The Church, Miley, and Johnny Football. Wisdom for Parents

In case you hadn’t heard, Hannah Montana officially jumped the shark this past week. Except instead of a shark on water skis she pranced in her underwear and made friendly with Robin Thicke, a singer who also happens to be a married father. Needless to say, the press and shock of what happened has been unreal. The best estimate from Twitter is that Miley Cyrus’ act generated 306,000 tweets per minute. There are already Internet memes out there, featuring her father Billy Ray (of Achy Breaky Heart fame) looking down at her, Beetlejuice subbed for Robin Thicke, and the supposed reaction of Will Smith & family to the stage show (ended up being for Lady GaGa… enough said).

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I’ll not post a link to the actual performance because it is beyond raunchy and inappropriate. To be honest, I’ve not even seen it for a couple reasons. 1) I don’t want to waste my time watching that sort of filth, and 2) There’s nothing redemptive in what happened, only the spiraling descent of a fallen star. A lot of great posts have been written on this. Roadkill Goldfish, Trevin Wax, Garrett Kell, and others have helped really give some framework here. 

Also in the news lately has been Johnny Manziel, better known as “Johnny Football,” the electrifying quarterback at Texas A&M and current Heisman Trophy winner. Sadly he’s become more known over the last few months for his antics off the field and what he’s posted to his Twitter feed. Wright Thompson wrote an excellent piece on Manziel after spending some time with him and his family. The piece shows a conflicted family that lived in prosperity from an oil fortune but without a lot of structure or boundaries for a highly talented but very volatile son, and also points out his father’s shortcomings early in Johnny’s life. I must warn, there is a bit of language at the very beginning, stemming from a tweet Manziel posted that got him in a bit of trouble over the summer. The Guardian even goes far to describe him as the “Miley Cyrus of college football,” a very powerful statement!

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So what can the church and Christian parents learn and apply from these two examples? I want to propose that these two, among many other examples (for example, PopCrunch gives 10 examples of fallen child stars as adults), provide a framework for demonstrating the need for parents to set boundaries and take a proactive role in the formation of their children. I want to propose five ways for parents to help take an active role in the formation and development of their children.

  • Don’t try to be their friend, be the authority in their life

I know this isn’t popular to say, but you as a parent aren’t in your child’s life to be an equal to them. You’ve been placed in authority over them just as God is in authority over us. Authority has a lot of baggage so we want to reject it, but in reality authority is good. Parents protect their children, parents provide for their children, parents at times must make decisions for their children (a natural product of immaturity, kids can’t always make fully-informed adult decisions, as they become adults this changes), and parents teach their children. 

What we see in Miley and Manziel is a pattern of parents not being the responsible, leading adult, but a co-pilot in their lives, enabling them based on the kid’s talent, ability, or potential. Instead, let me encourage you to lovingly and graciously be an authority in your child’s life. A time will come when you will be equals (when your child has economic independence and has a family of their own), but until that day comes remember that God has given you a position over your children to lovingly shepherd them.

  • Use the word no

Perhaps the great tragedy from these fallen stars lives is that they grew up in a world where they could do no wrong, where every little action was praised, and where the slightest misstep was overlooked because of their talent or (and I hope this isn’t true) the money train they created. If we’re really honest with ourselves, we have to recognize that all of us are born with a sin nature. That nature carries itself over to where we do things we know to be wrong. In children this takes on the simple form of not eating their spaghetti, throwing tantrums, and taking a marker to the wall. Parents step in during these younger years and correct the wrong behavior and point to the right behavior, building patterns of morality through the practice of discipline and correction. Not only do we want our son to not throw tantrums, we want to teach patience and grace. So we combine the correction with the praise when he acts in accordance with what values we have set before him. We reward him for when he does right, and correct him when he does wrong.

The word no is often seen as a bad thing, but in reality it’s a protective thing when it’s used by loving parents seeking to build godly children. It is used to protect them from sin, from dangerous behavior, from falling into the wrong crowd, from developing secret addictions and vices, and from falling victim to naivety. We cannot assume that our kids are beyond the actions of their peers. It is much harder to say no than it is to appease or cater to a child, but show them how much you love them by saying no when it is clearly not in their best interests.

  • Set boundaries, and hold them accountable

We took Sam to the zoo and I couldn’t help but notice the boundaries. No one complained that the lions were separated by a 40 foot crevice, elephants had a fence, and the polar bears by bulletproof glass. Boundaries exist for protection, and provide freedom in their protection. Sam has boundaries on where he can ride his motorcycle Power Wheel, no one would complain that we don’t allow him near the road without one of us with him.

In the same way, boundaries are important as long as children are in the home. We see from the devastation of child stars what happens when no boundaries are set. And while some have managed to salvage their lives, they are all left with scars (some physical as needle marks, others emotional) forever. Set boundaries on your child’s time, I see high school students all the time who look like they’ve worked double-shifts. They’re exhausted. They need boundaries on how much time they give to their many activities. They need boundaries on their media use. Set up accountability software, protect their purity. Set restrictions on the cable box. Screen the movies they want to see first with sites like PluggedIn for content. Set boundaries on friendships, get to know your child’s friends and their families. Are they the people you want exercising influence over your child?

Accountability is a good thing. We have instant replay to make sure the NFL officials make the right call. We have IRS audits to make sure we paid our fair share (which is somehow always more and never less), and we have policies in place here at church to ensure our childcare workers are qualified to do so. Check on your child’s internet use, occasionally read their text messages, have honest discussions with them. With accountability, be firm, be fair, and be gracious.

  • Prepare them for adulthood

Miley and Manziel both received adult responsibility, adult money, and adult fame long before they were ready for it. Watch Manziel play football, between the lines he is phenomenal, but as soon as the whistle blows he’s likely to snap. It’s why so many pro athletes are broke within 5 years of retirement, they receive so much so early and don’t know what to do with it.

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For parents this means seeing your goal, as Pastor Matt has talked about, to eventually send your children as adults into the world fully prepared for their own home and family. The movie Failure to Launch is funny because it’s about a 35 year old who lives with his parents. But sadly that humor is becoming reality. One day Sam (and our future kids) will grow up, he’ll meet a wife, become a husband and a dad, and have a career. As your children get older give them more responsibility with things they will need as adults. Teach them basic money principles (earning, giving, spending, saving), supervise a checking account or small-limit credit card; give them responsibility at home for household tasks they will need later (my wife is so thankful my mom taught me to cook, clean, and do laundry – guys, so will your future wife); and as they grow older give them more freedom and with that more expectations. Sometimes my dad referred to that as “more rope for him to hang himself with” but it got the same message across!

  • Saturate everything in the Gospel, which is the only thing that can truly satisfy

Point your kids to Jesus. More than showing the despair that comes from fallen stars or the creation of moralistic “good” kids, see your family as a mission field. Good behavior, success, Heisman trophies, Astronaut statues, perfect Sunday School attendance, or even a profession of faith are not enough: what our kids (and all of us as well) need is a change of heart. Scripture promises this when God declares that “I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh” in Ezekiel 11:19. Only God can turn the dead to life (Ezekiel 37, John 3, Ephesians 2), and that includes Miley Cyrus, Johnny Manziel, and Samuel Douglas.

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