Seemingly without thought, a teen standing near my son began complaining about his school. With all his 16-year-old wisdom, he spoke badly about his teachers and about the administration’s policies. I watched as he rolled his eyes, shook his head in disgust and then glanced around to see if he had the support of those teens around him.
As I thought through this later that day, I was left with questions about the exchange. How does a student come to a place where he speaks so negatively about the school his parents have chosen for him? How does the Bible encourage us to speak?
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).
God has called us to a higher standard of extending grace to others. What impact does that criticism have on those around him?
A diet of frequent complaining can cause negativity to grow--from us to our children, from our children to their friends. Having worked at a variety of educational institutions, I have found that there is growing trend among students toward discontent. Perhaps this extends beyond our schools and is really a glimpse into a generation of people who feel entitled to have what is best. The apparent issue is that teens and tweens often lack the discernment to see the quality of the choices they have been given. Seeing the world through this lens may cause them to overlook the opportunities they have to become involved and inspire positive change.
But, where is this criticism learned? A parent’s negative viewpoint on the world at large can lead to children focusing on areas of shortfall, as well. As parents, we need to pay attention to our own sense of entitlement, the words we use, and the impact of those words. If we process our day by looking for what is wrong or lacking, if we criticize our employers, our schools, or our churches, our children may be learning from our communicated discontent.
Perhaps it is helpful to think, instead, in terms of fostering discernment in ourselves and in our kids. Criticism encourages a negative view. Discernment uses wisdom to understand a bigger picture. Teaching our children to look at things that matter to them and seek to deeply understand those things gives them a gift that they can use throughout their lives. Many of us are richly blessed, and those blessings call for gratitude. In areas of challenge, we are not victims, but are called to be agents of renewal.
Approaching life in this way also diminishes the growing trend of entitlement because we are not focusing on what is wrong or needs to be improved or on what we feel we deserve. We should instead seek to better understand the people that God connects us with in life and gain an appreciation for the world around us. Helping our children to think in this way may empower them not only to appreciate their schools, teachers, communities, but also to acknowledge areas of need. When we see that a need exists, we can be part of the solution instead of creating further discontent with negative thoughts and words.
Raising children who contribute to the world they are hoping to find is a life-long parenting task. But when they see us seeking to understand, learning to use wisdom, and choosing our words carefully, change can occur. When they watch our actions and observe our willingness to become involved, our children will rise up and do the same.
Fostering contentment and seeking understanding can help our children learn to discern. From this place, our children can begin to identify the needs they can meet in the Kingdom and become the solution to the very things they complain about today.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra