Monday, August 11, 2008

How do we strengthen our families?

This weekend I found a copy of the biography of Ezra Taft Benson and as I read through it I was very much impressed by how aware he was of the current threats to the country and to the church. He was preaching strongly for patriotism and freedom as communism was becoming a greater threat. He was preaching the principles of chastity and fidelity as the “sexual revolution” was coming on.

What are the prophets telling us today? They are telling us to strengthen our families.

What is keeping us from strengthening our families? I don’t know about you, but for me, the thing that makes this counsel difficult is that it is very general and vague. How do I strengthen my family? Okay, yes, family scripture study, family prayer, and family home evening, but what else?

I suspect that the vagueness of this counsel is actually a blessing and a vote of confidence, because it assumes in its very generality that we are smart enough to figure things out for ourselves. It is an invitation to study the situation out for ourselves and discover and experiment upon various gospel principles to find out how they can apply to a family organization. We have “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”, we have the scriptures, and perhaps if we read them with reference to strengthening our families, we can figure some things out.

So here’s a little contribution to that end:
And in their weakest fortifications he did place the greater number of men; and thus he did fortify and strengthen the land which was possessed by the Nephites. (Alma 48:9)
Do we know where our family’s weakest point is? What causes the most quarreling and contention? It seems that that would be the problem that needs the most attention, the most man-power.

I remember when I was growing up our family had a lot of trouble with fighting and arguing. It would escalate into blows and then of course we would run to mom for justice. Mom put a lot of effort into settling our conflicts. She had us act out how we should apologize to each other and she preached to us about communicating hurt and not retaliating. I can’t even count the number of times that we had family home evening lessons and activities on the principle of “teamwork”. It took us years and years for her message to sink in. We still forget it on occasion. But we are much better off than we would be if she hadn’t put so much effort and time into this weak point.

Let’s see what else Captain Moroni did.
Yea, he had been strengthening the armies of the Nephites, and erecting small forts, or places of resort; throwing up banks of earth round about to enclose his armies, and also building walls of stone to encircle them about, round about their cities and the borders of their lands; yea, all round about the land. (Alma 48:8)
He did a lot of stuff here.
  • He strengthened the Nephite armies.
  • He made places of resort. (For the armies or for the civilians? Probably both.)
  • He put up banks to enclose his armies.
  • He put up walls of stone to encircle the cities
  • He put up walls around all the land.
How does this apply to strengthening our families? Well, it seems that if armies protect cities, parents protect families. Just like armies have to be strong, parents also have to be strong. How can parents strengthen themselves? (Please discuss in the comment section!)

I notice that Moroni prepared places of resort. I think of these as places of temporary escape when things get to be a little too much. Going the temple is a great way to escape for a while. I remember that my parents also went on dates every Friday night while I was growing up. Sometimes they went to the temple for their date, other times they went out to eat. I think these resorts help regroup strength and help us see things more clearly, because the pressure is off for a while. Are there any other resorts that parents have? (Please discuss!)

Moroni put up walls on multiple fronts. He walled his armies, he walled the cities, he put a wall around the whole land. This was to protect them so that the enemy couldn’t come and destroy whenever it wanted to.

One way that we can put up walls in our families is by protecting them from the influence of evil in the media. When I was growing up, my parents realized that they had to protect us, because we would parrot our favorite lines from commercials endlessly at the dinner table. They knew that if commercials were getting stuck in our minds with all that repetition, then bad messages were getting stuck there too, even if it wasn't coming out at the dinner table. I remember they got "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", but when we started karate-chopping each other in imitation of the martial arts we saw glorified in that movie, Mom and Dad took it away. So they provided us with movies, but only ones that they wouldn’t mind being repeated over and over. They were pretty selective. We hardly ever saw any PG-13 movies.

I admit that we kids were pretty interested in what was on cable TV. We were curious. What is this MTV that friends are talking about? What's on Nickelodeon? What is this Judge Judy? What do soap operas show? In order to fortify our home against what we might watch when they weren’t home, my parents got a lock that was supposed to prevent us from watching cable unless they unlocked it. Unfortunately, we didn’t know what was good for us, and we figured out how to break the lock. Eventually my parents got wise to this and cancelled cable TV completely. I remember I was relieved somehow when they did this. Maybe it was because I was glad the temptation was taken away.

Another way that my parents fortified us was by not allowing us to have TVs in our bedroom. I remember when my brother Cameron bought a small TV with his own money. Mom made him take it back. I think she was limiting the number of entrances for media in our home and making sure there weren’t any “secret passages” into people’s rooms for it to enter. She wanted everything public and above-board and no sneaking around.

Since then, things have changed a lot. Now there are mp3 players that play video and there are computers and websites that broadcast TV and cell phones and so on. It is a challenge but no less of a responsibility for parents to decide what devices they will and will not allow in their homes and how to control the use of those devices When we establish rules on multiple fronts we reduce the likelihood that the enemy will be able to get through.

Another kind of wall that I think parents could build for their children is by teaching them how to choose clean media and how to be cautious. This in effect builds the wall inside them. When I was learning to be cautious I learned the following:

The first objective is to be clean, and the second objective is to be entertained. Keeping these priorities in order makes things easier. Purity first, entertainment second.

To find safe books, go where the safe books are. Books in the kids section and young adult section are (or should be) a little more safe than the adult section. This nothing to be ashamed of. I have learned that when I am looking for entertainment, just about everything labeled “adult” is something I don't want.

Older stuff is often safer than newer stuff. Authors, film studios, musicians, and video game creators have been “pushing the envelope” since the beginning, so go back to when standards were higher. (However, you have to be careful because at one time PG movies were equivalent to our PG-13) Go back 50 to 100 years if you have to.

Avoid the appearance of evil. If you see something in a movie trailer that looks like it might be something terribly unsavory, it probably will be. Don’t risk it. Don’t see the movie. It is better to be clean than to satisfy your curiosity and see or hear something you shouldn’t. I’ve never been disappointed by movies I didn’t see.

Ask someone you trust who has similar standards to yours. Look out for the red flag of “It wasn’t that bad; there was just this one part.” Look for reviews and websites that tell if there is profanity, violence, sexual content, and drug or alcohol use depicted.

Analyze the message and the mood of music. Is it uplifting? Or does it degrade and depress? Does it lead to do good? Or does it minimize the seriousness of sin and make evil appear good? We have enough icky stuff forced on us from the outside. Why would we want to choose more icky stuff for our lives?

Most importantly, teach your children how to respond to their peers and keep their standards. Every one of them will need to get used to being left out of a conversation while a movie is discussed that they haven’t seen. (I noticed that this was happening to me when I was in 4th grade and my classmates were talking about "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure". I made the conscious decision to not allow myself to feel left out and forlorn. Instead, I allowed it to be a sort of substitute entertainment.) Every one of them will have to learn how to explain their standards to others and suggest alternatives when they are invited to participate in entertainment that isn’t appropriate. I had to learn to do this and I think the earlier any of us learn it, the better off we will be.

How are you teaching your children to use the computer? How are you fortifying them against the dangers on the internet? Please discuss!