In her book Reset Your Child’s Brain, Dr. Victoria Dunckley notes the high number of 11 year olds who feel stress over building a personal brand.
Yes, you read that right—11 year olds are feeling the pressure to brand themselves, to develop an “image” that sets a tone for their lives. Now, Dunckley is writing this from the angle of a psychiatrist concerned about the amount of time kids spend connected online, which isn’t my main focus. We share the concern, though, over the pressure for kids to spend time building an online presence.
People with successful personal brands, the personalities, writers, sports heroes, politicians, consultants who have strong “personal brands” spend an inordinate amount of time carefully curating what they post, responding to comments, using Instagram to drive traffic to their website and their website to drive traffic to their Twitter and their Twitter to drive traffic to their Instagram, all in the name of increasing engagement and thereby somehow “become known.”
And the goal of “becoming known?” Well, at the end of the day, it somehow ties back to money. There’s the hope of becoming known as an expert in the field with the goal of landing a dream job sometime in the future. Or selling advertising on a website or blog. Or developing a writing voice or a platform for future books. For many people, this is just a reality of the world we live in.
For 11 year olds, though, it’s not. When 11 year olds start developing a concern for a personal brand, it’s a strong condemnation of our culture. Developing a personal brand is essentially about being for sale. And while I’d wager that most kids don’t realize that this is what they’re doing, it is. The message has become so ingrained in us that we somehow believe that the only reason to be known is in order to make money.
Of course this isn’t at all the message of Jesus, who might have lived in a time before the struggles of online citizenship but still knew a thing about people vying for social position. His answer, always, was to remind people that the kingdom of God is upside down. Who you know, what you know, what you have—none of these things matter. In fact, they may even work against you—after all, the last will be first and the first will be last.
So what does all of this talk about personal brands and crazy social trends have to do with reclaiming Sabbath?
Our ability to understand our relationship with God is directly related to the time we set apart. We can’t immerse ourselves in a cultural push to always be “on,” and then expect to stay centered in the idea that our “on-ness” isn’t what matters. If we want to teach our children that their worth is grounded in their relationship with God then we have to give them space to experience this relationship. Not lecture them about it, not force them to join in family prayers, not even gently say to them “God loves you just the way you are,” but to experience the freedom that comes from just being them.
I’m afraid that for children these days, there’s very little antidote to the world’s constant push to prove yourself, to do more, to be better. This is a soapbox of mine and I could list examples for days—increased testing, diminished playtime at home and at school, lack of family time, competitive sports starting younger and younger, activities that fill schedules to the point where no one has time to breath, computer games built around addictive reward cycles, stressed out parents who don’t have time to connect…all of these things are teaching our children that they have to compete for status and attention.
I have a very real fear that true spirituality—the ability to listen to God through our internal selves—will disappear for many of our young people.
This is where Sabbath is important for children. Now, I know that the idea of enforced rest isn’t popular for kids. Remember my reaction to the idea of a Sabbath day? But there are plenty of ways to help kids learn a rhythm of rest that can form a basis for their spiritual development. Here are a few ideas:
- Build in daily family quiet times
We have so little silence in our lives. And the less we have, the more uncomfortable we become with it. There is actual noise everywhere—the radio in the car, the TV at home, chatter in group settings. Plus, there’s a draw toward mental chatter, the kind that comes from surfing the internet or even reading quietly. We are so afraid to be alone with our thoughts and we’re passing that fear onto our children. A simple, counter-cultural practice is family quiet time. Set aside five minutes each evening before bed to simply breathe. If five minutes is too much, do three. Or one. You can always build up from there. The trick to making this work is to give kids something to focus on. I love the Calm app, which is just a visual of a circle expanding and deflated in a breathing rhythm. At a conference I attended a couple weeks ago, the presenter recommended giving kids a pinwheel to blow, which focuses breath and is fun.
Play meets many of the criteria of Sabbath. It’s purposeless. It’s countercultural. It deepens our relationship with each other. Build in times for family members to simply be silly together–no competitive games, no individual screens drawing your attention, just time for connection and laughter. Maybe it doesn’t feel “religious,” but as one part of a move toward reclaiming Sabbath time, it’s an important start.
- Designate a certain time each week as family time and stick with that schedule. It will be hard. It will also teach that it’s ok to say no. Tending to our families and our inner lives is every bit as important as attending BBQ’s, sports games, even homework or school events. Again, start small if you have to. Make it an hour on Sunday afternoons or a time when you’re already relatively free. (And if there’s no time when you’re already relatively free, then that’s an excellent reason to create one.)
While these are small steps, they are the beginning to building a culture of rest within your family. I’d love to hear how your family observes times of rest together!