Updated: Aug 20
I was a Youth Pastor at the time when a campaign in the 1980s was created by then first lady Nancy Reagan. She took on the cause of drug use in America by creating a nation-wide school campaign against drugs. In fact, it was called a war on drugs. The slogan that someone came up with for this war was “Just Say No” and its aim was to give kids the confidence to say no to illegal drug use in the midst of peer pressure. The message was clear – be strong and confident. Speak up. Take a stand. Just say no. I think the least that this slogan did for kids and teenagers at the time was teaching them how important one simple word can be for doing what is right.
What if we were to resurrect this slogan for how we parent? What if we just said no to our kids more often? What if we were to, in kind, also – Stop saying yes as much as we do to our kids’ many requests? I do hope they are not asking for cocaine, weed or vaping in these young years, but the slogan can help us remember what is at stake here. Nancy Reagan really could be looking down on us all and shaking her head - JUST SAY NO. What can a child, preteen or teenager learn from this two letter word?
I clearly remember how easy it is to say yes and how hard it is to say no when I was a parent of younger kids. Like every generation, there is a part of us that
wants to make it easier for the next. I don’t know any parent that wants to see their child struggle in life. It’s hard to watch a child grow through the hard parts in life like the pandemic we are currently facing.
We want our kids to be happy. But how important is our children's happiness to us? Could trying to make them happy be a more important goal than it should? Is happiness the greatest goal that God has for us? We see this pandemic part of life and want to pacify, shelter, and protect, but at times it seems at all costs. Think about it though. Could saying the word “no” be a part of loving and caring for these young lives God has placed in your care? God gave you the job as a parent to raise up a person who follows Jesus, not provide them with every luxury you wish you had at their age.
If your 8-year-old says they want to keep playing a game on the Nintendo Switch when it is time to get ready for bed – just say no. If your 16-year-old wants a brand new Jeep Wrangler for his first car – just say no. If your 4-year-old wants McDonald's and your 8-year-old wants Chick-Fil-A kids' meals – just say no to one of them and decide what you feel is best for both of them. You do not have to go through two drive-through windows to make each one happy. Just. Say. No.
There are of course times when a “yes” answer is best. Children can get discouraged if all they are hearing is no. Find opportunities to turn some of those no’s into yes’s so your children can feel more encouraged. It can be life giving and help shape their future. For example, instead of “No, we are not having ice cream for dinner” you can try “That sounds yummy! What if you choose your favorite flavor and we can have some for dessert?’ Instead of “If your room is not clean, you are not going out to play”, you might try saying “When your room is clean, you can go play with your friends.” Allowing children to choose options can be a form of yes that can be life giving.
It is clear that the more you say yes, the more positive the results, the happier everyone will be! God always answers our prayers if you think about it. There are the times He says “yes”. There are times He says “wait”. But there are those times when it is really with our best in mind that He says “no”. That could be three great answers you can use for the many requests that come at you each day.
You are the parent. You are the authority that God has placed in your children's lives to make the wise and best decisions for them. Allow God to become more and more your final authority in life. Take time each day to ask for wisdom in making decisions that are best. It may not always be seen as fair, but it will be the right thing to do. As your children get older there should be more and more opportunities to allow them to make the right choices with just your input. At younger ages there is a need for more guidance in decision making. It may need to be a simple and clear “no”.
I can just hear the three comeback words that our children would often use when hearing our answer. How many times do you hear the words “That isn’t fair” from your children in a single day? Did you know that the word “fair” in the Bible is only used to talk about the tone of one’s skin, an amount of something or how attractive someone or something is? Fair is not a Biblical term that is used to determine if something is right or wrong.
The dictionary definition for the word “fair” means… “in accordance with the rules or standards; legitimate; when a group has achieved fair and equal representation for all its members; without cheating or trying to achieve unjust advantage." When can we ever have exactly equal representation for each of our kids? Isn’t any decision we make on their behalf ever so slightly tipped in favor of one child or the other? Isn't there a reality that one of the slices of cake is bound to be a fraction bigger?
We use the term “fair”. God uses the words "just" and "unjust" when it comes to the way our lives are. The way life is, and with the element of sin in each of us, we will find a world where there will always be a mixture of just and unjust. God comes in the person of Jesus to bring justice…perfect justice. Actually, the word “right” is the word that the Bible uses in determining the right thing to do. It is always found in our covenant relationship with a Righteous God. In fact, the word righteous means to be "right with God". David sums it up for us in these lines:
"Good and upright is the Lord. So he teaches sinners in the way. The humble he guides in what is right, and he teaches the humble his way" ~Psalms 25:8-9.
We are righteous because Jesus made us right with God. It is from that most important relationship that we can more easily see the right thing to do. As we become more and more like Jesus the right choices become even more clear.
If we are honest before God, we might even feel that He makes decisions for us that seem unjust or unfair. Know that God’s decisions on our behalf will always be perfectly just because that is who He is. It will always be sin in the world that creates life that is unjust. As followers of Jesus, lets become more like Him by bringing justice into this sinful and unjust world.
Your kids may not be asking for drugs or alcohol or the worst things in life, but they are asking for everything else in between. If you are honest, you remember doing the same with your parents. We all did. The question then is: What is God asking me to say “no” to when my kids are in want? What is my heart telling me to do that may not be exactly equal, or perceived as fair, but it is the right thing to do? Do that. But that will mean that you will also need to just say no to someone or something. We can also ask ourselves when is “wait” or “yes” the right answer to the many requests?
Our church is in a sermon series called "Wait Training" right now. God is teaching us the important lessons we gain from waiting. These are lessons for your whole family.
Our kids are living in a world with entertainment and information in the palm of their hand. They are all striving to be happy as much as they can. Our kids are already living in an instant gratification age and it seems they are spoiled by the natural progression of technology. In some ways they are leading much easier lives than the generations before them. Is easier better? Is instantly happy best? What is God saying that is best for your kids? The best for them may be more than “yes”. It could be a firm "wait"? The best for them may be to “Just say no”. Is it possible that a “no” at time is best for our kids?
What if being permissive and indulgent is shaping future adults that chase more after all that makes them happy and not as much after God and doing what is right? A life in relationship with God is content and full not because of the physical things we have, but rather because God is at the center of our lives. As the Apostle Paul writes from prison to the Christians in the city of Philippi…
“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. –Philippians 4:11-13
A content life does not come from getting what we want when we want it. It comes from a relationship that satisfies no matter what the circumstances. Let’s teach this life lesson to our children.
When a child asks for a toy they want in the check-out line or one more show before bed, you can just say no. If a child throws a tantrum and breaks their Nintendo Switch, you don’t need to buy them a new one. Teach them about taking care of the things we own. Teach them about saving money. When the 10-year-old asks for a cell phone for their birthday because all her friends all have one, teach them to be humble and appreciative of whatever you feel is best for her birthday present.
So be strong and confident. Speak up. Take a stand. Be the parent. Don’t give in to kids’ pressure. Don’t be the favorite or popular parent at times. We’re raising future followers of Jesus and possible parents. At times – Just say no, mixed with some “wait” and “yes’”.
Oh, and just say no to drugs too, kids.