I grew up in small town America. Neighbor kids and I roamed the hills (literally, since we lived in the Smokies). We stayed out past dark, playing kick the can and catching those illusive fireflies. From the time my eyes were level with the kitchen table, I strolled down a few blocks to our local grocery store where Mr. Adams, wearing his stained butcher's apron, would greet me at the door with a cheery hello. I walked to school every day by myself. My parents left the front door unlocked. Mom's greatest caution to me was "Never take candy from a stranger." I don't even remember a stranger offering me candy. You see, in my town, no one was a stranger. And the person who gave me candy the most was the beloved storekeeper, Mr. Adams. To me, the world was my playground.
My hometown is still small, but I dare say kids no longer roam freely or adults leave their doors unlocked. Times have changed. And with that, all the things we must educate our kids about. Here are some areas to cover and thoughts to share when the questions come, and if they never come, the things you as a parent are responsible to communicate in order to adequately prepare your child for life.
Never a better time than the present day to sit down with your child and have a heart-to-heart talk. He is hearing things "out there" that can be confusing and frightening. He needs the reassurance of a stable parent in times like these. Stay informed. Answer his questions honestly, with just enough information to satisfy. Your tone of voice and facial manner will communicate fear, uneasiness, or confidence in a God who is in control of our lives, as well as the lives of the rulers of the world. Take him to scripture. Memorize passages of comfort and faith. Tell him the stories of times past. War and the threat of global conflict and unrest have always been an issue. Take him to the Lord in prayer. Hug him often. Surround him with good and happy things. Use discretion in viewing the news. Take practical steps to collect necessary items in case of an emergency, but don't obsess. Model strength, faith, and peace before him and he will take those things with him wherever he goes. He will most likely reflect your attitude and state of mind.
Teach your child the facts about drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. Don't just assume the school system is doing its job. You are the parent. Make sure your child knows the reality of what drug use can do to the mind, body, and spirit. If possible and appropriate, tour a drug rehab center. A firsthand view of what drug detox really involves can be eye opening. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Again, use scripture as the foundation for this training, as well as all others. The child must know that his body, as a believer, is the temple of the Holy Spirit and what he puts into it is either a disgrace or an honor to the Lord of lords! Even if the child is not a Christian, as an awesome creation of God, created in His image, he owes it to himself to keep his body free from harmful substances that undermine God's work.
This area is closely related to the above topic. We firmly believe that peers will either make or break a young person! Especially as a child moves into junior high and his major support is shifting from parents to other teens. Teach your child early on to choose friends wisely. Lead your child in a study of Proverbs, a practical guide to godliness in all areas of life. Help him list characteristics of a good friend. Solomon addresses our choice of companions often, which makes this old book as timely today as it was thousands of years ago. This one area alone is a major reason why a family should consider Christian education as an alternative to public schooling. Not isolation, but better opportunities to choose wisely. Rather than be thrown into a sea of multiple choices, it narrows the playing field, which is easier for a child in the formative years. Parents are close at hand to model values, monitor mistakes, and encourage godly decision-making.
If you have been open in answering questions from day one, then this should not be a difficult area to communicate. Again, your attitude and availability will make all the difference. I (Eileen) remember our nine-year-old running into the kitchen from playtime. I was busy washing dishes, but I could tell something was on her mind. She didn't wait for me to ask. She blurted out, "So, how does one DO IT?" "Do what?" I countered. "Have sex?" she questioned. She felt comfortable coming to me because I had always been straightforward in answering her questions in the past. I pulled up a chair, and quietly explained the process of intercourse. Rather than being shocked, she simply replied, "Oh, okay." And ran back outside to play. I can only imagine that she had gone to set her friend straight or reaffirm what she had already heard.
Again, the scriptures are our basis for all of life. Show them the beauty of sexual love within a marriage. But teach them that God has guidelines set up for our good and not our harm, that we may not bring evil upon others and ourselves. Emphasize purity in the growing years. Read good books together to lay the foundation. Preparing for Adolescence by James Dobson is an excellent study, including book and tapes. We used this on our get-a-way overnight for mom and daughter when each girl turned twelve. Passion and Purity by Elisabeth Elliot is another good set of tapes. The Josh Harris book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye is great for encouraging abstinence. Very honest and forthright in his approach, he recommends emphasizing group ministry over the dating game. In this way, young people get to know one another in a truer setting than when they isolate themselves. Also helps avert temptation and promote purity.
Not just "don't take candy from a stranger anymore." With the explosion of Internet use, the dangers have significantly increased. Chat rooms can lead to stalking right in your own neighborhood. Warn your child and set limits and guidelines for online use. Stay educated yourself. Technology has changed even in our children’s lifetime. That's how fast things are moving! Get advice from police officers. Join a neighborhood watch program. Some practical things to remember:
1. Have keys in hand before going to your car.
2. Be aware that some predators hide under cars and pull their victims by the ankle.
3. Walk to your car with confidence. Keep purse tucked under your arm, not swinging to your back.
4. Get in the passenger door if a van or car parked beside you looks suspicious. Some predators pull their victims in when the person goes to get in the driver's side.
5. Keep car doors locked at stoplights and intersections.
6. Don't walk alone, especially at night. Always pair up.
7. Avoid unlit areas and unknown areas.
8. Report strange activity to your local police.
9. Scream loudly if attacked. This will often scare a predator away for fear of being detected.
10.If put in a car trunk, kick out the taillights, and stick your hand through the hole to flag down the car traveling behind.
These are not items we like to think about for our kids or ourselves, but we need to make them aware of safety measures. The main thing is TALK TO YOUR KIDS, LISTEN TO THEIR QUESTIONS, AND ANSWER WITH CONFIDENCE. Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know; let's find out about this together." Prayerfully, with these guidelines in place, you can tell your child the truth about life without scaring him to death.