What Kids Need: The Truth
I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix last weekend and have felt pretty conflicted ever since. I write this blog on a website people go to, not a social media platform. I have absolutely no ulterior motive than to share some of my observations from the clinic and messages I hear during my time with God. I do post it on Facebook to try to get more readers and that's where I feel conflicted. Although I never intend to use this platform for anything other than good, it becomes part of a larger picture of behavior modification and I am not sure I want to be a part of that. But in a world driven by social media (you can't really publish a book if you don't have a very large online following somewhere), I don't know how else to get my blog seen. I guess I would encourage clicking the subscribe button on the bottom of the page, if you enjoy these ramblings.
Part of what most disturbed me about the movie and my observations of life, in general, is what happens to the world when we take away truth. Although I completely believe in bias and know I have plenty of my own, there is also a fundamental truth that doesn't change. Right now, thanks in large part to social media, every truth comes into question. When I started writing this post, President Trump was hospitalized with Covid-19. At the same time, I saw rumors on Facebook and hints in the news that this might be a conspiracy to draw attention away from his taxes. In the craziness of the world these days, it seems like either of these options could be true. I am not a conspiracy theorist and tend to believe things at face value. But how do I do that when there are many different faces presented to me as real?
If I have this much trouble deciphering real from make-believe, how are kids supposed to figure it out? When they are small, their brains exist in a realm of magical thinking. Unicorns, fairies, and Santa Claus are just as plausible to them as the pets and people living in their homes. When they become adolescents, their brains have developed beyond this but are not yet adept at abstract thinking. They are better at making complex decisions but often do this with emotion rather than reason. How do I teach my children that the answer that feels right might not be correct?
After watching The Social Dilemma, I started thinking about this more myself. What fake news have I believed in? Because of course all of the thoughts I have make sense to me. When I see statistics that support education, health care, and human kindness, I don't really question them because I believe in the value of these things. But what if the statistics are off just enough to sound reasonable to someone who wants to believe them, thus driving me further in that direction. For example, if I saw something that said 20% of children in online school have no access to the internet, I would believe that and I would get angry. I do see some kids in my office who do not have internet access. The number is far below 20% but I can extrapolate that there might be parts of the country with worse connectivity and access. If I saw this statistic and believed it, I might throw it out in conversation, thus getting other people on board to get angry as well. It can't be good for our future if 20% of kids are not getting an education right now. But that number might very well be 2% or 0.5%. Which is also horrible for those children, but not as bad a 20%, not as likely to get people's blood boiling.
If I don't know what is true, how do I fight for what is right? How do I teach this to our children? It used to be I could empower them to see the difference between fact and opinion. You can disagree with an opinion, but you can't disagree with a fact. You can have opinions about a fact, you can make decisions about how you feel about facts, but you can't change your mind about the fact, because it is truth and won't be changed. A non-controversial example is that an apple is a fruit. That is a fact. Now, some people might believe fruits contain too much sugar so they don't eat apples. People might argue about how healthy apples are. But you can't argue about apples being fruit.
A more controversial example is about vaccines. Vaccines save lives. Some people worry about potential side effects and choose not to vaccinate. People argue about how healthy vaccines are. But you can't argue that vaccines save lives. Yet people do. Which gets us back to a place of wondering how do we make decisions and how do we live a life when we argue about everything, opinions as well as facts?
So where do we find truth? The Bible makes it clear that the truth is found in Jesus. In John 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the way and the truth and the life." Later, in John 14:16-17, He tells us God will send an advocate, the Spirit of truth, who will live inside us. In John 16, Jesus talks more about that Spirit of truth, how he will guide us.
Perhaps this is where we are left as Christian parents and Christian people trying to make sense of the world. I will not find the absolute truth in the New York Times or in the journal Pediatrics. I certainly won't find it on Facebook or Instagram. Instead, I need to look to the Bible and look inside myself to the Spirit of truth Jesus has left for me. Everything else is convoluted. The reason it is hard to have calm, rational conversations about many topics in the world today is that they are so complicated. Every difficult topic has years of hurt and anger woven inside and when you get a mess like that, it is hard to find the core truth. I agree that Black Lives Matter, in the Me Too movement, that No Person is Illegal, that Science is Real. But my agreement of these things is going to look different from nearly every person I know because I am shaped by my life experiences. However, if I look to God's truth, there is no question that the life of somebody who is black or Hispanic or female is every bit as precious as any other life because God created all of us in His image, knows all of us intimately and created us. If I start any conversation from there, beginning with Truth rather than my interpretation of truth, then we can move forward.
As we navigate through this difficult social climate, this is where I keep landing. I need to make sure God's truth is instilled in the hearts of my children. When they are angry at somebody else or feel marginalized by somebody else they can remember who they belong to, and who the other person belongs to as well. If this is the only thing we can agree upon, that God is truth, then this is what we should seek the most and where we should dwell during these really difficult times. Adults need this, but kids need this even more. So let's give them this to start with: the boiled down, raw truth of God's love for all humans.