I've had the past two weeks off and it has given me plenty of time to reflect on the past year plus spend a lot of quality time with my kids. Recently, I was re-reading one of our popular posts OverProtective Parents, Underdeveloped Children and thinking about how our children pick friends and our parental involvement (or lack of) in this process. I know many parents these days have "play-dates" and also tend to pick and chose who their children hand around, particularly as they get older. This may be a surprise to some parents out there but my wife and I don't pre-screen our children's friends and many of their friends do not come from Christian homes. I'm sure some parents reading this will definitely disagree with me on this but let me first explain my reasoning. First, we have personally witnessed our children, at numerous times, standing up to friends and peer pressure while defending their beliefs and choosing to do what was right over what was "fun, cool, insert other word here." This plays into our entire parenting process as we have always raised our children that the decisions they make when not in our home or under our control, is more important than what they do when they are with us. This is the main reason Fear Based Parenting does not work.
Fear Based Parenting focuses on the parents controlling the children's environments, friends, activities, etc. in an effort to keep bad things from happening to the children. These parents do their best to create an environment that controls as many of the avenues as possible that sin/bad things could use to work its way into the inner sanctum. It's controlling a child's external environment out of a sense of protecting the children rather than focusing on developing the child's heart and resiliency to deal with bad things that will inevitably happen. Again, this varies by age and is not a simple black and white process, there are obvious times and exceptions when a parent should step in. What I am discussing here is everyday, hand around the house friends.
Back to my kids...As a result of developing our children's hearts, character and values; 90% of the time our children do not let their friends influence them towards unhealthy choices. But, if we ever see this happening slightly, my wife and I usually step in and have a discussion on whether this behavior is consistent with our values or not and this corrects the issue.
This past year, our family moved to a highly affluent, national blue ribbon school district on the East Coast thinking this would be the best option for our children. What we have discovered here is exactly what I'm describing above. Many of the children here come from very controlled homes and divorced or blended families are more the norm than traditional families. While the children are very academically intelligent, many are severely deficient in ethics, morals and social skills. In the middle school, you have to be apart of a certain clique or group or other children will not befriend you or even speak to you for that matter.
Our children, unaware of this social caste system, made friends with whoever was friendly with them. So my kids made friends with kids outside the socially acceptable "cool clique" but have now been invited into the "cool clique" under one condition, they drop their other friends. Maybe this is just middle school drama?
Let me add some background details. In the past, our children took this very same approach on the West Coast. They made friends with whoever wanted to be friendly, which my wife and I supported, and then they slowly used their friendships, unknowingly, as a way to do relational ministry. At our church on the West Coast, our children helped to double the size of the church youth group, helped many of their friends find Jesus and even got some families to start attending church together. This all happened because my wife and I did not "pre-screen"or try to influence our children's relationships and because our children stuck to their beliefs and values and influenced their friends. Also, our home is a grace filled, Christian home and if you are going to spend time in it, you are going to follow our rules. We pray at meal times, you respect adults, you do not use profanity, you play and act fairly towards one another. Some of the toughest kids in town from pretty rough backgrounds came to our home, prayed with us, showed respect to my 5 Foot wife and started attending church and youth group. This also creates a strong sense of security in the home and kids, no matter their background, long for that sense of security in the home.
Rather than my wife and I focusing on keeping the bad kids out and "protecting" our children, we saw this as an opportunity to show others the grace and love of God through a relationship with our children and family. My wife and I believe whole hardheartedly that this was one of the best life examples and learning experiences for our children. I could write a book full of stories about the many examples of God shining into the lives of all those kids that came through our home. But that only happened because we let them in.
Back to the East Cast. My kids have made friends here with some kids who have tough backgrounds; divorce, abuse, emotional problems, cutting, etc. One is heavily into witchcraft.
The other day, my kids and I were driving back from the mall when my daughter told me about this current "cool clique" dilemma. Here's what she said.
"Dad, I'm not going to stop being friends with XXXXX just to be accepted by the "cool clique" if that's how those girls act, they don't sound like the type of people I want to be friends with anyways. They have their values really backwards"
Me - "Hmm"
My Son pipes in "Yeah, I invited XXXX to come with me to sit at the football players table, at first they scoffed at me and XXXX but now that the football players have seen how funny XXXX is, and they are really starting to see what a good guy he is and are more accepting of him."
Me - (Smiling) "Hmm"
So what's the bottom line? We focus primarily on developing our children's hearts, values and character and do not worry as much about the external environment or their friends. As a result, our kids naturally default back to their values and are not influenced by friends or other outside circumstances. They are learning what true friendship and relational ministry looks like and to quote my son "Dad, you are preparing us for the real world. You don't get to pick who you work with at your job do you?" Me - "No, your absolutely right, I just have to deal with them."
What to do next?
I encourage you to focus on your children's heart rather than on their environment. Let them make friends with the unChurched and the Lost and Hurting and use these relationships as real world examples to teach your children about relational ministry and most importantly, adhering to their values and beliefs no matter who or what is in their external environment. Learning these skills now, while their in your home, will save you and them from the inevitable reality and potential hardships of experiencing this later in life. Plus, it's what Jesus did.
Esse Quam Videri