Teaching Children Discernment

by Sarah V. (originally posted on Numbered Days)

“Hey Dad. We’re winners!” exclaims six-year-old Gabe.

“You bet we are!” affirms the largest male in our home.

Now, if I don’t speak up, we’ll never know where this thought came from. And if I can’t figure out why my children think the way they do, I’ll never be able to teach them.

Reluctantly I ask, “Gabe, why are you winners?” while simultaneously giving my husband the evil eye to keep his smart mouth shut.

“Well, we eat Subway, so that makes us winners!”

Ahhh, and now the truth comes out. Advertising is affecting the way my children process information. Actually, I’ve known this for some time and have constantly told the children that most commercials lie to them.

After Gabe’s announcement, a brief discussion ensued regarding what really makes a person a winner—and it has nothing to do with what we eat. It’s all about who we are in Christ. Did I really have a conversation like this with my six year old? You bet I did. Does he understand everything I say? Probably not, but it’s better to start young than too late. And truth be told, our children understand much more than we give them credit for.

All of my kids are pretty good at picking out lies. “That toy isn’t really the best or most fun.” “Mama, did they just lie to me? Will I be the coolest kid if I have that?” “Is that cheeseburger really good for us? Isn’t it junk food?”

It may seem silly, but actually teaching your children to pick out the lies on commercials is a really good practice in discernment. First of all, there are plenty of lies to choose from. No one’s feelings get hurt, and it provides a lot of good conversation about what is truth and why the commercials are lying to you. I actually have a PowerPoint of misleading commercials I used to teach my math students how to read graphs and data carefully. Because even intelligent adults are frequently mislead when they don’t think carefully and use discernment.

Going beyond commercials, we have to understand that even “harmless” cartoons require discernment. You might be surprised about how frequently our children are persuaded into believing things that simply aren’t true. For instance, recently one Saturday morning cartoon referred to Christmas as “Joyful Holiday.” One of the other girly cartoons called Christmas carols “holiday carols,” and even another cartoon referred to Christmas as “Falalala Day.” So we had a conversation and discussion about why Christmas exists. Then I asked my children how they would feel if I decided that their birthdays were now my holidays, and instead of celebrating their birthdays I was going to throw a party for myself. You see, renaming a Christian celebration may seem harmless, but truthfully there is a lot of danger and sin when we try to replace Christ and push Him to the side. It isn’t enough to tell children that it’s wrong to call Christmas a “winter holiday”; they need to discover for themselves why it is so wrong.

Children don’t base a lot of their decisions on truth and knowledge, but rather on feeling. Babies cry when they feel hungry, wet, and tired. But as we grow older, our behavior and decisions should be based less on feeling and more on truth. As parents, we need to understand that children’s feelings still drive a majority of their decisions and should be carefully considered when we teach them. So while I may tell my children that taking Christ out of Christmas is wrong, they need to feel that it is wrong if I want to make a lasting impression. Putting them in the position of “losing” their birthdays brings a whole new perspective and further embeds the lesson into their minds.

Beyond media, I also try to make a preemptive strike when it comes to big future decisions. Tonight at the dinner table Susie (age 5) asked if, when she’s older, Daddy and I would be the Grandma and Grandpa and if she could bring her children to visit. We said absolutely! Then we used the conversation to talk about picking out our spouses. What do we look for in a husband or a wife? What is the most important factor? Yes, I know our oldest is only 11, but like I said before, I’d rather start these conversations early rather than late. This way in the teenage years not one of my children will be surprised when we are STILL having conversations about suitable mates.

Will they remember these conversations in the future? I’m sure they won’t. In fact, tomorrow it will be the furthest thing from their minds. But it’s important to teach your children to think for themselves. It’s important to have these conversations from a young age so that as they get older, you will have already established the connection with your children and they will expect you keep talking about important issues.

Being discerning isn’t always popular. We frequently hear the phrase “Who are you to judge?” No one likes it when someone disagrees with him or her and then quotes the Bible to boot! Christians believe in being accountable to a Higher Authority—God. We don’t believe that truth sways with the wind, but rather stands firm and is written for eternity in the Word of God. Furthermore, we believe that our actions should always be measured against it. We have a set standard.

It’s imperative that we teach our children to be discerning and to measure everything against the Word of God (Deuteronomy 6:6–7). Children will not learn to be discerning without guidance. Teaching discernment to our children should start from a very young age, because if you wait until they are 15 to impart this wisdom, it becomes exponentially more difficult. If you’re not sure where to begin—commercials are a fun place to start for everyone!

Sarah and her husband have six children under the age of 12, 2 dogs, and way too much laundry! When they aren't busy with school, sports, and church, Sarah enjoys exploring northern Michigan and camping with her family.

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