The Culture and Our Kids
About the Guest
Do your kids know how to think critically? John Stonestreet, author of "A Practical Guide to Culture," talks about hot button issues of our culture-like pornography, promiscuity, sexual orientation, and gender identity-and teaches parents how to engage their kids around these topics.
Do your kids know how to think critically? John Stonestreet talks about hot button issues of our culture and teaches parents how to engage their kids around these topics.
The Culture and Our Kids
Bob: Christian parents have always had the assignment of raising the next generation to think and to live counter-culturally. Author John Stonestreet says that’s particularly challenging for parents today.
John: It’s one thing to have Christian views in a culture, where if you’re [considered] wrong, you are considered silly, or outdated, or quaint, or just wrong; it’s another thing to live in a cultural moment, where to have certain beliefs is, not only to be considered wrong, but to be considered evil. That means a different level of preparation of our kids for this cultural moment than even the ones that we were raised in.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 13th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine. How do we raise children who can be salt and light and, at the same time, strangers and aliens in this culture? We’ll talk about that today with our guest, John Stonestreet. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the things your wife has always been passionate about, as you’ve raised your kids and now as you’re working with your grandkids, is that they have—she likes to call it critical-thinking skills; right?
Dennis: She was all over that. Basically, she is talking about children who know how to think from the Bible to life—they know who God is; they know who they are, as a result of knowing who God is; and they apply the Scriptures to the issues they’re facing in life.
That, basically, is what our guest on FamilyLife Today all this week has been talking about. John Stonestreet joins us again for another discussion on how parents are to help their children think about culture. John, welcome back.
John: Thanks, it’s been a great couple of days with you guys. Thanks so much for letting me be a part of this program.
Bob: Do you think young people today have good critical-thinking skills?
John: Is that a trick question? [Laughter]
Do I think most adults have good…” [Laughter]
No; I mean, look, it is one thing to have an opinion / it’s another thing to have an informed opinion. It is one thing to make an assertion; it’s another thing to make an argument. We have a culture that has chosen, you know, loud, verbose assertions in the place of actually making reasoned arguments. We’ve substituted feeling for thinking. Critical thinking is not high on our culture’s priority list; and in an age of information, then that means our kids are easily deceived.
Dennis: To that point, you’ve written a book called A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World. In your book, you make the statement, “Many students struggle with ideas simply because they don’t know how to think.”
John: That’s absolutely right. One of the best things we can do is take a cue from the two greatest educators in history. We wanted this book to be as practical as possible. This is an example—you know, here’s a strategy you can keep in your back pocket and teach kids to think.
One of the most important things that kids need to be able to do is wrestle with the definition of words. G.K. Chesterton said, “If words aren’t worth fighting for, what on earth would be?”
You know, the two greatest educators in history, Jesus and Socrates, were great at, not just giving answers, but asking good questions. Here’s a question every parent/educator should have in their back pocket all the time: “What do you mean by that?” Think about the times you’ve had a conversation with someone else and you realize, about midway through: “You’re using the same vocabulary, but you’re using a different dictionary”; right?—“you don’t mean the same thing.”
I remember once having a conversation with a woman on an airplane, who asked me how I could believe in God. I said, “Well, what do you mean by God?” She said, “A grumpy old man with a beard, who can’t wait for you to do something wrong so he can strike you with a lightning bolt.” I was like, “Well lady, I don’t believe in Zeus,”—right? [Laughter]—“That’s not who…”
It was the power of defining words. Think about the words that take kids captive these days: words like “love” / “What is love?”—“freedom” / “[Is] freedom doing whatever I want?” or “Is freedom being who I’m created to be?”—
—“truth,” “male and female,” “marriage,” “sex,” “meaning,” “purpose.” These are words that demand a definition.
That’s one of the ways, I think, to create what Nancy Pearcey once called “a baloney detector”—right?—is teaching kids: “What do you mean by that?” whenever they use a word—whenever they hear a word / whenever you’re watching a movie and a word is used—“What do they mean by that?” Getting at the definition is one way to get started.
Dennis: I ran across an illustration of what you’re talking about, flying back from Atlanta. I sat next to a Chick-fil-A® operator—owner/operator of one of their stores. I asked him the question—I said, “Tell me the biggest difference you see between kids today and when our kids used to work for you.” Five of our six children worked at Chick-fil-A for this owner/operator, and he’s been doing this for 30 years. I said, “What’s the biggest difference?” He said: “They don’t know how to think and solve problems.
“If you can’t Google® it / if you can’t go online and check it out, they don’t know how to look at an issue and how to think their way through to a solution.”
This is permeating our culture much more than we think. As parents, we need to be on this and training our children—back to what you said, Bob, what Barbara did—help your children know how to critically think their way through problems, issues, definitions—like you’re talking about—and also, how to think about some of the issues that are coming at them.
Let’s just take one of the issues, culturally, that is attacking our youth today—pornography. Where are you starting with your girls? You have three girls who are 12 and under; right?
Dennis: You undoubtedly are talking about this culture of pornography, even though they are not the ones that are being primarily targeted, like the boys are. Where are you starting with them?
John: Well, I think the first thing is—I’ll tell you what jolted me into reality on this issue—was having a conversation with Josh McDowell. Josh, of course, has spent a lot of time on this issue. I was sitting at an airport, early in the morning; we both were catching an early flight from a conference. He looked at me and he said, “John, the question is not, ‘Will your daughters see pornography?’ but ‘What will happen when they do?’”
We live in a culture of aggressive pornography / predatory pornography. That’s the first thing to understand—is that internet users / the average of first exposure to pornography by internet users is nine years old—and that’s an old statistic / newer ones are making that age younger, and younger, and younger.
The first conversation we’ve had with our daughters is the idea of what it means to be human—that: “God actually created us. He created us with bodies and that these bodies are good things; but they can be used, like all good things, in wrong ways.” So giving that framework, first of all, before telling them, “Don’t watch pornography.” “What is the human body for? What did God give it to us for?—introducing that concept of kind of sacredness to how God has made us.
The second thing, though, is just to have some—and there’s just no way around this—have some very important safeguards in your home. It’s insane for a kid to have unfettered, unregulated access to the internet in the privacy of their own bedroom.
Dennis: Do your daughters have cell phones that are live to the internet?
John: No, actually; they don’t. That’s one of the geographic—we talk about this—geography has a lot to do with purity; right? I mean, Joseph said, “No,” to Potiphar’s wife, day in and day out, until one day, he realized he needed to get out of there. Sometimes, we just need to have that sort of boundary—so we have those boundaries with our kids: certainly, no access to the internet in the privacy of their bedroom / they’re using our devices, not their own devices.
Now, you know, that will change as they go into teen years. Every parent has to make that decision about when they offer that sort of access. Parents, oftentimes, seem to have this view that: “Well, my kids deserve their privacy in this area. I don’t need to know my kid’s password.”
Know your kids’ passwords! Know what device they’re using / check their history—it’s not unloving to do that—it’s actually loving them, because there are forces out there that hate them and that are trying to steal their souls.
I think part of it is you just have to get over, as a parent or as a youth pastor, this somehow sacrosanct idea that, “My kids deserve their own privacy, and I don’t have the right.” No; you do; you have a responsibility to be in your kid’s life at that level.”
Dennis: I’ll never forget watching TV in San Diego one morning before I flew out. It was about parents snooping on their kids, and they were talking like that was wrong for parents to snoop and to try to catch their kids in deceit or in lies.
John: And that’s one of the lies of our culture, Dennis—that sexuality has not only become a personal thing—it’s become privatized.
This is why God gave us marriage, because what marriage does—is it makes us publicly accountable for a personal act of sexuality.
John: This is a lie across the culture—it came from the FDA when they said that, “Well, girls of any age should be able to buy Plan ‘B’ over the counter without a prescription.” Really? I mean: “You don’t think a girl should have to, at least, consult a doctor/physician, or her parents?”—no?! The Plan “B” vending machine at universities that has been in the news over the last couple years—really?—no one else needs to know about someone’s risky sexual behavior?
See, this is all part of a trend to privatize sexuality. It’s a personal act, but it has very public reality / very public consequences. Parents have to actually help their kids by making them publicly accountable about these things.
Dennis: You know, one of the things that I think closes kids up is that they get shamed by their parents or they don’t feel like it’s safe to tell their parents something that happened that they didn’t choose to do—
—they were just—a screen was put in front of their faces without a choice about it.
John: That’s right. I had a mom come to me in a conference that I was speaking at. I was talking about this particular issue; and she said, “The reason I’m here is because my nine-year-old came to me and said, ‘Mommy, what’s a pervert?’” She said, “Well, how did you know that word?” And he said, “I was on the computer; and a pop-up came up: ‘Are you a pervert?’ and I clicked.” You know what he saw next. I encouraged that mom—in that case, they’re not looking for porn—porn’s looking for them. There is a very predatory reality there.
You know, what we’re trying to do is develop disciplines in all areas of life. When our daughters see something that they shouldn’t—that there’s actually a spiritual discipline of averting your eyes / of just making a choice—you actually have to decide to move your eyes from one direction to the other. This is something all men have to learn / all women have to learn as well—and not just in areas of sexuality—but in violence or anything else that we see in our culture.
And that’s a habit. We talk a lot in the book, by the way, about habits that we need and kids need. We also—and I think your point was really wise, which is we create this shame, as if somehow they’re to blame that something else basically assaulted them with an image. Making them believe and aware that that is always open—to come to you and lets you know: “This is what I saw. How do I make sense of this?”—that you’ll talk them through it. That has to be the posture that we have to our kids in an age of predatory pornography.
Dennis: And I think, at points, maybe hiding your shock.
John: That’s right.
Dennis: Because they may show you something they’ve seen, and it may stun you beyond belief.
I want to go to another issue in our culture—the whole concept of hooking up. You have daughters, and you said you’re concerned about all the boys in the world as a result of having daughters. How are you talking to your daughters about maintaining their personal moral and sexual purity?
John: I think one of the things is just, again, going back to what we said—that before they know what to do with sex, they need to know who they are / what they’re made for; and then, as part of that, what sex is for. G.K. Chesterton said: “There are a lot of ways to fall down. There’s only one way to stand up straight.”
In our culture—I think, particularly, in the Christian world—we spend a lot of time talking about different sexual issues—maybe homosexuality/transgenderism—something like that—that are kind of the hot topics. We fail to then really address the overall sexual brokenness that we see in our culture; and the hookup culture is one of those ways, where everything is sexualized.
So, the first thing we talk about with our kids is—what sex is for. We started that at a really young age. Your resources, at FamilyLife®, Dennis, have been very, very helpful in having that journey with our kids. So, thank you for that. That’s one of the resources we recommend in the book, A Practical Guide to Culture.
The other thing, though, is helping students understand—going back to the definition of words: “What do we mean by love?” I wonder if the most significant book that we can read to help our kids right now—other than mine, of course—is The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. See, we live in a culture that’s taken the multitude of ways that the Bible talks about what it means to relate to one another—right?—agape, sacrificial love; phileo, the brotherly love; eros, that romantic, passionate love—and we’ve kind of dumbed it down in our culture to just being either sentimental or sexual.
The hookup culture, I think, by and large, comes about by a culture that doesn’t know how to relate to each other; because all we know is one of those two definitions of love—we either sentimentalize love and make it something that’s really weak and sad or we sexualize love.
We talked about this recently on BreakPoint—that two young guys / two young teenagers want to be good friends.
The Bible had an understanding of male-male love that wasn’t sexualized, but in our culture, it almost always becomes sexual. So, helping them understand, from the earliest age, the broad ways that humans / that God has given us the capacity to love each other. It seems kind of esoteric, but I think it’s about as practical as we can get. They need categories of what it means to love each other.
Dennis: And as they go into junior high, they’re going to need, not only categories, but some words to put with those categories to understand what their peers are believing and their peers are promoting; because in junior high and high school, parents take second place to peers.
John: That’s right.
Dennis: You’re about to send your daughters into that category of education, but also of peer pressure. What are you going to do to prepare them around the issue of sexual orientation?
John: That is—again, we go back again: “What is sex for?” You have to start there—you have to start with, “What did God intend sexuality to be?”
The other distinction I think that needs to be made, when it comes to sexual orientation in their minds, is the difference between behavior and identity. That identity struggle that we talked about last time is, to me, so important. From the earliest age in our culture, what students hear is that the most significant thing about who they are is their sexual inclinations and attractions—that, somehow, that trumps everything—that trumps what body parts you have, that trumps what the procreative process looks like, that trumps laws and that—you know, trumps experiences. You really have to back pedal on this.
The second thing is to have this conversation early, not late; because I tell you what—we don’t always get to choose the timing of our conversations. When the Supreme Court ruled on the Obergefell decision, we started that conversation with our six-year-old—that there actually is this belief that marriage is not just mommies and daddies but can be two mommies or two daddies—
—and: “Why isn’t that God’s design?” and “Why is the government—even though the government does a lot of things right—why are they wrong on this one?”
I didn’t want to have that conversation. When I signed up—you know, Sarah and I were going to get married and I thought we were going to have kids—I did not want to have a conversation with a six-year-old about sexual orientation; but I don’t get that choice, because I live in this particular cultural moment that God chose.
Bob: John, here’s the issue, though—your kids may think rightly about human sexuality. If they do, what they’re going to face is an unrelenting onslaught of both peer and adult pressure to change their views or be ostracized. How are you helping your kids get ready for that standing alone that is going to be required of them?
John: Bob, I’m so glad you asked that question.
I wish I had the silver bullet here, because the reality is—it is one thing to have Christian views in a culture, where if you’re [considered] wrong, you’re considered silly, or outdated, or quaint, or just wrong. It’s another thing to live in a cultural moment, where to have certain beliefs is, not only to be considered wrong, but to be considered evil. That means a different level of preparation of our kids for this cultural moment than even the ones that we were raised in.
I remember in a Sunday school class once, a teacher telling a story about a missionary who was martyred and saying, “Would you be willing to die for your faith?”—it was this complete hypothetical situation. Certainly, that could have happened to any of us; but it didn’t. What’s going to happen to all of our kids is kind of the hypothetical—which isn’t a hypothetical—which is: “Are you willing to lose friends because you’re going to be faithful to Jesus?” “Are you willing to be kicked out of your degree program at your university?” Cultural success in this moment is a lot more like Hans and Sophie Scholl, that we talked about—you know, being willing to pay the price, even unto death, for things that are ultimately true and good.
One of the ways we do that, Bob, is by telling stories of Hans and Sophie Scholl, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and William Wilberforce, and Martin Luther King, and individuals whose beliefs about life in the world and about people were culturally unpopular and led them to have to pay a price. I think you have to go back to that point and show some heroes of the faith. I think that’s what the author of Hebrews does in Hebrews, Chapter 11; and that leads up to Hebrews, Chapter 12: “So therefore you run with patience the race that is set before you [emphasis added].”
Dennis: When I was reading your book, I noticed that you told that story about Hans and Sophie. Barbara tells it in a book she wrote called Growing Together in Courage. The storytelling that you’re talking about, John, is also a lost art today; because we’re so busy with our electronics, we’re not wrapping flesh around people who experienced God and God energized them and gave them the courage to take a stand as they faced the enemy.
John: It’s absolutely huge, Dennis; because culture is most powerful—not in where it’s most blatant but where it’s most subtle—because it captures your imagination. If you think about in our culture: “Who are the heroes of our culture?”—and other times, heroes made history / today, they make CDs and touchdowns; right? I mean, it’s a very different definition of what it means to be heroic. You talk about: “Who are the good guys and the bad guys?” in the movie. “What is the heroic act?” in so many movies today?—just following your heart, without ever asking the question [that] maybe your heart’s misinformed or wicked; right?
So, to capture imagination in an area like courage, like you’re just talking about—or any of the other virtues—we talked about perpetual adolescence earlier. That’s a direct antidote to perpetual adolescence—is capturing their imagination with better stories. And there are a lot out there. That’s a great book, Dennis—that Barbara wrote.
My colleague, Eric Metaxas, has written some—you know, 7 Men; 7 Women; Bonhoeffer; Amazing Grace about Wilberforce—we need to get these heroic biographies in front of our kids.
Dennis: And we need to read those stories aloud and, then, interact with them about it.
John, I want to thank you for your book / thank you for your work and being a courageous man to stand on behalf of the truth of Scripture and the gospel. You’re a key player in being light in a dark world, especially in our country—being salt and light—helping parents train their kids to be salt and light, in fact, to their generation. Thanks for being on the broadcast. Hope you’ll come back and join us again after you’ve written your next book.
John: Hey, listen, I am so thankful for the work of FamilyLife®—and Dennis, your career, and Bob, your career—it’s just been a terrific inspiration. Thank you so much for having me on.
Bob: Well, and we hope a lot of parents will take advantage of the work that you’ve done in putting together a practical guide to culture.
This is a great resource for moms and dads to have and to work through with their kids. It’s easy to do a chapter or even a half-a-chapter at the dinner table. This is going to provoke some great conversations with your children to help them think, critically, and think, biblically, about the world we live in and how they should live in the middle of a world that is rapidly moving away from what the Bible teaches.
You can get John Stonestreet’s book A Practical Guide to Culture, when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, the website—FamilyLifeToday.com—or call 1-800-358-6329 to order the book—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, this is an exciting time of year for families as we prepare for the Christmas celebration and for the beginning of a new year.
Here, at FamilyLife, thinking ahead to 2018—there’s a lot that we’re excited about—the launch of a new video series called FamilyLife’s Art of Parenting. There’s a movie we’ve made that goes along with that that’ll be in theaters May 1st and May 3rd—Stephen and Alex Kendrick helped us with that film. We’re excited about giving you guys a chance to see the movie. And there are a lot of other ministry projects that we’re focused on, all designed to try to continue to provide practical biblical help and hope for couples / for moms and dads—for whole families. Our goal is to effectively develop godly families—as many as possible—because we believe godly families can change the world.
And the next couple of weeks are going to be critical for helping us know just how forward-thinking we can be as we look to 2018. This is a season of the year when a lot of people think about making a yearend contribution to a ministry like FamilyLife Today, and those yearend contributions will set the course for us in the year ahead.
The good news is—we have a matching gift that’s in place. Every donation we receive this month is being matched, dollar for dollar. Michelle Hill is here with our daily update on how things are going with the matching gift. Michelle—
Michelle: Hi Bob, so we’re almost two weeks into the match and thanks to friends like Frank from Pasadena, Phyllis from Oklahoma City and Stanley from San Francisco…plus three thousand other folks who’ve stepped up, today’s total is…(and I feel like I almost need a little drum roll or something… hahaha) …four hundred twenty four thousand four hundred and seventeen dollars! And of course that’s being matched dollar for dollar up to 2 million dollars…
Bob: And it’s easy to make a yearend contribution and to have your donation matched, dollar for dollar. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate.
Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk with a young woman who had a heart for missions—wound up on the mission field, only to find her faith shaken a bit in the process. Amy Peterson joins us tomorrow to talk about going into dangerous territory. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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