While it’s true that all kids are going to go through stages when they want to be “cool” in some innocuous ways (i.e, using innocent faddish teen words or sporting the latest hairstyle), Christian service and the kind of “cool” that berates others are inherently incompatible. You just can’t put your heart into ministering to those who are diseased, poor, unpopular or socially awkward while you make fun of them. I have seen this kind of “cool’ in action on the mission field or at work camps. It manifests itself in cells of popular kids in youth groups who love going to pass out goody-bags to homeless people while leaving the less-popular, less accepted members of the youth group to do another job on another street. How is it that we can minister to materially needy outsiders while rejecting socially (and, often materially) needy insiders? Such “ministry” is really only about self. Problems with selfishness are hard to address in youth groups where well-meaning leaders have little control over the much more direct impressions that are being made by parents at home.
But this is written for moms at home. We can fix this is if we start early and stay late in our absolute across-the-board refusal to allow our kids to berate others based on race, social strata or intelligence quotas. At our house, we banned making fun of people because of the stylishness (or lack thereof) of clothes they wore, because of brand names of clothes, cars, or shoes, because of the homes in which they lived, or because of the age or situation of their parents. Children, especially teens, are so very emotionally volatile and our kids have no business ever considering themselves better, in any sense except spiritually (if they are indeed sanctified and holy), than their peers. They simply cannot grow up as both servants and snobs.
Of course there are all kinds of ways we put humility in our children. There are the great stories of Abraham and Moses and Paul and the Lord, himself. There are the constant examples we show them in our own quiet benevolence and in our words of kindness. There’s the hospitality we offer without distinction and the way we sit with visitors to our services even when they don’t smell good. It’s just the way we emit this understanding that physical attributes are unimportant and very temporary. We can, over time, put blinders to wealth and beauty on our children.
But another important and effective add to this parental mix is punishment. Our children should know that when they berate someone there will be a price to pay. When they berate someone who is poor, they may miss a meal themselves. When they make fun of a person’s clothing because it is not up their standards of style, they may have to surrender a few choice pieces from their own wardrobe. When they do not want to sit with a socially awkward person in the youth section, then they can come and sit with the parents. When they want to exclude someone who is less than popular from an outing, the outing is off.
And then you just get out the Good Book and, in your Family Bible time, you give them an expository of James 2. Do it on a child’s level, but take it to heart in your soul, too. It’s a powerful passage and most of us moms can use a review ourselves.