In case there has been any doubt, I was a nerdy teenager. One summer when I went to camp, I brought a few books and a cross stitch project along, and happily sewed and read while the other girls in my cabin played volleyball all week. Thankfully my parents recognized that my interests were atypical and didn’t worry that I had little in common with teenagers around me. Still, I was not allowed to be isolated. My parents were keenly aware of our interests and the influences surrounding us. Anytime a missionary family or visiting pastor’s family came through our church, they were invited to our house. Mom drove us to spend time with godly friends who lived in other towns. Even though sports was never a dominating part of our lives, they encouraged us in a variety of sports. We took swimming, tennis, and bowling lessons. My brother played soccer. When a friend needed a horse exercised, my mom went out of her way to let me take advantage of the opportunity. When an opportunity arose for me to work at a tutoring clinic in high school, my mom encouraged it, even though it was a half hour away. That meant she drove a half hour each way to drop me off every weekday (my dad picked me up on the way home from work). To my mom and dad, the good environment with generally moral people and a Christian boss were worth the sacrifice (high school and college nerds are generally a little cleaner cut than the typical McDonald’s crew).
Helping a child develop social skills and a variety of interests is a good and wise thing. It is good to encourage wholesome activities and friendships whenever I can; but that exposure should not be careless and indiscriminate. I must have a way of weighing the good against the bad.
Children are exposed to the world and its culture in a variety of ways. Many can be wholesome and good, but it would be unwise to simply make a list of good things and bad things and be done thinking. Some ages might be more susceptible to their influence; for example, a teenager’s desires will not be as influenced by a Happy Meal as a three year old will be. A five year old girl will be affected differently at a community pool than a fourteen-year-old boy. Different personalities will be affected differently, too, which might pose a challenge to parents of multiple children. Because of the vast array of variables, parents need much wisdom as they consider the influences surrounding their children. Here are a few of the influences I’ve been thinking about:
- Movies and TV
- Music (Ipods and access to Itunes)
- Other Marketing: Happy Meals, Food packaging in the grocery store, Trademarked characters (books, costumes, dinner plates, etc.)
- Community sports
- School (preschool, Christian or public school, homeschool groups, etc.)
- “Experiences” (ballet, prom, hunting, debate, chess club, scouting)
- Time with unsaved acquaintances and friends (neighbors, school friends, playgroups)
How do we know if and when these are good things or bad influences? It will help to look at several biblical principles as we evaluate the choices we make as we guide our children.
Even good things can be problematic when they become too important. One way to evaluate whether an activity is too important is by examining whether it interferes with what our family should be doing. Do the interests of our family cause us or our children to be too busy to have a personal walk with God? God commands believer to assemble regularly; believers should love God’s church and His people. When other interests prevent a family from being an active part of a local body of believers, it is likely those interests are too important. Occasionally, the interests of our children can interfere with the time we parents need to spend together building a marriage. This principle will affect which sports we might encourage our children to participate in. (When are practices and games?) It might make a difference in the level of skill we encourage our children to develop: a summer at a ski camp? Or a summer at Brevard or Interlochen? Olympic training? Club ball? Scholarships?
Likewise, something as simple as Dora merchandise can be problematic for a preschooler if it becomes an idol. Maybe a preschooler is unwilling to share or is covetous. Maybe it’s a television show that is so important we become irritable if we miss.
Our desire for our children to be exposed to unsaved children might be too great when they spend too much time with them. God tells us that those who walk with wise people will be wise, and a companion of fools will be destroyed. Clearly, God is not telling us to avoid all contact with unsaved people, but it is reasonable to suggest that unsaved people should be acquaintances, and not best friends. This is why I wouldn’t encourage my children to be active in a club environment where they spend a great deal of time with unsaved children, even if the activities they are doing are wholesome.
Sometimes, cultural exposure limits positive exposure (time away from Christian friends, parents, church, youth group activities, godly grandparents). I want my children to spend as much time as possible with godly influences. For this reason, if I were deciding between two churches, two schools, or two activities, I would consider the other children. I’m going to look at the high school graduates, even if my own children are in grade school. Even my preschoolers interact with the older children. The junior-high students in my church are my children’s heroes, so I am interested in them. I’m going to spend a lot of my energy helping my children develop good influences, and frankly, that won’t leave much time for some ?other interests. My values are going to dictate where I spend my time, energy, and even money.
Tomorrow we’ll consider a few more principles to consider.