Bored by technology

Boredom—for children and for adults—is a perfectly modern condition.

In the history of the human race, boredom is practically brand new—less than three hundred years old.

The English word does not appear until the 1850s, and its parent word bore (as a noun—”he is such a bore”) appears only a century earlier. The French word ennui begins to mean what we call “boredom” around the same time. Before the eighteenth century, there simply wasn’t a common word for that feeling of frustration and lassitude that overtakes so many of us so often…

Could it be that modern life is boring in a way that pre-modern life was not? How could this be? Our world has more distractions and entertainments than we can ever consume. We feel busy and overworked in ways even our grandparents couldn’t have imagined (even as many of us work far less hard, physically than most of them did).

But that’s actually why we get bored. Boredom—for children and for adults—is a perfectly modern condition. The technology that promises to release us from boredom is actually making it worse—making us more prone to seek empty distractions than we have ever been. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get. . .

Boredom is actually a crucial warning sign–as important in its own way as physical pain. It’s a sign that our capacity for wonder and delight, contemplation and attention, real play and fruitful work, has been dangerously depleted.

–Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family

Parents, you need to read this book

I’ll let the author make the case for herself but as a father of six and a full-time education pastor who regularly interacts with other people’s kids, I have to say that I found this book compelling.

reset-your-childs-brainIn the introduction to her book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time, integrative psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley observes:

In a mere ten-year span from 1994 to 2003, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children increased forty-fold. Childhood psychiatric disorders such as ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, and tic disorders are on the rise. Between 2002 and 2005, ADHD medication prescriptions rose by 40 percent. Mental illness is now the number one reason for disability filings for children, representing half of all claims filed in 2012, compared to just 5 to 6 percent of claims twenty years prior.

Now consider that this rise in childhood psychosocial and neurodevelopmental issues has increased in lockstep with the insidious growth of electronic-screen exposure in daily life . . . Children aged two to six now spend two to four hours a day screen-bound — during a period in their lives when sufficient healthy play is critical to normal development. Computer training in early-years education–including in preschool–has become commonplace, despite a lack of long-term data on learning and development. And according to a large-scale survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010, children ages eight to eighteen now spend an average of nearly seven and a half hours a day in front of a screen–a 20 percent increase from just five years earlier. (2-3)

Even if you end up disagreeing with Dunckley that Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) is contributing to (if not causing) an increasingly broad spectrum of behavioral and/or developmental disorders, you will certainly benefit from knowing the pitfalls that accompany unregulated screen-time for children. I’ll let the author make the case for herself but as a father of six and a full-time education pastor who regularly interacts with other people’s kids, I have to say that I found this book compelling.

Although not a major focus of the book, parents would also benefit from the counsel that Dunckley provides concerning communication and discipline. A good bit of content is universally applicable. For example:

It’s very easy to get caught up arguing and debating whether there’s a problem and whether this is the right solution–which is exactly what you don’t want. Children will always have more energy than you, so it’s to their advantage to keep you engaged. It’s to yours to keep it short! (164-165; emphasis added)

And my personal favorite:

Who knows, but considering the current trend is wearable computing, the next wave of devices might make today’s screen-time problems seem laughable . . . So be wary when the next new technology comes out and steer clear of adding new devices to the home. It’s harder to have and give up than never to have at all. (240-241; emphasis added)

It may not be a fun read but it’s necessary. So take a look but be prepared: the diagnosis and prescription are not for the faint of heart.

Why Christians aren’t ‘nice’

‘Nice’ is the new ‘love.’

Near the end of a 2012 discussion of his book Coming Apart, Charles Murray touched on the difference between raising kids to be nice versus raising kids to be good. You can take a look and reflect for yourself (watch 39:06-40:12) but I wanted to draw attention to this statement in particular:

Being nice is a way of moment to moment not creating trouble. It is not a way of inculcating standards and behavior that will get you through tough times.

Now this was in the context of child-rearing but  Murray’s point is one that I have groped for when discussing the pseudo-Christian response to today’s sexual revolution. To wit, nice is the new love.

What the social engineers demand is that Christians be nice–that we acquiesce; go along to get along. Protests notwithstanding, the last thing they want from us is love unless they get to define it. In the new moral order love isn’t so much “patient” as it is “permissive.”

Yes, “love is kind” (1Cor 13:4). But keep reading. “Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth” (1Cor 13:6). And that’s why love isn’t always “nice”–because it rejoices in the truth. Love asserts that some things are right and some things are wrong. Love insists there is a fixed moral order that has been transgressed. Love says what we would rather not hear and rejects what we would rather accept.

And so the Christian who truly loves becomes a troublemaker. And troublemakers will never be considered nice.

Advice for a new mother

In the hope of offering something worthwhile to the hardest working people on the planet, I’ve concluded the best thing I could do is . . . shut-up and let someone speak who actually knows what they’re talking about.

Another Mother’s Day is behind us and millions of moms across the land find themselves back at the grind. Then again, for some moms (i.e. new, single, and/or military) the grind didn’t abate at all on Mother’s Day–or Sunday as they call it. But I digress.

In the hope of offering something worthwhile to the hardest working people on the planet, I’ve concluded the best thing I could do is . . . shut-up and let someone speak who actually knows what they’re talking about. Therefore, I eagerly give the platform to a squad leader who is already on her way to a highly decorated career. Currently in her fifteenth year of active duty, my wife had this to share with two of her sisters-in-law who have recently been assigned their own commission.

Time is strange.  According to Einstein, the closer a body moves to the speed of light, the slower time moves, which theoretically allows for time travel into the future.  As a mother I have experienced the miraculous way that days (and minutes and hours) seem to last an eternity while the years fly by.  I think that is because as a mom, you are moving near light speed all day, everyday, so time sometimes sssslllllloooooowwwwwssss to a crawl; but because you are moving so fast, you look back and years are gone. I am still in the thick of child rearing but our baby years are over and since I have  some time to think again, here are some things that I have learned along the way.

  1. God’s power has already granted to you everything pertaining to life and godliness (II Peter 1:3).  I cling to His power because as much as I want to live a holy life before my husband and children, it is impossible without this.  The sanctification process that God ushers in through his gift of children requires a desperate and humble dependence upon God’s power-which you already have.  That means in Christ you have the power to be patient, generous with your time, kind, gentle, selfless even when the demands of motherhood seem endless.
  2. The relationship between parent and child mirrors the relationship between you and God.  I am thankful for all of my “mirrors” who have revealed and even magnified so many flaws.  As I continue to teach and train my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, so the Lord uses this same teaching in my own life to train me.  Christ-likeness is a goal for everyone, not just the children (II Peter 1:3-11).
  3. Something’s gotta give!  In spite of what you see on…you name it–Pinterest, Facebook , your neighborhood–no one has it all together.  I have found that something always has to give.  So the house is super clean but we are all a tense mess because I have been barking at the kids all day, or the yard is looking spotless but the laundry is piled to the ceiling, or we completed a lot of school work and had a good home cooked meal, but I have no energy for my husband.  Since something has to give, make sure it is something with no spiritual or emotional significance.  A messy space is ok; expect it and learn to accept it. Use your time to build and maintain relationships with the Lord and your family (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
  4. Put down the parenting books.  You have real life references in all of us!  No one corners the market on wisdom in child-rearing.  Find someone who is doing well the thing you need help with  and seek advice from that person.  Your mom is a great example of how to give someone your attention.  It always amazes me when she stops whatever she is doing and turns to face the billion grubby, grabby, begging grandchildren and calmly and cheerfully listens to all of their stories and answers all of their questions. Very instructive.  We are always glad to help however we can (Titus 2:3-5).
  5. PRAY!! PRAY!! PRAY!!  Do not believe the hype that you wont have time to pray. Everyone has time to pray–you must obey and do it.  Pray for your husband, yourself, your children, your church, church leadership, country, country leadership, Christians around the world, the future–then rest in God (James 5:16, Eph 6:18).
  6. Make time and save energy for your husband.  Children need and demand so much of both!!  It can be depressing for a husband (and a marriage) when the focus is too much on the children. Love him. Cherish him. Encourage him.  As you both grow in Christ-likeness, it will be impossible for you to get too far apart (Song of Sol 6:3a).
  7. Learn to love your children.  That seems like a given and with some children it is really very easy.  But with others, and in very difficult times it’s not so simple.  You have to learn to love as Christ loves-knowing our flaws and working to fix them but loving us because we are His image bearers and because He has a covenant with us.  Accept that some children will be like you, easy for you to understand and relate to, some will be very different and more of a challenge to get along with.  Each one is a gift, each one is a mirror, each one is a new soul to train for Christ (John 13:34).

This is not an exhaustive list, of course; just a few of the things that God has taught me along the way.  Remember that while you and your husband are just beginning a new path, you are not alone.  God is with you always and WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU!   -Chris


Mini-musings: parenting books

I’m no connoisseur of parenting books but I’ve read a few. Here are some random thoughts.

I’m no connoisseur of parenting books but I’ve read a few. Some random thoughts:

  1. No one book has the corner on parenting wisdom. The only Father who could provide the definitive parenting manual didn’t and I doubt anyone else can.
  2. I’ve yet to find a “rosetta stone” in print for even one of my kids let alone all six. No one has kids just like mine so how could they have all the answers I’m looking for? 
  3. I can’t remember any specific tips or actionable intelligence from the books I’ve read. What I do remember is much more broad–a general perspective or overall philosophy which may/may not be helpful.
  4. What my wife and I learn outside of the books is greater than what we’ve learned inside of the books. For better or worse, our parents and our own experience have been the richest parenting guides.
  5. A renewed emphasis on the centrality of gospel & grace, while helpful, sometimes leaves the impression that law & discipline aren’t essential for Christ-like parenting. The only perfect father on record gave his children laws for their benefit (Psa 19:7ff; Gal 3:24).

Parents, be patient

I stumbled across this post from David Murray today. When you’re in the thick of parenting you can use all the sound advice you can get. Helpful for any active parent hut especially timely for me–I’m flying solo for a week while my wife is visiting her parents.

{Inner monologue: easy, Merritt. wait for it, wait for it…}

The name above all names

This will likely be the last post for 2015 so I thought it should be particularly poignant.

Setting: present-day America in the Bible-belt south.

Scene: A father is sharing some quality time with his three girls (4, 5, & 9yrs) a couple of days before Christmas. Sitting on the couch with his youngest daughter, the two are rehearsing the Christmas story.

4yr old: When I have a baby I’m going to name them “Stable.”
Dad: Would you name the baby “Stable” if they were a boy or a girl?
4yr old: If it’s a boy I’d name him “Stable”; if it’s a girl I’d name her “Manger.”
5yr old (standing nearby): You should name her “Jesus.”
4yr old (with a wrinkled face): That’s a horrible name.

Press on, parents. Merry Christmas!

We’ll always be Flanderses

The_Flanders_FamilyEven though princes sit and talk against me, Your servant meditates on Your statutes. 

The arrogant utterly deride me, Yet I do not turn aside from Your law. {Psalm 119:23, 51 NAS}

We’ve been reading a psalm or two at the table by asking the kids to pick a number between 1-150. The method is strangely appealing to the youngers in our brood because they get to decide what everyone hears. The older kids are challenged to name a chapter that hasn’t already been read under threat of hearing the ‘wrong answer’ buzzer.

I know what you’re thinking and the answer is yes–our weekends are even crazier.

Anyway, one of the “problems” with familiarizing your kids with the Bible is that they endeavor to use their knowledge against you. In psalm selection it happens when a former cherub chooses Psalm 119 and smiles as if to say “Your move, Dad. Let me know how this works out with the 4 & 5-yr old.”

{Once again the boy has underestimated his old man. With the serenity of a sage I explain that Psalm 119 is broken up into stanzas, each one beginning with a letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and that we’ll simply take a couple stanzas a night to read the entire chapter.


Uh…heh heh…I mean…

“Children, hearken unto the voice of the Lord as we read.”}

And so we came across the psalmist conveying his devotion to the Law even in the face of criticism and derision. Since Psalm 119 is an ode to the beauty and perfection of God’s word it seems safe to say that the psalmist is scorned precisely because he loves and adheres to the divine statutes.

Now I realize that “slander” and “ridicule” are measured on a sliding scale. I recognize that some Christians nurse microaggressions with the skill of a Mizzou undergrad. And I regretfully acknowledge that some of our company practically invite the disdain we decry. But exceptions don’t negate the rule: those who love the Word will not be esteemed by the world.

To put it another way, if you love the Word you will not be able to avoid a certain sense of alienation. The psalmist gets at this a few verses later (v54) when he declares Your statutes are my songs in the house of my pilgrimage. I love the paradox–a home-owning pilgrim. This is, I think, a helpful way to get to the point I want to make. Whatever place my kids may find among the general populace I want them to think of themselves as pilgrims first.

If that happens, they will always have some sense of being in a strange, old world. But conversely, they will be seen as strange by the world–little Rods and Todds in their very own Springfield.

Our secular preachers tell us that you always hate what you don’t understand. In that case, I hope my kids love the Word so much that they end up being the ones the world hates best.

Sometimes the ice is thick

frozen-rock-pondI wish I could point you to the originator of this analogy but I can’t remember where I heard it. {“Maybe your audience knows; you should ask him.” -DS} It goes something like:

Evangelizing your children is like throwing rocks onto a frozen pond. Nothing breaks through. But when the sun comes out to thaw the ice the rocks will fall in.

On a recent drive I was telling my wife that I’d been asked to ‘baptize’ a terminally ill convert in hospice care. Death was near but the baptism was on the following day. One of our young eavesdroppers asked what would happen if the patient died prior to baptism.

What he said was something like, “What if she dies before you can baptize her?”.

What I heard was, “Dad, I know baptism is important, but could you remind me and all my siblings that in Christ we’re justified by grace through faith?”.

So with my captive audience in tow I eloquently celebrated–in an age appropriate way, of course–the truth of the gospel. I spoke of how nothing we do or don’t do can ever make us right (or keep us right) with God. I succinctly explained that as important as baptism is (Jesus commanded it!) it’s a sign of salvation but not the saving work itself. Baptism doesn’t save us; Jesus does.

It didn’t take long but when I finished I couldn’t believe how well I had done. The only thing missing was the organ music & an aisle to walk. Maybe I should pull the car over and call for any converts to step to curb. This would certainly go down as one of the finest moments in otherwise checkered parenting career.

And then I heard the sweet voice of our scrubby, preschool cherub: “Dad, I wouldn’t kick a baby.”

I still have no idea what she was talking about. Babies played no part in my theological discourse. I was left wondering what my girl had heard. More accurately, I wondered if my girl had heard anything.

Did any of them hear what I was saying?

Reality check: I’ll never be able to talk my kids into saving faith. But “faith comes from hearing and hearing from the word of Christ.” So I’ll pile his weighty words on their cold hearts, praying for the day that his light melts the ice.

Good medicine for parents

I was skimming a sample from a new small group study, The Gospel-Centered Parent, when I came across some good reminders about how the gospel–rightly understood and applied–shapes our parenting. [theological terms added]

[Justification] Since we are declared not guilty, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We let go of the pressure of trying to prove ourselves through good parenting and right kids. We’re free simply to love our children because our worth comes from Jesus, not them.
  • We are humble, openly admitting our sins, deeply aware that we too are big sinners (just like our children) and are righteous only because of Jesus.

[Adoption] Because we are God’s children, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We aren’t consumed with building our family’s reputation or image, but instead find joy in being part of God’s family.
  • We are dependent and child-like parents, praying often as we trust our own heavenly Father for every family need.

[Sanctification] Because we are growing to be like Jesus, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We are confident and patient with our children, even when they persist in disobeying. We keep teaching them God’s ways and humbly showing them his love.
  • We use the Spirit’s tools with our children—prayer, the Word of God, and the gospel message—rather than our own wisdom or nagging.

[Resurrection & Reward] Since we have eternal life, gospel-centered parenting means…

  • We don’t live for our children’s success or worldly happiness, and we teach them not to live for it. Our hope is in Jesus.
  • We are not undone by suffering or family disappointments. We know these will not last.
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