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Survey Says...

Jennifer Buell

Ever wonder what kids think about their world, faith, and families? Here's your chance to find out.

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 responses:

"Church. They yell."

"When my teacher yells at a girl in my class."

"Long lines."

• 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 answers.

"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 good opportunities."

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."

The Future

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 listeners.

Jennifer Buell is a mom, radio DJ, and former children's pastor in Rapid City, South Dakota.

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