Cycling have taught me some valuable lessons. The first comes from Lizardhead’s owner, John Humphries, pregame speech – the advice he gives to a group as they set out on a tour. “The greatest accomplishments,” he says, “arise from overcoming adversity.” According to John, the easiest days on a Lizardhead tour are rarely the most rewarding. He says that our favorite memories come from the days we rise above difficulties and trials.
He’s right. My most memorable days include day two of the Redrocks trip – the day which John says is the hardest on any Lizardhead tour. For me, Redrocks II was the second time I ever rode more than a hundred miles in a day. Others may ride 100 miles once a week; I don’t. Additionally, Redrocks II came eight months after prostate surgery (seven moths after being able to sit on a bike) and three weeks after a blood clot behind my left knee. I’m proud of that day.
Another favorite memory was getting back on the bike after a crash while descending Middlebury Gap in New Hampshire on day two of that vacation. Of the three people who crashed that day, I was the only one able to ride again that week. I missed day three of that trip, per doctor’s orders, but I rolled out with the group on day four.
My most memorable day from this year’s Willamette Valley tour was the last day, climbing McKenzie Pass. I hate to climb. My heart might as well have a governor on it; I can’t beat much over 140/minute, which is a real handicap on hills. McKenzie Pass was a 22 mile climb. It’s not near as steep as the New Hampshire Gaps, but it is uphill all the way and a challenge for me. There were no flat spots for the first 14 miles that I can recall. Others may find it easy, but for me it was a three hour slog at maximum heart rate. And I did it, finishing strong at the top. The big challenges produced the best memories.
John Humphries comments about adversity remind me of a similar statement by Clayton Christensen in his book, “How Will you Measure Your Life? “Self esteem,” says Christensen, ” comes from achieving something important when it’s hard to do.” Christensen makes this statement in the context of parenting: “By sheltering children from the problems that arise in life, we have inadvertently denied this generation the ability to develop processes and priorities it needs to succeed….As I look back on my own life, I recognize that some of the greatest gifts I received from my parents stemmed not from what they did for me -but rather from what they didn’t do for me.” [both quotes on p. 134]
As with many of my posts, the moral of the story is about parenting. Children need challenges. They need to solve hard problems. Yet, this generation of helicopter parents thinks they are doing their children a favor by rescuing them from adversity. Today’s parents want to remove all obstacles from the paths of their sons and daughters. They cajole extra time for a school project instead of allowing a child to complete a difficult project in the time allotted. The allow children to watch while completing a science fair project for them, instead of requiring them to stay up late to finish it on their own. They do their children no favors.
The Apostle Paul says, “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-5). There are no shortcuts to character and hope. They are qualities only derived from overcoming challenges and adversity. A person can only overcome adversity by facing it. A person can only accomplish great things by attempting difficult things.
Check your own memory. What are some of your best memories of accomplishments? I imagine they include overcoming a hardship or trial. What adversity have you let your children handle by themselves? As much as you want to whiled them from pain, you cripple them by swooping in for the rescue. It may make you feel better about parenting, but it teaches children that they probably couldn’t have done it on their own. It’s not the path to character or self esteem.
Our ministry staff recently read Almost Christian, Kenda Dean’s research driven commentary on the faith of present day Christian teens. Her research and commentary are both alarming. Dean finds that Christian teens today:
Further, Dean points out that youth are this way because they learned this faith from their families – a striking indictment, one that no one wants to admit. Despite what many families believe, they have incredible influence over their teens. The only problem is that they have used their influence to lead teens to a faith that is almost Christian. But not quite.
If you have teens in your home, however, ask yourself some questions.
The first question helps us understand why teens lack an adequate faith vocabulary. Few adults model it, or talk about it in front of them. The limited religious conversation that takes place usually refers to a generic “God” and not to the personal “Jesus.” We may mention God, but rarely describe how the living Christ directs our daily actions. What did we do or not do today because Jesus led us? How did I respond to a situation today because I have committed to following Christ?
The second question reminds us that children and youth are tremendous observers and terrible interpreters of life. Anyone who has ever been divorced and had a child ask, “Is it my fault” understands this concept. Children know what is going on; they just don’t understand why. Failing to understand why, they jump to many false conclusions. They see church, Christian service, and spiritual growth relegated to a status of one choice among many. They simply have no way of knowing that you think it is more serious than that. They just know what they see: you participate in faith-shaping activities when it doesn’t conflict with sports, dance, or a myriad of other options. It is one choice among many. All of these observations are backed up by Dean’s extensive research.
Fortunately, Dean does not leave us with a depressing diagnosis; she also gives us proven, effective ways to stimulate our own youth to a genuine, saving faith in Jesus. Some of her prescription for faith includes conversation. Talk about your faith and encourage your youth to talk about theirs. Encourage them so that “Christian’ becomes a native tongue. As with any language we learned long ago, unless reinforced through usage, we lose the ability to speak it.
Send your child/teen to camp. Group faith experiences can be like language immersion courses, exposing them to a way of thinking and believing in a short period of time. These events become shared memories with other participants and reinforce their faith.
And stress loving Jesus over believing in God. Using a “band crush” as a metaphor, Dean points out that teens don’t enjoy a particular band’s music because of research. They are swept away by a song, then, because they love the music, they research the band and learn all about it. We all learn best what we love most. The order matters.
Since reading Dean’s book, I have tried to articulate some matters of faith more directly and more clearly in preaching. John Uldrick, our Minister to Students at FBC, is currently leading a study with parents called Hollow Faith, based on a book of the same name. Hollow Faith echoes the findings of Dean in Almost Christian. John is trying to help families build an intentional, Christian faith and not to default into the Moral Therapeutic Deism of the day.
I would encourage families in our congregation to participate in John’s seminar on Wednesday nights. Anyone who works with students in a faith environment will benefit from reading Dean’s book.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Leonard Sax points out that parents give their pre-teens and teens a new weapon capable of destroying a life. They rarely train or monitor their teen’s use of the weapon. Therefore they never realize that the weapon has been misused or abused until it is too late, maybe even causing self-inflicted wounds to their child.
What is it? A mobile device, such as an iPhone.
Teens bully and are bullied by cell phone. Personal communication gets in the wrong hands and goes viral, leaving a teen humiliated and defenseless. A prank intended as harmless ruins a life. It happens overnight. If you are a parent with a teen who carries a cell phone, how many conversations do you need with other parents before you discover the misuse of a phone? Not many. This is a powerful and creative tool than can be turned into a weapon as quick as a Google search.
Parents have nothing from their teen years analogues to the power of today’s cell phones. This fact may make parent less knowledgeable of the changing ways teens use them, but it makes them no less responsible for how their teens use them. In a point-blank statement, Sax says, “I blame their parents. The parents provided their kids with cellphones capable of taking, sending and receiving photographs, but they provided no oversight.” If you allow your teens to own and carry a phone, you, the parent, have responsibility for how they use it.
Read it and then have the moral courage to put a contract in place with your child about how they can use it and how you plan to monitor it. Let your love for your children (and their friends) override the disappointment they will express at your perceived restrictions. Don’t let your failure of nerve be the reason that someone gets hurt by the phone in your child’s hands.
“The language of a people is its fate.” So says Amos Wilder in Early Christian Rhetoric. This quotation has bothered me for years. Maybe, virtues determine the fate of a people. Perhaps government, or economy, or faith. But, language? How so?
In order to understand Wilder’s comment, let’s look at a few examples. The French protect their language in order to protect their culture. When too many foreign expressions enter the French language, it waters down their cultural identify. So the French ban the expressions before they become rooted in their language. The agency charged with monitoring the language has banned expressions like email, hashtag, and FaceBook.
Comment est-ce de travailler pour vous? If Google Translator is working correctly, that means “How’s that working for you?”
Americans think the French are silly until we admit growing resentment among many in the USA over Federal workplace guidelines posted by the water cooler, billboards, or DMV tests – in Spanish! “Make them learn English” is the mantra. What is the problem, unless, instinctively, we understand that our language is our fate and perceive changes in our language as a threat?
How does this dynamic play out in daily life? How does it affect me? The first place may be profanity. Baby Boomers think they pioneered the anti-puritan movement when Archie Bunker started using four-letter words on All in the Family. That Archie was a hoot. Over the next four decades, we were amazed at what people could say on TV. George Carlin’s list of banned words was no longer prohibited. (Note: Younger readers can search any of these historical references. The fact you don’t know about them makes my point: times have changed and what can be said on television was once a very big deal, but not today.)
Now anybody can say anything at anytime. Ask a teacher. The S-word, both B-words and combination words are commonplace in the classroom as children bring to school the language they hear at home. And this is not happening only in public schools or among children of poverty. An informal sampling of teachers and other school workers would indicate it is more common in certain areas, but profanity exists everywhere. Children hear it at home and on television as the normative way people talk to each other. One child of a middle class family dropped the F-bomb in casual conversation – just as natural as you please. Aghast, the mother asked, “Where did you hear that word?”
“From you,” was the child’s response.
Remember, “The language of a people is its fate.” The problem is not simply bad words at home and at school. Profanity is a primary vehicle that brings disrespect, anger, and hostility into our lives. Try to imagine using profanity in a kind, civil way. Go to an SEC football game and try to ask fans around you to be considerate of your family with their language. Even if you wear the same colors and cheer for the same team, you will likely hear that they paid their money and have the right to say anything they want.
I know I sound like a prude, and I accept that I am swimming upstream against the culture on this subject. The prevalence and acceptance of profanity, however, has altered the way people treat each other. Society is less civil than it was a few decades ago. Our language has become our destiny.
End of Part One.
Check back for Part Two – on the words missing from our language.