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Teach Your Child How to Think for Themselves in a Culture That’s Vying for Their Allegiance

Whether you’re a parent who’s currently striving to win your child’s heart back or whether your child’s still little and impressionable, this article is for you. It’s time parents recognize the masked dangers that lurk silently within the corners of popular thinking, and their main target is our children.

The problem isn’t obvious, but the symptoms are glaring

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Between the rising mental health issues and suicide rates in our younger generation, it’s time parents wake up and attack the culprit head-on.

Here’s the thing. Society wants your child’s allegiance. A system works best when everyone is compliant. But here’s the danger. Who’s to say this system is right? When we, the people, no longer have a say in what’s happening, aka “freedom of speech,” then we have immediately lost our influence in the system. And what’s a system that’s not run by the people or for the people, but rather a single powerful influence? Yeah.

This cultural problem at hand will directly influence your children, whether you like it or not. The specific problem I’m referring to is subtly telling them that thinking for themselves is not allowed, not tolerated, and not woke enough. It’s telling them that if they don’t adhere to a system that is put in place for their “good,” for “peace,” and for their “safety,” they won’t be accepted.

At the same time, culture screams that they should be who they are, but it’s subject to a certain worldly boundary, usually made by social media, the media in general, or certain powerful people and influencers, as well as their peers.

The problem will not only affect your child’s future, but their mental health, their relationships, and their general outlook on life. How? Because instead of being able to discern whether something is right or wrong based on education, logic, reasoning, and healthy guidance from their parents, they will be forced to believe something is right simply because the system says it is. And before you have a chance to reach your child once you realize they are being pulled in the wrong direction, you won’t be allowed to help them.

Culture would love to raise your children and be the stronger influence in their life. Culture would love to tell your children they need to be put in a box. Culture would love to be in control of their thinking, so there is no resistance. Culture has confused peace with mental imprisonment, and I say we do something about it.

Don’t become passive

Win your child’s heart before society does.

I like to compare parenting with working out. You get what you put into it. And that’s why the most important aspect of parenting is recognizing that you need to BE PRESENT in your child’s life. Your children will be influenced by something, whether that’s you, their peers, their teachers, social media, etc. — it’s up to you who will be the strongest influence.

This is where I would never tell you, “You just need to be more controlling.” On the contrary, being the strongest influence simply means you’re the safest space for them to go to with their questions and doubts.

The more present you are in your child’s life emotionally, mentally, and physically, the more likely your child will feel loved and valuable. And when a child feels loved and valued, they are more likely to see you as trustworthy; therefore, you will be the strongest influence. They are also more likely to succeed — have good relationships, a healthy outlook on life, and self-confidence.

As this concept seems really simple, it’s easier said than done. Loving a child is sometimes hard. Loving them means you need to sometimes discipline them. It means you have to tell them “no” and deal with the pushback. It means you have to get down in that pit with them and show them empathy for something, even if you don’t understand it. It means you need to show up and have the hard conversations. It means you need to pay attention and LISTEN to their hearts DAILY. And most importantly, it means you need to self-reflect and apologize when you wrong them and model for them a healthy person. It means you need to be governed by humility and willing to give up your comforts for the betterment of your child.

Yep. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. But it’s so worth it. At the end of the day, you will screw up. You will fail your child time and time again. But when you can recognize you’re wrong and show your children that perfection isn’t expected, beautiful things can happen in your relationship with them.

It all starts in the home

Healthy people are raised in healthy homes. It starts with you, the parent. So before you go trying to find a solution to your child’s misbehavior, make sure you look within to make sure their behavior is not a result of something you’re doing wrong as a parent. That could even mean adjusting your discipline and not being as strict, or it could mean the opposite — being more disciplinary. It could mean putting down your phone and having a meaningful conversation with your kid. It’s important you continue to ask yourself these questions when it comes to your parenting.

Use your loving authority for their good, not just your convenience.

Don’t leave God out of it

As a Christian, I don’t believe that my child’s faith is nurtured by our family attending church every Sunday or checking off all the religious “must-do’s” our current Christian culture has fabricated. In fact, I’m very wary of many modern-day churches. Christianity in America has become just another system we adhere to, instead of actually understanding what it truly means to be and act like a follower of God.

If you want your child to know who God is, and just how much He loves them so they make that decision for themselves to follow Him, the best place for them to learn this is in your home. If you feel ill-equipped for this task, it’s never too late. Some simple solutions are to have them memorize verses, do daily devotionals together, pray together, and simply model the love you have for Christ. Often, the best way to teach a child is to model it first.

Don’t preach at your kids. Listen to them. Don’t make them feel bad for doubting or having questions. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts, and don’t force faith down their throats. Trust that they are in God’s hands, and allow him to work in their hearts. The minute we become frantic about their salvation is the moment we are not trusting them to God.

Teach them that not everyone is going to like them, and that’s okay

It’s truly beautiful when your child can see through YOU that being a Christian isn’t a burden but a blessing. We treat one another with love. We strive for peace but at the same time speak the truth in love and are bold about our faith. We put one another before ourselves. We serve the less fortunate. We see all as equal in God’s eyes. Christians are supposed to stand out from the crowd, but that doesn’t mean we are accepted by the crowd. We are misfits. And if you’re a family of faith, it’s important your children know this for themselves — that not everyone is going to like or agree with them, and that’s OKAY!

Only dead fish swim with the stream.

Malcom Muggeridge

Teach them where the ultimate truth can be found

We live in a world where truth is no longer considered true. Truth is whatever you want it to be. Truth is relative to a person and how they feel. Truth for you one day might be different for you another day. Truth rides on the waves of our culture, instead of being based on something absolute. And as the lines continue to get more and more blurred, our children are getting more and more confused.

Confused children will look for answers. And the answers that lie beneath the surface of our morally and ethically declining society are seeking to be found by the next generation.

The evidence isn’t obvious

Upon writing this post, I knew I would need to point out the problem in a more concrete way than just spouting out how I feel. Sure, I feel devastated that I have to talk to my son about things I never thought I would at his age. I feel devastated that what we teach him at the home is of no value to the world, and that is something he will have to contend with on a daily basis. I am devastated that the God he identifies with is not accepted, and there might come a time when he may be persecuted for his beliefs. That’s how I feel.

But what’s the evidence of this problem for Christians today? Good evidence for this is challenging to come by. Statistics can tell you that church attendance declines by 30% every generation. Statistics can tell you that mental health is declining at a significant rate, year by year. Statistics can tell you that young people are suffering from depression more than ever before. But here’s the thing. Way back when there were no statistics being drawn. How can we compare our statistics in the last few hundred years, with the thousands of years before us that never went by statistics? We can’t.

Every generation has faced its fair share of challenges. There have been pandemics, genocides, and events such as the Holocaust. Dating back to Biblical times — remember when Herod murdered thousands of baby boys just because he hoped Jesus would be thrown into the mix? Can you imagine this happening today in America?

Well, it does. It’s just masked as being something that’s “good” and “beneficial.” There is genocide happening, just on a “fetus” level. There is a war happening, just on a social media level. There is an illusion of peace. But peace is being confused with tyranny.

As a mom who cares deeply, not only for the physical safety of her son but for the emotional and spiritual health of his heart, I will not settle with raising a child who stares aimlessly into his phone, being impressed by everything that is put in front of his face. I will not allow him to get sucked into the muck that tries to poison his brain and keep him from having his own thoughts, ideas, and opinions. On the other hand, in doing this, I have to be careful not to force my own opinions down his throat or try and control his every move. And that’s where the balance lies. Preparing your kids for the world they WILL grow up in, not for the one I WANT them to grow up in.

Learning this balance is challenging. You hear stories of kids turning from their faith, mostly at the hand of a legalistic church or upbringing. But if left to their own devices, children most often won’t desire to learn about God on their own. After all, children in their immaturity seek things they WANT, not things they NEED. At the end of the day, they will choose candy over vegetables.

So where’s the balance in guiding and teaching your kids to LOVE God, to be excited about the gospel, and to live their life serving something other than themselves?

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the “why” behind this issue. Why is it such a bad thing to have a different opinion, especially when it’s not popular? And as I’m still sludging through, trying not to get sucked in myself, I rest on this verse. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” Isaiah 5:20

Teach them how to accomplish things on their own

I remember when I was little and incapable of coming up with solutions to my problems. If I was hungry, I asked my mom to make my food. If I couldn’t do something, I would ask my Dad to do it for me. Then, at a certain age, I began to learn how to do things on my own. It was a conflicting feeling — on one hand, I didn’t mind learning new things, but on the other, it was kind of nice to have everything done for me, especially when it came to cleaning my room.

Now having children of my own, I truly recognize the importance of teaching them the value of learning how to accomplish things on their own, whether that be preparing their own breakfast, tying their shoes, or cleaning up their messes.

Most parents don’t know that you can begin to teach this independent mindset as early as around 8 months old. Obviously, they will start simple, but their responsibilities will challenge them in new ways as they grow older. If your toddler spills his milk, simply have him clean up his own mess. Oftentimes, toddlers are very willing to learn new things and accomplish them on their own. They get a sense of satisfaction, especially because it makes them feel grown-up.

This is an incredible opportunity to begin to show them what they are capable of, but make sure you instruct them how beforehand. It can be very frustrating for children to try and do something they haven’t first learned to do. I remember asking my son to hang up his clean shirts on hangers around age 8. I thought he would know how, but about 10 minutes later, I went downstairs to find him crying, frustrated that he couldn’t hang his shirts up. I quickly recognized my parenting failure, assured him that it was my fault for not showing him how, and we finished the task together. I taught him how, and he was able to accomplish his part. It’s okay if things are difficult for them and becomes all the more rewarding for them when they can succeed.

Let your kids fail

But there is the other side to trying new things, and that’s experiencing failure. Your kids will fail, and that’s perfectly okay. The important thing is that they tried. Assure them that asking for help, trying again, or failing is a part of life. As adults, we know this all too well. So the goal here is to prepare them for circumstances that sometimes don’t turn out the way they want — to help them be emotionally prepared to face challenges in their life for the future.

As well as teaching your children the physical side of trying new things and accomplishing them independently, the same should be said for preparing your kids to think for themselves.

How to raise free thinkers

I know a lot of you who read this blog don’t associate with any religion or faith, and I always do my best to make this a space for everyone no matter what they believe, so that even if you don’t believe in a higher power, you can still get something out of the content. But this is where I’ll warn those of you who don’t believe in God. This is an area where we might disagree, or you might do things differently. Read on if you would like, but this is more my audience associated with the Christian faith.

As Christians, we recognize that how the world operates is oftentimes vastly different than how we live our lives according to the Bible. There are certain morals ingrained into the fabric of our faith that cause us to do things differently, and that definitely applies to how we parent. And while the world might deem us regressive, our faith has never been based on the approval of others, but rather on obedience and surrender to God.

Do you know the verse 1 Peter 3:15? “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, but with gentleness and respect;”

If you’re aware of the turning tides in our culture, then you might have had the thought, “I wonder if my kids will be okay growing up in this world?”

And as I am an advocate of never forcing my beliefs on my child, but rather giving them the freedom to choose their faith for themselves, I also believe it necessary we equip them for the world they will grow up in, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

Lines are getting very blurred in our culture, and if our children aren’t prepared to know how to think for themselves, defend their faith, and stand for what is right, then as parents, we will have done them a disservice. Ultimately and thankfully our children are in the hands of a loving God, but don’t you want to send them off into the world with all the knowledge and understanding of what is good, right, and honorable? Don’t you want to prepare them for what you know will be thrown at them?

Teaching your children apologetics is just a fancy way of saying that you’re teaching them how to think for themselves when it comes to their faith and beliefs. So how do we do that?

How do we teach our kids how to think for themselves, and not get tossed and turned by the waves of our society?

It’s not easy. It takes intentionality. It takes you first being the example.

But it’s possible.

Here are some things you can do to prepare your kids to think for themselves when culture is vying for their allegiance.

1. Teach them what empty words are

Our culture is all about living your own truth. But if your truth is not aligning with their truth, then it’s not okay. You are not accepted when you have your own opinions that differ from popular or “woke” ones. Do you see how backward that is? I think it’s important to point this out to our children and tell them we are called to love and accept others who have different beliefs than their own. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak the truth in love or talk to others about the truth of God when the time is right. But more often than not, loving others and simply living your own life for Christ is the most powerful tool that God uses to speak to the hearts of others — being a good example of who Christ is.

Within the woke mindset, there are words being thrown about that often look shiny and lovely from the outside, but deep down, it’s just another way of saying, “you’re accepted, as long as you believe what’s woke enough.”

For example. When people say things like, “We’re all in this together. Let’s be unified and at peace,” it’s most likely conditional to what they see as unifying and peaceful. It means that you agree with everything they are saying, otherwise YOU are the problem, and YOU are the one who is being divisive. As most people mean well with these words, the truth of the matter is that “unity” is not unity unless the intent of unification is paralleled with a massage that we all agree on.

As Christians, we are called to unity. And even in the Christian world, unity is often hard to achieve. We have separate denominations because of it. But nonetheless, as Christians, we are unified together in Christ. At the end of the day, the gospel is what unifies us.

That’s why it’s so important to teach your kids what these empty words are, and before they go unifying with others, make sure they understand what they are unifying over. If it’s unifying over something good and edifying, great!

But along with that, teach them that It’s okay to have different opinions and values than those who don’t share the same faith. Along with speaking the truth in love, we teach them that loving our neighbors is also vitally important. Being tolerant and kind to others who live differently from us is also something that God asks of us.

2. Teach them that there are some black and white answers, and that’s okay

In a culture that is governed by “my truth your truth,” it’s important we land on the fact that without an ultimate truth, truth is not the truth. Truth is not relative. Truth is concrete, immovable, and not up for debate.

Our culture doesn’t want this, because it would mean that they sometimes get it wrong. That the way they are living is not right. They like to believe that there is no right or wrong (unless it’s not what they believe), and always giving in to your feelings, impulses, and desires is something to be praised.

But the problem with this is that there is no longer a line to be crossed. If someone felt as though they wanted to do something terrible to someone else, they could, and no one would hold them accountable. There is no law. We have arrived at the time that calls evil good and good evil.

It’s important that your children aren’t deceived by this. It’s attractive. Falsities are often close to the truth and seem harmless.

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3. Be alert as to who your children are being influenced by

Even if you have found a good church that is theologically sound and spiritually fulfilling, it's important that you try to be involved in your child's faith journey. Sunday school is not often the place where kids learn to think for themselves, or even get a clear understanding of what Christianity is.

You would be surprised how the voice of one false person can influence the heart of your child. So be alert as to who is speaking into your child's life. As it's good and healthy to have other adults in your child's life, make sure they are heavily vetted so as not to confuse your guidance with something else.

Your children will be influenced by someone. And if you're not being a positive influence in their life, they will find someone else. That someone else could mislead them. But don't keep your kids from having outside influence -- this could push your children away -- but rather, be the safe place your children go to for answers. No question is wrong. Allow your children to doubt, to wrestle, to ask. Every child will rebel at some point, but the depth to which they rebel is up to your reaction to them. This brings me to my next point.

4. Make sure they understand what grace is. Like TRULY understand it.

The basis of our faith is founded on the gospel. Our children need to understand their need for grace like they understand their need to drink water. How? By modeling it. By teaching them who Christ is. That even with all the mistakes they will make in their life, they are forgiven. The beauty of our faith is found in Christ and the grace that God has us through His son.

It's also important that when discussing with your children your faith, you don't force it on them. Be discerning of how your child is receiving your advice. Don't push too hard. And ALWAYS govern your conversations with questions. Let them talk more than you do. Be interested, not only in their spiritual life, but their emotional well-being, or simple little things that go on throughout their day. Enter their world, instead of trying to get them to enter yours. It's called identifying with your kids, and showing them empathy. It's not only the best way to reach their hearts, but it will also allow them to feel safe to be who they are in your presence.

Too many kids have fallen away from the faith because they felt forced to believe what their parents believed, without ever really understanding what the faith was. Because they were so distracted by trying to please their parents, they missed out on the point. They didn't feel as though they had a choice. And when you take away their choice, you take away the very beauty of the gospel and who God is. God is not a puppeteer. God has given us free will, and who are we to take our child's free will away from them?

I know how much every Christian parent desires that their child live a life for Christ. And as we can do our best to guide them in the right direction, we cannot force their hand. Let God go the distance with them. Let them go to the one who is trustworthy. We won't always like the choices our children make. We won't always like the journey our kids take to find their way back to God, but that's not up to us. And even sometimes, our children will choose not to follow God. That's why along with teaching them to think for themselves in a culture that's vying for their allegiance, we need to get on our knees and PRAY for them.

5. Stay up to date on the latest in kid culture, and have conversations about it.

One of the biggest influences that your child will have will be social media and all that's within it. Unfortunately, because social media is so accessible, it makes it hard for parents to know how to talk to their kids about it, let alone what they are even experiencing. Most parents have no idea that their 16yo daughter is being cyberbullied and developing an eating disorder. Most parents have no idea that their 16yo son is already addicted to porn. Most parents don't know that within the Fitbit app, children are at risk of being trafficked.

One incredible resource for parents that we use in our household is the Bark app. Check out my full review of it here. It's a parental control app that you can download on your child's device. With my code WORDBIRD at checkout, you can try it out a full month for free!

Also check out their blog. They often have tons of insider info on what kids are facing on social media.

6. Have healthy discussions about boundaries

It's easy to want to place our children in a safe bubble. But that's not always beneficial for them. Once they outgrow the bubble, they will want to see what's on the outside. So why not have conversations about why you aren't allowing something, and placing boundaries that are there to protect them.

Instead of just telling your child, "No, you can't watch that show." Align it with the reason. If you want your child to leave the nest and actually be able to discern what's right and wrong, then that means you need to teach them how to be discerners. That might even mean watching an episode with them and then talking about why you don't think it's right to fill your mind with something like that. You might be surprised that they will end up agreeing with you!

I shared with my son an instance where a 10yo decided to take his own life because he couldn't play Fortnite anymore. It was upon my son asking us if he could play that game. Along with sharing this information with him, we gave him some good evidence of why certain video games can physically and mentally harm him. He accepted it and said. "Wow, thanks for protecting me. I can sometimes feel when I play video games for too long, it makes me feel sad and angry. I'm glad you don't just let me play all day."

These are the moments I live for in parenting. Recognizing that my children respect my authority and opinion, not just because I'm an adult, but because they know that I will do everything I can to protect them, and do what's BEST for them -- and that it's all done in love.

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