Purpose vs Pleasure
Two middle school boys get in a fight. They live in the same neighborhood and are presumably friends. They each receive a three-day suspension from school.
"That's not so bad," my nine-year-old daughter exclaims. "They don't have to go to school!"
"Well, not really," I try to explain to her. "They still have to make up the work, and it goes on their record, and they get in trouble with their parents," I say, grasping at straws.
I think about it later and wonder...what is the disciplinary benefit to missing three days of school? I think about the "dunce cap" of days gone by. Not such a bad idea. Embarrassment in front of your peers could be an effective deterrent.
The next day, we are reading "Abraham Lincoln" by the D'Aulaires. It is one of their classic biographies with wonderful hand-drawn pictures. We come upon a picture showing Abe's one-room schoolhouse. Well, what do you think we saw? A downcast, contrite-looking boy standing in the corner wearing a "dunce cap." After I explain what that is, my 12-year-old son says he thinks the two aforementioned boys should wear one. We all have a little chuckle at that but the question of effective discipline remains.
Kids (and adults) have been fighting since God created us, and we'll probably never be able to totally eliminate it. But how can we help our children grow into productive, caring adults? We all know that children need to move, imagine, create, be active.
"Elementary children need at least three hours of active free play a day to maintain good health and wellness," according to Angela Hanscom in a Washington Post article. In that same article, she mentions the result of not having enough exercise. She states, "teachers are reporting increased aggressiveness at recess, decreased ability to regulate emotions of anger and frustration, constant tripping, frequent falling and decreased ability to attend in the classroom." According to CDC's Healthy Schools, only eight states require elementary schools to provide daily recess, and, since the mid 2000s, up to 40% of school districts across the nation reduced or cut recess.
Adding three hours of exercise is great, if you can find time between school, homework, and videogame playing. (That's a whole other topic for another time.) But I think it goes even deeper than exercise, which can be life-changing in so many ways. (Yet another topic for another time.) We need to address our children's spiritual emptiness.
Kids need to have, and believe in, something beyond themselves and their own pleasure.
We, as adults, know how empty "chasing pleasure" can be. It might satisfy for a bit, but then we are left wanting more. Jesus, the living water, is the only thing that can truly satisfy.
1 John 2:15-17 says, "Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever."
Wow...as my teenagers would say...hard hittin'. We can't be hands-off, abdicate our holy calling, and let the world raise our children. Someone will influence our children. Do you know, the word and concept of "teenager" didn't take hold until the 1940's? It was partly created by higher high school enrollment and savvy marketing. Companies realized they had a lucrative demographic and played into children's burgeoning independence to convince them they needed the newest products, made especially for them.
Seventeen is an American teen magazine. According to Wikipedia, "the magazine's reader-base is 13-to-19-year-old females. It began as a publication geared toward inspiring teen girls to become model workers and citizens. Soon after its debut, Seventeen took a more fashion- and romance-oriented approach in presenting its material while promoting self-confidence in young women. It was first published in September 1944."
I guess promoting "model workers and citizens" didn't sell magazines or products. Today, a quick glance at Seventeen online shows lots of articles about fashion, celebrities, make-up, and a whole "Sex Ed" section with topics such as, "Is it really necessary to pee after having sex?" "Here's what to do if your condom breaks during sex," "The 10 best places to get condoms for free," and "Am I gay?"
Before teen angst was a thing, young adults were working on their family farm or apprenticing in other trades. My father-in-law (18 at the time), his brother (17, but said he was 18), and most other young men were putting their lives on the line in WWII to maintain the freedoms we enjoy today. Some of those veterans told me that boys who could not serve committed suicide - that's how convicted they were.
I realize the working world and technology have changed dramatically, but we are the same. We all want to do challenging work and be productive. We want to make a difference. God has put that desire in our hearts - to love Him and to love others. Parents need to help their children find a purpose, to fill that God-shaped hole in their lives. If not, they (just like adults) will fill it with all sorts of imposters. Kids need to have their innocence protected and shown that they are capable of so much more - things that have meaning and will shape their character for the rest of their lives.
"Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too." Philippians 2:3-4
I don't know what additional consequences those boys' parents gave them. Helping to clean the school or other community buildings might not be a bad place to start. How about writing an essay or reading an inspiring biography instead of the drivel that is being assigned in the name of convenience and the argument that "it's all I can get them to read"? Volunteering at an assisted living facility or hospital might be another option. Those residents can never have too many visitors with smiling faces. Yard work or cleaning a basement are two good old-fashioned, roll up your sleeves and use some elbow grease kind of jobs. Boys especially need to do things that give them purpose, to assert themselves, to help them learn to lead and protect. Imagine if they had to clean a bathroom or visit the elderly together? Now, that would build some character - rather than sleeping in and playing video games for three days - and remind them of what really matters.