As parents, we want the best for our kids. We want them to be well-adjusted and make good friendships. And yet, the messages we send them may not be the ones we intend.
When we focus on outward appearances, are we teaching our children to present themselves well or to put up a false portrayal of perceived perfection? Do we compliment how a child looks or how they behave? When we encourage connection to the “cool” kids, are we fostering sociability or teaching them to exclude others outside the clique? With news stories offering tales of parents who are entertaining plastic surgery for their preteens and stores that offer adult-style clothes in kid sizes, many messages clearly communicate that fitting in and looking “cool” is a high priority for some in parenting.
However, when we offer our children opportunities to connect with a wide variety of people, regardless of social standing or outward appearance, we are offering them a life lesson that they can carry into adulthood. Jesus did not discriminate against others and he was unconcerned with social status. He invested his time and demonstrated his love to those at the fringes of society. He instructs us to be caring for the needs of others.
When we reach out to others, include the excluded, and throw open our doors and our lives, we are showing our kids a living example of what the Kingdom looks like. We are then living in such a way that Jesus is evident in our daily lives. And this is life changing for our kids and for our communities.
Anyone who attends a high school class reunion will quickly realize that time is a great equalizer. The handsome quarterback and the reclusive academician grow up to become adults who build lives and connect with others and raise families and live in community. The cool factor does not matter after crossing that graduation stage. The strata of social standing that can rule the halls of high schools falls away quickly as we seek education, begin jobs, struggle with life issues, and revel in the joy and tragedy that inevitably comes. With limited years available to raise our children, using precious minutes to lead them to the top of a common clique may be time wasted. But, offering them the opportunity to learn gracious social skills and to open their eyes to the whole of the world around them is a lesson that may not lead to a spot as homecoming king or queen but will assist them in growing into an adult who enfolds others, seeks honest connection, and fosters community.
When we raise our children in this way and teach them to hold onto those things that matter most, we are preparing them for a rich life found in walking alongside others, much like Jesus did so many years ago. He ate with outcasts and loved the unlovable. He fostered the flame of faith that would flourish into the beginning of our God’s Kingdom here on earth. He knew His people and was known by them. And He lived with an eye on a broader understanding of what was surely to come. Likewise, the Apostle John wrote, "Do not love the world or the things in the world...For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes, and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17, ESV).
All of us want to fit in. But we must be mindful of where we are leading our children. Society may be pressuring us to understand value in terms of beauty and possessions, in terms of social standing and popularity. But, we do not need to reinforce these messages. We can help our children, even our teens, to understand that there are more important things to work toward than being cool. We can help them to value the same things that Jesus made a priority as He lived His life on earth. We can intentionally value relationship, understanding, and connection, and help our children to do the same. And in this way, we have the opportunity to offer life lessons that will last through high school…and beyond.