Parents and other concerned adults worry a lot about the things, ideas, and behaviors to which children are exposed. Parents worry about what their children are hearing and seeing when they are not around to protect and monitor them.
Our children learn to be who they are becoming from a variety of sources—people with whom they associate, places they go, movies they see, sites they visit on the internet, teachers and coaches who guide them, etc. All of this can’t be controlled 24/7. What’s a parent to do?
While not a parent, I am an adult who is concerned about our children. I see children with good parents from good homes end up in a world of trouble, and I’ve seen children raised in the worst of situations evolve into wonderful, responsible adults. I know that good parents can have a child that goes in the wrong direction. What can we do?
If we want our children, our biological ones and those for whom we share responsibility, to grow up to be wonderful, responsible adults, we need to watch what we say and do. In other words, we need to practice what we what them to learn and copy. We talk a lot about peer influence. It is not unimportant, but parental influence tops peer influence more often than not.
In recent years, we’ve become much more aware of the problem of bullying in our schools. Schools and parents across the country are searching for better ways of preventing, identifying, and addressing the problem. While this is appropriate and necessary, I wonder if we’ve failed to explore where our children learn to bully each other. I fear it is in our homes.
Young children catch on quickly. They observe one parent bullying the other. They watch the same TV programs their parents watch. They hear their parents talk about other people—too often in demeaning ways, which is a first step toward bullying. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that adult bullying becomes the pattern for the bullying that goes on among our children.
Here is something else I’ve observed. Children who grow up in homes where respect for others is practiced and preached are more likely to grow up respecting others. The problem with practicing what we preach is that we must be consistent. Children are quick to catch on. Daddy is nice to Mommy and the neighbor to the right, but he talks really bad about the neighbor who lives on the left. Mommy is so sweet when she meets Mrs. Smith at the store, but you ought to hear her on the telephone talking to her best friend about “old Mrs. Smith.”
Politics is one area of our lives that may be a real breeding ground for bullying and other inappropriate behavior. Adults often say things about the mayor, the governor, and/or the president that they would never say about others. Search for political cartoons about presidents and you will discover some of the most vindictive and bullying statements around. What are we teaching our children when we publicly degrade our elected officials? What might our actions say to our children if we were to follow the guidelines in I Timothy 2? That is the focus of the sermon—how we are to respond to leaders and everyone else. If we want our children to respect authority, perhaps we should invite them to join us in praying for the mayor, the governor, and the president—and perhaps for the pastor.