“I want, I want, I want.” It can be an incessant whine from children, followed only by, “I’m bored”. Too often parents give in to their kids’ desire for instant gratification – and its affecting not just their behavior, but the development of their brains.
In an excellent article, Victoria Prooday reminds parents that their child’s brain is malleable – it can be made stronger or weaker. As she writes, “despite all our greatest intentions, we unfortunately remold our children’s brains in the wrong direction.” In her article Prooday details several traps parents can fall into that affects the emotional, social, and academic development of our children – and I would add – their spiritual development.
She warns that parents are creating an artificial world of fun for children – giving them what they want and when they want it – instead of what they need. Children need less screen time and more time outdoors. They need discipline, not overindulgence. They need to have responsibilities in order to learn to work - and less technology,in order to learn how to play.
Sadly, screen time often replaces play time. In reply to the dramatic sigh that coincides with the plea, “I’m bored,” the answer from parents used to be, “Go outside and play.” Which led to neighborhoods full of bored kids coming together for a game of kick the can or hide-and-go-seek; racing bikes up and down the street; exploring the woods; or anything a kid’s mind could dream up. That was my childhood. Likely that was yours as well.
I understand that in many areas of the country, safety concerns now prohibit kids from being allowed to roam for hours unattended. Unfortunately though, parents have found another easy answer to the boredom of their children. What could be easier to combat a whiny child than to put a screen in their hands with all of the exciting stimuli that entails?
As Josh Squires from Desiring God.org writes regarding the free babysitting which technology provides: …Instantly, children are both contained and entertained. It’s almost too easy. And our hearts love easy. …
The human heart wants as much pleasure as it can get for the least amount of work it has to put into it. It’s called the “pleasure principle.” When our children pick up a screen, the pleasure principle starts paying in spades.
It pays off for them because they do not have to do the hard work of socializing with others, or learning to share, compromise, and play by the rules. Their world is their own, and it goes wherever Netflix, Amazon, or YouTube will take them. And it pays off for us too. We do not have to worry about the constant nag for entertainment, the coordination of schedules and events, or the disorder of a well played-in room.
Constantly, our sin sick world invites us to indulge our sin sick heart. …
Which brings us to another point. Parents aren’t just shaping a child's mental and social development – but more importantly, his/her spiritual growth. By nature, children (as well as adults) will not desire to do what is right or good. Their sinful natures, left unchecked, will lead them to defy authority – first ours and ultimately the authority of God. As John Piper points out, God’s Word commands children to obey their parents, which in turn would imply that parents are commanded to require obedience.
We’ve all seen “those parents” in stores or restaurants giving in to children’s demands rather than follow through with consequences for their disobedience. If we’re honest, each of us has been “those parents” when dealing with children.
Paul Tripp, author of “Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family”, explains that as we lovingly teach children to obey, they are learning traits that will help them obey God’s commands and experience the joy we find in living a life of obedience in relationship with our earthly parents, but more importantly, with our Heavenly Father.
Children must understand early that they have been born into a world of authority, and they are not it. The sooner a child submits to that, the more blessed his life is going to be. And so my children don’t belong to me. They belong to God. He is the ultimate owner and authority. That means that I am a representative — an ambassador of the authority of God. I am the tone of God’s voice as a parent. I am the look on his face. I am the touch of his hand.
Now this will make you weak in your knees. Here is what this means: Every time I exercise authority in the lives of my children and all those mundane little circumstances, it must be a beautiful picture of the authority of God. I want my children to see authority as beautiful and giving and serving and loving and compassionate and patient and gracious, because that is the authority of God. Children are born with a natural antipathy toward authority — a natural hatred for authority. And I want to depict authority in its divine beauty so that they will say, “Authority is a good thing. Authority is a wise thing. Authority is a protective thing. Authority doesn’t crush my freedom. It gives me freedom….”
We need to follow the command of Deuteronomy 6, purposefully using every opportunity to diligently and persistently teach our children to follow Christ, rather than self. To guard them from the pull of endless entertainment, and to help them discover the wonder found in the world around us, the joy in helping others, and the satisfaction in common, everyday labor.
Parents: don’t neglect the responsibility God has given you to shape your child’s spiritual heart and mind. It’s the most important thing you will ever do.
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