No More Isolated Kids

Jennie Allen
May 26, 2020

Jennie Allen

Bible teacher, founder of IF:Gathering
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Today we're talking about isolation and what it looks like to fight for our kids to not live lonely. A huge part of my book, Get Out of Your Head, is about community and doing this alongside other people. Sometimes we need that friend that we can call and just process with. Our kids are no different. They need people too. Today we're going to look at a passage that Paul wrote about what it looks like to do life and community together.


"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." - Colossians 3:12-16


Now, even as I read that, I'm smiling and almost giggling inside because we're talking about parenting and these verses are so idyllic. I mean how many of you feel like your kids' lives look exactly the opposite of that? 


It is not full of spiritual songs. It's full of yelling.


It's not full of forgiveness. It's full of rage and your kids screaming at each other. 


It is not full of encouraging peace making and admonishing one another. It's full of fights. 


But one thing I want to be clear of is that we're keeping the end in mind. When we launch them, we want them to be peacemakers, full of song, thankful, grateful, forgiving, and all the things these verses say. Our job is laying the groundwork while they're at home so they can progress towards that goal. We're in progress. We're not supposed to have perfect five year olds or even perfect 18 year olds. That's true for all of us. When you hear those verses that are so powerful about what they could be in the world, I want you to think, we are in progress. But we want to progress well. Scripture tells us that there are certain ways to live that lead to life and peace. What it usually looks like is in community, with other people, not doing life alone. If you were to ask this generation if they feel lonely, almost all of them would say yes. That is incredibly troubling. 

So where does this come from? Why is this generation so lonely? We're going to talk about how we do social media, because I think it's really important to understand technology and have a strong plan for it in the lives of the kids you love. Secondly, we're going to talk about how we function as a team. I want to go deeper into how we protect each other and how we fight to stay close as a family. That's where we're going. 


Technology, I believe, is the greatest enemy to connection and deep relationships for this generation. Our kids don't know life without phones. Being on a screen is a big part of their life, and we are those parents that are pretty strict. Our kids feel like they're the last ones to get phones among their friends. They're the last ones that can have social media. We wait a long time, for a lot of different reasons. A huge one is because of loneliness. There seems to be a connection to social media and mental illness. Kids are in the dark on their phones before bed, seeing their friends having fun and doing all these great things together, and they're on the outside of that. Of course that is going to be a miserable way to live! When I was in middle school, I was feeling the same thing, but it wasn't right in front of our faces. You might've heard it at the lunch table, but you would never see these pictures constantly flashing before your eyes reminding you that you weren't invited. That's just one example. 


With technology, we've got to be the parents. We have to be the people who say, "you can not have this and here's why." The why matters. Because they'll have to self-govern pretty quickly. You can not overly parent all the way until you send them off to college. You've got to back off at some point, so you have to teach them the why behind everything that you're doing, so that when they have to self-govern and make decisions on their own, they build their own convictions. They understand why social media and too much technology isn't a good thing. 


We're on the backside of weeks of isolation, and one thing I think we've realized is we've put too much hope in technology to create close relationships. When you're zooming all the time with your small group or workplace, you miss the face to face connection. We've had to figure out these moments of tension in those settings and figure out why it has been so hard to communicate. So much of the way we communicate is the way we breathe, our facial expressions, and even just looking at each other with empathy. When you're doing that through a screen, it breaks down. Whenever our kids are sitting there interacting constantly with their friends via a screen instead of actually hanging out together, that breakdown is happening to them too. 


We have to encourage our kids to have life on life time with their friends. Playing fortnight for two hours does not count as bonding. We have to encourage them to see their friends, build relationships, make memories together, and be adventurous together. My oldest son Connor started a fly fishing company when he was 14, because he was passionate about getting his friends off technology. Him and his buddy would go down to the river every single day and fish. They would try to get their friends to go, but they were playing video games while Conner and Walt were catching snakes! They had an absolute ball. It really broke my son's heart and it still does to this day. He just launched is second outdoor company where he's doing fly fishing camps, but he also wants to expand it and do things where he can encourage the next generation to fall in love with being outside. He sees it as such an important part of his childhood and life. We don't want our kids to miss those moments because we're allowing too much screen time. We encouraged his fly fishing. We got him his first rod, we gave him freedom to go into the wild, and there were some moments where that went poorly! One time they were out past dark and their phones died and we could not find them. But I'm still so glad I gave him enough freedom to make memories. It is hard and there are lots of tensions with that, but find the ways your kid connects best with their friends and encourage that. 


But our kids don't just need friends. In fact, for a lot of you, you don't have healthy friendships around your kids. So what do you do if your kid doesn't have these Godly friends who are making them better? One of the best places community can happen for your kids is in your home. Even if you're a single mom of one kid, you can still be that kids best friend. We are going to be the greatest influence on our kids' lives. How did we build that into our family? Our family really is close, and we like each other. We enjoy being around each other. It has shaped the culture in our house. There are a few practices that have helped us get there.


One practice is we have required our kids to get along. Some of you are laughing out loud right now because you have no idea what that could possibly mean. We don't let our kids talk ill towards each other. We interrupt the fighting. We don't just let it run wild. My oldest two were closest in age, and they would fight so much more than any of my other kids. So when they were young, I would lock them in a room until they could work it out. It might be for two hours, but everytime I did it (which was only a handful of times), they came out laughing. They completely made up and would be playing together in the room.


Another practice we did was if they spoke badly about each other in public, they would absolutely be punished beyond measure. This is still true. What do I mean by that? They have each other's backs. They know the rest of the world might gossip about them, turn on them, backstab them, but their family won't. That is a huge value for us. If we ever even caught wind of it, we rained down punishment, because we just took it so seriously. We wanted our home and our family to be a safe place, because we can't control the rest of the world. The world is going to beat them up, cause them to feel lonely and isolated and discouraged, but not at home. At home, you're going to be edified, encouraged, loved, and safe. The biggest threat to that is really in the sibling relationships. We have fought that fight, and our kids like each other and love each other. They are not perfect. There are certain seasons where they aren't close. But no matter what, we will be kind to each other.  


Another thing with our family is we just have so much grace. It's probably sometimes too much grace. We appreciate our kids where they thrive and where they're excellent. But what we're after more than anything is relationships. We're after strong, healthy relationships with our kids and with our family. We believe a lot of good will flow out of their lives when that is solid and secure. They may cause good in the world by getting great grades and an excellent job and cause thriving in the world in that way. But it also might come from raising kids and teaching them to love god and each other. I want to believe in them and inspire them to do whatever God has called them to do. As parents, we want to control things. It takes a lot of grace to try to not be disappointed when they bring you bad news and hear their mistakes. We're big believers in consequences, but there will be grace along with it. Our relationships will remain intact no matter what. They'll get the punishment, but we're not going to stay mad at them. 


Now, why am I talking about all of this in light of isolation? Because if we aren't a safe place at our home, then where are we expecting them to find a safe place? Because it's not going to happen in the world. Again, we want to encourage friendship, connection, real life relationships, limit technology, and all that. But at the end of the day, what we can control the most is our homes. We have to strive to build a healthy family. Not a perfect family. Trust me, there have been days where we're all complaining and I just want to push them out of the house. We've been in quarantine together for a long time. But I do believe you can have a close family, speak life over each other in your home, and have high standards for your kids. It's possible. It's worth it. We have to fight for this in our families. 


Building those relationships in the home will give them the ability to go into the world and make good, healthy connections with their friends and families going forward. The greatest way we can change the world is by loving people well, and it starts by teaching our children how to love and be loved.


Jennie Allen

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