This series I’m writing is based on a simple idea: Each day, I’m reading and praying in Proverbs with “parenting eyes” and blogging whatever comes to mind. That’s the plan, for good or bad. The chapters 10-24 are, as one of my former students referred to them, “Christian fortune cookies.” In other words, two lines of insight with no real connection or continuity among them for nearly 400 verses. So, there may be different themes/topic that you notice but I go in a different direction, so I hope you understand that. Today, I read Proverbs 18.

His kid was being picked on every day at a private school with strict religious codes.

“When I pull into the traffic circle he’s staring at the ground in front of him. Shoulders slumped. Hoodie over the top of his head. He gets in the car and wants to cry but he won’t do it now that he’s in high school. And I get that he’s different. He plays piano and cello & likes to act & sing & dance. He’s a little guy, too, so that doesn’t help. Throw in the fact that he’s big into cosplay (Short for “costume play”-based on animated characters not necessarily limited to the stage. So, yes, they dress up and sometimes go about their normal activities.) and Japanese animation and it isn’t really hard to see he’s an easy target. Sure, the popular kids have been picking on the geeks since the beginning of time, but I was hoping this school with Christian beliefs would at least let him get through the day with them at least being nice to him. I don’t know what to do for him, either. Even the Christian teen magazine we get from the popular radio family ministry has quarterbacks or rock climbers on the cover. His mom and I are going to set up a meeting to get the principal and teachers to put a stop to this.”

Her concern was that her kid wasn’t making friends at church.

“He’s been coming here since he was 6-weeks old. We thought moving up from the children’s ministry into the middle school department would be a time when he would really connect and make those friendships that would give him a foundation in making his faith strong through the teen years so when he goes off to college he makes this faith his own. Could you talk to him and maybe get a few guys to introduce themselves so he can make friends here at church?”

Her kid had a new circle of friends and grades were slipping and attitudes were changing.

“Things are so different now that she started hanging out with these new friends. They met in an organization at school and hit it off. Now our sweet little girl has taken the bows out of her hair and the necklines & hemlines have gotten longer & shorter. The makeup has gotten thicker. She wants us to go with her to get a tattoo. There’s a lot of whispering phone calls and we feel like everything she tells us about her social plans for the weekend are lies, even if we can’t exactly figure out why. There’s a lot more fighting at the house, too, with door slams and eye rolls and yelling–which have never been a part of our home before. Oh, and the grades are slipping. Not horrible–A’s are now B’s–but there are more of them and I’m guessing they’re going to keep dropping if we don’t get on top of this. Got any suggestions on how to get her away from these friends? They’re bad news.”

Good parents.
Hurting parents.
Hurting because their kids are hurting.
And wanting to help.

And, note, they all deal with social situations. In short, friendships/relationships or lack thereof. Which we all have experience in.

When we were kids we all had our social ups and downs, wins and losses, loves and hurts. So we know, kinda, what they’re going through and in for. We don’t want our kids to have more ups than downs and we want them to have more wins than losses and to be loved as much as possible and hurt as little as possible, right? As our kids get older their friendships and relationships are all SO important, right? So, how do we help our kids in this important area?

First, Proverbs 18: 5-8 read, “It is terrible to show partiality to the wicked, by depriving a righteous man of justice. The lips of a fool enter into strife, and his mouth invites a flogging. The mouth of a fool is his ruin, and his lips are a snare for his life. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down into the person’s innermost being.” Now, I do think the parents were wise in bringing the first situation to the attention of the school leadership, and I encouraged them to do so. It is terrible for those popular kids doing a wicked thing to get away with it…and yes, the administration can (and did, as it turns out) stop a lot of that if they’re aware of it.

But what I didn’t tell you was that the kid being picked on had told me what “jerks” the bullies were, and he’d unloaded on them to me about how “shallow” they were, how they’d go through life never really “getting it” or “feeling real feelings.” He and his group of friends had certainly fired back verbally and such and pointed and laughed at the lunch table at the “cool” kids. He had a sharp mind and sharp wit and used that weapon. Proverbs 18:12 says, “Before destruction the heart of a person is proud, but humility comes before honor.”

See, he’d been a gossip and prideful that his way of doing life was somehow superior to theirs. When I met with him and his parents, we talked about that. The very thing he wanted, which was to stroll through life being himself and have that be respected, he wasn’t giving them the freedom to be themselves. Sure, they’d been out of bounds…but so was he in a passive-aggressive way. And, oh, yeah, we did talk about how you need to expect to get a little bit of stares and giggles if you Cosplay it up at the football game. Just like you’d stare and giggle if a football player went to class in his padded uniform & helmet. Sometimes you gotta know social limits and play along…or get happy with the consequences. Look, I was into the punk stuff in Alabama. It was one thing to head to a club in Doc Martens and jackets at night when a good band was playing, but if you wore punk regalia to the grocery store you were gonna get stares and giggles. I’m all for being who you are, but understand the downsides of life on the fringe, no? The street of acceptance has to run both ways. He learned that, and the kid found his niche, went off to college and has a good job now. Still attends ComicCon dressed up.

Second, realize that we need to teach our kids valuable social skills. Proverbs 18: 1 says, “One who isolates himself seeks his own desires; he rejects all sound judgment.” 18:2 follows up with, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in disclosing what is on his mind.” What I didn’t tell you was that the kid whose dad wanted some other kids to engage his son at Sunday School would come in with headphones on, sit in the back and play games on his hand-held Playstation. Even the youth staff would walk up to him to try to get him to talk and he would pause his game, take out one ear bud, answer in short sentences and wait for us to leave. Then he’d replace the ear bud, unpause the game, and stay in his own world. He’d turn it off during the lesson and then immediately bolt out of class to meet his parents to get out of church as fast as he could.

It would’ve been awfully hard to ask 6th grade guys who were still learning social skills themselves to bust through that mindset to get him to the foosball table or ping-pong or Xbox we had going. It was hard for our staff. So, since we were in agreement with the parents that isolationism was negative and leads to a very narrow mind, our encouragement was to talk to the parents about making him put his video game in the backseat, no headphones or telephone allowed in church (they even went to get him a hard-copy of a Bible so he didn’t have that excuse as to why he needed his phone/music/headphones). Then to dive in and do the hard work of teaching their 6th grade boy basic (but necessary) social skills. They even had a table to play ping-pong on at home and taught him (much like older people use golf or cooking or bunco) so he could be skilled enough to play a competitive game–which would help him socially at church. It at least helped him get started.

Finally, we need to understand the power of “tribe.” Proverbs 18:24 says, “A person who has friends may be harmed by them, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” The Hebrew of that verse suggests the person who has “unreliable friends” may be “crushed” (or “shattered”) by them. So, yes, the parents were right to be concerned. A bad tribe or boyfriend/girlfriend can certainly leave your kid in shambles. But the parents wanted to get rid of the friends and hope that was the solution. The problem with that is obvious: When we were kids, our parents might ask us, “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump off the cliff?” If we’re honest, we probably would have. Who wants to go through life with no friends? Then we try to give all sort of illustrations to our kids about being easier for friends to pull you down from a chair than for you to pull them up and all other sorts of silly things that don’t deal with the most important question:

What is it about the heart of my child that draws them toward those kids? Why is my child drawn to those that make poor decisions that might shatter them, and how do we work on their heart?

And that’s really the theme of all three situation, isn’t it? As parents, if we truly want to help, we need to turn the personal responsibility toward getting them walking humbly with their God…

…and that’s where I’d like to leave it for today (it’s wordy and long enough already) and let you jump in with suggestions on how we can do that more effectively. What practical things can be done to help our children’s hearts as they choose friends and deal with the social life? How do we help them honor God and promote Kingdom values no matter their personality or disposition or passions or interests?

Have at it, patrons!