Monday, February 18, 2019

A Safe Place to Grow Up

Think for a minute about the process of shopping for clothes. When you go shopping for clothing, you probably look through the racks, select several outfits of varying styles that you think you might like and then take them to the dressing room. There are several questions you are asking of each set of clothes you try on. While you are looking in the mirror, you consider: Do I like it? Does it fit? Is it my style? And then, if you are shopping with another person, you will probably step out of the dressing room and ask the person you are with, "What do you think?" You want to know how they will react to seeing you in that particular outfit.

As kids and teens grow up, they work through a very similar process with their personality and identity. They will "try on" different characteristics, attitudes, opinions and ways of thinking and acting. As they do, they will consider, perhaps subconsciously, Does it fit? Is it me? Do I like how I feel when I wear it? And one of the biggest questions of all, What reaction do I get from others? Do people accept and affirm me when I "put on" that particular aspect of personality?

As parents watching teens figure out and discover their own personality, this can be a confusing and perhaps difficult time. Some parents are surprised or shocked when their teen begins to act or talk in ways that they have never seen before, or they cannot explain. Teens will sometimes announce things that seem to come out of nowhere. Your straight-A student may announce "I don't like school anymore." The kid who never liked sports may say, "I want to try out for football." The child who used to love Sunday School may proclaim, "I don't believe in God." Often the shocked parent will try, with numerous strategies, to convince their teen that they don't really mean what they are saying. They may encourage or push their son or daughter to go back to the way they were before. This usually does not go well and can create tension or cracks in the once peaceful and harmonious parent-child relationship.

What the parent may not realize is that this "trying on" of different personalities or opinions is actually an important part of growing up. And a deeper, underlying question that the teen may be asking is: Will you still accept and love me if ... fill in the blank.

The question that parents should consider during the teen years is, Do I want our family to be a safe place for my teen to grow up? Do I want my teen to feel the freedom to share their thoughts and feelings while they work through the process of developing their own identity and personality? Many teens who feel rejected by their parents will retreat from them, and find other places and circles in which to process this journey. Often, very well intended parents inadvertently send a message that acceptance and even love is based on the teen acting and living up to certain expectations.

Those parents who want to nurture a positive relationship with their teen must often take the difficult step of holding back their shock or disapproval (which are often interpreted as rejection and shame) and entering into a new phase of their relationship in which they allow for a greater freedom of thought and expression. This parent takes great steps to communicate unconditional love for their teen, while inviting him or her into an ongoing conversation about life that is characterized by warmth and safety rather than judgment and control. This is not an easy task, and requires a tremendous amount of faith in the power of love and truth, and ultimately God.

As parents, we can set the tone and create an atmosphere for our home as a safe and positive place for teens to work through the task of figuring out their own views, beliefs and personality. If we believe that our worldview and way of life is based on what is good and true and life-giving, then we can be open to questions and challenges without taking it personally. We can enter into a respectful and robust dialogue about values and beliefs, and create a safe place to discuss the important issues of life. When our teens feel acceptance and safety, they are more likely to share their journey. When they become convinced that you love them unconditionally, they will be more likely to view you as an ally, and allow you the privilege of influencing them as they discover and develop their own identity.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What Do We Teach Kids About Handling Conflict?

A lot of kids are taught that getting an adult during conflict, is tattling.  It is very common for parents to require children to solve problems among themselves.  This method doesn’t lead to positive conflict resolution skills; it leads to the opposite.  When children are left to themselves to stop a conflict and the other child won’t stop, or share, or cooperate, violence and retaliation are really the only option they have.  Older siblings and bigger kids have a lot of power and they don’t know how to use their power in a benevolent way.  They are self-centered and haven’t learned how to use their power for good yet.  When kids are left to fight it out, the youngest ones can be subjected to emotional and physical abuse.  They learn that there is no such thing as justice, and that violence and retaliation are their only option.  The youngest also learn that they are not valuable enough for even their parents to care when they are being treated unfairly and even abused.  And the older kids learn to practice the abuse of power over the weak. 

An alternative to this would be to help kids learn to utilize authority as a resource.  When our kids were young we always had the 3 steps of “how to stop a fight”, posted on our wall.  The first step was: If someone is doing something you don’t like, tell them to “stop” in a nice voice.  Or, if the fight is about a toy or game, agree on a way to take turns.  Set a timer and do rock-paper-scissors to see who goes first.  The second step was: If they don’t listen, tell them that if they do it again you will have to get an adult.  The third step was: If they still don’t listen, get an adult.
When adults get involved it is not for the purpose of finding out who “started it” and to punish them.  The role of the adult is to remind the children of the tools like rock, paper, scissors, and the timer, and to ensure that everyone is treated with value and respect.  The adult teaches and enforces the biblical principles of #1 we respect and honor others because they are made in the image of God, #2 we don’t repay evil with evil because evil does not defeat evil it perpetuates it, #3 always confront in love, and #4 that they deserve to be protected because they are valuable.  Children need to be taught these principles on an ongoing basis because they aren’t born with this knowledge, they need repeated instruction. The way that children learn to treat other people, how they allow themselves to be treated, and how they handle disputes at home, will go with them into relationships at school.
One of our roles as parents is protector.  God has put authority in place to protect us and enforce the laws (Rom.13), we need to model this order at home.  A healthy view of authority is that authority is good and can be called upon to enforce justice. Children should be learning that they can turn to authority for justice rather than getting revenge. If a child genuinely needs help, he needs to be able to get it.  Children need to know that it is not weak to refuse to hit someone, it is strong to manage our anger and appeal to the proper channels of authority rather than solving a problem through violence.

When children are taught that parents are not interested in helping them with their problems, they find their own means for survival. They learn to only interact with their peers, and exclude the adult world, because adults are believed to be unavailable, unhelpful, unjust, and unconcerned. They don’t go to teachers when someone is picking on them, and this either results in them being severely abused by others or it results in built up anger which, as we have seen, can result in violence as gruesome as school shootings. 

recently I was taking a class and the school principal that was teaching the class said that when he sits down with jr. highers that got into fights at school and asks them why, they say “I just couldn’t take it anymore,” and when he asks why they didn’t tell anyone that they were being picked on, they say “I didn’t want to be a snitch”.

This is a letter sent recently from the superintendent of Bethel schools to all Bethel staff:

For the safety of our students, we need to foster and nurture a culture where students feel safe to come to an adult and talk about threats, or students that are having difficulty coping, etc. This is what a "caring culture" nurtures.  The old concept of seeing students that ask for help as "tattle-tales" or "snitches," must be replaced by compassionate concern.  Developing a culture where it’s OK to ask for help is essential. We are all in this together, we are not an island onto ourselves.

And that's a good word for all of us to remember! 

Monday, January 8, 2018

We Pass On What We Receive (Part 5)

Freedom to Choose

God did not force us to love him or obey him.  God does not use anger, intimidation, or guilt.  He holds us with an open hand.  He pursues us with love, not authority. 
When our children are young we must train them to live according to God’s life-giving principles.  We must have control because we are responsible for their safety and training.  We must provide the moral storehouse and the discipline that they need to be able to follow through.  But as our children grow older we must trust that they have the tools, and accept the fact they have the choice of either adopting them as their own, or rejecting them.  When we understand that God allows us to make our own choice about whether or not to make God the source of our life, we understand that it is up to our teens to make the same choice for themselves.  Our goal is that our children would recognize that God truly is the source of Life, and decide for themselves to depend on Him.

We must respect our teen’s ability to have beliefs and opinions that are independent of ours.  We cannot control the thoughts or motivations of our teen’s hearts and minds.  When we try to exert power that we don’t have over our teens, we undermine our own goal of helping them know the love of God, and choose to look to Him as the source of life.  We must accept that we are not in control, and give our teens room to make their own autonomous choices.  We can best do this by allowing our life to speak for itself. As we build a relationship with our children that is based on respect, we will naturally gain an invitation of influence.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

We Pass On What We Receive ( Part 4)

Biblical Discipline

Confrontation and discipline should be done in love, to benefit someone who is making choices that are damaging to themselves or others.  God teaches us in His word that confrontation of sin is for the purpose of restoring, rescuing, redeeming, and reconciling, and should always be done in humility, gentleness, and love.  God does not want us to confront sin to get even, to vent anger, or to punish.  Sadly, not many people have experienced confrontation according to biblical principles.  Most people have experienced a corrupted version of biblical confrontation that was not life-giving at all.  This leads to many destructive parenting practices in discipline. 
God does not want us to confront someone to show them that they are “bad” or that we are mad.  He does not want us to confront for the purpose of controlling people through fear and intimidation. When we do, we demonstrate that we believe that it is our job to judge and punish people and make them be good.
Jesus did not die to make us be good people, he died to give us life. Confrontation should communicate a bigger picture than just to stop being bad and be good.  It should communicate the importance of coming back to the life that God created us for; life as God designed it to work. When we return to dependence on God as the source, we benefit from experiencing Life as God created it to be.  Turning from our sin is not just a means to escape condemnation, it is the way back to Life.

When confrontation is done for the right purpose and with the right attitude in relationships, families, and communities over a long period of time, trust is developed.  When people are able to trust that confrontation is for their benefit and not to point out their badness, they become more willing to humbly look at themselves and see the areas in which they need to grow. If we are using biblical discipline we don’t use the tools of anger, shame, or intimidation. When we understand God’s model for confrontation, we can give consequences to our children in a loving and positive way that is focused on rescuing, redeeming, and reconciling, rather than punishing. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

We Pass On What We Receive (Part 3)


We are in the process of being perfected.  We all vacillate several times a day from one false God to another, to find our sense of worth and significance.  When it comes to sin, we are all on a level playing field.  We are never “good” or in a state of sinlessness.  Our only goodness comes from God.  On our own we have nothing to be proud of or take credit for.  Understanding this allows us to be humble with our children.  We can admit that we don’t always get things right.  We can sympathize with their struggle with sin.  We are not above it.  We struggle every day and we need to depend on God for his help.  We know God accepts us in our struggle and we accept ourselves.  This leads to humility.  And it leads to being able to accept our children when they fail.  Acceptance enables our children to humbly admit their sin and turn to God for help rather than deny their sin.  Children only feel safe to be humble when they know they will be treated with grace when they fail.  Spiritual growth happens when we face our sin humbly and honestly.  

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

We Pass On What We Receive (Part 2)


When we understand and experience God’s grace, love, and acceptance, we pass on grace, love and acceptance to our children.  God loves us in spite of our sin and shortcomings. God not only loves us by forgiving us, but He likes us, He accepts us, He is for us.  We don’t lose his affection each time we sin.  Jesus died for all of our sins, the sins in the past, present, and future.  He does not condemn us again and again; sin was condemned once and for all in Christ.  God sees our inability as a part of our reality, and he is not mad at our weakness. He does not hold back affection until we perform perfectly.  God is not surprised or upset by our behavior.  He is patient with us.  God loves us toward more life-giving choices.  His conviction comes in love, not in guilt.  We don’t have to be afraid of humbly owning our mistakes, because we know we are still accepted.  We can acknowledge all of the sin that is inside of us, and look to God in dependence for help.  In the same way we are not angered by our children’s behavior.  We do not withhold relationship. We are not surprised at bad behavior.  We have patience.  We can accept our children even when they do wrong.  

Monday, December 18, 2017

We Pass On What We Receive (Part 1)

Everyone looks to some source to provide their sense of identity.  Identity is essentially how I view myself or who I am as a person.  It is how I define myself.  It is what I use to decide whether or not I have value.  It is also what I use to determine if I am acceptable to myself, God, and others.  One source that people look to define themselves, is the approval of certain people, like a father, boss, husband, wife, or children.  One example might be looking to a father for our worth.  When he approves of us we feel like we are worth something; we feel good and we accept ourselves.  But then we lose his approval.  We feel worthless.  But people are flawed, they do not accurately represent our value.  We don’t really gain and lose value based on what others think.  Other people are the wrong source; we should not give them the power to define our identity. 

Other sources people look to are physical appearance, intelligence, wealth, competence, abilities, grades, success, or moral achievements.  The problem of looking to these things, is that they lead to pride when I am doing well and insecurity when I am not.  These things do not define us; they are not really “who we are”.  They are things about us, and things that we do, but do not make us any more or less valuable.  The only true source of our identity is God’s love for us.  This truth should provide our worth and value. 

Our value is given by God as a gift.  It is unchanging.  We cannot gain it, and we cannot lose it.  We are only valuable because of God’s love.  This should be humbling.  We are also completely valuable because of God’s love.  God’s love actually makes us worthy of respect and high esteem.  And we cannot be more or less valuable than anyone else.  All people are given the same value by God Himself.  God’s love allows us to recognize our high value in spite of our flaws and shortcomings.   
So, regardless of our looks, talents, or anything that we do, we can always have a secure Identity.  In Christ we can always have the security and confidence that we are enough, we are acceptable, and we are valuable. We do not have to live in fear or anxiety about losing our value.  As people loved by God, we have the resource to have all of our personal needs for love, acceptance, and value met by God.  Finding our security in Christ allows us to be able to parent well, because when we are completely secure in God’s love for us, we have plenty of love to give to our children. 

We are made to be dependent on God’s love to be secure.  Being secure in God’s love can be illustrated by a container that is always full, because it is constantly being filled.  Looking to other things to fill our need for love is like a container that is always nearly empty, because nothing else can ever really satisfy us.  So, the first way that having a secure identity in Christ impacts our parenting, is that our need for love is met, leaving us with an overabundance to share.  We know who we are, and we are not looking for anything else to define us.  When we have received God’s love, and we are full and secure in that love, we have an overflow of love to give to others.  The love that we give to others does not come from us.  We are not the source of love, God is. 
As parents, our job is to meet the needs our children and love them, not the other way around.  When our needs are met in God, we are not looking to our children to meet our needs.  Parents can easily confuse the good feeling that they get from their children’s appreciation of them, for a source of value and identity for themselves.  We can easily slip into using our children to get what we need, rather than giving children what they need.

As secure people we are not needy for acceptance, approval, or praise.  We are free to put others first.  We can love sacrificially and not fear that our own needs will not be met.  We can discipline without having the primary concern be the loss of our children’s love for us.  We are not afraid of our children’s anger toward us, or losing their approval.  We are not threatened by our children’s mistakes.  Their mistakes don’t define us.  We are also not angered by their mistakes.  We don’t need them to behave well for our sake.  We don’t need them to be good to make us feel good about ourselves.   When we are secure we are not easily wounded by the things our children say and do.  
(See Next Post for Part 2)