Ask a Pastor Ep. 56 - Christian Parenting, Kids with Negative Influences
Welcome to Ask a Pastor, a podcast from Orchard Hill Church! Have you ever had a question about the Bible, Faith, or Christianity as a whole? Submit your question and one of our pastors will answer on the program. New episodes every Wednesday.
This episode our Strip Disctrict Campus Pastor, Joel Haldeman, talks with Family Ministry Director in Butler County, Jenna Bajuszik, about being Christian parents and how to deal with friends who are a negative influence on your kids.
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Joel Haldeman: Welcome to ask a pastor. We're going to be answering some questions that you have sent in. If you have any questions, send them to email@example.com. Today I'm joined with Jenna Bajuszik who works with students, middle schoolers, and high schoolers here at our church, and we're going to be tackling some questions involving parenting. The first question, Jenna, what does good Christian parenting look like in this era? What would be the best approach to media? Dating? This is an easy question.
Jenna Bajuszik: Super easy.
Joel Haldeman: You just give them a tablet and watch Netflix in your basement.
Jenna Bajuszik: The end. No control, no supervision. It's fine. That's basically what I do, so my kids are okay.
Joel Haldeman: Good Christian parenting.
Jenna Bajuszik: Good Christian parenting. That is a subjective question. I don't know. I think that the basic difference between a person who is a disciple of Jesus who is parenting and anybody else parenting is this biblical command that God gives us to disciple our kids, to teach them about who God is, to show them with how we live our lives what it looks like to give your life to your faith and to your God.
Jenna Bajuszik: I'd say that would be probably the biggest difference, and that's one of the biggest things that I see parents struggling with is, how do I have these conversations with my kids? Shouldn't I just give them to you, because you've got a degree, right? You know more about the Bible than I do. But the essence of discipleship is not necessarily saying, "Here, I have all of this knowledge of the Bible. You may have it, child," but instead it's the mess of life on life, of really this more ... It's closer I think to the idea of mentoring, of guiding them through life and what it means to, again, follow Jesus with your own life, and then teach them in the midst of that. It's not a process that really has a good beginning or end. It just kind of should hopefully keep going throughout and changes as your kids get older. But I'd say that's the biggest difference between parents who are wanting to raise their kid in their Christian faith and everybody else.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah. One of the things that I find is a real struggle in parenting is helping our kids grow up to not just understand Christian morals, but understand the gospel. There's a great book that I just happened to listen to a couple of weeks ago. I think it's just called Parenting by Paul David Tripp.
Jenna Bajuszik: We use that book. We had a parenting class here in February for a few weeks on Wednesday nights, and we actually walked through some of the principles of that book. I really like it.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah. One of the things that he gets to, and this is what I think is so challenging in parenting, is it's easy to correct behavior. "Stop doing that. Don't do that. Here's your consequence for doing that." We know that that kind of parenting works in the short term. Like I can get my kid's behavior to change by threatening them, by giving them rewards, et cetera.
Jenna Bajuszik: This is how I get through grocery shopping every week.
Joel Haldeman: Exactly, but that doesn't teach them the gospel.
Jenna Bajuszik: No.
Joel Haldeman: That's what's really hard, I think.
Jenna Bajuszik: Yeah.
Joel Haldeman: There's one illustration in that book that really stuck out to me, and he said imagine there's somebody standing in your kitchen with a bowl full of water, and they're shaking it and the water's just like spilling out and going everywhere. The question is, well, how do we stop this from happening? Our gut reaction is to say, "Stop shaking the bowl of water," right?
Jenna Bajuszik: Or take the water away from them.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah, exactly. But he says there's another answer to it, and it's take the water out of the bowl. His point is that when we think of our kids, we need to think of them as being full of evil. The evil that we see in their life, the like disobedience ,is not because of the circumstances in their life. It's within them, And so if we want to correct some of those behaviors, the answer isn't control the environment, "Stop shaking the bowl," right? Because our lives are going to get shaken. But the answer is how do we deal with the sin that's inside of them? What's your advice to parents on how do you not just be a parent that teaches Christian morals, but how do you deal with like the evil that's within them?
Jenna Bajuszik: I have a snippy joke I'm not going to say. I think probably the best way that I've seen is to have these conversations about the why behind what you're asking your kid to do and helping them to see what's actually going on, because you're really trying to ... What I would like to do as a parent is to turn my kids into people that I'd like to hang out with once they're adults.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah.
Jenna Bajuszik: Like keep them alive, turn them into decent humans, help them become decent human beings, and really give them the opportunity to experience grace. Because I know for me, I didn't understand grace, and the gospel, and the love of God until I had the chance to experience it. I think you've got to give your kids the chance to see the brokenness in the world, see God as the answer to that brokenness, and to experience the forgiveness and grace. Sometimes that looks really simple whenever your kids are little, and sometimes it's big and hairy and complicated when they're older, but it always has to be this continual ongoing conversation of what's going on, why are you doing this, help them to see, and then teaching them how to read the Bible for themselves too I think is huge.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah. One of the things that I've tried to do is we obviously have to parents sort of in the moment and we have to deal with behavior in the moment.
Jenna Bajuszik: Because you don't know what's coming.
Joel Haldeman: Right, exactly. You have those sort of grocery store moments where it's like, okay, we're probably not going to have a conversation about Jesus between the bread and the whatever, peanut butter. That's always tricky is like you have to parent in the moment, but I just find it so good to like, at least in our house when we tuck our kids in the bed, like I'll go and lay down next to each of my kids and pray with them, and to just take a moment and to like think back on one of those parenting moments throughout the day, if there was one, and this doesn't happen every day, and to just sort of talk about that and talk about like, "You know, I think the reason that you said that was because of this thing that's in your heart, and that thing's in my heart too." Then we can sort of model like how they can talk to God about that thing.
Joel Haldeman: That I think coupled with like our kids have to see us seek their forgiveness and seek their grace, and they have to hear us say, "Man, I was wrong. I've talked to Jesus about that. I've asked him to forgive me. Will you forgive me?" I think that's some of the best ways that we can model that grace to kids. I mean what's your experience in that?
Jenna Bajuszik: No, I'm perfect. I don't have these kinds of issues. I don't know what you're talking about. No. We do a lot of the same things of having those conversations afterwards. It's hard, and it's humbling to go to my four year old and say, "I am sinning right now, because I've got all this anger in my heart, and I let it out at you and I shouldn't." It's like then they stare at you and they're just like ... and you're like, "Why am I doing this? Like you're not getting this." There's this voice inside your head that's like, "Is this working at all?".
Jenna Bajuszik: But I think that it's the long game. It's the continual pursuit in the same direction of God and of having those continual conversations, because one conversation about sin is not going to do much of anything probably. But it's you keep coming back to it and you keep using other situations to kind of illuminate what's going on and help them to see what's really happening.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah. Jenna, you and I did youth ministry together for a long time.
Jenna Bajuszik: It's true.
Joel Haldeman: A while back, there was a author named Christian Smith who wrote ... he did this big study of course about adolescents and their spirituality, and he coined this phrase moralistic, therapeutic deism, which was like a hot thing in youth ministry for a long time, right?
Jenna Bajuszik: It was.
Joel Haldeman: The idea was that most kids are growing up in the church today not learning the gospel. They're learning this moralistic, therapeutic deism, meaning, because those are really big words, that they're learning morals, they're learning a lifestyle that's helpful to them, and they're learning generally about a God instead of learning about the self sacrifice of Jesus, that we're not good enough, that we'll never be good enough, but Jesus is good enough for us. The big question then is how do we make sure, what are some of the ways that we can make sure that we're not just teaching that moralistic, therapeutic deism, but we are teaching the gospel and living that out?
Jenna Bajuszik: I think probably the biggest, the hardest conversation you have to have is with yourself is to say, "Is this what I am doing? Am I just living a life that is making things generally better, or am I really wrestling with my own sin?" I think that it's got to start with your own acknowledgement of where you're at with Jesus. I don't think you have to have your faith perfectly figured out in order to parent well whatsoever, because we're all growing no matter where you're at.
Joel Haldeman: And that growth I think is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the gospel.
Jenna Bajuszik: Yes, for sure. When you can say like, "I used to think this way, but now I'm thinking," and like watch ... let them watch you change and grow. Again, it's humbling and it's kind of scary because you're like, "Well, if they know that I'm broken, if I, they know I don't have this thing figured out, are they even going listen to me anymore?"
Jenna Bajuszik: But I think what I've seen is the opposite of whenever parents are really vulnerable to a point with their kids and sharing their own growth, and their own struggles, and their own coming to an understanding of how the gospel impacts their life, that's whenever kids lean in more because they feel like they can trust you a little bit more, that you're not just perfect. Because they know they're not perfect. They know that they screw up all the time. That's why they lie to us. They're like, "No, no, no. I didn't do that whatsoever." If they see you as this perfect, unapproachable thing, they aren't going to be able to come to you as like, "Hey, I've messed up. Can I?" And they know that you're there with them to walk through it with them because you've let them walk through it with you.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah. This question also asks about media and dating.
Jenna Bajuszik: Social media and dating.
Joel Haldeman: Let's start with media. What's the best approach? How do parents deal with media?
Jenna Bajuszik: With an abundance of wisdom and caution. I don't think it's something that you need to ... Social media is not something that is like, "This is going to tear my child apart for sure." I mean by the time ... I mean like I am about the same age as some of our younger parents who have kids in middle school, and these kids, their entire life is online. Their baby pictures are online. Like their entire life is online, and that not a reality that we have ever had to cope with. You know, by the time I first started getting into social media, I was in college.
Joel Haldeman: Right.
Jenna Bajuszik: Because it didn't really happen before then for me. I was engaging with these things as an adult brain, and what we need to realize is that our kids are and our teenagers are engaging with these things with their brain as developed as it is, wherever they're at.
Jenna Bajuszik: Knowing that, knowing your kid, knowing where they're at mentally, emotionally, just mature wise, I say delay it as long as possible if you can. There's just not a whole lot of good that comes from it. Now, once they start getting into middle school and all their friends have it, and that's where it's just so hard for ... Sorry. That's my phone. It's so hard for us to understand, but like that is where the connections, the friendship happens is on social media. If like there's an invitation to a party, and so-and-so's going, and so-and-so's going, and so-and-so's going, but you don't get invited because you're not on whatever social media app they happen to be using that day, then you're left out. There's this real fear because a student's life is social. They're trying to figure out their friendships. They're trying to figure out where they stand in the hierarchy of their community, and that's just developmentally happening for everybody. You can't not let that be a thing.
Jenna Bajuszik: But I think you have to have conversations with your kid whenever they do start getting into social media of what's appropriate, what's not appropriate. Talk to them about the consequences of our actions and how it's so much easier to, for instance, say something online, type something online that you would never say to a person's face or things like that.
Jenna Bajuszik: Then I think that good boundaries are always a good idea of where's your phone at night, when are you allowed to be on it. The students hate it whenever I say this, but I always think parents should have all of the passwords to any device that a kid has, because that's their job as a parent is to be there and help guide them.
Jenna Bajuszik: Again, it goes back to that aspect of it's a conversation. It's, "I'm going to teach you how to navigate this, because you don't know how." You wouldn't take a 10 year old that's never been on a river and throw them in a whitewater rafting boat and be like, "You're good, bye. See at the other end," but that's how a lot of parents I think approach smartphones and social media. They're like, "Oh yeah, here you go. It's fine. I figured it out. You will too." But they're kids in still so many ways, so you have to be in the boat with them as they're going down those things, because it's ... Again, whenever I was learning social media, it was a nice little calm river, but now it is like going whitewater rafting. It's crazy, and there's things that come at you that you weren't expecting.
Jenna Bajuszik: I also think that parents really need to be aware of what apps are out there and all of the many ways that parental supervision can be circumvented, even by really nice kids that you know, and you trust, and you love, and they're so sweet. Like it's easy to hide a lot of things online.
Joel Haldeman: In our family, my kids are eight, seven, and six years old, so they're like finally at these ages where we can watch movies together and it's not like stupid movies. They're like really interesting. I've struggled, just going into this media topic my son, he comes home from school and he wants to watch like the latest Avengers movie, which is rated PG-13, and he can handle most of that stuff without it negatively influencing him somewhat. Obviously there's a wide range in what a PG-13 movie is.
Jenna Bajuszik: Yeah.
Joel Haldeman: But his sisters can't, and everybody at school is talking about these movies. He feels like he's left out. The big one for him, is Fortnite. He uses one of our iPads when he goes to bed because the sisters go to bed like an hour earlier than him, so we allow him to stay up and play like Clash of Clans and some other stuff. We have restrictions on the iPad so he can't just like Google stuff, he can't ask Siri most ... I don't think he can ask Siri anything. But man, the Fortnite thing has been a real battle. What advice real briefly would you give to parents just in that sort of, like how do you decide when all of their peers are doing this thing and they want to do it, but your standard is no?
Jenna Bajuszik: That is so hard. It is so hard, and I don't want to underestimate and it'd be like, "Well, if your answer is no, then your answer is no. The end." Because I don't like when anyone tells me that. If I'm like, "Hey, let's go do this," and my husband's like, "No," I'm like, "Well, you didn't even listen to why I wanted to go do," and I get all huffy and puffy, and I'm a grown adult that can handle my emotions for the most part.
Jenna Bajuszik: But you know, again, you've got kids, you've got teens who it's hard to tell a kid saying, "You're not mature enough to handle this." That hurts.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah.
Jenna Bajuszik: It feels like my dad doesn't believe in me, my dad doesn't trust me, my mom thinks that I am this crazy person that's going to go and fill in the blank, but I'm not, and I know I'm not, and she doesn't even know me. They're already in that stage anyways of questioning parental authority, and questioning all the authority, and questioning everything they've grown up with, which is good psychologically, developmentally, but it's super hard when you have these conversations. But I think you have to help them understand why.
Jenna Bajuszik: I mean, think about whenever you're trying to get your kids to choose healthy food, like, "Okay, here's a healthy ..." And I think this goes along with the dating question too of healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships. But like, okay, if I'm trying to teach my kids that carrots are better than fruit snacks, or that real fruit are better than fruit snacks, they're like, "They both say fruit. This one's shaped like a strawberry. That's a strawberry. Same thing, right?" But you have to teach a kid what's going on with the food, why do you do this. You have to model the healthy food choices yourself. But at the same time, like there's going to come a point where even if my kid doesn't understand that vegetables are a better choice than candy, I'm going to say like, "You're just not allowed to eat any more candy today."
Joel Haldeman: That's right. Yeah.
Jenna Bajuszik: You know, but there is this you're also coming to this process of you have to teach them why and how to choose those things on their own, because there will come a time very soon when they are making these decisions on their own, they are choosing whether what they want to participate in is a good thing for them, for their soul, for their emotional well being.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah, that's right.
Jenna Bajuszik: For their social well being. You have to teach them how you're making that decision. At some point you're the parent, the end, and that's just not how we live life in our family. That's the line I'm like, "Well ..." Because my kid comes home, he's only six and he's like, "Well, so-and-so's allowed to watch it because he has an older brother," and I'm like, "Well, that's how their family chooses to live, and that's not how our family chooses to live, and this is why." He doesn't really like it when I do that.
Joel Haldeman: No, of course.
Jenna Bajuszik: But there's a lot of things that our kids don't like. My kids don't like taking baths all the time and I'm still saying, "No, this is what you have to do.".
Joel Haldeman: That's right. Good.
Jenna Bajuszik: It's a balance.
Joel Haldeman: All right, good conversation. Thanks, Jenna.
Jenna Bajuszik: Thanks.
Joel Haldeman: The next question here that we're going to look at, and this obviously is related to the last, how would you advise parents to deal with friends of their kids that are negative influences?
Jenna Bajuszik: That's so fun. That's such a fun conversation. I think that if I was talking to a parent, I would ask them to remember two things. One, we don't remember as adults what a big deal our friendships are whenever we're kids and teens. We just don't remember, because it's very different for us now. It's so easy to say like, "But I can see this clearly. How can you not see that this person is having a bad influence on you?" but they can't.
Jenna Bajuszik: I know of parents and I know of kids who have come to me and said, "Well, my mom said that this person is bad, but like of all the options of people I have at my school to be friends with, cream of the crop. Like this is as good as I can do. If I don't, if I'm not friends with this person, I won't be friends with anybody." That is such a core part of a kid's and a student's life experience is who their friends are, who they're hanging out with, what group they're a part of at school.
Jenna Bajuszik: I think parents, we need to remember that this isn't just a small thing. It's not just, well, you should pick the blue shirt instead of the green shirt. This is really cutting to the core of their identity. Who they're friends with is at the core of their experience as a person.
Jenna Bajuszik: Then also taking the time to appreciate that friendships and relationships are different now than they were when we were at that same age. Even though I had really good friends when I was in middle school and high school, it is different, and there's this whole aspect of how our phones connect us in different ways, how quickly relationships change. It's a mess.
Joel Haldeman: Yeah, right?
Jenna Bajuszik: It's just it is a big messy thing, and we can't just come in and say, "This is bad. You're going to stop. The end." But again, it goes back to that idea of teaching them how to ascertain what is healthy and what is unhealthy.
Joel Haldeman: That's right.
Jenna Bajuszik: It's a process.
Joel Haldeman: I think some of this also sort of depends on the age of the kids.
Jenna Bajuszik: Very much so.
Joel Haldeman: You know, for the most part we choose the ... As parents, we basically choose the friends that our kids have up until a certain age. Like it's not until they're 12 years old, middle school that they're ... Their brains are changing psychologically, so instead of picking their friends based on proximity, they're choosing their friends based on affinity, "What do I have in common with this person?" The first 12 years of their life, parents have the opportunity really to determine who their kids are going to be friends with by deciding who they're going to spend time with, who they're going to put their kids around, what teams their kids are going to be on, whether or not they're going to be involved in a youth ministry. That's why it's such a huge deal for parents to get their sixth graders involved in middle school ministry.
Jenna Bajuszik: Yeah!
Joel Haldeman: I cannot overemphasize how important that is, because they make friends, they begin this comfortable circle of spiritual influencers. If the parent waits until they're in high school, that's when it's a lot more difficult. You know, my answer-
Jenna Bajuszik: Use the influence you have while you can.
Joel Haldeman: Exactly. Use it while you can. Start early. Help your kids understand good friends, negative friends, and get them surrounded by a spiritual community. That's going to go obviously a long way.
Jenna Bajuszik: Yeah.
Joel Haldeman: Well thank you, Jenna.
Jenna Bajuszik: Thanks.
Joel Haldeman: If you have questions, please send them in, firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll look forward to answering those on a future podcast.