Activities and Speech
About the Guest
The "alien child" will spend his or her time differently than the child of the unbeliever. Jen Wilkin explains how children raised to be followers of Christ should do and say things differently from their unbelieving peers.
Jen Wilkin explains how children raised to be followers of Christ should do and say things differently from their unbelieving peers.
Activities and Speech
Bob: When you think about the issues that your kids are up against today, what immediately comes to mind? Jen Wilkin says, “You may be surprised at what the real answer is.”
Jen: When my freshman son started in high school, the high school counselor came out to talk to the parents. He asked if we knew what the number one thing that he saw children in the counseling office for at our high school. I promise you every parent in the room thought he was going to say drugs and alcohol. He said, “…depression and anxiety related to exhaustion and overscheduling.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 19th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I’m Bob Lepine. Are you in tune with what are the real challenges your son or daughter may be facing? We’re going to hear more from Jen Wilkin today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, you stop and think about life as we raise our kids. It is so easy to be conformed to cultural thinking about what’s the right thing to do, as parents. You’ve been quoting Romans 12:1-2 a lot in recent days, where it says: “Don’t be conformed to this world. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Bob: As parents, we really need to be asking the question: “What’s our goal in parenting? Is it to help our kids fit in with the culture?” or “Is it to have kids who understand their purpose in this culture?”
Dennis: Yes; and I’ve been looking forward to asking you this question, Bob—you just completed a movie called Like Arrows—
Dennis: —and just given the fact that the theme on today’s broadcast is raising your child to be an alien in the world—[Laughter]—did you give any thought to calling the Like Arrows movement Aliens? [Laughter]
Bob: We stayed away from E.T., the Extraterrestrial. We decided to stay—all the good alien names were already taken.
No; we sat down to tell a story—a parenting story—that would take you right into the reality of moms and dads. We wanted moms and dads who are—you know, they are going to church, and they’re a part of the community—but they really don’t have—
Dennis: Their kids were not aliens.
Bob: —they don’t have God at the center.
Dennis: Their kids were fitting into the culture way too much.
Bob: Mom and dad recognized that, at some point, in the film. By the way, this film is going to be in movie theaters two nights coming up, May 1st and May 3rd. It’s only there on a Tuesday night and a Thursday night. So, this is not one of those, where you can say, “Hey, we’ll go next week and see it.” No; you’ve got to go either Tuesday, May 1st, or Thursday, May 3rd—one showing only each night at 7 o’clock. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—see the trailer for the movie and find out where it’s going to be in a theater near you.
We’re hoping lots of moms and dads will get lots of their friends—we’d love to see packed-out theaters those two night; because we hope this movie will be the beginning of a movement of what is desperately needed in this culture, which is what we’re going to hear about today—a different approach to thinking when it comes to parenting.
Dennis: Yes; we’re going to be hearing from Jen Wilkin. She is an author; she is a
wife / a mom to four kids. She spoke at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s Parenting Conference, which I, also, had the privilege of speaking at. I think she’s on target with her theme that we’re going to be listening to today—the theme of training your children to be aliens in a world that is going to be hostile. If they truly embrace following Jesus Christ, your children are going to need to know how to suffer for being, not weird, but being different.
Bob: —countercultural. The first area she’s going to address in Part Two of the message today is the area of activities.
Here’s Jen Wilkin.
Jen: Okay; so, activities: “The alien child is going to spend his or her time differently than the child of the unbeliever.” Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says this—we’ve heard it several times at the conference. Let’s just sit under it one more time and see what we can pull from it—it says: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your hearts. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
That’s interesting; isn’t it?—because the author of Deuteronomy seems to think that there will actually be times where we sit in our house together, seems to think there will be times where we walk by the way together, when we lie down together, and when we rise up together.
This passage assumes a natural rhythm of the home that is bringing the family together versus spreading the family out. I think that, here, we see a charge to evaluate with any schedule decision the cost versus benefit associated with it.
When my oldest child started high school—my kids went to public school all the way through—stay with me homeschoolers; it’s going to be okay. They went all the way through; and when my freshman son started in high school, the high school counselor came out to talk to the parents. He asked if we knew what the number one thing that he saw children in the counseling office for at our high school. It’s a big public high school, and I promise you—every parent in the room thought that he was going to say drugs and alcohol. Do you know what he said? He said, “…depression and anxiety related to exhaustion and overscheduling.” That was the number one thing that he saw.
That means that, as parents of Christian children—we are Christian parents of children, who we are praying will become Christians at some point—we’re going to make some hard decisions around how we’re going to choose activities. We’re going to do some math that other people aren’t doing.
I know how this works; right?—like you have the two-year-old. He’s basically just learned to walk, and you hear that everybody is signing up for a gymnastics class. What do you do? You’re like: “Oh! We’ve got to do that. That’s what everybody is doing.” You put him in the class. He’s just learned to walk; so, obviously, a cartwheel is what is next. [Laughter] You pay whatever they want.
Little Jimmy spends his semester out there, toddling around, doing whatever. At the end of the class—well, about a week or two before—the coach is going to come up to you. What is the coach going to say? “You know what Mrs. Wilkin? Little Jimmy is showing real talent. I mean, I think there might be something here. He’s really getting it. He’s coming along great, but you know what Little Jimmy is going to need?—
—“private lessons,”—you know. We’re like: “My little Jimmy?! [Laughter] He’s going to the Olympics?! [Laughter] I knew it! I knew—like I knew when he started walking—I could see; I could see!” Then, what do you do? You start writing the checks and writing the checks and devoting the time to it; right? We get sucked in—why? We’ve heard exactly what we’re hoping for.
What we need to understand—like when you were a kid, were there as many activities to get involved in? No; my mom was like: “Go play sticks. Don’t burn anything down.” [Laughter] There are so many things that our children can get involved in. Do you know why?—cash money / suburban affluence. People are making millions of dollars off our desire to have a famous child, and we walk into it willingly.
We need to be a little discerning about the choices we are making with regard to this.
There are some questions that you can ask yourself—you can ask yourself: “Is this an activity…” or “Is our activity level something that is helping our family or hurting our family?” One of the things I think parents miss out a lot on with this is they fail to recognize the collective effect of everybody’s activities on the family as a whole.
We had four kids in four years. Can you imagine what my life would have been like if everybody was out there having three or four activities a week? We would have never been home, and that’s kind of a key point; right?—because one of the things with activities—that you have to keep an eye on—is whether they’re sabotaging the regular rhythms of the home to a point that we’re not able to train our children as we ought to—things like family dinner.
Now, it’s not that you might never miss a family dinner for an activity; but if family dinner is habitually missed or almost always missed, you’re actually putting your kids into a risk category—people have told us: “Families that sit down for family dinner, at least, four nights a week—their children are far less likely to get involved in drugs, and alcohol, and other risky behaviors,”—
—four nights a week to have family together at home. Check that out for a second—if you’re thinking of ways that you want to be countercultural, family dinner may be the most countercultural thing that you could do. So, when we’re looking at which activities we do, we have to weigh them by different measures than other families might.
Now, because we had four children so close in age, we had a rule: “You could do one thing, or you could do no things—one or none.” Doesn’t it sound fun to live at my house? [Laughter] A lot of times, they would choose to do the one thing; and then, they might do nothing for a while. I had one of the four kids, who chose “none” every time—none, none, none, none, none. Other parents were like: “What’s happening there? Are you going to push him toward anything?” We were like, “I don’t think so!”
What would happen was—I began to see this pattern—he would—we would be somewhere, and an adult would come up to him and they’d say, “Hi, Calvin, what do you do?” “Calvin does not have a profession.” [Laughter]
This is what we [adults] do; right?—like you go, “Do you play baseball?” Calvin’s like, “Nope.” “Do you gymnastics?”—and he’s the fourth kid; right? So, we’re not looking for more things to pay for at the point he comes along. [Laughter] He’s like, “I read books.” He never took on one of these activities.
I think we have bought into the idea that, if your child isn’t out there trying every single thing, maybe, they won’t turn into the fully-formed person that they are supposed to be. But I have, at least, a sample of one to tell you that that’s not the case. He ended up teaching himself the guitar—he discovered a love of music. He’s still an avid reader. He is a great kid. He’s not an NBA superstar; but when I watch the lives of those people, I wonder why we ask that for our children at all.
Okay; so we said, “…one or none”—that was our rule. You probably don’t have to be that conservative with it, because you may have fewer children.
That’s on you—you figure that out for yourself, but we have to be running these things through a different filter than other people. So: “Does it impinge upon our ability to be together as a family?”
You know that whole thing about “What do you do, little Calvin?”—if you’ve noticed, often times, in our families, everybody has their own sort of activity identity: dad’s a golfer; mom sells essential oils, for example, just guessing—and I’m good by the way, but thanks—[Laughter]—Jimmy plays baseball; Susie does dance; right? Everybody has this identity that revolves around the activity that they are in; but what’s happening is—because we have these activities, we are moving this direction [apart] from each other instead of moving this direction [toward] each other.
As your children grow older, you’re going to want them to sense that home is their primary place of belonging. You’re going to want them to not feel like the soccer team is the place where they can share all of their deepest secrets. You want home to be that place.
So, you’re going to want them to be drawn there. You’re not going to want them there all the time; right?—amen. But you’re going to want them to see the home as the place where they can come and be themselves, and you want it to be a place that you are spending a lot of time together.
Activities are tough. The other issue is that, when you have multiple children and multiple activities, you tend to think: “Well, this is just what Jimmy is involved in,” / “This is just what Susie is involved in”; but it’s never that; right? The things that we’re involved in are always impacting everybody else who is in the family. We have to weigh this combined cost because: maybe, Jimmy’s practice is during dinner; but someone’s got to take him there; or if Susie is on a travel team, we’re going to divide and conquer—someone is going to go and be over here / the rest of us are going to be over here. It’s not that you don’t do those things; but you’re keeping a tab on “What is the cost to the family as a whole?” Why?—because the alien child doesn’t get involved in activities the way that other children do.
We talk about how quality time is something that we want with our children. A lot of times, when we’re extra-busy, we tell ourselves: “Well, yes; but I have a lot of quality time with them; so it’s good.” I think we all can acknowledge that the reality of quality time is that it is a function of quantity time—so the more time we spend running apart from each other, the less chance that there is we are going to have the stretches of time that are necessary for these times to bubble up, where we have the important conversations. I could do a whole 45 minutes just on scheduling, but we’re going to keep moving.
Second, speech: “An alien child will not sound like other children.” The alien child learns kind words. If you have spent any time in a schoolroom, you know that kind words are also a countercultural thing. Children grow up on a diet of snark, and cynicism, and sarcasm—snark, sarcasm, and cynicism—the three s’s of tough speech.
I’m kidding—I know cynicism starts with a “C”—[Laughter]—I’m pretty sure it does. They see it on TV; they hear it from their friends. Guess where the last place it should be that it comes up?—it should be at home; right?
This was a tough one for me. You can tell I have a fully-orbed sense of humor. I grew up in a home where sarcasm was our love language. I married a man who is kind and soft-spoken. In the early years of our marriage, it did not go well in that regard. The idea that we could raise children without those things was foreign to me; and he told me, “In our home, my mother made a rule that we were not allowed to tease each other.” I sat there and stared at him—I said, “What did you talk about at the dinner table?” [Laughter] He grew up with a more beautiful vision for family in that sense.
I had to learn not to employ the methods that were comfortable to me.
You know why? Because as your kid gets older, the speech that is coming out from them toward you is usually the speech that you have directed at them for all of the years until they got bold enough to dish it back. So, if my children were going to use sarcasm / if they were going to use mockery or teasing, it had better had come from their peer group and not from me. They are going to know how to use kind words.
We disarmed sarcasm in teaching. Sarcasm is a form of verbal bullying. Sarcasm always has a victim. If you pay attention to the way that you use it, you will realize that someone else is always paying the bill for your humor when you employ it. How terrible if we are to employ it in our relationships with our children, who already are at a verbal disadvantage just by their developmental abilities. Sarcasm cannot be part of the vocabulary of the Christian home.
Now, there are plenty of other ways to be funny. You can use irony.
You know, you can be self-deprecating. I can make fun of me all day long because I get the joke; but we have to be so careful, especially with children—who are concrete, and are learning, and developing—that we use language that is accessible to them.
You train your children in kind words. When other children are unkind to them—we sent our kids to school with this instruction: “If someone is mean to you, look them in the eye and say, ‘That’s not kind,’ and walk away.” That goes over great in the locker room; right? [Laughter] Here’s the thing—it’s speaking the truth. It’s keeping it from being personal, and it gives them a way to walk away from this situation without sinning with their own speech. They didn’t always do it right, but we’re not in the business of locking our children into always doing right things. We are trying to give them language—we’re trying to give them a script so that, over time, they learn to employ it.
Alien children use pure words; so when the swear words start coming home from school, what do you do? I remember this so clearly.
I remember Matt coming home from school and saying, “Mom, I learned the “s”-word today.” You’re like: “Okay; honey, what is the ‘s’-word? I mean, I know it; but why don’t you just tell me what it is?” What did he say?—“Stupid.” “Oh, okay; alright. Of course, that’s the ‘s’-word.”
He comes home a few weeks later and says, “Mom, I learned the ‘s’ ‘h’-word”; and you’re like: “Come on! Okay; well, I know the ‘s’ ‘h’-word,”—I’m thinking, “I think I know the ‘s’ ‘h’-word,”—“What is the ‘s’ ‘h’-word?” He says, “Shut up.” “Yes; that’s a bad one. Shut up is a bad word, honey.” Over time, he begins to bring home the real words—the ones that you’re like—“Man, I really didn’t want you to know that yet.”
We decided that we would defuse the swearing by taking away the forbiddance of it a little bit; right? What we did is—we would say: “Hey, you know what? There is not a word you can bring home that I won’t know. You bring it home; we’ll trot it out; and I’ll tell you whether I knew it or not. Then, we’ll”—then, we would talk about what it meant and why people use it the way that they do. We would say it out loud a few times, and we’d laugh about it. It totally took all of the bite out of it; it took all the mystery out of it.
It began doing something really important—it began setting up Jeff and me as the source of all knowledge; right? Honestly, kids think we don’t know anything. They think that what gets talked about at the lunch table is like this sacred space that their parents have no idea about. You need to set yourself up as the expert on all things.
I remember telling Matt: “You have brought me many terrible words, but you have not brought me the mother of all swear words.” He’s like, “What’s the mother of all swear words?” I said, “Well, I will tell you when you bring it home.” [Laughter] He rose to the challenge. He brought me some words that were scorchers—I mean, I’m like, “Yes; I know that one too, and that’s not it!” He got all the way to his sophomore year of high school before he finally brought it home, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. [Laughter]
We diffuse the allure around those kinds of words by just taking their power away by having the conversation around them. We point them instead toward fruit of the Spirit speech; right?—
—speech that is loving, that is joyful, that is patient, [and] that is kind. All of those things are the kinds of speech we try to cultivate in our children.
We teach them reconciling words. We teach them how to say, “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” There’s been a lot of discussion around that—like: “Is it okay to train a child in that language when they don’t yet feel remorse?” Anybody seen this one?—you know: “I’m sorry.” “No; you’re really not.” Yes; absolutely train them in the language of reconciliation in the hope that the right motive will attach itself at the right time. You train them to say, “Please,” and “Thank you,” before they are pleased or thankful. You train them to say, “Ma’am,” or “Sir.” You are giving them tools to be able to be good citizens and, ultimately, we pray, good Christians.
Give them words of reconciliation. Give them words of prayer. Model prayer for them in the home. Let them be children who, when they go into a hostile environment, know that even, if they don’t have the right words to say back to someone who is being unkind, they can direct their words heavenward.
Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening to Part Two of a message from Jen Wilkin about parenting. We’re going to hear Part Three of that message still ahead this week.
You modeled prayer in your home as you took your kids to school—most days, you prayed in the car on the way to school; didn’t you?
Dennis: I did. Barbara and I just finished writing a book called The Art of Parenting. It’s going to be out coming in late-August / early-September. One of the things we asked our kids to do, Bob, is—we asked them to contribute—
Bob: —to the book?
Dennis: —to the book.
Bob: —not money—a story.
Dennis: That’s right. [Laughter] You know what? We could have used the money contributed too; but they wrote their snapshot of some of the memories that they recall, growing up. I’m not going to share it today, because I’m going to save it for when I can read it to our listeners. Our daughter, Deborah, who is raising two little girls right now—
—she wrote about how she recalled that prayer that I prayed as we drove to school—I didn’t close my eyes.
Dennis: But I often wondered, “Are they listening?” I’ve got to tell you—when I got her piece that she wrote back, I actually got a little teary—
Dennis: —because it was like, “She was really listening back there,” even though they don’t pay attention to pay attention at all.
I just want to encourage parents: “If you’re not praying, as you take your kids to school,”—and by the way, I don’t know what kind of things need to occur in the culture today to warn you, and to exhort you, and to create a sense of urgency in you to cry out to God to protect your kids—to help them be educated with the right kind of education and to help them withstand peer pressure. I’ll tell you—this is—we are taking our children into a battleground.
And by the way, you may say, “Well, my kids are in a private school,” or “My kids are in a Christian school,”—
Bob: —or “…homeschool.”
Dennis: —or “…homeschool,”—and you may say, “We’re exempt.” Wrong!
Dennis: You’re not exempt. Prayer is a great weapon in spiritual battle—read it in Ephesians, Chapter 6. Prayer is a great weapon to ask God to use to protect your children as they go into their battle.
Bob: You mentioned the movie, Like Arrows, that’s going to be in theaters, May 1st and May 3rd. There are a couple of scenes in the movie that make this point. There is one at kind of a pivotal point in this family’s life, where prayer becomes more central to what’s going on for them. Then, there is a scene where mom and dad get some news; and this is news that they can’t do anything to control or they can’t do anything to change. The only option for them is to pray. It’s a moving scene, where mom and dad sit down at the kitchen table, and they ask God to do what they can’t do, as parents.
I hope our listeners are going to join us May 1st and May 3rd at their local theater for the movie, Like Arrows—two showings only—7 o’clock Tuesday night / 7 o’clock Thursday night. It’s going to be in more than 800 theaters across the country. I know some of the theaters are already sold out. Thank you for getting advance tickets. You might want to go online now and make sure that you can still get tickets for either of the two showings—May 1st or May 3rd—at your local theater. Again, it is two nights only. So, if you want to join us for Like Arrows, be sure to check it out online. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link for Like Arrows.
Then, FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting™ video series comes out on May 1st as well. If you’re interested in pre-ordering the series, you can save—I think it is $50—by pre-ordering. You’ll get the DVD kit, along with the workbook, and a voucher so you can get a copy of the Like Arrows movie when it’s available on DVD.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for information about pre-ordering FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting video series. This is something you could do with a small group or as a church class. Again, find out more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear more from Jen Wilkin about how we raise alien children—children that don’t have the same value system as the culture in which they live. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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