And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man (Luke 2:52 KJV)
Children grow in a community irrespective of their background, culture, or how much parents are protective of them or isolate them.
Children are like sponges that are just rife and ready to soak up whatever they can pick up from influencing agents around them. They actually look for these influences and will be open to them whether positive or negative. This is usually a collection of influencing agents with some balancing out the others and all working to mould that child’s thinking or growth. I call it a community of influences.
Sometimes, parents make the mistake of thinking that as long as they are teaching the word of God to their children, that is enough. The issue is that there is a mix of influences and you have to get the mix right otherwise what you are teaching them may be crowded out by other influencers and become of no effect.
It is also the child himself or herself who chooses the hierachy of importance in their community of Influences. That is why forcing children to church and christian events without ensuring that their interest in it is always optimised will simply lead to them pushing it to the bottom of their community of influences. They will attend church alright just to please you but is it being relevant to their developing psyche? Are the things of God ranking high in their community of influences?
I despair sometimes at the boring nature of some the children’s christian films and cartoons and it is a struggle to keep the children as engaged with it as they tend to be with the secular cartoons. Try watching these with your child ( if you have little ones) and you yourself will find that the secular ones do not give the children a chance to disengage. Every space is filled with colour, rhythm, music. It keeps them glued and thereby fully transmits whatever message it is trying to transmit. It is a challenge to find excellent Christian ones that you want them to watch which are equally engaging.
We always have to be aware that children will find a way to choose the community they associate with and you cannot forcefully disengage them from the negative ones if you do not help them to find replacements which they consider valid and deserving of high places in their community of influences.
The way our children think, the things that are important to them, the orientation of their developing ideologies about life, their language, attitudes and even their expectations of themselves and others are all moulded by these influences.
So instead of telling your child to never to talk to that friend of his or hers again because of the negative influence he /she has on your child, you will have to work harder to provide a viable alternative or opportunities that enable him or her to see what you see. Otherwise, the attraction will even get stronger.
Children will choose these associations directly if the opportunity to do so is there or indirectly through role models, for example on TV, through video games, cartoons etc. They will speak their language all day, idolise them and behave like them.
I remember when my first son was quite little, about 5 years old, he was given homework from school to go and learn more about his favourite film or book character and come and share this at school. His dad was working on the homework with him and tried to guide him towards choosing a biblical character. He told him Jesus Christ was the best character to go and talk about. At the end of their discussion, our son appeared to be in deep thought and then said with all confidence to his father. ‘but daddy Sportagus is better’. Sportagus is a cartoon hero character he was fascinated by at the time. Although he was surrounded by biblical and Christian influences in his home almost all the time, in his hierarchy of importance, in his community of influences, Sportagus was very high at the time. He will jump, run, speak, somersault and try to imitate all the antics of Sportagus. He just found him so “cool”. This taught us that children will look at all the influences around them and choose for themselves a community and will adopt the ideology, a language, an attitude and a lifestyle as is being transmitted to him or her.
As parents we have to be vigilant about this, particularly we should not assume that they are only being influenced by what we ourselves consciously present to them. Even when it comes to what we present to them, they watch everything; our confidence in what we profess, the way we live our own lives and automatically imput these into their community of influences. I can’t tell you the number of parents I meet who are unconscious of the effect their adult interactions as observed by their children from day to day has on them. Their way of life, attitudes, arguments, their speech etc all have effect. Whether their children take what they say to them seriously or not depends on how they filter what they see and hear within their mix or community of influences. Children soon know what is real and what is not and what they can easily get away with while their parents are not being attentive.
Jesus grew up within a community too. He had influences on his life. We are told about the yearly pilgrimage his family made to Jerusalem to worship and how when he was 12, he decided to take matters into his own hand and go missing only to be found in the temple debating with the learned people. He clearly exhibits that the pull factor for him, the highest ranking in his community of influences was being with people who knew and dealt with the scriptures. He was unapologetic when his parents found him.
‘And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? ‘(Luke 2:48, 49 KJV).
His reply was not rude as some may consider it to be. He expected that his parents will be aware of the dominant thing in his community of influences and this should tell them where he is likely to be and what he is likely to be doing. Afterall, they are his parents, they know and have allowed the influences in his life so far so this should not be a surprise to them.
As a parent, do you know where your children are? Ideologically, in terms of their values and beliefs, and the dominant influencers in their community of influences. Did you have a plan in place as to how to influence this community? Or are you going to act surprised when you discover where your child is? Because it might not be where you expected him or her to be. Some parents are surprised when they hear their children use swear words. They are adamant their children didn’t pick it up from them. So where did they pick up such behaviour?
In the case of Jesus, he was found in a good place. Will your child be found in a good place? Because of the good mix of influences on Jesus, the bible tells us that ‘And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.’ (Luke 2:40 KJV).
‘And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man’. (Luke 2:52 KJV).
Don’t you want that for your child. I do. Desperately. Let’s help them along the way towards this goal.