Covenant Blog
  • Disconnected Children

    “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” was written to warn mothers of the lonely life of cowboys. As sung by Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, the warning cry is clear: this is a sad and hard life and mothers would want to prevent this loss of connection with other people if they only knew.

    “If they only knew,” I often think to myself when I see young children using smart technology in restaurants or doctor’s offices. They sure do a good job of keeping kids quiet, don’t they? More and more evidence is leading doctors and educators to believe that there is an expense to the luxury of keeping kids quiet that goes way beyond dollars and cents. Our brain is a muscle; it gets stronger when it is exercised. Like any muscle, it will atrophy if it is not challenged; comfort and ease will prevent the brain from getting stronger. If a child is not properly challenged, relational skills like imitation and eye contact will not develop. Rather than benefit from the volumes of information at one’s finger tips, young children come to believe that all of life is as easy as the swish of a finger. Learning requires imitation, focus and perseverance, none of which are required when using an iPad.

    Many children are significantly benefited by advances in technology. Children with speech and motor delays have been empowered to communicate via assistive technology. Why then does the same technology have the opposite effect on other children? Applied effort is the amount of effort applied to learning and it has a direct impact on the amount of learning accomplished. Little effort=little learning. Great effort=great learning. This is why smart technology is so tricky: it requires very little effort to have access to great storehouses of information. Do you remember when you used to have phone numbers memorized? Why bother now, right? Your smart phone can do that for you. Children develop the same mindset to facts and other information.

    Memorization is not a thing of the past; our brains do not build connections without it. Memorization is hard work, but it makes you smarter. Thankfully, our grammar school teachers have invented myriads of songs, chants and other great mnemonic devices to make the hard work of memorization fun.

    Connected to technology, disconnected to people. In my own limited experience, I have found that children who have significant amounts of daily access to iPads, iPhones and the like at a young age tend to struggle connecting with people. They struggle to make eye contact, follow directions or imitate others and often it has an impact on their classroom experience. I've also noticed that children who struggle to connect with people tend to want to connect to technology. It is very likely that these children would struggle to connect with people regardless of technology and that technology simply compounds a natural tendency. Bottom line, for some people anything that makes learning passive is a bad idea.

    Video games are designed for short attention spans so that gamers will not get bored and switch to a new obsession. That’s right; children who play video games and watch a lot of television are developing shorter attention spans. Attention spans start off very short (a few seconds for a baby) and are lengthened as children make eye contact with their mothers during feedings, imitate them during play and persevere when they encounter difficulties. If attention spans are not challenged to stretch, they will remain short and sporadic and this will impact their success in school. How do you lengthen an attention span? Start small and add perseverance.

    If learning is always easy, our ability to pay attention will not get stronger. Overuse of technology impacts children’s abilities to make eye contact, imitate and persevere. This leads to children who are disconnected, easily frustrated, and ultimately lonely. Lonely? Yes, because although technology is entertaining and keeps kids quiet, it doesn't provide the same benefits as relationships and conversations. Children who spend more time connecting with technology tend to lack the skills in how to connect with their peers. As their peers mature, they lag behind and each year the gap widens as both groups learn (or fail to learn) new skills. A disconnected child will ultimately have fewer meaningful friendships. In addition, when life gets hard (as it always does) they will not have the skills to cope. What does one need to cope? Perseverance. 

    Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up disconnected.

  • Great Books Are More Like Passports

    “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” ―Madeleine L'Engle

    “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ―Cicero

    “Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.” 
    ―Groucho Marx, The Essential Groucho: Writings For By And About Groucho Marx

    “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” ―Ernest Hemingway

    A book becomes great when it speaks to us, again and again, generation after generation. Books that tell the struggle of humanity and our need for redemption do more than entertain; they transform. We were made to tell a story, THE story and authors have been telling it in various ways through various methods for thousands of years. Great stories are meant to change us. How can we read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or Jane Eyre without being changed?

    You may be thinking, “I get that these are great books, but I have such a hard time understanding them,” and you are partly right; some great books are challenging to read. Though most classics are more accessible than commonly believed, it does help to have an excellent teacher to open these great works up to their students. They do more than provide an education, they provide a passport and instill a passion for learning by challenging students to think and to discuss perennial issues. 

    It would be far easier to teach students about a book, about an author or about an issue. But an education in the great books is about teaching through them so that authors become friends for life. And this is why great books are more like passports; they lead us in to a new adventure in the journey that we call life.

  • Three Reasons to Build Relationships

    There are three reasons that we should build relationships with others: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Trinity exists in relationship with one another, serving one another, honoring one another. Mankind was created in the likeness of the Trinity, “Let us make mankind in our own image, in our own likeness.” (Genesis 1:26). We are relational beings because we are made to be like a relational Being. When God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18) it was more than marital advice, it was relationship advice. Humans are meant to be connected with other humans. It is not good when we can’t relate to others, it’s not good when we avoid others, and it’s not good when we are alone in the world. Not only has God made us in His image, He has given us a mandate, “Be fruitful and increase in number.” (Genesis 1:28). We were made to build a kingdom, and the building blocks of that Kingdom are relationships. 

    How does one build a relationship?  Here are five things to remember:

    1. God provided for our every need before He even created us. When we relate with others, we must tend to their needs. This is why dinner and a date are such a great combination.
    2. God created boundaries for us to keep us safe. Particularly for children, boundaries build confidence. This is why the toughest teachers are always the kids’ favorite.
    3. God spoke with Adam in the Garden, eye to eye. If the eye is the window to our soul, then eye contact is the start of a relationship. Ever notice what happens when we’re scared, shy or ashamed? We avoid eye contact.
    4. God entered our world, first in the Garden as stated in Genesis, and later in Bethlehem. Like God, we must enter into the world of those we love if we desire to lead them into His Kingdom. This is why our children get so excited when we visit them at school.
    5. “God said,” is the most repeated phrase in the first chapter of Genesis. We are made in the image of the One who speaks things into existence. We must give a voice to those we love because they are made in the image of the Word. We must listen to them and be moved by their words, yes, their many, many words. We must also teach them the power of words by giving them choices, “vanilla or chocolate,” is a pretty easy way to connect with a child.

    Our teachers look to find the connecting points for every child at every opportunity: Needs met? Boundaries clear? Eyes met? Entered in? Voice given? These connection points are written into our relational DNA. When we have conflicts in relationships, when our relationships are strained, we are missing connections. Building relationships takes effort, involves risk, and requires vulnerability. That sounds like three reasons NOT to build them, right? Wrong. The reasons TO build relationships are greater still. The Father sent the Son, the Son who gave His life and sent the Spirit to bring you into relationship with Him. The unity of the Trinity was severed on the cross (the Father turned His face away) so that you could look upon the face of God for eternity.

    “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, and irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” --C.S. Lewis, "The Four Loves"

    Dr. Karyn Purvis has written an excellent resource on connecting with children, "The Connected Child," in which she outlines principles of connecting with children who struggle to connect.

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