In the late 80s, I was fortunate enough to study a year abroad. I lived with a wonderful family who poured into my life and shared their cultural traditions with me. It was a rich and memorable experience. However, it was also a wake-up call to how deeply ingrained my own American cultural habits were. Things like materialism and an unhealthy focus on appearance were habits I didn’t even realize were so inbred in me. And honestly, it created a measure of distance between me and my gracious host family.
Today, there are just as many cultural habits—some new and some old—to distract us from what matters most. Unfortunately, these habits can easily distance us from our children without us even realizing it.
Here are 10 cultural habits that distance us from our children:
1. Scrolling (and Scrolling and Scrolling)
If I had to name the number one, mindless activity that distances us from our kids, it would be scrolling on our phones. Everywhere I go, I see heads down and fingers swiping. Texting is at an all-time high, whether sitting, walking, or driving.
This cultural habit seems to be hard-wired in us. We feel anxious when we don’t check our phones every ten minutes. We have a fear of missing out (FOMO) on what everyone else is doing.
However, our children need our undivided attention. They need for us to set a better example for them. Let’s show our kids that they are far more important than the latest posts on social media. Here are a few tips to help nix the scrolling habit:
- Wake up an hour early, start with your Bible devotion, then allow yourself to scroll for 20 minutes.
- Shut your phone off once the kids wake up. Cherish those moments at the breakfast table!
- Instead of scrolling yourself to sleep, spend time listening to a Bible app. (Invite the kids to join you!)
- Set a timer—plain and simple.
- When your kids are talking to you, immediately put your phone away and focus on what they are saying.
2. Binge Watching
Binge watching the latest greatest television series goes hand in hand with scrolling social media. In fact, many of us do both simultaneously! This cultural habit may seem like the norm, but it would be highly beneficial to us and our kids to turn the T.V. off.
Watching television isn’t all bad, but the hours and hours spent doing it create a chasm of distance between us and our kids. Let’s designate certain nights for viewing and other nights for connecting. What a difference this one change can make!
Here are some binge-free ideas to break this cultural habit:
- Bring out the board games.
- Play Bible trivia.
- Listen to audiobooks together.
- Have a family Bible devotion.
- Go on a walk.
- Play badminton in the backyard.
3. Over Spending
Materialism has such a stronghold on many American families. It’s easy to get caught up in shopping online and heading to Target just for the fun of it. However, accumulating more things requires more of our time and money. And when money worries arise—as they always do—our children are naturally incorporated into the stress.
I’m reminded of a passage in Haggai that speaks directly to this destructive cultural habit.
Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: “Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; and he who earns wages, earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” Haggai 1:5-6
Let’s carefully consider our materialistic ways. By spending less and giving more, we will teach our kids the value of money and the joy of helping others. Here are some ways we can begin to curb this enticing cultural habit:
- Involve the kids in family budgeting. Show them how bills are paid and what it requires to provide for a family. Hold each other accountable!
- Go on a spending fast by only purchasing necessities for an entire month.
- Sponsor a child through one of many wonderful ministries. Schedule times for the whole family to write letters to your sponsored child.
- Teach your children basic skills that involve giving, saving, and spending their money.
4. Over Working
No longer are we sticking to the traditional 9-5 working hours with evenings and weekends off. Many of us work well into the night by making phone calls, answering emails, and striving for the next big sale. There is no doubt that this cultural habit is causing distance between us and our children. When we have our work/family priorities mixed up, we send the wrong message to our kids that work is more important than they are.
While it’s great for kids to see us exemplify a strong work ethic, it’s not good for them to feel like we are married to our jobs. So, what is the right solution?
- Take an honest look at your work week and decide when you will and will not work. Make your family time non-negotiable!
- Carve out at least one solid hour to spend with your children every day. Turn off all media and be “all in.”
- Get up earlier than the kids to answer your emails and finish work projects. You’d be surprised what can be done during the hour before your kids get up!
- Set healthy boundaries and leave work at work. Be fully present at home.
5. Prioritizing Socializing over Family Time
Every parent needs an occasional break socializing with good friends. After all, we need adult conversations that don’t involve the word “potty.” But if we aren’t careful, we can allow socializing to get out of hand.
If we are frequently going out with friends, especially as a way of escape, it can create distance between us and our children. It gives them the message that they are a nuisance and we need to get away from them.
While it’s good to de-stress once in a while, let’s be sure to prioritize family time and keep socializing in its proper place. Here are a few ways we can do that:
- Avoid last-minute plans. Try to schedule outings with friends once or twice a month.
- Schedule non-negotiable family time and stick to it!
- Consider meeting with friends less often, but for longer time periods, such as half-day outings instead of several shorter get-togethers.
6. Body Shaming Ourselves and Obsessing over Our Health
There are many things over which we tend to obsess, including our health. Yes, we should take good care of our bodies as a healthy example for our children. But we shouldn’t obsess over them.
Balance is key. Remember Jesus’ words from Matthew 6:25.“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?"
Here are some tips to help balance this cultural habit:
- Remember your Creator. He is the maker of your body. You are a temple of His Spirit.
- Involve your children in healthy activities and exercise. Make it fun!
- Keep self-care in perspective. Are you striving for health or perfection?
- Know that your children are watching and will likely follow your example.
7. Excluding Our Children from Our Hobbies Rather than Inviting Them to Participate
Whether it be the golf course or the tennis court, too many weekly activities can distance us from our kids. Again, staying active is a good thing. We should find things we enjoy and make time for them. However, we can easily take fun activities and use them as excuses to leave the family behind.
Parents, we only have one chance at raising our kids. And they grow up fast! Let’s make sure we invest in them more than we invest in our favorite pastimes. Consider these creative time-management tips for better balance:
- Include your children in your hobbies and teach them something new.
- Schedule your outings around time with your kids, not the other way around.
- Get up early and knock out a round before the kids are even awake!
8. Making Busyness a Standard of Achievement
There seems to be a social standard that the busier you are the more successful you are. However, this is a growing and dangerous cultural habit! Busyness is one of the biggest chasms between us and our children. When there is hardly an evening to have dinner together, and Sundays are filled with sport’s activities instead of church and rest, we’ve got a real problem on our hands.
Here are some ways to stop the “doing” madness:
- Schedule one day per week to simply be together and rest.
- Allow only one activity at a time and support each other in that one activity.
- Make time for Bible devotions every week.
- Say “no” often and don’t feel guilty about it!
This giant cultural habit has infiltrated many Christian homes, including my own. Social drinking has become the norm and is quickly becoming a stronghold within family units.
Our children are very intuitive. They pick up on the things we are doing and internalize them. It may worry our kids that we drink alcohol. They may not understand the difference between drinking moderately and drunkenness. Let’s be careful not to let drinking become a stumbling block for them.
The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:7-8)
10. Forgetting (What is Most Important)
We may seem to have it all together, by living the American dream and posting it on social media, yet we may fail at investing in what matters most. Developing and nurturing our children’s relationship with Jesus is the most important thing we can do on this earth. And it’s an ongoing process that takes time and effort!
Let’s not allow cultural habits to distract us from what matters most. Instead, let’s prioritize God and His Word and raise our kids in the teaching and admonition of the Lord. Perhaps, we can start a new cultural habit of bringing about revival in the hearts of the next generation.
Image Credit: ©Getty/Marcos-Calvo
Jennifer Waddle considers herself a Kansas girl, married to a Colorado hunk, with a heart to encourage women everywhere. She is the author of several books, including Prayer WORRIER: Turning Every Worry into Powerful Prayer, and is a regular contributor for LifeWay, Crosswalk, Abide, and Christians Care International. Jennifer’s online ministry is EncouragementMama.com where you can find her books and sign up for her weekly post, Discouragement Doesn’t Win. She resides with her family near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains—her favorite place on earth.