If you want to almost guarantee that your children will not jump ship (other factors being equal), provide a community life that holds promise of suitable future mates.
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” so says the popular children’s rhyme. “No play” will also make Jack very dissatisfied with the life ship he is on, and when he gets old enough, he will observe the gaiety of others and begin to think about jumping ship for one that is more fun. If you are going to keep your children from longingly looking at other passing vessels, you must meet their need for diversion and entertainment. It is true that if left to themselves, children will overdose on entertainment, and, like Pinocchio, they will come to ruin on Pleasure Island. Yet, even with that danger in mind, the fact remains that children, just like adults, have both a legitimate and physical need to indulge in playful fun.
Mature, well-adjusted adults live to produce, and recreational play is clearly secondary, whereas small children live to play (“…when I was a child I thought as a child…”). Children would never work if not constrained and trained to do so. During their first twenty years, they evolve from full-time life of play to full- time working. There is also a rapid transition in their forms of play. In a period of fifteen years, they will go from tasting everything on the floor to riding motor cycles in competitions, or competing in international chess games. It becomes very difficult for parents to keep up with their children’s changing interests. I now clearly understand why God chose to give babies to young people, and not to us old folks. It takes a lot of energy to meet their ever-changing and increasing needs.
The key to providing proper and adequate entertainment is that you must thoroughly enjoy seeing them immersed in good healthy fun. Children have always loved pushing or riding something. They love the thrill of simple things, like sliding down a steep, grassy hill on a piece of cardboard, or sledding on snow and skating on ice. Kids love wheels, even at the earliest age, and will continue to do so until eventually they are begging to take “your wheels” out for a joyride. I just love putting one-year-olds on plastic riding toys and teaching them to push themselves along with their feet. They soon graduate to a tricycle and then on to a bicycle. Can you remember their thrill when they first rode without training wheels, and how exhilarated they were when they mastered roller skates, skateboards, and skies–the faster the better?
When I was a kid, my daddy assisted me by bringing home old wagon wheels and axles and scrap boards. Lawn mower wheels are excellent. At eight years old, along with the rest of the neighbor kids, I would build what we called a push car—something with four wheels, a seat, and a way to steer it. Dad would bring home buckets with the remnants of bright-colored paints, and we would paint our push cars to be the snazziest in the neighborhood. Then we would find a hill where the road was momentarily empty of cars, and, while one person rode and steered, the other would push him as fast as legs could go. It was then “freewheeling” it to the bottom of the hill to see whose car was the fastest. Yes, there was many a wreck, and the pusher would sometimes fall flat on his face in the road. And, yes, occasionally the cars would turn over or crash into the ditch. But, the “challenge and the thrill” is what made it all fun.
My parents played their parts quite well. Daddy provided the raw material and an occasional suggestion as to improvements in the design. Mama was fitly admiring of my paint job and ingenuity. Grandma liked to watch the races, especially if there was a crash. To finally get Dad to sit on our masterpiece of a push car and let us push him was the ultimate thrill. And to see him sitting there so vulnerable and so stiff and scared, just added more to our “great” achievement.
Times change and toys change, but children remain the same. They have an inherent need to tackle challenges and turn them into thrills. They will climb to the top of the tallest tree, jump into the water from the highest spot they dare, and then later they will “need” to see how fast the family car will go. It is dangerous being a kid, always has been, but to them it is just sheer fun. We adults must provide restraint and caution while we still can, before they get big enough to get out of our sight too quickly. But play they will, and play will inevitably find the thrill in everything, whether it is a ten-month-old climbing to the top of the stairs, or a ten-year-old climbing to the top of the fire tower, or a twenty-year-old checking out hang gliding.
Girls start off playing much like the boys, but with a little less of thrill seeking. They love horses and bicycles, but they also enjoy practicing to be mothers. Young girls, right down to the one-year-olds, entertain themselves with playing house and family. Mama Pearl, my wife, just bought a two-foot-long broom for ten-month-old Gracie. She spends a lot of time “sweeping” the floor. Almost three-year-old Laura Rose has her own little china tea set. She will spend an hour playing with the dishes and pouring tea for everyone. When my daughters were six years old, they would bake something and expect the whole world to stop and indulge in their delectable delight. I was delighted with them for their many attempts, even when I often had to pretend to swallow and then slip outside unnoticed to get rid of the unpleasant mouthful.
Parents who habitually push their children aside, not wanting to be bothered with their frivolous play, will lose the hearts of their children. It is not enough to allow time for your children to play; you must “sacrifice” your time and yourself and play with them. You don’t have to physically be there at the swing set all the time, but they must feel that your eyes are watching them from the kitchen window. You can even stop your work and run outside occasionally to laugh at them or to be “amazed” at their abilities.
I sought to be the most thrilling source of entertainment available to my kids. I actually pushed them to do the daring thing. I helped them set up a jump for their bicycles, encouraged them to swing higher, do flips off of the rope swing into the pond, or difficult dives from the diving board. I took them skating, and we raced around the rink. When it snowed, which was only once or twice a year in Memphis, I stopped everything I was doing just to play with them. We would make a sled and go find the highest hill. We would even try at full speed to make it through the sharpest curve, and “piled up” time and time again until we finally got it right. We were rightly proud of ourselves and congratulated each other profusely.
At times I took the boys into the swamps where we regularly caught or killed snakes, and caught sacks full of fish. We speared the very large fish or shot them with arrows. Exploring new “uncharted” territory was exciting, something we greatly enjoyed. I practiced baseball with the boys until they were good enough to not be embarrassed playing on a local team. But one season was enough for them. They liked the wild places much better, and throwing knives filled in the empty spots between their exciting outings with me.
We had a pond for the kids to swim in, but they would get bored swimming alone by themselves and started begging me to join them. When I headed toward the pond, they all got excited, and the ones who were not already in the pond would rush to join us. They knew I was going to add a new dimension to the fun, even though it might be nothing more than my watching and laughing as they did some new stunt in the water.
Now, important as it is to be involved with your children in their younger years, the most critical time for entertainment is when they get to their middle teens. At around fifteen years old, their social life becomes a significant part of their entertainment, and, in many cases, it is their primary concern. Social entertainment, has the potential of impacting them very negatively and is much more demanding of discerning parents. It is at this point that many parents make the mistake of trying to completely fence off their growing teens from other young people, lest they do something foolish and destructive, either physically or morally.
When my kids were getting into their early teens, I set up a volleyball net in the “holler” back of the house and invited other families to join us. Girls and boys their own age came to play. We were always there to oversee the kids together. They got to socialize with the opposite sex naturally, and without resorting to the dating pattern so common in modern society.
I will be quite plain about the social life of teenagers. When kids go through puberty, especially boys, mating becomes a consuming interest. They begin to live in a daydream/night-dream world. You can’t prevent it. It is absolutely natural and is quite glorious and wonderful. It is God’s design, intended to cause them to want to marry and reproduce. Furthermore, by divine design, the sexual drive constitutes the most controlling temptation a boy or man will ever face. It is the ultimate test of character and the bedrock on which self-control can be established. On this single pivotal point, young men either shipwreck, sometimes never to recover, or they grow strong in character, possessing their vessel in honor and sanctification.
Girls are not initially possessed of sexual drive, but their desires for romance and their God-given need to be treasured and possessed by a man renders them vulnerable to the predatory conniving of immoral males. Girls can too easily become junkies for male attention, selling themselves cheap to get it. Girls in unhappy homes are the quickest to jump ship into the first male arms directed toward them.
I can understand why many parents want to isolate their children and save them from their vulnerability in this area, but you cannot isolate them from their imaginations and passions. It is extremely helpful if, when your children reach this age, they are greatly occupied with other things. If a boy is engaged in hard work and hard play, he will expend much of his testosterone in that manner. “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” is not an idle statement.
We are addressing the vital issue of providing a safe social life for your teenagers. Here is the delicate key: You can inoculate them against runaway passions by controlled injections of a supervised social life. Children jump ship when they think their most pressing needs cannot be met on the present course of their voyage. If you continually isolate your boys on a ship with no exposure to girls, they will eventually go overboard, and once they do, you no longer have a say in the way they seek fulfillment. So, you must provide a social life that promises a strong expectancy of future fulfillment in this area. Teenagers are more likely to be patient if they can see that their ship is part of a fleet that will occasionally rendezvous in port with other ships carrying handsome young men and beautiful girls just waiting to be swept away.
In most cases, your children will marry someone from the circle in which they are raised. They will make their picks long before you ever imagined they were showing interest. Although they may change several times, they will always have someone in their imaginations as a suitable future mate. Even if they end up marrying someone from outside their common social circle, your boys’ ideas of what they like in a girl will have been formed from their early contacts (which you provided) with thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-old girls, and they form them when they have just gone through puberty! And if you think you can replace this natural, God-given, God-ordered drive with teaching them Bible principles, you are off your religious rocker! But, we will talk about biblical admonition and character building later.
Ideally, your family should be part of a community of like-minded families who share the same biblical values and worldview. If your sixteen-year-old can look around and see a young woman whom he believes would make a great wife, he will hang around on your ship, doing his chores and making the sacrifices necessary to wait out the opportunity to enter into a marriage relationship on grounds that are acceptable to the community he is a part of. There it is. Read that sentence again. He will wait for the opportunity to enter into marriage on grounds that are acceptable to the community. The community is a more certain, powerful regulating factor than is the self-control of the kids involved. Even teenagers who are not saved and do not possess personal convictions will go along with community values if that is what it takes for them to attain the deepest desire of their hearts — or of their flesh.
If you want to almost guarantee that you children with not jump ship (other factors being equal), provide a community life that holds promise of suitable future mates. If your community is narrow and self-righteous, your kids may decide early on that they do not want to live like this the rest of their lives, and they may make up their minds that they are not going to marry and live in your community circle. They will look over the railing at other passing ships that seem to be more sincere and friendly. Once kids leave the natural constraining factors of community, all that is left to control them is their own wisdom and self-control, which is usually not enough to keep teenagers, even “Christian” teenagers, from doing something foolish and regrettable.
When I speak of providing a community, I am not necessarily speaking of the traditional “small town,” old friends and family, all in one accord, going to the same country church, and having picnics at the city park after listening to gospel music and a political speech. That would certainly be nice, but in most cases, such an idyllic environment is gone forever in America. In some areas it can be partially recovered, but only at great difficulty and sacrifice.
Your family may be part of a very small church and community, offering few possibilities for your teenage children to find mates. It is a ship-jumping waiting to happen unless you can enlarge the community and the pool of possible marriage partners for your children. If you are in this situation, you must give immediate attention to increasing your community. One way of doing that is to get out and travel with your fifteen- to eighteen-year-olds, visiting other families with kids of a suitable age. Start attending camp meetings or Bible conferences, any gathering of Christians of like values. Your family must stay loosely connected in a way that provides your budding adult children with hope of finding suitable mates. Seeing other families with possible mates, even once or twice a year, can be enough to give your young dreamers hope. When teenagers start dreaming of a particular mate, it creates a stabilizing influence in their lives. They will now have incentive to preserve their virtue for one whom they feel is worthy of nothing less.
There is a popular teaching that you should just tell your children to be patient, and God will bring into their life the one person created in heaven to be their mate. For a few very dedicated kids, who have committed their lives to serving God on the mission field or in some full-time capacity, this is doubtless true. But, the average kid who has never experienced a walk of faith is not going to have faith in this one area and just sit around until he is thirty years old waiting for that one special female to fall out of heaven into his arms.
We receive many letters like a recent one where a 28-year-old daughter has jumped ship and married an older divorced man with a smeared past and three children. As she was getting older, she saw the small pool of “possibles” dwindling away to nothing. She lost hope and needed love. She foolishly rejected her captain and her family, and threw herself to the sharks rather than continue on a hopeless voyage leading nowhere. Older children and young adults must have a tangible, visible hope, one with a social life that provides potential mates of the same caliber as themselves.
I know that kids should exercise more self-restraint, that they should be more patient, and that they should listen to the counsel of their parents and their church elders. I agree that they should be wise and spiritual and seek God’s will first and foremost—but few do, whereas virtually all of them will eventually marry. Don’t risk throwing your children away by setting the marriage standard so high that they despair of reaching it. You are making a grave mistake if you fail to provide for the possibility that your teenage children may not be spiritual, discerning giants. They may just end up marrying an acquaintance — one whom you provide or, one they meet at the video store.
God has chosen you as the captain of your ship. You are authorized to command your crew, but remember that many a voyage has ended with a very disheartened crew abandoning ship, or worse, in mutiny. Provide community for your children. Don’t fail in this one last task you are commanded to carry out: providing adequate community for them so that you can happily send them ashore to produce Godly seed. Give them hope, and they will stick it out until you have safely delivered them to a lifemate worthy of the time and prayer you have invested in them.
If you live in an apartment in a big city, you can still provide community, but it will certainly not happen by default. It will take wise judgment and careful control. You must actively seek out others of like faith and convictions and create an association with them. In the city, you are not likely to find a church that provides a proper community life for your children. A church receives anyone and everyone who chooses to come through the door, as it rightly should. But to have a proper community for your teenage children, you must exercise your freedom not to associate with some families. You must pick and choose with wisdom. If you are a pushover, welcoming into your home all who would seek your association, you might as well throw your children to the dogs, for they are prone to adopt the worst influences you allow into their lives. If you can’t judge between right and wrong and don’t exhibit the courage to flee the company of evildoers, your children are in danger from your weak-kneed attitude. Learn to say “no” to companying with ungodly people, and mean it! Use the word, “No!” in ways that cannot be mistaken for, “Maybe some other time.”
“No, we don’t want to go there.”
“No, my children are busy this weekend.”
“No, that is not our idea of fun.”
“No, I think it would be better if our families did not mix; we have convictions that your children don’t seem to share.”
Will they call you “hypocrites, self-righteous, isolationists”? Yes, they will, and things a whole lot worse, but when you live in Sodom (any city in America), you will either let the popular trend be your guide, or you will set your own agenda and enforce it, no matter whose feelings get hurt. To select a righteous community out of your church or your city and guard its borders is not an easy task, but I know many families who have been successful at it. If a deadly virus were to sweep through the world, no one would fault you for quarantining your family. How much more deadly is the disease of sin that so infects the world today! Just make sure that your family “quarantine” shares its isolation with enough families so that it does not feel like isolation to the children. The point is not to cease having a social life, but to build your social life around your own worldview. There are families out there who are part of God’s remnant, just like you. You might find some of them on this web site: www.fellowshipdirectory.com