In hundreds of conversations with law enforcement, educators and pastors, it is clear that kids are doing things that most of us find “unthinkable” and many parents are caught off guard or remain ignorant. From sending and receiving inappropriate or sexually explicit photos, gossip, bullying and abusing medications/alcohol, children are exposed to and engaging in activities that are beneath them at earlier ages.
There is no shortage of headlines locally and nationally to illustrate this point. Some of the 2012 headlines (listed below) reinforce the motivation for parents to cultivate an “open door” or transparency policy when it comes to children and their cyber-powered world:
- Teens drugged parents to break Internet curfew
- Fireboming of home by angry teen
- Facebook party event planner arrested for hosting underage drinking parties
- Youth suicides – Granite Bay
- Bully culture
- School shootings
Children caught doing things that are harmful to themselves and others is an opportunity to demonstrate God’s love. If we are not operating from a state of forgiveness and grace, the lesson the children learn is that the crime is to get caught; when in fact, it is a blessing to get caught and have an opportunity to change for better living.
Think of it as the “Jesus model”:
- meet people where they are, without judgment;
- express truth with mercy (here is why what you did is not good) and
- offer to lead to higher ground, where there can be peace.
The idea of operating from a state of grace and forgiveness does not mean we are excusing bad behavior. Rather it means that we demonstrate to children what it means to be resolute in our faith, merciful, and rely upon God’s grace.
In the first decade, be very clear about boundaries for living a reasonably happy and secure life. In the second decade give your children room to make decisions and experience consequences.
But if we are fearful, ignorant or loath to administer consequences for poor choices, then our children do not have the opportunity to experience the life lessons helping them to be in charge of their lives including dealing with the positive and negative consequences of their actions.
Speak truth with mercy
In responding to the unthinkable, it helps to think of sin as an archery term: anything off of bull’s-eye, or the highest and best of God’s will for each one of us, is sin. Sin is not a judgmental thing. It is human nature; we are all works in progress.
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
So how you react when you hear about the news of another child doing the unthinkable is very instructive for children. What is your reaction to the headlines above? Is it judgmental of the children and the parents? Are you punitive? Will your child withhold knowledge of events in her life from you for fear of being judged the same way?
(For more about expressing parental authority, see The Authority In Me Chapters 7 and 8).
Messages of hope in the face of poor or risky conduct
The main thing is to focus on what you value; what is it that you seek in your relationship with your child and for your child’s life? Does it involve honesty, integrity, prosperity and peace? Talk about the news of the risky or harmful things kids are doing in terms of being able to choose a better path. You can make statements like: “I pray that child learns from this poor decision, and makes better choices in the future.”
In the case of suicide, it is important to stress to children that taking your own life is the outcome of an incorrect belief that life’s problems cannot be solved, survived or will not pass in time.
The main thing is that the message our children receive is that they always have a choice and that choices matter: what you believe is the most important decision.
So how do we keep the focus on the things that matter and the direction that is secure and leads to prosperity and peace? Make it bearable for children to stand corrected when their thinking, decisions and actions veer them off course.
Isaiah 43:18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”
When my youngest was about five years old, I asked him who was in charge of his behavior. He declared that I was. I clarified that he is in charge of his behavior and I was in charge of the consequences. Be clear of who is in charge of what. This is where our liberty lies and role clarification of the parent is imperative.
After your child has experienced the consequence and has truly repented (i.e., expressed a genuine desire to not repeat the same behavior and do better), then never bring up the incident again. Do not throw the past into the face of your child. God does not do that to us; and if we expect to raise children who are guided by grace and forgiveness, and who are righteous because their heart is in alignment with God’s will, then we need to model confidence in our children’s ability to lead their own life by how we respond to sin.
Some kids push boundaries more often and harder than others. Just be prepared to administer consequences as love language.
Jonathan Zachariou is the Pastor at Davis Christian Assembly in Davis, California. “Children are the ones who choose course correction,” Zachariou said. “It is their free will to exercise and parents must not loose sight of this fundamental principle of human nature.”
So the next time you learn about something outrageous or risky or despicable another person’s child has done, think – “there but for the grace of God go I,” and pray for course correction for that child to be in alignment with God’s will. Your heart for God will grace your children with the ability to perceive you more as a trusted resource when faced with risky or poor decisions and circumstances.
Joanna Jullien is an author and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM, Tuesdays.
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