By Jenna Fleming
Writer, Pastor’s Wife, & Member of Union Avenue Baptist Church, Memphis
Children today (and perhaps adults in the general populace as well) are often not drawn to what they need, but to what is right in front of them. Truth, goodness, and beauty are available and can be found in nature, great literature, works of art, music, and such, but amusement and frivolity are available as well and easily accessible. Our parents’ generation had television. We have streaming services, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, along with television and its 500 channels that we don’t need. Now, before I come off anti-entertainment (maybe I already have) I want to be clear that I use many of these and enjoy them on occasion. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of it, but there is something wrong in how we use or misuse them.
As a parent, I am becoming particularly aware of how an increase of silliness in my children’s environment causes them to crave more.
With access to images and sounds everywhere all the time why would our children thoughtfully look elsewhere for truth, goodness, and beauty? Whoever screams the loudest gets heard. The culture at large is screaming and we are all tuned in. It is our duty as parents to expose our children to the true, the good, and the beautiful, and in order for us to do this we must first be exposed to the true, the good, and the beautiful ourselves.
Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). The literal meaning of “think” here is “to dwell” or “to ponder.” How can we dwell or ponder on the true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, and the like if we are in the words of Neil Postman, “amusing ourselves to death?” Furthermore, how can we expect our children to dwell upon that which they are not exposed to? The home is a museum for character formation, and we the parents are its curators. If we are not laying a sturdy foundation, then who is? YouTube? Whoever screams the loudest gets heard.
This is why I appreciate classical Christian education, especially today. I have the privilege and responsibility to guide my children in truth and to train them to appreciate and admire God’s creation, great works of art, literature, order, form, and beauty. With reading aloud, listening to music, learning an instrument, walking through nature, visiting museums, and discussing it all through meaningful conversations, we have the opportunity to cultivate the character of our children. And we don’t have to be homeschoolers to do this. We can incorporate worth and meaning into what we are already doing in the daily practices of our home including eating, playing, talking, reading, and enjoying life together.
We can be silly. We do silly real well. But as Solomon tells us, there is a “time for everything.” Not everything is meant to be silly. Our children will crave it and limited exposure is harmless, but the heart of our home must contain substance, meaning, and worth. We tend the garden of our home and lead our children to what will nourish them, not what will amuse them. If our children are left to themselves, the culture will mitigate our role as parents so that our children will perhaps never learn to desire what is true, good, and beautiful, or even be able to identify what it is.
We don’t have to scream for our children to hear us. We simply must offer them what is worthy of their attention and will enrich their lives in the long run.