Little Ears and Eyes
Children crave the approval of their parents, and sometimes other adults in their lives. Sure, they can be rebellious when we stand in their way of getting what they want. But little minds are easily influenced by the words and actions of the grown-ups they respect.
Jesus highlighted this trait in one of His teachings. He called a child and had him stand in the presence of His disciples. Then He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:3-6)
Can you hear the theme song from The Godfather playing? Swimming with the fishes with a millstone around my neck sounds pretty bad. Yet, I would consider myself fortunate to die this way if I misled a child.
Children look up to us, and they are easily influenced, for good and for bad. When they are exposed to trauma early in their lives, they can be scarred forever. Their cultural biases and relational skills are formed by their environments, and while “nature” certainly plays a huge role in the people they will become, the “nurture” they receive is like a hammer on an anvil, fashioning them into the shape others will see.
With this in mind, I wonder what our responsibility is as adults in this season of political firestorm. As our children are exposed to public conversations they can’t possibly understand, as well as words we pray they won’t repeat, what is God calling us to do? Here are some possible answers to this question:
- Manage what children see and hear. There is nothing wrong with turning off the TV when we think there is a news story our children might not be old enough to process. The Proverbs writer says this concerning the things we allow ourselves to hear and see: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) If we are to guard our own hearts, then we certainly will want to give attention to the hearts of our children.
- When necessary give children a fair assessment of the conflict before them. It is difficult for us to be unbiased when we interpret what is going on in our world for our children. However, if we believe they are old enough to understand, we should provide them with a context. We can also use news stories as opportunities to talk with our children about human behavior, perhaps even pointing out how others could have contributed to a better solution with different actions. Look for opportunities to find Biblical parallels to current events and talk with your children about “cause and effect.”
- Remind children we are going to keep them safe. The world is a scary place. If it isn’t frightening enough, the news media often makes a story bigger than it needs to be to capture a viewers’ attention. We know we have human limitations when it comes to protecting our children, but they need to know we will do everything within our power to keep them from harm. We can also reassure them with scripture which speaks to God’s protection. David once wrote, “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7)
- Guard our example. If we hate people just because we disagree with them, and spew venom in our conversations, or on social media, it is possible our children will mimic our behavior. Here is a good rule of thumb: think of someone in your life who epitomizes Christian character and maturity. Would you be comfortable if the children in your life told this person about your unguarded moments?
With this said, I must put your mind at ease and remind you that children are resilient. We aren’t going to be perfect, and there will probably be times when we will need to apologize for something we say or do. In fact, such an admission can provide an incredible teaching moment.
It’s just that I fear we have lost some of our sensibilities in these regards. As we have become less civil in our treatment of one another, we have become less cautious in the exposure of children to ungodly behavior.
Think it through. I know I am.
I’ve seen a millstone, and if Jesus used one to illustrate the best option for my disobedience, I don’t want to see the worst.