I don’t have an official record to serve as proof, but I’m almost positive that I say, “Yes,” far more often than I say, “No.” My kids might disagree, but that’s only because their frontal lobes aren’t fully developed yet. Also, their point of reference is skewed by that pesky Jones family.
The Joneses’ son has the new iPhone with the $80 waterproof case wrapped around it. He drives a nice car and wears expensive clothes, too. Their daughter’s club volleyball team has matching warm-ups and duffel bags. That’s probably because they’re flying to Ft. Lauderdale for a tournament this weekend. Looking over at the Joneses, it’s only natural that my kids feel a little slighted.
Even though I resent the standard set by people like the Joneses, I fear that some little part of me still tries to keep up with them, anyway. It’s a temptation. When there are families, even at church, that always have new or expensive things, go on great trips, and keep their kids busy year round with the best of every activity under the sun, the pull to imitate that lifestyle can be strong. Maybe that’s why I say, “Yes,” so often.
It’s not that I don’t say, “No.” I try to parent with diligence, and rarely let a teachable moment of any sort pass without words. But in some ways, I’m permissive, too. I don’t want to be a parent who says, “No,” without a reason, especially when the Joneses’ and every other parent in the neighborhood, said, “Yes,” to their kids. Besides, aside from the time Brandon asked if a friend could sleep over the night before he took the ACT, and the time Abby was a toddler and demanded the moon be on her side of the car during every after-dark excursion, my kids typically don’t ask for ridiculous things.
It’s easy to say, “Yes,” to good kids. But where do you draw the line?
While it’s true that I could say, “Yes,” every time, it wouldn’t be very beneficial to anyone. For one thing, it would take us forever to drive home. More importantly, there’s a danger in permissiveness. Paul wrote about it in the last part of 1 Cor. 6:12: “’Everything is permissible for me,’ but not everything is helpful. ‘Everything is permissible for me,’ but I will not be brought under the control of anything.”
The believers in Corinth enjoyed their freedom in Christ, like they, and we, should. But they forgot the point of that freedom, and they took advantage of it. They had become so driven by, “Yes,” that they sought to justify it. Paul answered the, “Everything is permissible for me,” philosophy by pointing out that just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. Freedom in Christ does not exist so that we serve and glorify ourselves; it exists for us to serve and glorify God.
Jesus said we must choose. “Collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:20-22). That should make us think, and maybe even make a few changes.
Just because you can let your kid play on that team doesn’t mean it’s the best choice for your family. Just because you can buy your daughter that $100 pair of jeans doesn’t mean it’s the best way to spend your money. The list goes on and on. When we’re driven by comparison, we create a culture of permissiveness. That kind of culture will permeate everything about them, not just how they’re going to spend their money one day. When everything is a yes, we find ourselves under yes’s control. If we never say, “No,” then, “Yes,” becomes our god.
So what do we do? How do we set a different standard? How do we teach our teenagers, who live in a permissive, self-absorbed culture, to treasure eternal things? How do we teach them to not compare? Start with these:
Say no to your teenager. Even if you can’t think of a good reason, sometimes it’s the right thing to say. Your teenager may not understand your gut feeling about why something is wrong, but that’s no excuse for you to ignore the Holy Spirit.
Say no to yourself. One of the best ways for your teenager to learn how to treasure the right things is for you to model it. If you say no to them but never say no to yourself, you’re teaching them that it’s okay to be permissive as long as there’s no one there to stop you. Show them what it means to care less about the world and more about eternity.
Explain the no’s. Though they have been repeated for generations, answers like, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you?” and “Because I said so,” won’t help your teenager learn to stop comparing and treasure eternal things. Instead, tell him or her why the answer is no. “We can’t afford it,” “If we bought that, we couldn’t give as much to the church,” and, “I’m not his mom; I’m yours, and I’m going to do what I think is best for you and our family every time,” are honest admissions that teach the priority of faithfulness.
Point them to Scripture, and not when they’re mad because you just said, “No.” Initiate open, healthy conversation about verses like 1 Cor. 6:12, Matt. 6:20-22, Luke 12:15, and Col. 3:1-3 whenever a teachable moment presents itself.
Be impressed with the right things. If we’re constantly talking about what others have or don’t have, how they look, where they live, or where they’re going this year on vacation, we’re sending a message to our kids that earth is our treasure. If we talk about what God is doing in our lives, what He’s teaching us, how He’s using us, and how we need Him, we’re sending the message that heaven is our treasure.
Permissiveness without God’s direction is not beneficial for anyone. That’s fine for the Joneses, if that’s how the Joneses decide to live. But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.
This is an article Cynthia wrote that appeared in the December 2012 issue of Parenting Teens.