Kidolatry: Growing Up in the Modern World

canstockphoto100379664th in the series, “Modern Family?”

Larry L. Eubanks, First Baptist Church, Frederick, Maryland, April 24, 2016

In 2004, Dr. Carolina Izquierdo, an anthropologist at UCLA, spent several months in Peru living among a tribe of about 12,000 people called the Matsigenka. This tribe lives along the Amazon.

Now, for all you young people, the Amazon is a river in South America, not the place where you can order books, stream movies, and do your Christmas shopping.

This tribe live in live in homes which use the leaves of a certain kind of palm tree to make their roofs. Dr. Izquierdo accompanied a local family on a five-day trip to collect some of these palm leaves. There was a girl from another family who asked to go along.

This little girl, Yanira, wasn’t required to do anything. She was not told to do anything. Still, twice every day she swept sand off the sleeping mats, and she helped stack the leaves for transport. Each evening she fished for crustaceans, which she cleaned, boiled, and served to the rest of the group. She was no trouble at all. She asked for nothing.

She was six-years old.

Dr. Izquierdo had a colleague at UCLA, Dr. Elinor Ochs, who was doing her own research into the family life of middle-class families in Los Angeles. She selected 32 families who agreed to be filmed as they lived their daily lives—as they ate, cleaned up, argued, reconciled, etc.

The two researchers were shared a common interest. They wanted to see how parents from different cultures raised their children. How did they prepare their children to be fully functioning adults? What they found out is that the American parents pretty much didn’t prepare their kids to be anything other than kids. The L.A. children didn’t regularly perform any household chores. Those they did perform they had to be told to, and never without a fight. Sometimes the kids won the fight; the parents simply gave up and did it themselves.

For example, one time a father asked his 8-year-old son repeatedly to take a bath, but the son never moved. Finally his father picked him up and took him to the bathroom. The kid waited a few minutes, then when he figured dad was busy doing something else he left the bathroom and started playing video games.

Another time a little girl sat down for dinner and noticed she didn’t have any silverware. Instead of getting up and getting herself a knife and fork, she said, “How am I supposed to eat?” Her father jumped up immediately and got her some silverware.

One more example. One family was supposed to be going somewhere, but they had to wait because their son, Ben, couldn’t get his shoes on because they were still tied. He held one of the shoes up to his father and demanded, “Untie it.”

Dad objected to the tone of the “request,” so Ben said, “Can you untie it?” They went back and forth, and finally dad untied the shoes. After Ben put them on he asked his father to tie them for him, which caused dad to lose it. “Tie your shoes and let’s go!” To which Ben replied, “I was just asking!”

The two colleagues asked, Why do the Matsigenka children to so much without being asked? And why do the American parents do so much for their children while the children do wo little?

It’s a good question. If you are wondering what I mean by “kidolatry,” these stories give you the definition.

In “Spoiled Rotten,” an article in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert writes, “With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods.”

Now, if you are a parent with kids living at home, you probably already know, just based on what I’ve said so far, whether or not you are a kidolater; nevertheless, let’s talk about how to know if you are. What are some of the symptoms of kidolatry?

 

Symptoms of Kidolatry

· Doing things for kids that they can do for themselves

You find yourself doing things for your kids that they can and should be doing for themselves. If a six-year-old girl can catch, clean, and serve a meal of crustaceans, little Johnny can get his own bowl of Cheerios and pour some milk in it. It’s not that complicated.

I don’t remember my mom ever cooking me a breakfast. I’m sure she did when I was really little, but by the time we were in elementary school we did our own breakfasts. A bowl of cereal is pretty simple, but we didn’t always do that. Sometimes I would make cheese toast. I knew how to work a toaster oven. Eventually I moved up to frying eggs.

The only thing that mom did was get me up. While I was eating she’d make my lunch. That’s it. I got myself dressed, which some mornings made for some interesting outfits.

For those of you who don’t know, stripes and polka dots do go together. At least they did back then.

· You give your kids lots of “toys”

I realize this is going to make me sound like my father, who did literally walk 3 miles to school, although it wasn’t uphill both ways or through driving snow, south Mississippi being both flat and hot.

But when I was a kid, we had one TV in the house (with all of five watchable channels) and one stereo record player. One phone too.

But kids need more of this stuff today, right? Because what else are they going to do at home since they aren’t doing many chores?

· Over-scheduled lives

It seems we fill every minute of every day of our kid’s lives with scheduled activities. In a way this is the same as the first one, doing things for them that they can do for themselves—we are deciding their activities, even if we bring them into the decision, but there is little left over where they have to decide for themselves what to do with their time.

When you look at sermons from 30-50 years ago, one of the major themes was spending enough time with your children. I grew up in the age when Dad’s had jobs and careers that kept them busy, and women were increasingly entering the full-time job market, whether by choice or by financial necessity. The challenge was giving kids the time and attention they needed.

We seem to have moved to the other extreme, where we give our kids too much attention. I mentioned that my father was one of seven kids because farming families needed lots of hands to do the work.

Now, instead of the kids serving in the family, mom and dad see to exist to serve the kids.

The result is that not only are the kid’s lives overscheduled, but so are parents. And because our lives are busy, we find ourselves doing things for them that they can do for themselves. It’s just easier, and quicker, and there is no mess to clean up when Johnny can’t handle the complex task of pouring milk on his Cheerios.

But that’s not the only reason we do it. Let’s look at three more.

 

Reasons for Kidolatry

· The need for our kids to be special

Nobody seems to have normal, run of the mill children anymore. They are all special, out of the ordinary, destined-for-exceptional-things kind of kids.

What’s wrong with being a normal child? Apparently, everything. We live in a society in which it seems the only way to succeed is to be better than everyone else at something. To be special, elite. Specialization—focusing on narrower and narrower fields of study—is increasing, which means lots of people can be an “expert” in one very narrow thing.

The only problem is that life isn’t that narrow. By trying to find that one thing our child can be special at, we are guaranteeing that they will pretty much be incompetent at a whole host of things.

And it’s exhausting. Madeline Levine, in her book Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success, writes “Most parents today were brought up in a culture that put a strong emphasis on being special. Being special takes hard work and can’t be trusted to children. Hence the exhausting cycle of constantly monitoring their work and performance, which in turn makes children feel less competent and confident, so that they need even more oversight.”

I think a lot of parents grew up not feeling special, and are determined that their kids won’t ever have to feel that way. But it doesn’t work.

· The need to clear all obstacles to their maximum potential

All our kids are destined for an education at a great college where they can get a great career, and that basketball or gymnastics scholarship sure can help. So we not only give them extra coaching, but if little Johnny ends up being a less than stellar student, it somehow becomes the teacher’s fault or the school’s fault, or the coaches fault.

And is our duty as parents to fix it. So we have a meeting with the teacher to figure out what they are doing wrong. Or we call the coach and demand more playing time. Or hire a lawyer. One writer told about a high school that required seniors to write an eight-page paper and present a ten-minute oral report before graduating. When one senior got a failing grade on his project, his parents hired a lawyer.

· The need to protect them from a dangerous world

I struggled with how to address this. I’m not sure the world is any more dangerous than it’s ever been. It may be dangerous in different ways, but I’m not sure that it’s just that we hear about it more than we used to. News is a business that seeks a profit and so they go with what sells, and bad news sells. News doesn’t try to present an accurate picture of the world—that’s actually pretty boring. News presents the picture that will sell the most advertising.

But, still, the need to protect our young is instinctual, and when you see the world as a very dangerous place, it’s natural to be fear for your kids.

It’s natural, but it’s a terrible way to raise a child. Fear-based parenting is rampant, and it’s harmful to both parent and child.

We’ll talk about that later, but first, let’s remind ourselves what parenting is about. I said last week that parenting is the process of gradually empowering your children to become fully functioning adults in an interdependent world.

You don’t empower a child by doing everything for them. So with that in mind, let’s talk about some ways to deal with kidolatry.

 

How to Cure Kidolatry

The first two are simple and go together, so let’s just group them together:

· Just Say No

· Ignore Them

Yes, your pastor just told you to ignore your kids. You’d never see that in a sermon 30 years ago.

Pamela Druckerman is a writer who moved to Paris after she lost her job. There she met a guy from Great Britain, and they married and had a little girl, whom Druckerman nicknamed Bean. She raised Bean the only way she knew how—as an American, and she wrote a book about it, Bringing Up Bébé.

 

She says she noticed that every time they went somewhere, Bean was always the worst-behaved child. They’d go to a restaurant and while the French children were sitting quietly with their parents, Bean was loud and throwing tantrums—and food.

So Druckerman began talking to French mothers, and learned that they all believe that ignoring their children is good for them.

“French parents don’t worry that they’re going to damage their kids by frustrating them,” she writes. “To the contrary, they think their kids will be damaged if they can’t cope with frustration.”

She was visiting with another mother who told her that when her baby started crying she always waited five minutes before picking her up. And they whole time they are talking, this woman’s 3-year-old was in the kitchen, unsupervised, baking cupcakes!

She also learned that, in contrast to herself and her American friends, when French parents say, “Non,” they mean it.

They “view learning to cope with ‘no’ as a crucial step in a child’s evolution. It forces them to understand that there are other people in the world, with needs as powerful as their own.”

· Develop Their Immune Systems

How do our immune systems grow? By being isolated from from things that can make us sick? No, but by being exposed to them.

When Angela and Austin were little and we were living in Georgia, Pam wanted them to get over the chicken pox before they started school and had to miss anything important, so whenever some kid in town got the chicken pox she would take the kids over there to play. Can you imagine that phone call? “I’m so sorry Jennie is not feeling well. Can my kids come over for a while? Maybe they can all take a nap together or something.”

It didn’t work, of course. Angela was in elementary school, and it was the week before Christmas. She was supposed to light the Advent Candle on Christmas Eve, and she got the chicken pox. Austin got it the week after.

But that’s how immunity works. It’s the principle behind vaccinations—you inject a weakened or dead version of the virus and the body develops antibodies to protect you.

This reminds me of a passage in James that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. James 1:2-4 says,

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Testing of your faith produces endurance. If you never experience anything difficult, who will you learn endurance and perseverance? How will you learn to deal with tough times?

It’s the same principle with your child. How does a kid learn how to deal with boredom? By being bored. Let them be bored.

How does a kid learn to deal with failure? By failing. Let them fail. They aren’t going to die, especially if you don’t treat it as a big deal. Failure is a teaching opportunity. They learn what doesn’t work.

· Counter Fear with Love not Control

The last couple of weeks I’ve talked about how power and love are in inverse relationship with each other. The more power is expressed in a relationship, the less love is a part, and the more love is expressed in a relationship, the less power is exerted over each other.

When you are afraid of something, you seek to control it. Fear is an expression of something being out of your control. But control is an expression of power. The more control you exert over someone, the less love you are exerting. Control a person too much, and you will build resentment, not gratitude or love.

So even though you are trying to protect your child out of love, if that protection comes in the form of control, then you are parenting out of fear, not love.

Fear says, “It’s a dangerous world out there; I must protect my child from it.”

Love says, “It’s a dangerous world out there; I must prepare my child for it.”

Fear says, “Failure is wrong; I must protect my child from it.”

Love says, “Failure is natural and helpful; I must prepare my child to learn from it.”

Christians often see themselves as “apart from the world,” but Paul tells us to be separate from the world it is so we can help the world, not because we are afraid of it. Being afraid of the world means that if we try to engage in mission we’ll only do it from the safety of our homes or our churches. We’ll write a check for a missions fund or sponsor a Compassion child. But that’s just paying someone else to engage the world so that we don’t have to.

Christian parents who constantly talk about the world as an evil, malevolent, and dangerous place which we must be avoid as much as possible paint a grim view of the future for young people wanting to find their own place in life. If a parent lives in fear of the world, the children will pick up on that and seek to control their world rather than love it.

Perfect love casts out fear. Jesus loved the world, and so he engaged it, and he did so fearlessly. He ate with sinful outcasts, he touched lepers, and he marched to the seat of power and confronted the powers that be.

It got him killed, but even then, even when he was afraid, he was fearless. And that’s why he rose from the dead three days later. Love raised him up.

Parenting is tough, but so are kids. Don’t be afraid of parenting, or of the world. Trust your kids more. Trust God more. Trust builds love, and love seeks not control, but the freedom to be who God has called you and your children to be.

Image by © Can Stock Photo Inc. / max5128

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