Participate in the Lives of America’s Youths

Back in the late 1990’s, Oregon-based sneaker manufacturer Nike had a slogan that resonates with me even today. It was nothing more than a new take on the word “play”, but it was intended to be a call to action for those adults who are so consumed with their nine-to-five jobs that they reserve very little time for children and youths.

Nike encouraged American adults to P.L.A.Y., or to simply “Participate in the Lives of America’s Youths.” For Nike, this probably was just another way to sell sneakers, because they never explained the outcomes associated with this participation. Granted, they did present images of adults playing with their children and youths on playgrounds, or cheering them on from the sidelines. But to social workers like me, individuals who get paid small sums of money to improve social conditions for children, youths and their parents, we know that this level of participation only meets the minimal requirements for what is really needed.

When social workers get involved – namely those working for state departments dedicated to the service and protection of children and their parents – the family unit has experienced a major crisis. These crises range from the physical, sexual or emotional abuse/neglect of children and youths to domestic violence between parents. In these types of scenarios, the parents are not participating in the lives of their children. The frustrations that they experience while pursuing the American dream have caused them to act out negatively rather than positively, and the light that they think is in front of them is shrouded in a cloud of despair and uncertainty.

But we parents need to understand that this light has never been in front of us at all; it has always been standing below us, pulling on our pants leg. No, it’s not the pet puppy or the cat. It’s our children looking up at us, saying, “I am the light that you seek, and the investment that you make in my life will pay dividends for you and the society at large.”

Our children are indeed flames flickering from the wicks of multi-colored candles, standing tall in the midst of the world’s darkness. And we Christian parents have been charged by God to stretch out our arms from the all-consuming fire to guide our children into it. After they have followed our example, of becoming one with the all-consuming fire, they will find God the Father at its center, seated high upon his throne, smiling down at them for making righteous decisions.

Our participation in their lives is important, but our guidance is paramount. We adults play a pivotal role in helping our children develop a healthy self-concept and Christ-centered worldview. Unfortunately for many of us, we are torn between two loves. We just have to have the big homes, expensive cars and stylish clothes. And like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor from the ABC sitcom Home Improvement, we just have to have the biggest, brightest Christmas trees during the holiday season.

Because we adults are so preoccupied with pursuits that have nothing to do with our children, everything to do with our own selfish ambitions, our children never really get a chance to make a connection with members of their respective families. Instead, they learn to love, honor and respect peers (albeit superficially) who are not obligated to showing them how to live lives that advance God’s kingdom. And since this obligation doesn’t exist, these peers have no problem breaking their promises to our children.

I don’t know about you, but I intend on being a promise keeper. Not because I’m obligated to do so, but because that’s the one investment that will bring about the greatest return.

Children give us parents’ opportunities to recapture moments from our own childhoods in which we gain an appreciation for learning, playing and working. For example, when I take fifteen minutes or more out of my day to read to my three-year-old son, I also receive an opportunity to refresh lessons learned about grammar and punctuation, the different parts of speech. Simultaneously, my son is building his vocabulary, learning how to recognize, speak and write new words.

When I play Hide and Seek with my son in the backyard, or teach him how to throw a football, he gets the exercise he needs to increase his strength and develop his fine motor skills. As a Christian parent, I’m always reminding him about the importance of taking care of his body through regular exercise and nutritious meals. Even at this young age, I want him to understand the obligation he has for taking care of his body. His body is nothing more than a brick that works in conjunction with other bricks (other Christians) to form God’s holy temple (the Body of Christ).

Lastly, when I allow my son to help me take out the trash or place dishes in the dishwasher, he develops an appreciation for work. He begins to understand why the bible tells us in the book of Proverbs that hard work brings about a profit. Sure, I have to explain that these profits are not always measured in dollars and cents, adding that gladness of heart is sometimes the most precious reward of all.

My hope is that these informal adventures in learning, playing and working foster a close-knit relationship between us, one in which open communication is a shared value. As he matriculates through the various stages of human development, he needs to know that he can share his thoughts and feelings with his mother and me. Unlike those unreliable others in his life, we, his parents, will provide the counsel he needs to make sense of these thoughts and feelings. By providing sound counsel, we inspire him to excel in his life pursuits.

I want to do whatever it takes to restore the world to its original state, one in which God reigns supreme. Our children possess the natural gifts, talents and abilities to complete this assignment. And through proper guidance from us, their biological parents, they can also gain the knowledge and foresight that is needed to influence others through their righteous words and deeds.

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