Archives For Christmas

Julia is singing this song at church on Sunday. It’s been in our heads for the last couple of days. It’s a very different kind of Christmas song, and I really like it.

“If you told me all about your sorrows, I’d tell you about a cure,

If you told me you can’t fight the battle, there’s a baby boy who won the war,

The war was won by a baby boy.

Alleluia, we can sing it,

Alleluia, Heaven’s ringing

Alleluia!

Endless hope and relentless joy started with a baby boy”

The longer I’m a parent, the more it becomes clear to me that I’m a rookie at this child raising stuff. Everything is new. Still, I’m committed to get things right the first time as much as I can.

When it comes to Santa, Julia and I decided long ago that we would have that discussion once the time came that our boys were old enough. Our culture’s message about Santa is that we must “believe.” Believe, believe, believe.

But believe in what?

The message of Santa says there’s a big dude far away that kids must believe in–even though they can’t see him–and that he does nice things for them if they are good all year. But if they choose to be naughty, they will be punished and receive things they don’t like.

Sound familiar? Is it any wonder why I grew up mistaking Santa as an archetype for God? I think the concept of Santa also helped fuel my legalistic approach to life with Jesus, too. For many years, I thought that if I was good, Jesus would like me. Even now, I am a recovering legalist.

But regardless of your background or to what degree you celebrate Santa, the inevitable outcome of kids believing in him is always the same: they discover the truth. There is no Santa.

Are You Perpetuating A Lie?

Some of you may freak out that I even typed those words, but to me, the discovery that Santa is not real pales in comparison to a child discovering that his parents are liars. And make no mistake about it. If you tell your kids that Santa is real, you are lying to them.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

In time, all kids–including yours–will learn that Santa is not real. But they never have to learn that your words are not real. We’re committed to always speak truth to our boys. So at Christmas, we’ve made a choice to refrain from perpetuating the Santa lie.

So, let’s have the truth about Santa Claus:

  • Santa Claus does not exist.
  • He does not live at the North Pole. Hardly anything does.
  • Elves don’t make toys. Or cookies. Or shoes.
  • Reindeer don’t fly. Neither do sleighs.
  • It’s impossible for anyone to make a world tour in one night.
  • There’s no such thing as magic.
  • The Santas at the mall are not Santa, nor do they work for Santa. They are businessmen who sport a unseasonably thick white beard for 11 months out of the year in order to make major bank taking pictures with your terrified kids at Christmas time. And more power to ‘em, too.

So when we speak the truth about Santa, it may feel like we are not left with any of the good parts of Christmas, but I respectfully disagree.

All the Best Parts of Christmas Are 100% True

People ask me sometimes, “if you don’t do Santa, what do you do?”

We do the truth.

Honestly, I’m jealous for my kids’ affection, and I don’t want a nonexistent, overweight elf-lie getting credit for the awesome gifts we give our kids. Santa doesn’t love them; their Mom and I do. And Santa sure doesn’t pay for Christmas presents; we do. And that brings me to sharing the best parts of Christmas that are 100% true.

Parents’ (and Grandparents) Love for Their Children

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

We love our boys. They are an absolute gift, and it is our pleasure to provide for them. Once a year, it is our extraordinary pleasure to surprise them with all sorts of Christmas goodies. It’s the dedicated time of year where our love manifests in gifts, just as God’s love for us manifested in the gift of the presence of Jesus Christ. What a true joy that is!

God’s Love for His Children

Christmas is all about Jesus, and we celebrate the reality that He not only exists distantly as the deist would believe. Rather, He exists intimately and personally in the here and now.

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

He is Emmanuel: God with us. He didn’t have to come, but He did. That incredible, impractical love became tangible when a teenage girl and her fiancé became parents to a baby boy that was conceived right in the burning heart of God’s love for us.

He is true. And His presence changes everything.

The Example of St. Nicolas’ Selfless Love for Others

The real inspiration for Santa Claus is a man from the early 4th-century named St. Nicholas. Not much is known about his life, and much of it has long since morphed with legend. What is known about him is that he was an orphan from a wealthy Christian family who became known for his generosity and care for children. St. Nicholas’ inspiration for his selfless generosity was Jesus, which is an example worthy of emulation.

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Standing in stark contrast to the lie of the modern, secular Santa Claus myth is the reality of St. Nicholas and his devoted life of service to Jesus Christ. It’s a story worth retelling. And it’s absolutely true.

How We Teach Santa

We don’t want our kids to be the ones with the Santa allergy, so we don’t make Santa out to be a bad guy. He’s not unwelcome at our house. In fact, we enjoy him. We have books about Santa, and we like to have fun with the story, but we make it clear to our boys that their presents come from real people that love them enough to give them one.

Santa Claus is just a character. That means we treat him the same as Wolverine, Cinderella, and Darth Vader. These characters are totally fine when kept in their appropriate context. We have lots of fun with them, but they have their place. We’d no more try to convince our boys that Santa is real than we’d tell them Superman is real.

When you take Santa out of Christmas, you’re not degrading the Christmas experience. You’re enhancing it. You make the message of Christmas shine for what it really is: a true story of love-made-manifest for the people you love most. After all, that’s what Christ did for us.

What a beautiful Christmas truth. Ho. Ho. Ho.

As the Christmas season kicks off with Black Friday this week, parents are busy making gift plans for the kids. At the top of wish lists everywhere are internet-connected smartphones, tablets, laptops, and music players. Most parents are very well-intentioned when it comes to deciding what to give their kids for Christmas, but many never consider the inherent risks of the Internet and the responsibility that comes with giving a child an Internet-connected device.

When parents hand a child an Internet-connected device, they give them access to the Internet and everything on it. Most parents understand that kids should be monitored when watching TV, but many fail to exercise that same caution with iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices. Many parents never check the devices to monitor a child’s activity, and some even allow kids to have private, unsupervised time with these devices.

My heart here is to simply inform non-tech savvy parents of the risks of giving an Internet-connected device to any child or teen–regardless of how well-behaved they are. So, let me just state my two main points up front:

  1. Any time you give your kid or teen an Internet-connected device, you should have a plan in place to monitor everything they do on it.
  2. For many of you, buying these gifts for your kids is simply a bad idea.

So just how easy is it for your child to have access to objectionable content online?

It’s Easy To Find In Their Browser

private browsing

Private browsing leaves your internet tracks virtually untraceable.

Traditionally, parents could monitor what sites have been visited on a computer or device by checking the browser history. But a few years ago, a browser feature called “private browsing” emerged. When enabled, private browsing allows a browser to “forget” its website history and anything else that would leave a trace behind. Now this feature is now standard on modern web browsers, including Safari for iOS.

If your child wants to erase his Internet tracks behind him, it is very easy to do, and you’ll be none the wiser.

Private browsing is easier to enable in iOS7.

Private browsing is easier to enable in iOS7.

It’s Easy to Find Inside “Innocent” Apps

It’s hard to imagine that kids would create their own porn or nude and compromising photos to share with each other, but that’s exactly what “sexting” is. Now, there’s even an app for it.

Screenshots from Snapchat.

Screenshots from Snapchat.

Snapchat is intended to look like just another photo app, but it’s become enormously popular as a tool for sexting because it allows the sender to send a message, photo, or video and specify an amount of time the recipient can view the message before the message deletes itself. When used to send inappropriate content, it’s kind of like a digital peep show.

But what many teens don’t realize is that anyone can take a screenshot of that photo by pressing the Home and sleep/wake button on their iDevice simultaneously. Now, that content that was intended to be ephemeral has been captured permanently and can be shared like any other photo. Snapchat created an in-app warning to inform a sender if the receiving party takes a screenshot of the chat, but by then, it’s too late.

How popular is Snapchat? According to TechCrunch, it’s about as popular for sharing images as Instagram and Facebook, combined. Instagram sees about 50 million photos uploaded per day, while Facebook sees about 350 million. Snapchat sees a whopping 400 million photos uploaded per day, and it’s still growing. Recently, there have even been rumors of new funding and even a $3 billion acquisition by Facebook. You can Google more info about Snapchat and sexting than you care to read.

Just a few things you may not want your child exposed to.

Just a few things you may not want your child exposed to.

It’s worth noting that Apple has basic parental controls built into iOS that allow you to prevent downloads of apps with certain ratings. But keep in mind that even if your child never downloads an app like Snapchat, they can still receive unwanted content on their device involuntarily if it is sent from contacts by other means.

Even if your child is a well-intentioned Snapchat user, the app is designed to hide the user’s digital footprints. So the app intends to inhibit a parent’s ability to monitor their kids’ conversations. And what mixes better than kids and a lack of accountability?

It’s Easy To Find On Social Networks

Objectionable content abounds on popular social networks like Twitter and Vine. Twitter and Vine both allow obscene content and have no controls whatsoever for foul and inappropriate language. Even though the iOS Twitter app is rated for ages 4 and up, your child can find inappropriate and even pornographic content on Twitter with a simple search.

It’s also worth noting that while hardcore pornography is not allowed on YouTube, inappropriate content is plentiful. It may not be porn, but you won’t want your kid to see Miley Cyrus’ latest videos. And that’s just one example. Beyond sexual content, YouTube has plenty of violent content, including videos of death. And outside of sex, violence, and other objectionable content, YouTube is full of sophomoric foolishness like soda bottle bombs and cinnamon challenges that are just unwise for parents to allow unmonitored access to.

Beware of the seemingly innocuous social networks and video sites. When in doubt, it’s better to know what your child is doing online than to be clueless about it.

It’s Easy to Find In Built-In Browsers

You probably use them all the time without realizing it, but many apps have their own built-in browsers. If you click a link in Twitter, Facebook, and many other apps for iOS, the app will launch its built-in browser to view the link. Because these browsers don’t have the features of traditional browsers, there’s no way to view the browsing history in them, thereby making them just as untraceable as private browsing.

So What’s A Parent To Do?

I’ve also posted a few tips parents can employ to help keep the Internet on a leash, but the reality is that there is no sure-fire way to prevent your kids from being foolish on the Internet except one: to be an educated, active, watchful parent. It’s up to you to take an active, even aggressive role in the digital lives of the children living in your house.

Your responsibility as a parent in a digital age is a big one. Don’t be fooled by those (including your own kids) who would have you believe that your involvement is snooping or an invasion of privacy. Those are lies. You love your kids. Knowing where they go and who they are with is vital to your role of being an effective parent. This is even more true in the digital world, where the places they go and the people they are with can be much less clear and, thereby, far more precarious.

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