By Pat Lamb
Many of us are familiar with the commercial that was so popular a few years ago where a little old lady demanded to know “Where’s the beef?” She was referring to hamburgers in the commercial. I am reminded of this commercial many times when I view some of the children’s programs and books that are available now. I keep wondering, “Where’s the meat?” It seems that much of what is being done with children now tends to try to entertain more than teach values to children. That is not to say that children should not be entertained and have fun while learning. Of course, most children like fun, but the real objective should be the teaching of values and information with the fun part as a by-product or side issue. There are times in life when we have to do things that are not fun and children need to learn that principle.
Our present-day society provides so much entertainment for children that often we feel that we must compete in order to keep the attention of a child. This leads to shallowness when dealing with serious topics. It is difficult to hold attention of children very long, so we find ourselves dancing, shouting, or doing whatever it takes to keep their attention. Some of this is fine, but there are times when a child needs to simply learn to sit still and listen. We sometimes tend to glide over some things simply to get through the lesson.
There was a time, when I taught kindergarten, that parents brought children to me and said, “You have my permission to spank him!” Can you see that happening now? Teachers walk a thin line trying to get children to learn without upsetting them. Children are aware of the fact that teachers are not allowed to spank and many take advantage of this fact. In many cases, if students thought they could be spanked, the spanking would not be necessary. As teachers walk this thin line, they know they cannot demand children perform past a certain point or the child and the parents will get upset. This forces the teacher to let the child get by with things that prevent the depth of learning they need.
In church situations, teachers and leaders have to deal with the fact that a child may not return to church if made to behave appropriately. Many parents do not require their children to attend church and leave it up to the child to decide. This fact forces church workers to have to be very careful not to upset a child by providing discipline for proper behavior. At the same time, we have to remember that the whole purpose of getting a child to church is to teach that child ways of behavior pleasing to Jesus. When we fail to do that, we are actually teaching a child by default that it is alright to misbehave.
Children now have colorful books that talk or even smell when you scratch them. Some books have fold-outs with hidden things beneath. Much of this is great. It would be even better if values for living were incorporated in the text, but often they are flat when it comes to a story plot. Since teachers and leaders of children are so restricted, we really need to choose the materials carefully that contain “meat” for children. Those working with children need to choose movies, games, and activities that do not only fill up time, but actually teach what children need to know. They also need to require behavior acceptable to Christ, but it must be required in a loving way.
Let’s remember that children have real problems and they need real solutions to those problems.