The Era of Anything Goes

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Anythinggoes

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Jessica was 12, and I knew she was having trouble with girls at
her school. I picked her up after school one day for smoothies and
girl talk. As Jessica hopped into the car, she blurted out, “Do we
have to wait to get to the restaurant to talk or can I just start?”
I wasn’t prepared for what came out of her mouth next.

“We’ve been learning about sex at school and now that’s all the
girls in my class have been talking about. They said that I did sex
stuff with a boy in my class, and my mom found out about it.” I sat
there, stunned, trying to wrap my head around what she was saying
and struggling to find the right words-any words, for that
matter.

She explained that one girl had an older sister who’d shared
more details with her than what the school had covered. The girls
in Jessica’s class had found out about sex from older siblings,
magazines, and the media. And without proper education and context,
they didn’t understand what they were hearing and had a lot wrong.
Pretty soon, all the girls were talking about sex and anyone who
didn’t go along was subject to nasty rumors. We spent the rest of
our time talking about purity and standing up for what’s right,
even when it’s unpopular.

That day was a wake-up call for me. Our children are growing up
in a tumultuous and rapidly changing world, and we need to be
prepared to help them and their parents navigate it. In a culture
where nearly anything goes, our children don’t yet have the tools
to discern what’s okay and what’s not-or to deal with backlash from
their peer groups when they go against the grain. Here’s what you
need to know about kid culture today and how to minister through
it.

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Wading Into Kid Culture

Our current culture is the combination of our human knowledge,
beliefs, and behavior that we’ve passed on to our children. Simply
put, culture is the characteristics of a group of people.
Spend five minutes with today’s children and it’s clear their
culture is radically unique. They speak their own language, have
their own art forms, select their own media, live a technologically
rich existence, and even have their own rituals and beliefs.

Despite the fact that kid culture today is so different from
that of previous generations, much of it is heavily infl uenced by
adults. Adults decide what their children learn and what traditions
and beliefs we pass on to them. Adults select the next big fad or
toy through product placement and celebrity endorsements. As media
influence and technology expand, the result is more adult themes
slipping into kid culture, creating a manufactured environment that
prematurely ages up kids. 

According to psychologist Albert Bandura’s social learning
theory, we learn behavior from the environment around us through
the process of observational learning. Children pay attention to
someone, typically a person they can identify with or who has a
quality they’d like to possess. Then a child begins to imitate the
observed behaviors, values, beliefs, and attitudes of that person-
regardless of whether they mesh with what the child has been taught
in the home or at church.

This imitation is strengthened through reinforcement, which we
may all unwittingly participate in. As a society, we often don’t
realize we’re reinforcing poor behavior choices by simply calling
attention to them. When celebrities garner media attention for
their bad behavior, we’re rewarding them for the behavior. With
social media and the Internet, the attention spreads
exponentially and overnight. Clicks equal dollars, which equal
further media coverage, which equals expanded influence and
recognition. Social learning theory says this collective reaction
to poor public behavior gives kids observing it permission to
imitate the behavior. Ironically, the same can be said when
inappropriate behavior goes unpunished, because it gives kids a
license to repeat the same behavior.

Children imitate the influencers they identify with. And
unfortunately, much of our culture isn’t influenced by biblical
standards. Rather, it’s manipulated by what feels good or what
benefits the individual. Children spend about one hour per week at
church. Simple statistics show us that the church isn’t the major
influence on children we would like it to be. But we can leverage
and maximize our impact by partnering with other key influencers in
children’s lives to speak into their culture.

Parent Power
One of the most important things we can do is recognize that
parents are the primary influencers on a child’s life
and faith. It’s our job to partner with and support parents by
providing them resources and opportunities to live out that
God-given responsibility. Communication with parents is key to a
successful partnership. There’s no doubt parents are still the
primary influencers in a child’s life, but there are many tough
issues facing families today. These issues can alter the influence
parents have.

Children come from a variety of situations: single-parent
families, blended families, or foster families. These variations
can have a profound impact on children and the environment they’re
growing up in. Consider that one-third of all children in the
United States now live in single-parent families. That number has
increased by 13 percent since 2000, according to a recent
study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. These changes to the family
unit, as well as changes in our economy, have impacted the labor
force. Married mothers in the workforce with children under age 3
increased to 60.3 percent in 2009, according to the U.S.
Census report. In 2012, 70.5 percent of all mothers with children
under 18 were in the workforce, and 68.7 percent of married mothers
with children under 18 were in the workforce. For families with
married couples, 57.5 percent had both parents in the workforce in
2012.

These numbers mean more children are in after-school programs,
in day care, with babysitters, or even home alone-which in
turn means different sets of influencers in kids’ lives. It also
means busier, often fractured, schedules that affect when kids
attend church. For many children, attending church every other week
is a consistent schedule.

Ministry Insight

According to Linda Ranson Jacobs, creator of Divorce Care for
Kids (DC4K.org), many of our children arrive at church in a state
of brokenness. The main thing they need aside from prayer is
relationships. They need spiritually and emotionally healthy
people who’ll take time to connect with them. Every child has a
story, and we must listen and figure out how to bring Jesus into
the story.

Ranson Jacobs encourages leaders to educate themselves and
commit to sticking with kids. It can take years for a child to
grieve and heal from brokenness in a family. Churches can run
support programs, such as DivorceCare for Kids, or assign mentors
to follow children through the years.

You can also find ways to foster healthy relationships among
families. Children seem to have an easy time making friends, but a
relationship won’t last if they don’t connect outside church. Offer
opportunities for parents to connect with others who have children
the same age or with similar interests. Inform parents when
friendships form within your ministry so they can continue and
expand those relationships.

Media and Technology Matters

Recently, I heard this generation of children referred to as the
“We Generation.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,
children spend an average of seven hours per day using media. And
when they’re multitasking, perhaps watching television while on a
computer or portable gaming device, that number increases to eight
hours per day. This isn’t just older children; 50 percent of
kids use the Internet daily by age 5. And 60 percent of the
best-selling education apps are geared toward preschool
children.

While technology and media can provide entertaining ways for
children to learn, they can also be cause for concern. By the time
kids reach age 18, they’ll have witnessed 200,000 acts of TV
violence, including 40,000 murders. They’ll also have viewed more
than 2,000 hours of pornographic images Studies show that kids who
frequently watch sexual content are more likely to participate in
sexual activities earlier than peers who don’t watch sexually
explicit shows. And as younger children become desensitized,
Hollywood and media look for ways to continue pushing boundaries to
achieve the same reactions (and thus, sales).

The more media children are exposed to, the fewer hours of
restful sleep they get and the worse their school
performance is, according to studies by the American Academy
of Pediatrics. Many children spend time absorbed in media rather
than doing homework or sleeping, especially those with a television
or computer in their bedroom. In a true hallmark of this
generation, children as young as age 4 are being treated for media
addiction. Studies also show that while overexposure to media
may not be the cause of major issues, it can contribute to poor
nutrition, unhealthy body image, eating disorders, aggressive
behavior, fear and desensitization to violence, substance use and
abuse, and risky sexual behavior.

Ministry Insight

Encourage parents to keep computers and televisions in common
areas. Parents need to have access to children’s mobile devices and
all passwords, as well. Preview media you use with kids and for
church events, such as movies and music. Resources available that
offer reviews from a Christian perspective include Focus on the
Family’s website Pluggedin.com.

Research Christian media and alternatives to what the world is
offering. Inform parents of your ministry’s favorite worship music
or children’s books. Promote Christian artists or events that are
coming to town. Some ministries even keep CDs and resources on hand
for parents to purchase. Stay informed about popular media
so you’re aware of what’s happening and what kids are talking
about. This is important because parents often need guidance on how
to talk through current issues with their children-and you can be a
great resource if you’re knowledgeable about what’s out there and
prepared with a relevant, faith-based response.

Find ways to fight media addiction, not contribute to it. Many
churches have gaming systems for kids to play before and after
services. Set boundaries for how long children can use these
systems, and ensure they spend more time interacting with other
children and adults than playing. Video clips can be great
supplements to a lesson, but use them sparingly and alongside other
teaching methods. Decide as a ministry whether you’ll allow
children to use their phones and tablets for Bible reading or
require them to leave devices at home or at the classroom
door. 

Peer Pressure and Sexuality

Peer pressure is a significant challenge for 24 percent of
children under age 13, according to a recent study by The Barna
Group. As children begin to socialize outside their homes, their
perception and behavior is widely infl uenced by peers. And
whoever’s influencing those peers can end up infl uencing your
children. 

Peer pressure certainly isn’t a new issue, but our children live
in a world of constant comparison, competition, and risk on social
media. They’re not only comparing themselves to celebrities but to
their peers as well. The constant stream of photos and status
updates are typically halftruths aimed at making the person posting
appear better. “Selfi es” (pictures of oneself) dominate preteens’
Facebook and Instagram accounts, heightening self-consciousness and
body image issues and potentially exposing kids to other risks.

The excuse “everyone’s doing it” is more prevalent than ever,
because sex truly is everywhere- in music, movies, advertisements,
social media pages, the news, and on TV. And while studies over the
past 10 years indicate that not all kids are engaging in sexual
intercourse, they’re defi nitely talking about it and experimenting
with other sexual activities, which can lead to misinformation,
desensitization, and dangerous situations.

Ministry Insight

Our comfort levels aside, parents and children must be educated.
It’s not wise to wait to talk to kids about sex, so encourage
parents in your ministry to take the leap. Many times kids have
already heard about sex from a friend or gotten an education in the
media or online. Some experts recommend parents start early by
using correct anatomical names and offering age-appropriate facts
about human sexuality throughout a child’s life. Most advise
against overloading a child
with a single no-holds-barred”birds-and-bees” talk. It’s an
ongoing conversation that needs to happen throughout a
child’s development.

After Jessica’s experience, our church changed the way we run
our Purity Conference. Our youth group and children’s ministry
partnered together to include children in 4th through 12th grades.
We require parents to attend with their children, which opens up
communication in the home.

When it comes to trumpeting personal freedoms, today’s culture
is front and center. Consider how in just the past year or so the
ways our culture has evolved-for instance, legalized marijuana and
the expansion of same-sex marriages. Media waves artificial role
models in kids’ faces and elevates sex-tape stars to the status of
royalty in mainstream media. Kids are faced with an endless barrage
of someone else’s values-usually based on sales numbers. While our
culture celebrates the individual, it’s easy for our kids to forget
about the One who created us. We can teach our children that true
freedom comes from Jesus.

As Paul states in Galatians 5:1, “So Christ has truly set us
free.” We’re no longer bound by the law, but Paul also warns of
using our freedom to indulge in sin. Jesus has to be the greatest
influence in kids’ lives. In a world where anything goes, we can
help kids understand that it’s only where Jesus goes that we
follow.

Emily Snider is a children’s pastor and co-founder of
Radical Obedience Ministries.

School of Influence

Another key influencer on children is their school
experience.
We asked parents to discuss how their children’s schooling
influences their kids.

“We’ve seen her pick up bad habits, but the authorities in
the school are promoting Christian values. We set boundaries and
are selective with friends. We need to remain the biggest influence
in her life.”
-current private school parent

“They’re exposed to very much the same things as publicly
and privately educated children. However, what’s shared and the
manner in which it’s exposed to them is on our terms. We don’t seek
to shelter them; just time the exposure according to their
maturity.”
-current homeschool parent

“He’s exposed to more, but it has provided opportunities to
talk about what the world accepts and God’s perspective.
Oftentimes, he surprises me with great discernment. It’s helpful
in teaching him God’s grace and the consequences of
sin.”
-current public school parent

We homeschool, so we’re instilling our values and
standards. We believe they will have a firmer foundation and
support group to hopefully make good decisions. And when they make
the bad ones, we’re there to help them through the situation.
That’s the whole point of homeschooling-to be the ones to explain
things to them so they understand how God views it and why.”

-current homeschool parent

“They’re exposed to more Christianity and less worldly
views, which is what we appreciate. It’s not perfect, but we try to
talk about things as a family and we bring everything back to the
Bible.”
-current private school parent

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