“Critters” can teach us something important about kids.
But first, there are three kinds of animal “critters”– each defined by spectra of economic value and ease of association with humans.
Wild animals, of course, don’t mix well with people and their monetary value is usually low.
Domesticated animals come next. They get along fairly well with folk and their return on investment is normally high.
Finally, at the far end of the spectrum, we have pets.
Pets get along so well with humans that people keep them around purely for emotional satisfaction, even though their economic value is negative.
… but what does all of this have to do with kids?
As it turns out, a lot. Too many people treat their children like pets, having and keeping them for sentimental reasons and not expecting much in return.
That’s not good for kids. And it’s not good for their parents. The ironic effect is to produce, not even good “pets,” but something more appropriate to the other end of the spectrum.
The answer of course is to treat children for what they really are– human beings who need and want to make positive contributions to family and community life. Failing that, children tend to disengage and self-destruct.
To avoid that, here are a couple of tips:
First, kids hate busy work– just like adults. Don’t give them jobs simply to keep them occupied. They will quickly see through the trick and become cynical. Instead, give them important jobs and coach them into finding satisfaction is doing those jobs well.
Second, reduce your child’s anxiety. Don’t make empty threats. Set boundaries and enforce them. Equip your child with a powerful antidote to peer pressure– i.e., the confidence to say, “my parents won’t let me.”
Third, impose your values on your children. If you don’t, other people will impose theirs and they are not your friends.
Fourth, be skeptical of what the culture says about raising kids. Truth is parents tend to get whatever they’re willing to put up with. So expect more than the culture expects and be willing to put up with less.
And most importantly, don’t be bashful about talking about your faith. Exploit the ups and downs of family life to discuss spiritual implications.
And finally, don’t treat your kids like pets.
Pets can be mishandled, mistreated or indulged without eternal implications for the lives so treated, but children cannot. Pets can be trained, but children must be educated. Their hearts, minds, and affections need to be shaped in order to make them fit for family and community. Nowhere should the fulfillment of that imperative be more true than in the church.
See a “A ‘Chiasm’ on Kids and Discipline.”