From the first moment we see our children, we’re hooked. Our hearts swell with emotions and with the instinctual desire to protect, nurture, and provide for them. The Bible tells us children are a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127) and yet any parent knows that the job of raising and discipling kids in today’s world is simply hard work.
The opportunities are great and the stakes are high. Even beyond our own children or grandchildren, we need not look far to find kids who are in need of Christ’s love and hope. So how can we live lives that truly help to grow the faith of the next generation?
When it comes to helping kids grow into adults who follow Christ, perhaps the most overlooked resource is today. Whether we’re parents, grandparents, or youth leaders, we all have the opportunity to help point children to the next step in their faith journey right now.
Make it a priority to be fully present with the kids in your life. Show up physically and mentally, even in the routine moments. Know that your positive Christian influence is needed, even if you doubt its impact at times. Deuteronomy directs us to make the most of every opportunity, to talk about the commandments we find in the Bible “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
Betty Aldridge, Pastor Emeritus at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana has spent decades focusing on early childhood development. During parenting classes, she often shared the following with parents of young children: “What I learn from birth to three is what will matter most to me.”
The early years of a child’s life are so important. In the midst of teaching colors, letters, and animal sounds, we can help kids begin their faith journey by teaching them Bible verses and lessons. In the midst of their Sesame Street and Dr. Seuss collections, incorporate books that help them learn about the God who created them.
Make the most of holidays by incorporating biblical lessons. Invite kids to contribute creative ideas on how they could show Jesus’ love for neighbors on Valentine’s Day. Or help celebrate Christmas in a way young children understand by having a birthday cake and singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus.
Encourage interactive ways for kids to experience God’s Word. We have great memories of reading Bible stories in our living room, letting our kids act out the story with makeshift costumes, using toys or stuffed animals as characters.
Help kids experience the Bible in ways that meet them where they are. The YouVersion Bible App for Kids is a free download that offers a fun, interactive way for kids to learn about Jesus and the gospel message.
Older kids who enjoy comic books or graphic novels might be drawn to The Action Bible series, which features Scripture depicted through detailed artwork and faster-paced narratives to keep them engaged. Explore devotional books or apps designed for kids to help them begin a practice of reading Scripture regularly.
Kids’ relationships with and through technology will keep growing and changing based on their age progression and what’s trending. Continue learning about what they are using and seek to strike a balance between protecting kids from the world and preparing them to be a light in it.
Don’t assume it’s fine. As parents, we know our children well. Yet sometimes, we still see the sweet infant we held in the middle of the night or the preschooler who brought us finger-painted masterpieces. It can be hard to imagine that these same children would be drawn into inappropriate gaming or online material. Or that they would stay up too late texting, teetering off into conversations they would be ashamed for us to see. We are all tempted to do things we shouldn’t. Assume your child is a regular human being, capable of making all sorts of mistakes. Educate yourself in regard to their media consumption and online activity along with the potential benefits and pitfalls.
Define healthy boundaries. The Bible calls us to be set apart, transformed, renewed. In a positive sense, we’re not always going to match the culture around us. This will be true for Christian kids as well. Explain why you may encourage different expectations or rules than what they find at friends’ homes, especially related to entertainment and technology.
Learn about tools designed to assist parents. There are a number of resources available to help parents set appropriate digital access limits for children. Explore the parental settings on devices, including those offered by your cable provider, streaming service, and smart TV. These options are usually basic and vary by device but can help you set up safeguards for content access. There are also many options to practice online accountability with kids while providing common sense boundaries. Covenant Eyes (covenanteyes.com) offers help with internet filtering and accountability systems, which will give you a log of your child’s online activity. Circle by Disney (meetcircle.com) is a newer product that helps parents set time limits, filter content, and set a bedtime for all devices using Wi-Fi.
The good news is we have a number of resources available to help protect kids’ hearts and minds. The hard news is, “Where this is a will, there is a way,” and kids will make mistakes.
Teach kids about the power of technology to help them learn and connect with a world that needs hope and the love of Christ. Help them see opportunity and identify how they can become forces for good. At the same time, create an environment at home and within your church that allows them to ask questions and admit when they have made a bad choice.
Acknowledge that they will be tempted to view inappropriate content at school or at a friend’s house. Or they might be tempted to make unsafe decisions in their online interactions. Help them identify how they will handle the situation—what to do to avoid it and what to do if they find themselves in a bad situation. These are moments to help them learn, grow, and grasp God’s forgiveness.
Aimee Cottle, a marketing director and millennial parent, says, “When we were growing up, technology was so new that our parents didn’t even really know what to protect us from. So all the mistakes that some parents now fear, our generation made.” She reminds us that when kids misstep, our response should incorporate grace.
Make a commitment to pray every day for the kids in your life. To help you stay on track, consider using a prayer app on your phone or even a written prayer journal on your desk or nightstand. Teach kids about prayer by praying for them and with them. Expand prayers to include thanks and requests related to family, friends, and needs in your community. Encourage kids to keep their own prayer box or prayer journal in their room. Model a prayer life by sharing your age-appropriate prayer requests with them so you can pray for each other. Let them see you seeking God in moments of celebration and in crisis. Grow right alongside the kids in your life.
Jamie Shafer works with congregations as a communications strategist for Fishhook, Inc. in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.