What are your kids’ toys preparing them to be? What do modern games accomplish? Today AMBrewster shows Christian parents how to exercise discernment choosing toys and games for their kids.
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"Kids and Movies: Parenting Your Kids to Success" (episode 14)
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If this is the first time you’ve tuned into Truth.Love.Parent., I welcome you. My name is Aaron and I am a husband and father, but I’m also the House Dad at Victory Academy for Boys where every year I invite 8 at-risk teen boys to live with me so that I can introduce them to Christ and help those who submit be conformed to the image of their Savior.
It’s a very hard job, but it’s also extremely rewarding. Imagine a house full of terrorist teenagers. I’m sure the potential stressors are easy to picture. But imagine what it’s like when even one of them submits to God!
I live and work in a place where we must depend on God for absolutely everything because there’s nothing we can do to make this place work.
Now, after describing it like that, this next question may seem strange, but if you would be interested in ministering in a place like that — or know someone who would — I’d encourage you to call Victory Family Ministries at 715-759-5976. We’d love to see if the Lord would have a place for you here.
We have a number of positions we’d like to fill — everything from seasonal interns, camp counselors, and house parents.
I thank you for taking the time to join us for this discussion. It’s a little different than normal, but I think it will be a welcomed challenge to your thinking. I know it was for me.
But before we do that, I’d like to thank Cara and Jess for making today’s episode possible. They’re two of our Patrons who love you so much that they give to TLP so we can continue producing free parenting content that will draw your minds to God’s will for our parenting.
You can play a part as well. If you’d like to give a one-time donation or commit to supporting us on a monthly basis, you can click the “5 Ways to Support TLP” link in the description and then click any of the PayPal buttons on that page.
But you can also be a blessing to Truth.Love.Parent and TeamTLP by Rating and Reviewing the show on iTunes and Recommending us on Facebook.
Your support connects us with searching parents and helps to spread God’s plan for parents all over the globe. Already this year we’ve been downloaded in 47 countries.
And, before we move on, here’s one more interesting tidbit about me. I am a martial artist. And it’s funny that after over 250 episodes that I haven’t really talked about the martial arts in regard to your kids and family.
I do plan to do that. It’s a very interesting topic, and there’s a lot the Bible has to say on the subject.
But today we’re talking about toys.
Now, the genesis of this discussion was quite unexpected.
Normally, I scour the Scriptures for topics that will help us become the intentional, premeditated, disciple-making parents God called and created us to be.
But this show was inspired by something very different.
Now, before I tell you the story, if you’re new, I’d like you to know that we have free episode notes and show transcripts at TruthLoveParent.com on our blog, Taking Back the Family.
Okay, so my family is a homeschooling family, and we’re always interested in finding family outings that are both fun and educational. So, my wife found this unique little museum in Appleton, Wisconsin.
It’s a little history museum, but it boasts the largest collection of information and exhibits in the world concerning Harry Houdini.
Well, among other things, I also used to be a professional magician, so we decided to check it out. And it was a lot of fun. If you’re ever in the area, that may be an interesting stop.
So, anyway, they had some other exhibits, and one of them was this very interesting little exhibit featuring a bunch of antique toys and games from the 1950’s. They had model trains and a couple of the original Barbies and all sorts of other cool stuff.
They even had a TV that played a ton of black and white toy commercials from the 50’s and 60’s.
Walking through the exhibit, I was struck with something significant. As I looked at all the miniature drive-in theaters and rocking horses and doll houses and flight-simulating kid-sized cockpits and trains and army-themed toys, I realized that modern kids don’t really have access to those toys anymore.
Sure, girls can get baby dolls and you can find army men, but just plain old horse figurines and jump ropes and stuff like that are things you find at dollar stores or really expensive toy boutiques. They’re not the type of thing that’s pushed in the average toy-section of everyday stores. It’s not the stuff that kids really want.
And I had to ask myself why.
But the answer didn’t come until I noticed the theme that ran through the vast majority of 50’s toys.
But before I tell you what it was, let me say that God values play.
In Zechariah 8:4-5 we read, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. 5 And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.”
Here the Lord is giving us a glimpse into the peaceful and prosperous city of Zion. This is the way it should be. Children should be playing in the city of God.
But the Bible doesn’t really discuss the content of our children’s play.
I’m mentioning all of this because I’m going to make two observations today: I’m going to discuss the general theme of 50’s toys and the general theme of modern toys. And then I’m going to discuss some biblical principles that should help us interpret the two observations and discover a valuable application for our children.
Okay, so here’s my observation about the toys from the mid 20th century.
If you really sat down to look at the toys and games, you would discover that most of them were child-sized versions of adult activities.
It may be a doll house or play kitchen. It may be the toy drive-in theater I mentioned earlier or a model railroad or Lincoln Logs. The vast majority of toys were designed to give children the opportunity to practice or play at being an adult.
Check it out for yourself. Go to the museum, do a Google search, or ask your parents. You’ll find that the vast majority of toys were created to help children learn (or at least pretend) to do the same things that adults were doing.
The same thing goes for a lot of the games available back then. There was Monopoly, Life, Risk, Careers, Stratego, Park and Shop and many more like them.
Now, before I move to the second observation about modern toys, I will quickly admit that there were toys and games that had a similar theme to what we see today. And often those were some of the more popular toys and games. And that will make sense here very shortly as well.
Now, consider the vast majority of games and toys produced today. There are so many, and I don’t want to date this show too much by naming specific action figures and princesses and video games and card games . . . but I think you’ll agree with me if you walk through the toy, game, and video game section of Walmart.
Whereas the playthings from the 50’s were equipping chidden to do the things that adults do, the playthings from the early 2000’s are equipping children to do what — to become what?
Think about it. See if you come to the same conclusion I did.
Our kids are being encouraged — in everything they do — to exist in a fantasy world.
They’re rearing dragons, killing zombies, pretending to be princesses, flying imaginary spacecraft, battling monsters, fighting super villains, and creating fantasy worlds.
When our parents and grandparents played, they were practicing to be adults. When our children play, they’re practicing to be aliens, zombie hunters, and dragon masters . . . they’re practicing existing in a fantasy world.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Our kids are filling huge chunks of their days practicing to be fake people.
Now, I can hear it now.
“Aaron, everyone knows that imagining and pretending are desperately important for a child’s development.”
Please understand what I’m not saying.
I’m not saying that imagination is bad. In fact, I advocate for the exact opposite.
I am not suggesting that pretending to be an imaginary creature is bad. If you watch my kids play for even 30 seconds, you would see that.
I’m not saying that fantasy games are bad for our kids development or that they’re not good for our kids’ development.
I’m saying that we have an entire generation of young people who want nothing more than to disappear into a non-existent reality for as long as they can each and every day.
And practically none of that experience is going to positively equip them for life and godliness.
Now, before I try to help us gain some biblical consensus on this topic, I also want to point out that those of you with very young children may not see what I’m talking about. Your kids are playing with dolls and Play-doh and Lincoln logs and pretend kitchens and horses and army men.
I know. Our American society generally promotes the importance of giving young children educational toys. And I think that’s a fantastic idea.
But then our kids learn to hate school, and we decide that they need an escape from their lives, and they get addicted to the endorphin rush of being the god of their own universe, and instead of looking at toys as an extension of our children’s development — like we did when they were younger — we start viewing their toys and games as amusement. The word “amuse” literally means — no thinking. Our entire philosophy about toys completely changes when our kids get older.
We go from let’s choose toys for our kids that will help them think better to let’s allow our children to choose games that will help them think worse.
Now, let’s be fair, we, the parents, would probably continue encouraging our older kids to do valuable things, but when they started showing little interest in educational games and whining that they’re the only fourth grader without a phone, we capitulate. We allow our kids to dictate our philosophy on toys, games, and entertainment.
So, to start our section on practical applications for today’s observations:
1. We need to be the parents. We should have a consistent philosophy of family life that extends to all that we do.
When we tell our kids they need to submit to God and their parents . . . except when they’re locked in their rooms creating their own reality in Fortnight, we’re lying to them. We’re teaching them that there are slices of their lives where they are not required to submit to God.
Now, I’m going to make this clear later, but I’m also not suggesting that for us to be the parents, that means that our children are never allowed to pretend. That’s not the point, but I’ll clear that up some more soon.
2. We need to be the Ambassador Parents. Our philosophy of family life (including toys) needs to be one grounded in God’s high biblical expectations.
We need to go to the Bible to learn how God would have our kids play. And even though I said earlier that the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say specifically about playing, He does give us many commands and principles that are applicable to playing.
I plan to focus on more of those points in a future episode.
For now, though . . .
3. We need to be Ambassador Parents who use everything in our children’s lives to point them to God. Instead of allowing play to be our children’s escape from biblical realities, we should help them see the Lord in their play.
Now, I could do an entire episode on this point, but let me give you just one example. My children, like yours, love to create their own fantasy worlds. They have this one imaginary antagonist named Gargalon who seems to be the baddest dude in the universe.
Anyway, in the past during their games, one of my kids would be the antagonist. Their bad guys were never super wicked people, but it was clear they represented the “bad guy.” And sometimes my children would team up and pretend to be the bad guys against imaginary good guys.
I remember pondering this situation for a while before stepping in, but eventually I had to say something. I told my kids that it’s not bad to pretend to be a bad guy if at least two things were true:
A. The child doesn’t sin while doing so.
It’s like portraying Judas or a Roman soldier during a passion play. You’re not really betraying the Messiah, you’re not really murdering anyone, you’re simply representing someone who once did.
However, if I’m playing a character on stage, and I have to take the Lord’s name in vain or do something sexual on stage, then I — Aaron Brewster — am actually sinning.
The same goes for the kids. My child playing the bad guy shouldn’t be hurting the other child or screaming in actual anger or being genuinely unloving.
So, it’s not bad to pretend to be a bad guy if the child doesn’t actually sin while doing so, and . . .
B. The children don’t allow the bad guy to win.
It’s true that crime does pay for a season. It’s true that wicked men overwhelm the righteous and evil nations destroy the innocent. But — ultimately — sin will not reign, and evil will be destroyed.
Our children can learn an eternally valuable lesson by pretending that Gargalon — no matter how persistent and threatening and occasionally victorious he may be — will be defeated by righteousness in the end.
And leads to . . .
C. The good guy is genuinely good.
I also encourage my kids to allow God to exist in their imaginary universes. Now, He doesn’t have to be the central plot line of the game — the kids don’t have to be on a holy pilgrimage or fighting a holy war all the time — but the “good guys” in the game should at least be assumed to believe in God and submit to His will.
This helps the good guy to truly be a righteous guy.
Why is this important? Well, way back in episode 14, we discussed "Kids and Movies: Parenting Your Kids to Success." That show grew from an article I had written called, “The Most Destructive Thing about Hollywood Is Not What You Think.”
I encourage you to listen to the episode, but the main point I argued was that that one of the most devious elements in our TV shows and movies is the fact that the good guys are people who don’t acknowledge God in anything. These people make friends and overcome cosmic tyrants and graduate from high school and create a magical unicorn rainbow bridge and bring balance to the universe all without a single consideration to glorifying God.
These stories tacitly lie to our children that God does not exist and that He’s not necessary to be successful in life and relationships.
Well, I didn’t want my children’s pretending to do the same.
And this is also beneficial because it requires that my children submit to the Lord in their play . . . this goes for the imaginary characters they’re portraying as well as they themselves.
My kids shouldn’t be bossy and controlling and whiny and discontent and unkind when they play together.
Now, it hasn’t been full-proof, and my kids are still very sinful — as we all are — but one thing that changed was that my kids got less mad at each other, my son was less tempted to arrogance, and my daughter was less tempted to being sassy.
Their imaginary games are actually quite enjoyable to observe these days because they often try to serve the other while playing.
Okay, let’s review real quick:
I Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do [this includes playing games], do all to the glory of God.”
I challenge you to go through your children’s toy boxes, closets, and video game cabinets. Check out their board games and listen in on their imaginary escapades.
What is your children’s play teaching them? What does God want you to teach them through their play?
Please share this episode. I’m pretty sure that 100% of the parents you know have children who play. And God desires that we all submit to His will.
Next time we’re going to discuss "Having Forgettable Conversations with Your Kids.” I believe it will be a blessing to you in a number of ways.
Our God is so consistent and wonderful and powerful and wise that His Truth extends to every facet of our lives. May we parents point our children to Him in all that we do.
To that end, I’ll see you next time.
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