In 1982, First Lady Nancy Reagan introduced the slogan “Just Say No” in an effort to combat the rise of illegal drug use among youth. Growing up in that era, I’m not sure how much it curbed the drug use of my fellow high schoolers, but it was certainly a good message. Unfortunately, we have a sinful nature which enjoys saying yes to the perceived fun things in life instead of saying no.
But I’m thinking of another application of this 1980’s slogan–directed to parents. It seems to me that too many of today’s parents don’t say NO enough to their children. Now I’m not just talking about, “No, you can’t have your dessert before supper.” or “No, you can’t have that new toy” when your child is pitching a fit in Wal-Mart. If you’re having trouble saying NO in those cases, then you’re in for a very challenging ride as a parent. The sort of NO that I’m thinking of is much more difficult.
So to what should parents learn to “just say no?” To all of the good activities in which your child desires to participate. Notice I said “good” activities. If Junior asks you if he can join the local street gang or become a drug mule for his new friends, then NO should be easy for you. I’m talking about the smorgasbord of programs, groups, activities, teams, hobbies, and events that seek to over-fill our children’s schedule from dawn to way past dusk. At any given school age, starting from even before kindergarten, and extending through high school, your child has more opportunity to DO things and participate in things than ever before in history. Saying NO to any of these things is a challenge because they are “good” things that your child will potentially enjoy (and miss out of if you say no). And the last thing many parents today want is for their child to miss out, be bored, or be denied fun.
This begs the question: If these are good activities, then why do we have to say NO at all? Why not just let our children choose want they most want to participate in? There are actually many answers to that question, including (but not limited to): Your children don’t typically know what’s best for them; they need to learn to submit to authority; they need to learn some delayed gratification; they will run you ragged; and, it’s never good for us to get everything we want every time we want it. But the best answer to this question is: We need to say NO to good things so we can say YES to even better things! Our children need to be trained that not being able to do certain good activities FREES us to do those things that are even better for us. This is a very hard lesson to learn. But the reality is that we tend to forget that every time we say YES to one activity, we end up saying NO to another anyway! And saying YES to particular activities will preclude us from participation in other things–sometimes many other things.
Let me give a concrete example (and try not to get in trouble at the same time). Let’s say your son wants to join his school’s Rock-Paper-Scissors (RPS) team. As you learn about the schedule, you see that he will miss out on practically all Wednesday night church youth group events. And, with RPS tournaments, he would miss three or four Sunday morning worship services during the season. Some practices are scheduled so late that he’ll be hard-pressed to get homework done, and he will miss at least two family meals a week. His RPS matches also mean that you will have to miss your usual ladies’ Bible studies, not to mention that you will be “running the roads” more than usual. But he really loves the sport, so you say YES and hope he doesn’t become good enough to join a select RPS traveling team!
Replace that example with a myriad of other extra-curriculars and these are very difficult decisions indeed. In my experience, many parents do not have the courage to say NO, even though they privately wish they had. Others believe that they can have their children say YES to many things, just with less commitment to other things (a little less church, a little less youth group, etc.). But please don’t think that I’m just a church staff member who is lamenting the low attendance of church programs. There are many other things we force our children to say NO to when we say YES to many their good activities. Here’s just a few non-church things: Chores, time at home as a family, family worship, rest. study, service opportunities, free play time, time to create and build….you get the idea.
So parents, as you begin another school year, I challenge you to say NO to a few of your child’s proposed activities. Every time you say NO, remind them that you are really saying YES to many other things that are potentially much more essential to their growth and maturity!