I’m a military spouse so that often means taking employment opportunities wherever we are, even if these opportunities might not be in my ‘wheel house’ per se. In this location, I’ve been substitute teaching and it has been a valuable experience for so many reasons. First of all, I can honestly say I have walked a mile in the shoes of the teachers. Wow! Their day to day experiences are incredible. The burden of expectations for testing and teaching while having an often entitled audience whose parents will likely blame the teacher if their children do not ‘perform’ is spectacular in all the wrong ways. Today’s teenager arrives at school with their umbilical cord still attached. The other end of the umbilicus is firmly and unalterably secured to their smart phones. They are ‘tweet’ing, ‘snap chat’ting, and ‘sling shot’ting not just at school but in the middle of classes and lectures.
Perhaps even more valuable to seeing what teachers experience on a daily basis is that I now know what my high school age daughter can expect to experience when at school. I remember school being hard, because kids can be mean. Gosh the time that person wouldn’t play with me on the playground in second grade really left an emotional mark, but that pales in comparison to the lives our kids live at school! They literally do not notice one another and many do not even possess the empathy to care. In one extended job, I took attendance daily. These kids had been in class, sitting side by side, and did not know each other’s names halfway through the year! If someone is missing, they weren’t able to help me even identify who that person was and the class only had 30 people in it.
It would seem that we have allowed, even taught and encouraged, our children to be fantastically self absorbed. There is no better example to illustrate my point than the ‘selfie.’ I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable when someone is taking pictures of me in a group and that’s because I, like many women, have some insecurities. The idea of me taking pictures of myself, by myself, and posting them all over the internet makes me wildly uncomfortable. I suppose part of it is that it feels self aggrandizing or maybe a flaunting of myself. And honestly, I like the boundary of people I don’t know being held at arm’s length. I don’t want others to have a false sense of intimacy with me, because frankly not everyone needs to be that ‘close.’
In contrast, today’s teens, young adults, and even the 20-30 year olds are constantly taking pics of themselves. You’ll see a young woman, head at a slight angle, with her lips pursed out in a way that is meant to be sexy and inviting (but which often resembles a duck’s beak). Her hair is to the side in a long mane and her gaze into the camera seems to say, ‘I’m a secret you need to know.’ You’ll see a young man posing like ‘the Biebs’ attempting to wear the swagger that imitates R&B singers who rap about their money and their cars and their conquests all day long. His steely eyed expression conveys that ’15 minutes with me (in the biblical sense) will make your entire life worth living.’ TV shows like ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’ say a lot about what we think is important in life. We put ‘self’ first. ‘Self expression’ trumps good taste. ‘Finding myself’ supersedes right and wrong and totally disregards anyone injured along the way. In the pursuit of ‘self,’ the id and the ego and all those things, our children become more frantic and more lost. They are each their own Wizard of Oz, hiding behind a curtain and projecting who they want to be and/or who they want to be perceived to be.
I have seen these kids off screen and my guess is that you have too. They are just as broken but lonelier in a crowd than ever before. Apps allow them to post messages and photos that ‘disappear’ but leave an indelible stamp on their minds. And although there’s an app to keep everyone “connected,” these means of connection prevent actual person to person interaction. Thus, larger and larger distances form between people; we literally cannot connect and communicate effectively any more. Because we can’t communicate and we are hiding behind a digital barrier, we become more alone as we compare ourselves to all of the other Ozzes out there. Our children are measuring themselves against holograms and finding that they don’t measure up. And so they begin to keep secrets from their friends, parents, and even themselves. There’s an app for this too and it’s called ‘Whisper.’ One can go online and anonymously post all of the deepest darkest hurts, longings, and sins. I think our kids truly believe that if anyone knew what was going on inside of their hearts and minds, they would be automatically rejected. And that’s how we lose our children, one by one, to addiction, to despair, and even to suicide.
In live time, high schoolers are falling apart because life’s burdens are too heavy for one person, much less a teen, to bear alone. They go to the guidance office during school when they can’t maintain the illusion because there is little, if any, guidance at home. Many teens are using their parents’ medication, their parents’ alcohol, or illicit drugs to cope with everything they think they have to handle independently. Our schools come equipped with counselors, addiction programs, health care and every other service meant to stop the gaping wound left by the absence of family. As Christians, we need to pause and examine the ‘lay of the land’ and find the lie that we are believing. If ‘self’ is most important, that leaves little room for God, the author and perfecter of our faith. When we relegate the God of the Universe to standing in the corner of our lives, we are effectively saying “No!” to His divine help. Most critically, we overestimate our importance in one way and underestimate it in another. When we pursue personally happiness at all costs, we lose both the reason why we are important (we are made in God’s image and he literally DIED to save us) and the opportunity for true contentment which will never be found in the pursuit of self. When we don’t see ourselves as God’s children and children who are deeply loved by our heavenly father, we don’t feel truly lovable because humans love so conditionally. It’s so easy to project our own shortcomings onto God isn’t it?
So how do we live a life of substance and how do we guide our children to live in a way that is grounded to truth and reality? Most importantly, we must stop and examine our lives and the situations we are in to see if they are Godly. (Please note that as I am writing this I am convicted!) What wisdom are we accepting as truth? Is it ‘truth’ from the world or the truth of the living God? James 3:13 says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” Friends, Mommas, Dads, do you see the part where if we are self seeking, then there is confusion? That really strikes a chord within my soul. We have an entire generation of self seeking children, many of whom are modeling self seeking parents, and they are so terribly confused. They are confused about what love is, what truth is, and even who they are! If the God of the Bible does not exist, then our lives have little, if any, enduring value. The result is a muddled, self made attempt to find beauty and redemption in the world made by our Creator. It would be like your house trying to build itself, brick by brick, with no architectural plans and a complete lack of self awareness.
How do we apply the truth in our daily lives, especially as it relates to our kids? I’m still learning. I can say that in our family, our kids do not have Facebook accounts yet (our oldest is a junior in high school). They don’t have social media accounts either although we do have smart phones. This is not because I don’t trust them, rather it is because I do not trust the online community with my children. Hillary Clinton famously said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Friends, parents, Christians…pick your village carefully! Do you want a village of narcissistic, humanistic peers and parents imparting their values to your children? Jesus doesn’t want to lose even one sheep out of 99. I pray that the seeds I am sowing will bring my children and some of their friends into hope everlasting and life eternal. I’m accountable for what I model and permit in our home and when they are 18 and/or paying their own bills, they will be accountable for their own decisions. For the time being, I do want to keep them safe from sexting, online bullying, and all of unsupervised ugliness that can occur. I pray that as they are learning to fly, that they are learning to fly safely in our home knowing what is good and real and true.