Thursday, April 20, 2017

Five Things your Child Should Know About Being Good.

Short episodes of this Canadian Broadcast Company kids show, called Small Talk, have found their way to my Facebook news feed. It is a well-produced show and I don’t have a problem recommending it.

However, I want to use this short clip as an example of why we need to keep faith issues first and foremost when talking with our children. 

This is a good show, and a good topic, but it is not presented from Christian values. In fact, it is a good way to see just how different the secular idea of “goodness” is from the Christian idea.

These children are young and their answers reflect their moral development. They see goodness as being a characteristic rather than a behavior and frame it as obedience. The only problem with the show is that a viewer is left with the impression that goodness is what we create on our own

So what is the problem with this? Shouldn’t we want our children to try to do good things? Absolutely! But they need to know the truth about how that is done. 

Thinking we are in charge of our own goodness leads some to manipulate “goodness” for their own gain, or leaves others sorting people into “good” and “bad” categories as if we are one or the other. (Need evidence of this? Just spend some time reading social media politics.)

This is why the Christian truth about goodness is so important for children to understand. Here are five Christian truths about goodness that will give your child a proper perspective on the subject:

We cannot be good on our own.  At first glance this seems like a mean thing to tell a child. But it is important to understand this truth and it comes with good news - God created us, saved us, and works in our hearts.

We are, at the same time, both good and bad. We are sinners who are justified by Jesus’ death and resurrection. We continue to sin and God continues to forgive. We don't fit into one category or the other. We are not all good or all bad. We are God's children and He wants what is best for us.

We want to do good in order to respond to God’s love for us. We don't earn God's blessing by being good. We do good because we respond to the love of God that is in our hearts.

We need to do good to spread the love of God in His world. When God helps us to do good things we can share His love with others and make our sinful world a little bit more livable.

We can only do good through the help of the Holy Spirit. Nothing we do on our own is good, but we can participate in the goodness of God. 

It is good for children, and adults, to understand that we are all sinners in a sinful world and can only be made good through God. Armed with these truths about goodness your child will better understand that goodness is a response not a responsibility. That makes a huge difference in how goodness can become a treasured value for your child.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Talking with Goats

This is one of the cutest clips I have seen in a while. Watching this adorable baby and goat almost makes you think they are actually communicating. 

Almost, but, no.

I have begun using this clip in presentations when I talk about what children need in terms of relationship building and how that is impacted by technology. Children need real time with real people, anything else is like talking to a goat.

Developmental psychologist use the term "serve and return" when they talk about infant learning. A child coos at mom and gets a coo and some interaction in return. This back and forth is a primary point of learning and is essential to healthy development. Children need to talk with, complain to, argue with, and even learn to tease, parents in this dance of conversation. 

God built us to learn from each other and it all starts with interaction.

When we spend time on technology in the presence of  our children we are giving several negative messages:

1. I am busy.
2. I am unavailable to you.
3. What I am doing is more important.

Children don't  need your attention every second. They can certainly survive a necessary phone call or an adult conversation. However, children need  to know  that you are available. They need you to model healthy behavior such as "humans before technology." And, children need the frequent and incidental interaction that is significantly reduced when humans are looking at screens.

A lack of interaction can create a sense of scarcity. When we experience a scarcity of something we really need, we tend to focus on that need. If children are not interacting, everyday with their parents, in small seemingly insignificant ways, they might feel this sense of scarcity. What will they do to replace that interaction? They might turn to technology to feed that need.

But relationships with technology is like serve and return with a goat. It is interesting for a while, but it does not substitute for human -- especially family -- interaction.

By all means, show your children the blessings of technology, but when you are with your children, put the phone down. Establish some tech free times during your family day so every family member is encouraged to interact with each other. This interaction, even the smallest interaction, even the less than satisfactory interactions, and especially the interactions that you would never want to post on social media, are more important than we can imagine.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Teens in Tight Situations

Teenagers get into trouble. This is news to no one. It is sort of a teenager’s job to get into trouble. They are at an age where they are finding out who they are and what they value. They remember lessons from their parents, but need to learn some of them all over again.

This is an age of taking risks and that is the hardest thing to watch as a parent. We know the consequence of the risk they are taking. They only see the fun. When teens take risks that put them close to trouble they may not see a way out. This is when they need to be sure that their parents have their backs.

This blog post has a great idea called the #xplan. The parents in this family have made an agreement that if their teen texts them an X they will call back and claim he needs to come home now and that he will be picked up. This allows him to leave an uncomfortable situation without social embarrassment. 

This is important because while teens remember what they have been taught, they have also moved into a world where peer opinion is more important than parent opinion. With an #xplan a teen can remember wise words of parents and follow that advice without social risk.

The blogger goes on to say that he and his wife have also promised to pick up their teen with no consequences or questions. I understand the promise to not express anger and to refrain from consequences. (Do you really want to punish your teen for following a bad choice with a good one?) However, I do encourage you to talk this situation through on the ride home. Make sure that the situation provided its own teaching lesson. Make sure your teen knows how frightened you were and how glad you are. Reinforce the good lessons you have taught.

God has rescued us time and time, again. Each time we come to Him in repentance He offers forgiveness. This is an important lesson for every teenager and parent. Life has consequences – parent love is forever.  

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Your Child's Brain on Music

Some fresh research from the University of Southern California is giving us a bit more evidence for the benefits of music on the development of a child’s brain. The researchers are two years into a five year longitudinal study and are already finding enhanced brain development in areas of the brain used for language development and reading for children involved in music instruction.

It is a small study (fewer than 40 students) but began with brain scans to show the starting point of each student in terms of brain function in specific areas. 

It will be interesting to see if the advantage is the same, less, or greater when the study has reached its five year term.

Studies like this do not “prove” that music instruction will make your child a better learner, but it does give us a picture of the connection between how our brains process music and language. 

Some families have the time and money for music lessons. Other families prefer different activities. You are certainly not damaging your child if you chose to spend money on sports instead of music. However, if you are trying to decide if music lessons are worth it – this research suggests they are.

Music is a gift from God and should be practiced and enjoyed simply because it is worth it on its own. This is especially true when we combine music and faith teaching. I remember saying memory work as a child when learning hymns for the Christmas service and feeling the need to sing it rather than say it. Music and language are strongly connected when it comes to memory. The liturgy sung in church, which is often Bible verses set to music, is a weekly reminder of God’s love for us and a beautiful peaceful way to nurture faith.  Likewise songs sung in Sunday school, youth group, or in preparation for a performance are providing double the benefit in terms of learning. 

What music can you add into your week with your children? What could be better than to close the day by singing a song of God's  love.? Can you sing easy parts of the liturgy during your family devotions? Or, the next time you  are traveling in the car pop in a CD of kids songs familiar to you and sing them with your children.

Music is an easy choice, for learning and sharing your faith. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Is Siri Smarter than a Parent?

At first glance it appears that this little girl is holding a conversation with a phone. She talks to Siri and is delighted when Siri talks back. She even understands what is said and responds appropriately.

It might be easy to assume that this child is developing language skills by interacting with a phone.


Take another look at the video. After each time she interacts with Siri, she tells her parents about it. She has to interpret what is said as if her parents didn’t hear. Her actions of playing with the phone fit into a separate world than her conversation with her parents. The phone may be amazing, but it is not worthy of real conversation.

Our children want, and need, our real conversation. The kind of conversation that happens when you are telling a story, answering  a question, analyzing the school day, helping with homework, reading or working together. 

This conversation develops language skills, social skills, and thinking skills. Not to mention the fact that you are building up serious relationship points that you will want to have banked for when your child becomes an adolescent. A teenager will be more likely to talk with a parent who has spent previous years in conversation. Talks between teenagers and parents can make all the difference on the trajectory of the life of an adolescent.

Voice command technology, such as Siri and Alexa have much potential to change the way we live our lives, but they will never replace conversation between parent and child. It's one thing to let Google Home answer a tough science question. It's a totally different thing to let Siri be the one to say "I love you" to your child. Nothing replaces a parent.

Talk to your child; even if you don’t know all the answers. This is how you share yourself. This is how you share your faith and your values. This is how your child grows into the adult he or she is meant to be.