Audrey Chan—Leicester, UK
CHANGING TIMES BRING NEW CHALLENGES
Times have changed. Or maybe I am just getting old. I look at my children and compare them with myself at their age. They seem so much more savvy, confident, and better off materially than I was.
The fact is, we live in more sophisticated times. Our children’s standard of living and expectations are higher than our generation’s. This can be seen in the fact that most children living in the West are in households that have access to a wide range of consumer goods, private transportation, and the chance to travel.
What were once luxuries are now considered essentials. These changes should not surprise us. It is inevitable that society and lifestyles change—we cannot expect things to stand still.
However, as Christian parents, we need to keep a watchful eye on the spiritual condition of our children. We have children who are better off materially, but we need to ask whether the state of their faith matches their physical well-being. In truth, I think that we live in challenging times. The world has increasingly more to offer and to distract our children by way of all that glitters.
To help our children grow up into well-grounded Christians, we need to start young and give them the Bible’s teachings about wealth and material possessions so that they have a set of values they can use for the rest of their lives. The Bible reminds us,
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov 22:6)
CHILDREN AND MATERIALISM
It seems we do not need to teach our children about the value of money. They appear to catch on from an early age that money equals spending power.
From a certain age, my two boys have had a decided interest in all things monetary, especially the health of their piggy-banks and when to cash in to buy some pre-determined goody. Like young businessmen in the making, they have been known to eagerly negotiate the pooling of assets to buy a sought-after game.
If we look in the media, school playground, or home, we soon realize that we live in a time that prizes material possessions. Children know about brand commodities—what cars and clothes are cool and what gadgets their friends have that they do not. Whether they let on or not, those little gray cells learn to appraise what’s “in” and what’s “out”; and even “haves” or “have-nots.”
As parents we enjoy buying nice things for our children. Who does not? But things need to be done in proportion. We do not need to respond to the pressure to buy everything they ask for, or to buy things that their friends have. Otherwise, we will be on a slippery slope. Our children will learn that they can have everything, and will be in for a rude awakening if one day we do not have the means to oblige.
Also, where would it all end? The latest Gadget XP Version 6 usually lands on shop shelves before Version 5 has even been taken out of its packaging. It is the business of companies to relieve us of our hard-earned cash. No, it’s time to redress some of the expectations of our children, as well as the influence exerted by the media and our children’s peers.
REDRESSING THE BALANCE
It is important that we give our children God’s teachings about the priorities of life, and point out how Christian values are fundamentally different from those of the world:
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ Or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek….” (Matthew 6:31-32)
As I look at these verses, I reflect with interest that a message which was once undoubtedly targeted at an adult audience now has to be shared with an increasingly younger one. Times certainly have changed.
We also need to instill in our children a sense of self-worth that does not need affirmation from material possessions, or comparison with others:
“Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Lk 12:15)
This all undoubtedly goes against the grain, as society looks highly on material wealth and judges success according to how much of it you have. We need to educate our children so that they understand that God does not value them in the same way as the world. They need to know that the Bible positively encourages contentment and a simple, godly lifestyle (Prov 30:7-9; 1 Tim 6:6-10; Heb 13:5).
These principles will stand them in good stead when they reach adulthood: they will have a better chance of leading less stressful lives—lives without a compulsion to keep up with others.
How do we do this?
We can teach our children best if we have a family altar where we set aside some time each day to worship God together. The format is flexible, but could entail reading a chapter of the Bible together, discussing what was read and its application for our daily lives, and to pray.
Some of us may think it is a lot easier just to leave this work to the religious education teachers at church, but we need to remember that our children’s time in church is limited, and religious education should continue in the home. In fact, the Bible reminds us that it is part of the job description of parents:
“And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deut 6:6-7)
Personally, I find it hard to apply the family altar consistently, as will probably many other busy families. There always seems to be a hundred and one other things competing for our time. But we need to persevere because the results will be worth it. Slowly but surely, we are making opportunities for the words of God to take root in our children.
Secondly, we need to communicate with our children. We need to talk to them:
- about what they see in the media and what advertisements are for
- to acknowledge their desire for products they see advertised
- about trends and their tendency to change over time
- to let them know they can choose not to follow their friends—they may not feel it, but it’s really okay to be different
- about what is worth buying—to teach them about quality and value versus brand names
- to help them to understand the family budget
- to help them to think through what they already have, and if they really must have something new
- about prioritizing purchases when there is more than one choice
- to help them make wise choices—is there something more worthwhile for them to use their money on (like helping a good cause)
- about saving up for things they really want.
Thirdly, I think that our actions, as parents, speak louder than words. It is no use telling our children what to do if we ourselves do something different. Children are very astute. From my experience, they are quick to pick up on inconsistencies when we fail to practice what we preach.
Therefore, alongside teaching our children, we need to take a good, honest look at our own core values and how we are living our lives. Do we try to keep things simple, or have we unwittingly been caught up in a lifestyle where money or material things have shifted our focus? We are our children’s role models—for a short time at least, and so we should not lose the window of opportunity to set a good example.
I know of successful parents who consistently apply the best parenting technique of all—prayer. It sounds simple enough, but we may often neglect to pray for our children’s spiritual growth, focusing instead on things like physical health or good grades.
Whether we realize it or not, we are actually engaged in a spiritual battle on our children’s behalf. There is so much in the world to tempt them and lead them astray. We should be mindful that the devil is prowling round constantly (1 Pet 5:8), and his prey includes our children. Therefore, we need to pray for God’s help and protection so that we can raise children who will grow up in His grace and away from evil and temptation.
We also need prayers because bringing up children can be hard work. It is not so much the feeding and clothing of our offspring, because if it were merely this, it would be easy. The difficult part is raising them to become decent, principled Christians. Fortunately, Elder James advises us that we can all ask for a good dose of spiritual wisdom:
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5)
Christian parenting is a real challenge because the Bible’s teachings are often at odds with those of society, and we may even find ourselves wondering at times whether our children will be at a disadvantage for going against the grain.
We need to make it our mission to raise a new generation of spiritually wise and content children who know what the more important things in life are.
(Source: Manna 53: Conquering Addictions)