God is Smart... or... the "duh" factor...
So how do you raise children without constant rule-making? Some of you have written comments or sent me emails asking how we got our kids to go to bed at a decent time or come back home at a good hour without making bedtimes and curfews. Here's the way we did it:
We instilled very early in our children the concept of consequences. Within age appropriate limits, they were able to make decisions but they also had to bear the consequences. Consequences have largely been removed from our children's actions and that is a shame. Once upon a time if the child responsible for maintaining the fire failed at his duty, the house was cold, food was uncooked, and he had to deal with the disapproval of his family until the situation was rectified. Bring consequences and God back into the mix.
When God is entered into the equation, children learn that there is a metaphysical as well as a physical component to every decision made. If a child stays up too late, they still have to get up at the right time in the morning, go to school (or begin homeschooling), and show progress in their studies. If they could not maintain their grades or alertness, we removed benefits and extras. For instance, while they may not have had a bedtime set, the TV, computers, game machines, etc. were stopped at the same time each night. Quiet time then ruled. They could read, do homework, perhaps join in a family game, but there was no electronic stimuli to keep them up. Usually, once the noise was disconnected, the yawns set in and they went to bed. If their grades didn't stay at a decent level, we would work passages from Proverbs on work, rest, and growth into our discussions and devotionals. (and when they succeeded at school, raised grades, or did well we celebrated lavishly!)
And here's another key: we bound ourselves to the same rules. If the children saw us being slothful, not following through on promises, and not studying or improving ourselves they had every right to bring it up!
We also taped shows (no Tivo or DVR back then, kids) that we normally wouldn't watch. We would then play them back with the kids and hit the "pause" button repeatedly and ask questions: what if people really acted like that? Would you be their friends? What's going wrong here? This all started when my little girl was watching a rerun of Magnum PI with me one day and Magnum shot a guy. "He just shot that guy," Kara said. I allowed that he had done that very thing. "Why did he shoot him?" she asked. I told her that the man was a bad man. "So we're supposed to shoot bad people?" she asked again. I gave that a good think and decided that she had put her finger on a real issue with the show. It was a short step from there to watching an episode of "Friends" and asking: would you be friends with someone, or want to date someone, who has sex with that many people? We did research to show that to live in those apartments in NYC and have those clothes and that lifestyle, each of the Friends would have to make over $250,000 a year. Every unreality, we emphasized. We talked about what the consequences of their behavior really would be. (With that many sexual partners, we would have STDs, a lot of embarassing moments at the grocery store when you ran into old lovers, broken hearts, anger and violence, etc.)
Covering it all were words from the Bible to show that God is smart. He decreed a way of life that included work, rest, play, joy, worship, and growth. His law also prohibited things that hurt us; things which He handily arranged into lists such as Proverbs 6 and Galatians 5 (things God hates, fruit of the flesh). For each item that God hated, we asked "why" and found out that God was smart -- everything He prohibits is something that really, really hurts us. That's the "duh" factor. God is smart, kids. Well, duh!
We even used I Love Lucy reruns: what is making their life one crisis after another? A lack of God. If they just treated each other kindly and told the truth every single crisis would be averted (the same works for Flintstones and a lot of other shows). We would play a "how would having God in the house solve this problem" games with TV shows. The more we did this, the more the kids learned that God really IS smart and the more we listen to Him, the fewer crises in our lives (at least, self-inflicted crises).
Use the Proverbs. Use the Psalms. Use the lists of sins and graces throughout the New Testament. Apply them to everyday life. More examples as we continue. May God bless you as you journey towards heaven with your children.