Am I the only person who is concerned that our teenagers are buying into a system of dating that might not be good for them in the long run? Our teen culture’s system of go together/break up/repeat is counterproductive if their eventual desire is to be successful long-term in marriage. But most kids (even “good” Christian kids) have never considered that.
This is something I document fully in the book I just finished writing. (You’ll have to wait a bit longer if you want to read it.) In the meantime, here’s an illustration I stole from the manuscript…
There is a small pond in our neighborhood, probably no bigger than a few acres. It has a healthy population of fish that the neighborhood kids catch and release.
I would imagine that the existence of a fish living in that pond is a relatively simple and peaceful one. He has a limited understanding of reality: he swims, he eats, he reproduces. He has never laid eyes on a mountain or skyscraper or a sectional sofa. His tiny little brain has no understanding of philosophy or ethics or taxes. Except for the occasional kid who puts a hook in his mouth, stares at him for a few moments and then tosses him back in the water, he has very little stress.
What would it be like to be able to “speak fish” for a few minutes and try to explain to some large mouth bass in that pond that there exists a whole different world beyond the environment of his watery home? How easy would it be for me to convince him that there are trillions upon trillions of creatures who successfully live in the oxygen that he can’t seem to breathe? Outside of the pond, there is history and culture and art and beauty on display in millions of different dimensions and colors. There are digital cameras and drive thru restaurants and reality television shows.
If I could communicate with that fish, it is unlikely that he would believe me about any of this. In fact, he would probably not even have the ability to comprehend what I was trying to describe for him. It would be too far removed from his understanding of what is real and what is true.
Our kids are a lot like that fish.
The everyday environment in which our young people grow up will help define, in a large part, their perspective of reality. It will determine for them what is normal, what is acceptable, and what is expected of them. If a particular lifestyle or belief is prevalent in their world and if it seems to work for the people around them, they are likely to embrace it as their own. It becomes the lens through which they see the world. From that point on, it is unlikely that they will easily see it any other way.
Psychologists define this as a person’s “schema.” Dictionary.com puts it this way: “A schema provides the basis by which someone relates to the events he or she experiences.” It is simply a fancy way of saying that a person’s experiences and background will cause them to think about things and issues a certain way.
So here’s the big question: “Should the schema of a Christ-follower be different from the schema of someone whose life is not submitted to Christ?” In other words, should our values and perspectives and worldview be different?
We would think so.
However, it is becoming increasingly more difficult in western Christianity to see a difference between believers and unbelievers. The lines separating us with regard to our worldview, our habits, and our lifestyle choices are becoming more and more grey.
In John 15:19, Jesus put it this way: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” Christ made clear that one of the facets of being His disciples would be that the world, as a whole, wouldn’t like us. It wouldn’t fully understand us. In contrast, he says that if we are of the world (as opposed to being of Him), then we are going to fit in to the dominant culture very nicely.
The reality is that our kids are fitting into the culture all too comfortably.
Christian parents must be consistently driving home the truth that we are called to be and live and think differently than the world. We must train our kids very early on that we are not going to play by the world’s rules. We do this not to be restrictive but because God has called us to a better way. It may be hard sometimes. We may end up feeling a bit like fish out of water, but it’s just the reality of living as a Christ-follower in a fallen world.
Families with teenagers must face this reality as it relates to what dating will look like. Young teenagers whose parents have not been deliberate to define a few rules and realities will naturally come to embrace what they see around them. In their young minds, what the world offers to them will be normal, reasonable, and appropriate.
However, those who are raised in homes with intentional parents will already know both some perspectives and some parameters regarding what they can expect in their interactions with the opposite sex. They will have been equipped from a very early age to consider that some of the culture’s ideas on this subject are just plain wrong and even potentially dangerous.
As we are called by Christ to be different, there must be an understanding in our homes that even if everybody else is doing something one way, we may choose to operate by an entirely different set of rules. That is simply a non-negotiable component of being Christ-followers.