It Starts At Home
Right now, our world is a scary and confusing place, and maybe it always has been, but with the most recent school shooting in Florida and with all of the issues going on in our own town, it’s easy to get frightened and discouraged. This is a lot to handle for adults, but imagine living through all of this as a child or a teenager. As a freshman composition teacher at Mississippi State, my job is to help my students as they learn to think for themselves and to analyze the world around them in order to make decisions based on solid, factual information. In a world where our media is filled with agenda and is slanted more often than not, it can be hard to distinguish the truth from the lies, but that’s what I try to help my students learn how to do. I equip them with tools to dig through the fake news and to evaluate what they are reading and hearing to discern what they can trust. As Christian parents, grandparents, teachers, or anyone who works with children, that’s essentially our job, too. We have access to the truth, the authority on all things, through the Bible and through a personal relationship with Jesus, so it’s important during these uncertain times that we create a biblical foundation for our children that will help them to form a worldview based on the truths of God’s Word. In order to help all of us better understand how to go about doing this, I reached out to our family ministry staff to figure out what children encounter at various stages in life and how we can help them to thrive in a God-honoring way.
Cultivating a biblical worldview within your child should ideally start when your child is very young. For more information on what children as young as toddlers deal with, I talked to Charity Gwaltney, our preschool director. In her experience, the preschool years are all about instilling in children the basic and simple truths about how the world works, Who created the world, and how they fit into it. She says that during these years it is important to remind your children often that “God is in control; God is everywhere; God made you; God loves you.” If preschoolers are constantly reminded of these truths, this will help them to establish a solid foundation for how to deal with fears and problems that they will confront later in life. Charity feels that Deuteronomy 6:6-9 which says, “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 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 doorsteps of your house and on your gates” is a direct picture of how God intends parents to build this biblical worldview within their children. She
explains, “I think that the key thing is to create a rhythm of life in your family where God and God’s Word are a focal point in your life. For young children, their first view of the world is the view inside their homes. When they see God in their homes, He is naturally a part of that limited perspective that they have of the world. As children grow and their view of the world gets larger, God will naturally be a part of that growing worldview because He has already been a part of their smaller worldview.” As far as practical ways to implement these ideas in your home, Charity suggests simply sitting down with your children to regularly read the Bible and having them read it themselves once they are old enough. She also suggests the book Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith by Jana Magruder which provides practical advice about how to help your children know God. If you are the parent of a preschooler, the most important thing you can do for your child is to talk about God, talk to God with your child, and to make God an integral and regular part of your family life.
As preschoolers grow and become children, their activities expand as do their circle of peers, which means their world gets bigger and bigger with each passing year. Leah Frances Eaton, our children’s director, sheds much light on what these transitional years are like for children and how we can help them to maintain a God-centric take on the world. She explains that one thing children six to nine years of age begin to encounter and struggle with is competition. It is during these years that children begin to notice their peers with a competitive and comparative eye. She says that children often feel the desire to outdo their peers and to be first in everything. For children nine to twelve years of age, the focus shifts from competition to taking notice of social norms and forming their individual identities. In each of these stages, it is crucial for parents to approach these tendencies and topics from a biblical perspective in order to guide children in a way that will be pleasing to the Lord and will set them up to handle pressures from peers and society in the future. Leah Frances suggests viewing every situation as a teachable moment. Regardless of the specific situation that your child might be facing, take the opportunity to talk with your child about his or her feelings and about what God thinks or says about the situation. Teaching your children to take a step back and to process what God thinks about any and all situations before making a decision will set a precedent for them that will carry into their teenage years and adult lives. It will instill in them the truth that God truly cares about everything they encounter and that He has a plan and a purpose for each situation that is shaping them. Leah Frances takes her cue from the way she was raised. She said, “most of the ‘discipleship’ I experienced growing up occurred in the front seat of our minivan with my mom after school. She would listen to what happened during the day and take in my interactions with my peers. It was in those moments that she helped shape my worldview. If I had been hurt by a friend, she allowed me to experience that pain but then pointed out what scripture said my response should be. As much as she wanted to be a mama bear and protect me from pain, she would use that pain to teach me to be like Christ.” Leah Frances also explains that children learn how to handle pressures of the world not only by what their parents tell them but also by observing how their parents handle stress and tension and frustration. The way that you act and react around your children will have a bigger impact on how they learn to view the world and interact with the world than anything you say to them.
When children hit thirteen, some really big changes occur. I remember the ages of thirteen to fifteen being some of the most awkward and emotional and uncomfortable years of my life, and I think this is a pretty typical experience. It’s strange to go from being a child to a teenager overnight, and the transition can be daunting, so Neil Tullos, our youth minister, has provided some beneficial insight on how to aid your teens in this transition. He says that identity and belonging are two of the biggest issues facing teenagers, especially in the early years. As children become teens, groups begin to form more readily than they did when the teens were children. Instead of the world being very inclusive – everyone in class gets an invitation to every birthday party – the world becomes more exclusive. Teens have to try out to make the team instead of just being placed on one because they want to play. Life gets a lot tougher and can seem a lot more unfair. As teens move into the upper teen years, they are faced with even more dilemmas and struggle, namely in the form of freedom and independence. This is where their worlds expand exponentially because they now have the choice of where to go and what to do instead of having to depend on their parents to shuffle them around. They also begin to form ideas about significance at this stage, meaning they are deciding what they want to be known for. Neil provides a great list of biblical references that address each of these issues that teens face: The Bible covers identity and belonging through the Ten Commandments and also in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 3:11, and 1 Peter 2:9-10. God’s Word addresses freedom in Matthew 11:30, John 8:36, Galatians 5:1, 13-14, and 16, and 1 Peter 2:16. Finally the Bible discusses significance in Matthew 28, Mark 8:36, Acts 1:8, and 1 Corinthians 12:7. If your child is struggling with any one of these issues, then these scripture references are a great place to start and would make for a productive and useful family devotion that would speak directly to what your child is experiencing. At this age, parents make for really good sounding boards for their children. A good place to start is to just listen to what they have to say and then guide them in a discussion of what the Bible says about it. Neil says, “Teens don’t need adults to help them find out information, but they do need adults to help them understand what they are learning or experiencing. Parents are laying the foundation for their children and how they will process and relate to the world for a lifetime. If you want them to learn to see a stranger on the street as a man or woman who is made in the image of God and as their neighbor, then you must begin the conversation early in life.” For further help in dealing with teens and worldview, Neil suggests the book It’s Just a Phase, which is available in our church library, as well as joining the Youth Parents Facebook Group where he posts a summary of what he’s teaching each week along with some conversation ideas for parents that coincide with the lessons.
Based on everything our ministry staff says, it is clear that the adults in a child’s life play the most significant role when it comes to shaping a child’s worldview. Whether you’re a parent or not, and whether your child is two or eighteen, we all have a responsibility to these toddlers, children, and teens. It is our job as Christian adults to equip them with the necessary tools to face the world and to know how to deal with it, especially when it is angry, unfriendly, hurtful, and scary. It’s a great responsibility that can often feel overwhelming, but we already have the Teacher and the Tool we need to accomplish the task. Regardless of your stance on guns and mental health and all of the other buzz words flying around the internet today, I truly believe that the best place to start making a change in our world is in the home. If we can teach children how to properly and adequately respond to the world and how to treat those around them, I believe that fewer children will grow up to be such isolated and angry teens and adults.
There is an opportunity coming up in April for parents of newborns to children who are two years of age to participate in baby dedication. This is a great declaration and public commitment to establish a biblical foundation for your child as their primary faith-trainer in front of the entire church body. For more information on how to sign up for this, please contact Charity Gwaltney at firstname.lastname@example.org.