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All That Glitters May Be Gold

Christine Yount Jones

Mined nuggets of truth from a national conference to help you understand today's kids.

Years ago, our family took a tour of a gold mine somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Of course, I had to leave the mine early because our youngest child was screaming louder than the seasoned tour guide could shout-and the guide's crusty looks threatened a cave-in if I stayed. After my family emerged from the mine, we panned for gold in a trickling stream. We scooped up and sifted through the silt, hoping to strike gold. No such luck, but we didn't leave before buying the little vials of gold flakes at a tourist-gouging price.

Truth is like that much-treasured and much-sought-after gold. You can't buy truth, of course, but you have to search for it .

Back in the early '80s, I interned at what is now Mosaic Church in Los Angeles. Tom Wolf, the pastor at the time, taught me an important lesson that has followed me to this day. That lesson: All truth is God's truth. If it's true, Tom reasoned, then it belongs to the Author of truth.

Perhaps that'll help explain this article.

When it comes to effective ways to communicate with children, I'm an avid miner. I look almost anywhere to sift out the best Christ-honoring ways to communicate God's eternal truths to this generation. In truth-seeking among our worldly culture, I've found that most things must be discarded as murky silt, but if we look often and hard enough, we'll strike it rich with precious truths that'll revolutionize our understanding of kids today.

Last September, that quest for truth took me to New York City to the KidScreen magazine Break Through to Kids and Teens conference. I was eager to join the ranks of communicators such as Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network, and The Walt Disney Company to learn the secrets they know about today's kids. In addition to these companies, the conference participants included:

--product developers such as Boys' Life magazine; Hasbro, Inc.; and Bandai America;

--entertainment companies such as The WB Television Network; YTV Canada, Inc.; Fox Family Worldwide; Teletoon Canada Inc.; and Children's Television Workshop;

--Internet companies such as America Online, Inc.; The FreeZone Network; and Inc.;

--and production studios and advertising agencies who've created such winning commercials as the M&M's candy commercials; the Barbie "Be Anything Anthem"; and Gatorade's "Michael vs. Mia."

Did I strike gold? I wasn't disappointed, and I'd like to share with you the nuggets of truth that I believe are redeemable for the kingdom of God.

None of us would argue with the fact that the world of communications has changed, and the Internet is one of the primary change-initiators. Take a look at
these statistics:

--Of all the households in the United States, 11 percent are online.
--At least 60 percent of households with kids under age 16 are twice as likely to be online.
--Over 20 million 5- to 12-year-olds are online.

According to Kate Baggott, a youth media analyst and specialist in how children and teenagers use interactive technologies, the shift to the Internet Age has moved kids from a broadcast mind-set to an interactive mind-set and from being a passive audience to being an active user. We've moved from "push" where the media pushes information to an audience, to "pull" where the media pulls involvement from the user.

Baggott cited four things children seek on the Internet: community, choice, context, and content. These insights into children's needs have an important application for us to understand what kids want. When kids come to church, they're looking for things that are REAL (Relational, Experiential, Applicable, and Learner-Based.) Here's what I mean...

COMMUNITY-There's only one thing kids are universally interested in, according to Baggott, and that's each other. Kids are using e-mail less in preference of ICQ (I Seek You) and America Online's Instant Messenger (IM). With these services, kids can build an instant community with a contact list containing only the people they want. The ICQ Web site says "you can chat; send messages, files, and URL's; play games; or just hang out with your fellow 'Netters' while still surfing the Net."

Kids seek out and need relationships at church. In their book The Dirt on Learning, Thom and Joani Schultz write, "Relational ministry devotes substantial time to positive learner-to-learner talk. Students in these settings hear not only what the teacher has to say, but what their peers have to say, and they have a chance to share their own thoughts."

That sounds a lot like the pull of the Internet-where kids find meaning as they discuss issues with their newfound online friends. In addition, getting kids talking to one another builds friendships, and the Schultzes point out that "if learners make and strengthen friendships at church, they're more motivated to come to church. And, incidentally, they're more motivated to bring new people to church-because it's a friendly, relational place."

CHOICE-Interactivity to kids is about the ability to build an environment. The best Web sites for children are those that allow them to make the site their own., for example, allows kids to play games where they build a creature, build their own Lunch Makers by catching falling snacks, or play the Robotix game by racing to assemble equipment or test their skills in the Tarin Light Maze.

For kids, the Internet is more than downloading information; it's about having an experience. And that's what we need to understand and create for children in our Christian education programs. Children today crave meaningful and active involvement in the learning process.

Last year, our church launched KICKS University (KICKS stands for Kids In Christ's Kingdom Service). Throughout each nine-week unit, children contributed to an end product, such as creating the Living Moses Museum or making music videos for the Jesus Rock Cafe. Some children latched onto the projects, called me at home for help, and engaged in learning as they never had before. Some kids did the bare minimum.

The point is, though, that they each had the choice of bringing as much -- or as little -- of themselves to the process. It was experiential learning at its best, and it was amazing! We must move from the push of simply delivering a lesson plan to the pull of involving children in the learning process through active and meaningful involvement.

CONTEXT-Kids engage in context-seeking on the Internet. They want more information about what they already know, and they want to apply new
information. Children are looking for something they can use.

Christian education must be applicable to children's lives today -- not just in the future. Christian education without application is like the Internet without a modem. Not much is going to get transferred!

With each lesson, ask yourself: What are kids going to do with the lesson-point this week? How will it change them to be more like Jesus today? If you can't answer this question, try this exercise that'll help you touch the points of a child's life. (By the way, this is something I learned from Harold Bullock, my pastor while I was in seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.)

Create a pie chart. Label each piece of the pie chart with a different area of a child's life, such as classroom, playground, home, church, friends, sports, leisure, and other. Think through how your lesson point could be applied in each area. You may not have an application for each area; that's okay.

For example, this last Sunday I taught about Daniel. The point was that God gives us courage. The application, in my mind, was that God wants us to take a stand for our faith. As I thought through each of these areas, these were the application possibilities I brainstormed and then shared with the children:

--Friends-If a friend is doing something wrong, are you going to say something and risk losing your friend, or are you going to keep silent?

--Sports-If you're on a team with a coach who cheats to win, how are you going to handle that? What will you do if the coach or your teammates swear?

--Leisure-When you're watching television with friends and a show comes on that wouldn't be honoring to God, will you switch the channel or not?

We can give children the context by helping them apply God's Word to their lives.

CONTENT-The Internet and television are places where creators have only a ew seconds to capture kids' interest. If they miss, kids surf on to the next option. Youth media analyst Baggott emphasizes the empowerment model, which means that content is only meaningful if it meets the learner's agenda.

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