My senior year of high school was full. Full of athletics, friendships, trips, and poignant goodbyes. There would have been a cost to losing that time. That cost is now being paid by the students of our nation, as well as other nations, that suddenly find themselves studying from home with the possibility of not being able to return to school this year (the state of Kansas has already canceled classes for the remainder of the school year). The reality of this hit home when my six year old asked, “Daddy, when will I get to see my friends again?”
It’s not just the loss of peer relationships. For a season, youth pastors, coaches, teachers, mentors, and sometimes even grandparents are no longer present except in digital form. This means that even those who home school are operating under a different set of dynamics. The only word that I can think to capture this is loss. The weight of loss will differ from person to person based on such things as age, personality, and circumstances. Of great concern to me are those who are at-risk already, sometimes only hanging on by the thread of a healthy relationship outside of their immediate family. How can we help our kids thrive during this time?
Acknowledge that this is not easy. Sometimes grown-up problems seem so much bigger than young people/kid problems that we don’t take them seriously. But if we don’t help our kids tackle the problems they face as youth, which to them are often giant-sized, we rob them of the skills to tackle future grownup problems. Minimizing loss does not make it go away. And whether this time is just unpleasant or whether it is devastating, there are conversations that should happen.
What should those conversations include? So glad you asked! How about some solid theology? At some point your kids are going to grapple with the problem of evil, which is a much less devastating problem to biblical theology than the problem of pleasure is to the atheist. Evil and suffering are not some great flaw in the story of redemption that is swept under the cover: they show up early and often. But our God has neither abandoned His providence nor His goodness, and His love shows up with bloodstains and nail scars. His is a light that overcomes darkness and a power that breaks the bonds of death. This is a time to welcome those conversations as they arise in the course of normal life. Although my children are young, we still talk about (and pray for) those who are sick. We talk about why the libraries are closed. We talk about missing school friends. And we talk about Jesus.
We should also model gratitude. I would say teach gratitude, but no child ever learned to thank God for peas by contemplating those who didn’t have them. Life is a little different right now, and focusing on the complications, anxiety, and distress would be all too human. This is the time for your spirit of gratitude to shine. Your kids will see that light and be drawn to it. If you can “count it all joy” and “give thanks in all things” during your own inconveniences and heartaches, you will blaze a trail in their minds that they will walk for the rest of their lives.
Find a way that they can serve others. This is a great way to teach them perspective without saying, “Think about all the problems that so-and-so has. At least you don’t have it that bad!” Serving others requires walking in the shoes of another. If your child washes your mailbox every day to help your mail deliverer be safe from the virus, he will see that the mail deliverer takes a tiny risk at every house he stops at. Finding ways to serve right now is harder because of the isolation, so along with service should be prayer. When we talk about the needs of others, we may come to the conclusion that right now we cannot meet their need. So we pray to God, who is able to abundantly supply all needs.
Develop a routine. Be flexible, but have a plan for the day. This will save your sanity while also fulfilling Colossians 4:5. A week of Spring break was fine, and then it turned into 2. Now students are returning to “school” and need the structure of a schedule. So do you. One parent recently said “I’m not home-schooling. I’m no home-schooling mom!” Well…you are now. So embrace it and redeem this time.
For many years I have heard the lament that parents can’t influence their kids as much as they used to because of school, extra-curricular activities, media, friends, etc… Those excuses are all gone now. God has given you a unique opportunity to be an Influencer to the most important people in your life. Don’t waste it.