Ever wonder what kids think
about their world, faith, and families? Here's your chance to find
Every day we hear about the jaded world we live in and how
childhood innocence is rapidly disappearing. But is it, really?
Recently I set out to learn what kids think about the world, their
lives, and God. I gave fourth- and fifth-graders who attend church
anonymous questionnaires. As I began reading their responses, I
couldn't help but chuckle -- and remember an old joke:
There once was a Sunday school teacher who stood before her
class and said, "I'm thinking of something small, with brown fur, a
long bushy tail, and it eats nuts." A little boy raised his hand,
looking confused, and said, "I know the answer is Jesus, but it
sure sounds like a squirrel."
Quite a few of the kids I polled seemed to know that joke. But as
I more deeply evaluated their responses to my questionnaire, I saw
that many kids answered in heartfelt, poignant, and sometimes
heartbreaking ways. For contrast, I polled a fourth-grade class at
public school with the help of their teacher. All the kids'
responses let me be a fly on the wall of their minds. It's an
interesting view -- want to join me?
Hopes and Fears
The first part of the survey centered on kids' hopes and fears.
Here's what I found.
• What's Important -- My first question was big:
"What's the most important thing in your life right now -- and
why?" The response was big, too: 47 percent of kids named their
families as most important. Second came God or Jesus at 31 percent.
A few answers were personal, such as "having a house to live in" or
"giving to others." One child said, "Legos. I love 'em." And
another wrote, "That I am able to ride a bike."
• What's Disappointing -- When I asked what
disappoints kids, their answers ranged from the expected to amusing
to serious. Typical answers included: getting in trouble, getting
bad grades, my brother/sister/friends being mean to me, getting a
strike (behavior warning), having to do chores, and troubles with
pets. Some of the more serious answers included: death of a loved
one or a pet, war, best friends who moved away, and school being
harder than last year. Then there were the less expected
"Church. They yell."
"When my teacher yells at a girl in my class."
• What They Wish For -- I also asked kids, "If
you had one wish, what would it be?" Some wished for things,
wealth, superpowers, or beauty. Some wished for school to be over,
for no one to be poor or homeless, for fame or fortune, or the end
of global warming. But others wrote:
"I would wish for my mom and dad not to go to jail."
"That my parents wouldn't drink."
"That everyone would believe me. No one at my house believes me,
even my parents sometimes."
• What Hurts -- When asked, "If you could take
away one thing from your life that makes you sad, what would it be
and why?" kids' answers were all over the place. Many kids' lives
seem untouched by more than basic childhood ailments. They wanted
rid of things such as cuts and bruises, spiders, school, and
unhappiness. Some focused on the spiritual and wished away hell,
Satan, and even death. Others showed real pain in their
"My brother who died."
"I would wish away my family and friends."
"The pain for everyone who was affected when my best friend
died in a fire right after her 10th birthday."
Big, Big World
While we adults tend to focus on economic uncertainty, war,
foreclosures, and other weighty matters, I wondered how kids feel
about the world today. Overall, their results were split, with 44
percent reporting that they feel good about the world, 42 percent
reporting that they have something to worry about, and 8 percent
saying they didn't know how to feel. Not unexpectedly, many raised
concerns about the environment. They talked about the need to stop
pollution and their worries about global warming. Some worried
about violence, terror, and war. One resounding note of optimism,
though, was, "I feel great about the world because I think I have
When I asked, "What are you afraid of?" kids' answers mostly
remained in the realm of childhood. Spiders and snakes ranked
highest, followed closely by the dark, death, and the devil. Many
were scared of natural disasters such as lighting and tornadoes.
One child made me chuckle by listing "robots" and another revealed
his parents' political views by writing "Barack Obama." A full 12
percent said they feared nothing at all.
Part of my goal in doing this survey was to find out who kids
admire and why.
• Most Admired -- I expected to see a lot of
overlap in the answers to the next two questions: "Who do you most
look up to and why?" and "Who is your favorite celebrity?" I was
wrong. Resoundingly kids' answers to the first were family --
parents, grandparents, and older siblings -- with a healthy dose of
teachers and friends. They attributed great qualities to these
people, such as love, understanding, and trustworthiness, along
with comments such as "takes good care of me." Jesus and God also
made the top of kids' lists. Surprisingly, not a single child
listed a celebrity as someone they most looked up to.
• Most Adulated -- Noting the celebrities kids
admire helps us stay connected to changes in their world. Kids'
answers included musicians (Jonas
Brothers, The Newsboys, Taylor Swift, Third Day, Pink, Fergi,
Hannah Montana, Soulja Boy, Randy Travis, Toby Mac, Nickelback,
Lil' Wayne, Britney Spears, Chris Brown, Elvis, and Snoop Dog among
others), entertainers (Nicholas Cage,
"the lady who designs wedding cakes on TV," Johnny Depp, SpongeBob,
Criss Angel, the M&M's guys, Jim Carrey),
athletes (Sean White the snowboarder,
Shawn Johnson the gymnast, and football players Brett Favre, Tony
Romo, and Jay Cutler), historical figures
(Thomas Jefferson and George Washington), and of course, Jesus and
God. Several said they had no favorite. One child even wrote, "I'm
not real big on celebrities."
Finally, I asked the children to really think for a moment: "What
do you think you'll most remember about being a kid when you're
grown up?" This question invited a myriad of answers, and 40
percent responded in some manner, "having fun." Most of kids'
answers were positive and included church, family, teachers, their
house, and being good. But some had sad memories.
"When we had to move."
"When I had something wrong with me."
"When my friend died."
"When my grandpa died. I loved him."
It's been said many times that kids today live in a different
world than the one we grew up in. But all is not lost. Though many
kids face significant hurts and pain that need real healing,
they're still kids. They're still afraid of the dark and love to
play. Many have a good foundation in their faith. And, thankfully,
most have loving families who take care of them so well that family
is where they go for direction and comfort.
As you minister to children, be a fly on their wall. Take time to
listen. Allow the Holy Spirit to tap you on the shoulder so you
notice when they're upset. Respect their fears and hurts. Include
their families in every aspect of your ministry. And above all,
extend God's unconditional love to them by being their greatest
Jennifer Buell is a mom, radio DJ, and former children's
pastor in Rapid City, South Dakota.