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I Need A Break!

Greg Baird

Aaron comes home from his second grade class to an empty home. After letting himself in and finding the peanut butter and jelly sandwich his mom left him, he settles onto the couch for a little prime video gaming. Mom will be home in an hour or two, and until then he'll just do what he always does -- wait and occupy himself with video games or TV shows. That's just the way it is since Dad left. Mom has to work, and Aaron has to fend for himself. He doesn't usually get scared, except when Mom gets home after dark.

• • •

Sarah walks home from school with tears streaming down her cheeks. The other sixth grade girls were so mean to me today! Why can't I just fit in? she thinks to herself. Sarah comes from a conservative Christian home, and she got a little lost in the conversation when the other girls started talking about boys. "It was just a silly question about what they were talking about," she whispers to herself. "Hardly a reason to make fun of me in front of everyone."

• • •

Brandon's in fourth grade. He doesn't come home to an empty house or have to worry about other kids not liking him. Brandon plays soccer, and he's really good at it. So good, in fact, that he plays for two teams. He practices four days a week after school and has games on at least two nights or on the weekends. When he's not playing, he's usually going to his practice or a game for his sister. And both of them attend the church midweek program (when it doesn't interfere with sports). Of course, the guitar lessons are important because he wants to play in a band soon, and his parents keep telling him to study hard because one day he'll need those good grades to get into a good school where he can keep playing soccer.

Yikes! I need a break just thinking about what some of our kids go through every day! Stress and pressure are nothing new to kids; every generation has had to deal with them in some form or another.
But today's kids seem to face pressures that would make previous generations cringe! Peer pressure, broken families, media overload, activity upon activity, education demands, and so much more. Today's kids are burdened like never before, and there's very little relief in sight.

TOP PROBLEMS

Consider this example of how our world has changed: In the 1940s, the Fullerton Police Department did a study to find the most significant problems in the public high school. According to the study, the top problems were talking in class, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, getting out of turn in line, improper clothing, and littering.

Compare this list to the top problems our kids dealt with in the 1990s: drug abuse, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, and assault. How do kids get to this point by the time they're in high school? It has much to do with the stresses and pressures they face when they're in elementary school.

TOP PRESSURES

Our kids are targets, and there are assaults on their minds and emotions coming from every direction. Just a few examples help us understand what it must be like for most kids living in today's society.

• The strain of broken families is significant. With a divorce every 30 seconds in our country, and the rate higher among Christians than non-Christians, how can our kids not bear the burden of this tragedy? There are 1,300 stepfamilies formed every day in our country, and 30 percent of today's families are led by a single parent. Even under the best circumstances, this produces stresses for today's kids that are difficult to handle.

• The bombardment of the media brings a definite challenge to kids. Spike Lee, a Hollywood producer and director, said in the late '90s, "The most powerful nations are not those that have nuclear bombs, but those that control the media. That's where the battle is being fought; that is how you control people's minds."

Just a little research in this area unveils the truth that the media's agenda isn't strictly harmless entertainment. As the children who spend nearly eight hours a day taking in today's media in some form or another will attest, it's difficult assimilating what the media teaches versus what God teaches.

• The devaluing of life is troubling to today's kids. The issues of abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and abuse all communicate our society's lack of value for a human life. The thousands of violent crimes the average child watches on television and in the movies each year communicates the cheapness of human life. How can kids help but adopt that value system, no matter how unsettling it is?

BREAK TIME

We all see what's happening around us to stress out kids. But what can we do about it? How can we help our kids? How can we minister to the kids in our churches and communities? What can we teach parents and others who deal with today's kids? Let me propose that we help kids by following five simple principles to give kids a B.R.E.A.K.

Be an example. Before we can hope to influence our kids, we have to have our act together. Perfectly? No, but kids are watching us -- our own kids, kids at church, and any other kids we're around.

A frenetic life filled with the things of this world will transfer in some way, large or small, to the kids we influence.

Sure, as adults, we all face our own stresses that can't be helped sometimes. But we need to do what we can to minimize unnecessary stresses and, more importantly, learn to handle stress in a manner pleasing to God. Philippians 4:6 says, "Be anxious (stressed) for nothing!" This is the example kids ought to see in us, and when they do, they'll learn how to handle their own pressures.

Relate to kids. Do you remember the person who was most influential in your life as you were growing up? For many, it was a parent. For others, it may have been a school teacher, a Sunday school teacher, or a family friend. Why did that person have so much influence on you?

In most cases, it was the relationship the person had with you that allowed, or caused, the influence to happen.

Today's kids respond to relationships just as kids have in past generations. In fact, today's kids are probably more responsive because relationships are so difficult to find in today's world.

Sometimes, though, our own stress prevents us from extending ourselves into real relationships with kids. We're too busy. We feel inadequate to relate to today's kids, but ministry happens best through relationships.

Now, going back to the person who had great influence in your life, think about how that relationship formed. Most likely, it involved spending time together, sharing an interest, listening, and cheering you on. Today's kids need the same thing from you. Pressures and stresses in the lives of today's kids are so much more bearable when they have someone they know is there for them.

Educate yourself about the dangers facing kids. Today's kids face more stresses in life than most of us did as children. Do you know what those stressors are? Do you know about the culture our kids enter into every day when they go to school? Are you aware of the agendas that the media and public education systems have? Are you aware, on a more personal level, of the home situation of little Johnny? Are you familiar with the simple and predictable patterns of growing up -- those age-level characteristics that are typical of all children? We're far more capable of relating to and helping kids as we educate ourselves with tools such as reading this magazine in your hands, attending workshops, scanning the news, talking to kids, and listening to experts who understand today's kids.

Ask questions. You know the commercials of parents "nagging" kids about where they're going, what they're going to be doing, who they'll be with, and other "intrusive" questions? In reality, that's not a bad idea! No, we don't want to be nags, and no, we don't want to be intrusive, but how will we know what kids are facing if we don't ask? Concerned questions help us understand what a child needs. Questions help us look through the eyes of children to see the world as they see it. And questions of concern communicate that we really care for children and what they're facing. Don't be afraid to ask kids appropriate questions.

Keep praying. In the end, it's our loving Savior who'll do the work in our kids' lives -- not you and me. Oswald Chambers once wrote that "prayer does not equip us for the greater work, prayer is the greater work." Prayer is our first line of defense and our ultimate weapon in dealing with the pressures and stresses facing today's kids. Let us pray fervently and without ceasing for our kids as they face the challenges of living in today's world.


Greg Baird is a children's minister in San Diego, California, and the founder and director of Kids In Focus ministries (www.kidsinfocus.org).

KIDS UNDER FIRE

  • 31 percent of kids age 9 to 12 say they "worry a lot," and 47 percent of the same group suffer from insomnia.
  • Adolescent suicide rates have increased dramatically in recent years, becoming the fifth leading cause of death among 5- to 14-year-olds in 2000.
  • All television is educational, but what is it teaching? Violence is a way of life? Sex is acceptable under almost any circumstances? Or materialism is the way to go -- it's all about me? Yes, these and other misguided principles are taught every day through the airwaves, creating unnecessary pressures on our kids, who typically watch four to six hours a day, including 20,000 commercials per year!
  • Accidents are the leading cause of adolescent deaths; stressed children are two and a half times more likely to have an accident.
  • 42 percent of kids from kindergarten through third grade are regularly left alone at home, and kids left alone are twice as likely to smoke, drink alcohol, or experiment with drugs. In addition, kids left alone more often have more difficulty handling school assignments.
  • One in seven kids reports being bullied. Of these bullying incidents, intervention occurs in only 15 percent.

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