Whether it's capture the flag, hide-and-seek, or just regular ol' tag, every kid knows that when they are being chased or simply need a break from danger, they head to home base. If they are touching the tree or standing on the towel that represents home base, no one can attack them. It's their chance to shout encouraging or strategic advice to their teammates. It's their opportunity to catch their breath for a few moments before diving back into the game.
For kids, home base represents safety.
Can the same be said of your home?
When your kids long for some encouragement, do they head home?
When your kids need to feel protected, do they veer toward your driveway?
In most families, as kids get older, they want to be home less and less. Six-year-olds tell their parents, "I want to go home." Sixteen-year-olds rarely do.
It's normal and healthy for maturing young people to spend less time at home and more time with their friends. The life of a teenager doesn't orbit around their parents; they feel a strong attraction toward school, sports, clubs, work, and friends.
While the parents we interviewed had busy kids, their homes were still magnetic enough that their kids wanted to do more than just grab food and sleep there. These young people were drawn to their homes not necessarily because they were large. Or clean. Or fancy.
It was because their homes had maintained the same sense of safety that home base offered in freeze tag. In the midst of all the forces pulling parents and kids away from each other, the home kept exerting a gravitational pull that often brought family members closer to each other and to God.
Making home a place where your kids' friends feel welcome
By far, the most dominant theme in our discussions with 50 amazing parents about their homes is that they wanted their homes to be places where both their kids and their kids' friends felt accepted. Whether home was a small urban condominium, a two-story house on a suburban cul-de-sac, or a large property complete with a swimming pool and fire pit, parents tried to create an environment in which children and teenagers felt welcome.
A few parents mentioned that having their kids' friends over gave them a window into youth culture—and even their own kids' lives—that they wouldn't have otherwise. As one mom with college students recalled, "Especially in middle school and high school, my best tool for understanding my kids was hearing them talk to their friends in our car or at the house. We did anything we could to engage their world—to listen and to watch. My husband and I began to understand which questions we could ask and which were embarrassing."
Creating boundaries around technology
These boundaries are needed because of the way young people today are marinated in media. Let's consider together a generation whose lives are heavily flavored by technology.
- Fifty-eight percent of this generation possesses a desktop computer.
- Sixty-one percent own a laptop.
- Eighteen percent use a tablet or e-reader.
But the real king of all technology is the device in their pocket. According to Pew Research, almost 90 percent of this generation carry a cell phone. When asked to describe their cell phone in one word, this generation answered, "awesome," "great," "good," "love," "excellent," "useful," and "convenient."
You might be thinking that some of those words don't sound very adolescent. Especially the words useful and convenient. That's because the generation I'm describing isn't teenagers. It's adults.
Are young people avid users of technology? You bet. But the data suggests that while teenagers may be digital natives, we adults are fast-adapting digital immigrants. Before we judge teenagers for their quick-texting thumbs and seemingly permanent ear buds, we adults need to put down our smartphones and think about our own media consumption.
Pew Research noted 83 percent of young people are involved in social networking. So are 77 percent of their parents.
Often parents use this technology to improve their relationships with their kids. After all, texting can help parents stay in touch with their children throughout the day. Social media allows parents to take the pulse of their kids' lifestyle choices and friendships.
But the parents we interviewed have recognized that the same technology that builds bridges can also build walls. Kids are so focused on sharing videos online with friends five miles away that they become numb to family members sitting five feet from them. Parents become immersed in their computers, barely noticing when their kids enter and leave the family room. Given how technology cuts across generations, many wise parents impose limits not only on their kids but also on themselves.
The family dinner
Are regular family dinners part of a magical formula that can bring harmony and happiness to your home?
The best answer from research is, sort of.
Kids who have dinner with their families seem to make better choices and avoid disorders and high-risk behaviors, including depression, delinquency, and drug and alcohol use. But when researchers took into account other differences between families who have dinner together and those who don't (such as differences in overall relationship quality, parental monitoring, and shared activities), the effects of family dinners diminished drastically. In other words, the parents who value family dinners seem also to build healthy and caring bonds with their kids in a host of other ways.
Family dinner conversations are a bright light in these parents' relationships with their children, but they are only one star in a constellation of connections that already shines brightly. The ongoing involvement and conversation between parents and kids is what matters most, whether or not it happens over a tablecloth.
Ideas to make your home a hub
Be there. Parents committed to building enduring faith through their homes often start with a simple, basic step. They regularly choose to be at home with their kids.
For parents to slash activities from their own schedules is certainly a challenge. But many families find that the need to trim activities from their schedules is an even larger barrier to time at home together.
Many families create policies that state how many sports and clubs their kids can participate in at any one time. (Generally it was one or two.) To avoid year-round busyness, others designate certain seasons, such as summer or winter, as sports-free months in their homes. As one mom described, "Six or seven years ago we eliminated most activities for the kids during the winter. From November to March is our time to be home, eat meals together, and do fun things at night and on weekends. That was probably the smartest choice we ever made as parents. The rest of the year, our family feels somewhat divided and fractured by multiple kids and multiple activities, but winter is our time to enjoy being together."
Stock the fridge. In describing the glue that makes their homes a social hub for their kids and their kids' friends, multiple families pointed to the power of food. As one dad summarized, "If we stock our fridge and cupboard, kids come over a lot. It gets pricey, but it's worth it."
Some parents involve their kids in planning the food they want to have for guests. That way the kids learn more about hospitality and food budgeting, while choosing snacks that reflect the vibe they want to create for their friends.
Faith in every room. As followers of Jesus, Gloria and Edgar felt their house should reflect their faith. More specific, their goal was that in every room there would be at least a memento or book that reminded their family, as well as others visiting, of their commitment to Christ.
So near the doorway in their living room they placed a small painting that spoke of the beauty of God's creation. Next to the stove in their kitchen was a rock with a cross carved on it. Each of their kids got to choose one item for their bedroom that reflected their faith, whether it was a single book or a large inspirational poster. Without being overwhelming or imposing, Christ-centered art and messages that Edgar and Gloria have placed in their home are an external expression of their internal faith.
Conversation couch. Joyce felt that instead of being a hub of refuge and relationship, her house was more of a pit stop for her teenagers to grab a few meals and a few hours of sleep. As an interior designer, she is aware of the messages that a space communicates, and she decided to designate a special place in her house for family conversation.
She and her husband declared a couch in the living room, which was removed from the foot traffic between the kitchen and the bedrooms, as their "conversation couch." Joyce explained to her kids that if they ever wanted more focused chat with either parent, they could ask them to come to that couch. And if the parent wanted that kind of talk with their kids, they could invite them there as well. Of course, conversations could happen anywhere in the house. And the couch is used every day for purposes other than deep conversation. But Joyce has found that having a few feet of cushions appointed for conversation is a catalyst for family discussions that might not happen otherwise.
Taken from Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family by Kara Powell Copyright © 2014. Used by permission of Zondervan.
1. How can your family master technology rather than letting it master you? Read “Five Ideas to Keep Technology From Replacing Relationships.”
2. Dennis and Barbara Rainey give timely advice to FamilyLife Today® listeners about raising children of faith.
3. More than anything else, what your children believe about God shapes their lives. It's the most important thing about them. If you long for them to have genuine, life-altering faith, gather with some friends for six weeks to discuss the small group Bible study Raising Children of Faith.