Last week my post, 8 Things Parents Can Do Now To Shape The Teen Years Ahead, was so widely read and shared that my supposition behind the article seemed confirmed: Parents of younger kids are fearful for the teen years ahead and want tips and guidance. While following steps makes us feel more in control, it does not guarantee smooth sailing. We, and our children are sinners, and we live in a fallen world so there will be struggles. But for the parent of younger children reading this, I hope this new mini blog series entitled Before the Teen Years will serve to shape your parenting perspective so you feel better equipped to walk into the years ahead.
And for those parents already in the thick of the teen years, it’s never too late to undo, redo or make changes if need be. No matter what your story, may you be encouraged to keep pursuing truth with your teen even when it seems easier to throw up your hands in defeat. Satan would love for you to buy that lie that “teens will be teens” and what you say doesn’t matter, but it’s not true!
So the first of this series: Getting to the Heart of Sin with Our Kids
In my previous post I said: “Create categories for understanding their heart. Talk about sin as idolatry- whatever rules their hearts is what they functionally look to for ‘life’ instead of God. Even if your child is too young to understand, remember teaching precedes understanding. If they already know the terminology and have been trained to think deeper about what is going on in their hearts, the conversations will naturally go deeper as they grow older.” Now I want to break this down.
Creating Categories For Understanding the Heart
We don’t like to use the word “sin.” Maybe in part because we think making them think they are “bad” will hurt their self-esteem. But I also think it’s because we don’t really know the depth of sin. Sin is more than bad behavior; it is a heart condition and without the contrary influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives it is our human default mode!
Romans 3:10-12, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
Our kids need to know this foundational truth- and so do we. When we start with this premise, God and his grace become bigger. We see (and they see) how desperately needy we are of Jesus’ worth and work for us, and how amazing it is we can claim it as our identity!
Additionally, when we understand our natural bent toward sin, instead of being shocked by it (which leads our kids to deny it or hide it from us) we can enter in to theirs with compassion. When they see this as our response it makes it easier for them come to us and not cover from us. And isn’t that what we want, teens who talk?!
Talking About Sin as Idolatry
At the core of all sin is misplaced worship onto something other than God. Or you could say, turning away from God and to a false source for identity/worth/life. It’s the reason the first of the 10 Commandments is, “You shall have no other gods besides me (Exodus 20:3).” Breaking all other commandments also includes breaking #1. So whether I steal, covet or bear false witness against another I am being ruled by something other than God. Perhaps its my desire to look better at the expense of someone else. Or, my looking to possession to give me status and acceptance. It’s the why behind my actions, which always points to an idol. Therefore we must connect these dots for our kids so they learn to trace their behavior backwards to uncover the lies they are believing to be true and false gods they are looking to for life.
Teaching Precedes Understanding
Depending on the age of your child, the concept of sin as idolatry might be impossible to initially grasp, but it doesn’t mean we wait until they do. Our teaching is what shapes understanding. By creating the categories to explain their actions (the sin beneath the sin) when they are young, you are giving them the eyes to better see Jesus through a deeper understanding of what’s going on below the surface in their hearts. You are also setting in place the normal dialogue of these types of heart conversations.
I can tell you from life with my own teenagers, it’s not that having this understanding will prevent them from chasing false gods and buying into Satan’s lies; just as it doesn’t for us. But with the right foundation of who we are and who God is, coupled with an instilled belief that they can always come freely to his throne of grace (without condemnation and shame) the hope is they will have the eyes to discern truth and see their need. This is what I want most for my kids; not for them to always be happy or never to sin (because that’s not possible). But if they know Jesus is safe to go to, always forgiving and forever faithful, even when they are not, may they experience the realities of his love and desire to live for him.
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