By Rev. Thomas Thorstad, Pastor, First Lutheran Church of Kirkland, IL
“I want what is best for my child[ren].” The majority of parents would agree with this statement. No doubt, as a parent, we have all said that statement at least once in our life. To fulfill this statement, as parents, we look for as many opportunities as possible for our children to participate. We may consider what school they will attend, what extracurricular activities they can participate in, what camps are available, and even how far and how much it may cost. In many cases, we are willing to wake up at odd hours of the night, drive many miles down the road, and even fly around the world so they can participate in the activity they or we want them to experience. All in hopes that we give them the best opportunity for their future as an adult; maybe it is a better job, a better place to live, or possibly scholarships for paying for college; whatever it is, the efforts meant for our child’s future.
In the pursuit of understanding, “what is best for my children?” I found some concerning studies about the current state of the mental health of teens, college students, and young adults. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health released in 2017 some alarming numbers of student loneliness, hopelessness, anxiety, and depression among college students and young adults. If all the things we are doing are not preparing them as young adults to cope with life’s stress and engagement in social settings, that is required. Naturally, COVID-19 has not helped the state of our youth of all ages, causing additional stress, loneliness, anxiety, and even depression has dramatically increased. So what does a parent do? The natural move and direction are to get your child involved in everything they can or want. Schools, clubs, and youth organizations offer a wide range of opportunities for your child to participate in, like sports, social functions, and academic societies. We hope these activities will take away the loneliness, hopelessness, anxiety, and depression that children face and even more so have a likely hood to deal with as a young adults.
So what should our children be involved in? Most parents lean towards school or city sports and clubs. A recent study released this current year shares that participating in team sports is helpful for a child’s physical and mental health and teaches team building—something suitable for any future of a child. But there is more to life than team building. Sports tend to be seasonal, only offering participation for a portion of the year. Once the season is over, it is over. The child must wait until the next team sport or season depending on their desire for sports engagement. The option of long-term commitment is not there unless you head to becoming a pro player. Chances of a college sport full-ride scholarship, your child would have to be in the top 1% of all players to receive that full-ride, according to full-ride scholarship stats. Does it mean sports are bad? No, that is not what I am communicating. Do school clubs and youth organizations not offer anything? Well, of course not; studies show they too can help. We must also realize that some children do not like sports and have other interests. However, participating in those activities does not necessarily mean that your child will be successful in life.
So, what indicators or activities should a child participate in to give them an upper hand in life and society? What should we do to provide resources that could help give them foundations that will set them up for the future? What is funny is that one of the top indicators of a child becoming successful in life tends to be the last to be considered in the modern day of parenting. A recent study in 2018 from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked into what things in a child’s life lead to better health and well-being in early adulthood. What is surprising is the results; the study indicated that religious upbringing was a huge indicator of a child’s better health and well-being as they grew into adulthood and early in adulthood compared to others who did not. What is essential to understand is that religious upbringing was not just being “spiritual,” as many coin today. But the engagement of actual religious life and engagement in the church’s structural organization for us as Christians. For children, those who were actively engaged in their religious experience, attending regular worship and participating in the extra activities of the church outside of the regular worship. These children were more likely to engage in civil society, volunteer, and participate in the community and less likely to engage in illicit drugs. The study shocked the health school and academia around the USA; current culture and societal indicators say that the church is old, boring, and no longer has anything to offer. Most churches do not provide anything because there has been a lack of engagement and participation. Society around us has dramatically taken traditional days for church activities and even Sunday worship and replaced them with activities related to city or school clubs and sports. We have remarkably allowed them to do it. So what does this mean?
As a parent or grandparents, we must seriously consider what is best for our children. Will the activities our children be part of helping them for the long term, or will they provide temporary entertainment for them? Sure, as a pastor, I would lean towards church attendance. Still, health studies are clear from Harvard, and others, now showing us that it is better long-term for our children to participate in and attend regular worship, bible studies, Sunday school, youth activities, and other church opportunities as they come along. If the church is not offering, maybe it would if, as parents, we brought our children to the place that is ultimately best for their whole health, they would like to start offering something. I hope and pray that you strongly consider the long-term versus the short-term.
Blessings, Pr. Tom