“Did you have fun today?”
“What did you do for fun?”
“Did you have fun with your friends?”
What is the one consistent word here? It’s the three-letter word fun.
This type of question is ruining our children’s ability simply to BE. I hear parents, grandparents, and siblings asking young people, “Are you going to have a fun day? What did you do that was fun? Did you have fun with your friends?”
I hear people asking this sort of question all of the time, even in my own house.
Is the focus of this question the right one parents should be asking? Should we gauge the quality of a young person’s day based on whether or not they had fun?
We need to ask ourselves what we are teaching our children by asking this.
We are giving them the impression that life is all about having fun.
I’m not trying to suggest children—or adults—should never have fun. We should love what we do. We should be engaged; we should have energy for life. We should enjoy our lives because Jesus came to bring us life “to the full” (John 10:10 NIV).
On the other hand, Jesus also said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).
Hardships are part of life. We will experience struggles. We must often deal with troubling circumstances. In times of trial, however, we can have peace and find strength because we know Jesus loves us. He understands our pain and is both able and willing to help us in all things. We can find joy in the growth of our relationship with Him. It will not be fun, but there is good in it.
Recently, I took care of a child for a friend of mine. When my friend came to pick up her daughter, one of the first things she did was ask her child, “What did you do for fun today?” Her daughter replied, “Nothing. I haven’t done anything fun today.” The reaction to this statement bordered on shock, as if such a circumstance were unthinkable. Yet why is it unthinkable? What is horrible about a child not having fun all of the time? You shouldn’t entertain your own children, and I shouldn’t entertain yours, either.
If I gear my children’s lives toward fun, I am setting them up for future failure, depression, and battles when life isn’t fun. I am setting them up for disappointment in marriage because they won’t be able to appreciate those low-key days of rest and recovery with their spouses after hectic times. Will they be able to treasure the quiet moments of simple companionship?
When we emphasize the value of fun, we are sowing their the need to be entertained continuously. We are setting them up to view other people in terms of how they can make life more fun. We are encouraging our children to seek relationships based on fun. We are teaching them that it is okay to avoid or abandon tasks and relationships if they don’t seem fun.
Many children today are constantly asking, “What are we going to do now?” They are always seeking new ways to entertain themselves. Next time your kids are with a play date or hanging out with teenage friends, listen to them talk with each other. Take note of how often they ask each other what they will do next. Listen to them tell each other what they’ve been doing is getting old; they are bored and ready for the next source of entertainment. Girls who play indoors are always jumping to the next activity: “Hey, let’s edit pictures. Let’s do a photo shoot. Let’s play a game. Let’s make a video. Let’s make a song. Let’s do all of these projects together. Let’s go play this sport. Let’s go play that. I’m tired of this—let’s move on.”
As a mother, I certainly appreciate when my children can entertain themselves and come up with activities on their own. The trouble is, kids don’t stay focused on a particular goal. They don’t stay engaged and committed. You don’t see kids building a fort all day long the way we did when we were young. These days it’s more of a frenzy: Kids dart from one activity to the next to the next to the next. There’s no break.
I don’t hear kids suggesting to each other to hang out and talk for a while or read a book or study the Bible. I know these suggestions sounds odd, but they shouldn’t. Life isn’t about bouncing wildly from one fun activity to the next. I’m afraid children who live in restless pursuit of entertainment will grow into adults who are never satisfied with simply being. God created us as human beings, yet we allow our children to be only human doings. We are setting our children on a dangerous course because, let’s face it, most entertainment for kids and for adults is of this world and not of God. The desire for stimulation can distract us from the values and purposes of God. Will our children be too busy ping-ponging around to realize that?
I believe we need to stop asking children, “Did you have fun today?” We need to stop telling them when they leave the house, “Be sure to have fun!” Since it’s in our power to influence our children’s focus, let’s choose some different questions: Who did you encourage today? How were you encouraged today? Did you share your beautiful smile with someone? Did anyone surprise you with a beautiful smile and prompt you to smile back? Did you see someone do something kind today? Did you share with a friend today? Did you help your friend’s mommy when you were at their house all day? Did you leave their place better than you found it? When you spent time with your friends, did you ask how they were doing and actually listen to the answer? Did you ask them if they were hurting in any way?
We assume our children are too young and emotionally immature to have those kinds of conversations with us and with their friends. How can we believe this when we know children are not too young to be hurt? They could already, on any given day, be suffering rejection and deep wounds. They are already being challenged morally. They are already struggling with matters of the mind and spirit and body. Our children need adults who are willing to be transparent and dig deeply with them at the earliest ages.
We should never look down on people because they are young. We shouldn’t assume children are incapable of deep conversation. It is up to us to teach them. If we raise our children to pursue fun, we can’t expect them suddenly to transform into insightful, compassionate human beings when they reach adulthood. We need to teach them while they are young: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6 NIV). We need to teach our children how to be introspective—how to search their own souls and seek the Lord. We need to teach them to pay attention to their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. We need to teach them to take a genuine, loving interest in other people’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences. People are never too young to learn the Lord’s ways and do the Lord’s work.
It is important for our children to learn how to connect with their friends on a deeper level. Otherwise the friendships they have when they are young won’t be sustainable beyond this particular season of their lives. We should teach kids from a young age the value of developing sound, lasting relationships.
Spending time with other people isn’t about cramming in as many fun activities as possible. Rather, it’s about companionship. It’s about relaxing your guard and getting to know each other. It’s about learning how to love each other. Close friends know how to rest together. They find refreshment in each other’s company. Kids need to understand that it’s okay to say, “You know what, I’m tired. Let’s chill and hang out. Maybe we can read together or talk for a while.”
What’s not okay is complaining about being bored. Maybe one person enjoys sharing some quiet time while another person doesn’t. The main objective isn’t to have fun—to be entertained. When you are with the people you love, you can find enjoyment in the busy times as well as the quiet times.
I notice many children today who seemoverstimulated and utterly exhausted. Adults allow and expect kids to stay on the go all of the time, jumping from one activity to the next to the next to the next. No wonder kids are tired! No one has taught them how to be still. No one has taught them the value of being still.
Stillness calms people. It is enjoyable. It allows us to rest and reflect. Kids, too, can learn to be comfortable enough with themselves and the people around them simply to be. How else will they ever hear the still, quiet voice of God?