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Discernment - Something that we can all agree is sorely needed in this day and age, and also sadly missing. But discernment is a quality that, if untaught, could make your children especially vulnerable as adults!
Anybody who spends just a few minutes in our culture can see that everything these days is about advertising. Advertising, however, not only relates to products but also to our attitudes, morals, and worldview as well. This is why it's so important for us to possess, model and teach discernment.
Why is discernment in such short supply these days?
Well, the short answer is: it's not sexy! You know what I mean...it's not jazzy, not "fun," there's no "6 easy steps..." or quirky, viral videos or memes that we can spread around the internet about it. Developing discernment takes real old-fashioned work and effort and happens over time; none of which many of us are willing to put up with these days.
But ya' know, if we don't shape the culture, it's gonna shape us.
And frankly these days, it looks like there's a lot more shaping being done by the culture than the other way around...
So how do we go about doing reversing that trend?
Have you ever heard the joke "How do you eat an elephant?" Answer: "One bite at a time!"
While none of us on our own are going to change the direction of this ship tomorrow, there are some things that we can all begin to do to help our children develop a discerning spirit that will hopefully prove to be salt and light to the world...
1) Don't hide from the culture
Sometimes Christian parents can go a little overboard with this one, shielding our kids from so much that we don't prepare them for life in the world. Scripture encourages us to "be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16), so while we do need to keep it age appropriate, we also need to start preparing our children early to face what's going on in the world! Start encouraging them to really think about what they see on TV, the movies, books they read, the music they listen to... If you do these activities together then the questions will flow much more naturally. At the very least, your kids will start getting used to having these kinds of conversations with you.
2) Do pick and choose wisely
No, we don't have to see or read or listen to everything; but maybe if we parents sometimes did a little more homework (like taking the time to preview or research or ask the opinion of a trusted pastor or friend) we would be able to help our kids navigate these waters a little more helpfully! Often the very things we think we're shielding our kids from, they will encounter at school, at another friend's house, or even at another family member's home. Helping them develop their "discernment antennae" will enable them to make good decisions when we're not around.
3) Ask questions...lots of them
Of course, ask your teens, but think of them and answer them for yourself as well. Here are a few for starters:
- What's the message here? Is it true?
- What happens when you do/think such and such? (Extrapolate the situation to the end...)
- What does the Bible teach about that?
- What would you say is the theme? Does it reflect truth? Does it reflect reality?
- What do you think God's opinion would be of this movie/book? Why?
- What do you think is the author/writer's opinion of God, based on what we've just seen/read?
- What might happen if you copied the main character's lifestyle and/or choices?
- Do the choices the characters make seem plausible or make sense? What do you think the consequences would be in real life?
Why are questions so important? When we just "take in" without analyzing, we allow ourselves to be molded by that input. We assimilate the attitudes and messages and the end result is "garbage in...garbage out." Asking questions causes us to activate our internal filters and be intentional in what we accept or reject. We develop and apply our God-given conscience to the constant barrage of information being thrown at us daily.
Want these questions in a convenient format?
Get immediate access to a downloadable format when you sign up for my newsletter. Just print them out, cut them out, and (optional) laminate them. Stick it in your purse or wallet and they'll be handy when these situations come up with your teen! Just say the word and I'll send them on...
4) Check your worldview
Fundamentally, think about what you believe about God - your beliefs about God filter how you approach and think about the world and those around you. There is so much written about worldview, and it is unconditional to developing discernment: our worldview is the filter through which we will discern truth. And keep in mind that we ALL have one, whether or not we can articulate it. Check the link for an excellent, easy-to-read article about worldview from Crossway.org.
5) Enlist People/Resources to Help You
Feeling overwhelmed?! Well, rest assured you're not alone - NObody can do this alone! But there are resources to help you navigate the process. Enlist the help of your pastor, youth leader or another parent you trust for their ideas or thoughts. There's nothing like learning from the voice of experience. My "go-to" online resource, of course, is Focus on The Family. They have great reviews on current books, movies, music, TV and games. I especially appreciate their "Culture Clips," a short weekly summary of what's currently being discussed in the media. Focus also publishes some terrific discussion guides to use during Family Movie Night (or our creative spin "Questionable Movie Night"). Invite some friends or another family over and make it fun and educational!