Part One: The Problem

An Introduction

“It is easier to build strong children than repair broken men.” –Frederick Douglass

I am writing a book. Granted, as a working mom in the year of COVID, HBI, and personal health problems, this endeavor may have been just a tad too ambitious. However, I have started and am slowly plodding forward. When I was asked to write this blog, I wondered to myself, what should I write about. Surely, it must be something helpful, hopeful, and edifying. Maybe how Shakespeare teaches us empathy? Maybe how “smart” phones have made us “un-smart” and keep us from reading? Or maybe how non-examples in classical literature can point our students toward Christ? All of these ideas would have made worthy content, but they were not enough. They fell short of what I really wanted to tell you.

What I really want to tell you is this: I am worried. I am worried about our children. I am worried about the world they are inheriting. It is a world that is so full of division and disconnection, that the human soul finds it nearly impossible to flourish. We know this is true because of the crippling suicide rates. In fact, some studies show that the teen suicide rates have nearly quadrupled over the past decade, as depression and anxiety become commonplace maladies. Many experts cite the rise of cellphones and social media as the central culprit—and they are right. But might I add another one? While Facebook, Instagram, and Tik Tok were becoming ubiquitous pastimes in the lives of our teens (and nearly everyone else), something else was on the rise. And that something was the zealous wholesale of moral relativity—an insidious belief system, birthed by existentialism, that touts there is no objective reality and morality is solely determined by the individual. On face value, that may sound like liberation. But this “terrifying abundance of freedom,” as French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre referred to it, ultimately leads to dread and the individual’s rejection of the one true God. With this postmodern concoction permeating our world, it is no wonder our children are suffering.

Over nearly sixteen years of teaching, across inner-city public schools and now a private Christian school, I have borne witness to this precipitous change in the way our teens live life. Over those transformational years, teaching and leading well over 2,000 students, I have seen teens become more depressed and anxious, less empathetic and literate, and less equipped to persist in the face of difficult tasks. It is harder for today’s teens to recognize objective reality, make deep and meaningful relationships, and submit themselves to a just and loving God. These startling realities are utterly heartbreaking, and I know it is completely unacceptable to all of us that we lose even one more soul to crippling depression, anxiety, or suicide.

What I am describing is not a Tampa problem. It is not a Florida problem. Rather, it is a national—and now even global—problem. Experts, educators, parents, and pastors everywhere are asking, “What do we do about our children?” The answer, in short, is that our children need God, community, and truth.

Yet, in all this difficult news, what I really need to tell you is this: There is hope. There is so much hope. It is not an easy hope. It is not a cheap hope. This hope I speak of is hard-fought and hard-won, but it is real. As parents, teachers, and leaders, we can affect change in the lives of the young people we love starting now. And it happens by changing ourselves.

This is where the brunt of my life’s work comes in. It is the book I am trying to write, and it is the research I want to conduct when I pursue my doctorate. First, I believe you already have many answers by way or your faith, experience, or training. Those values are the ones we all must act on with great intentionality and as soon as we can—every day of our lives. And second, we must get serious about what we don’t know and seek the help we need as if it’s the most important thing we will ever do. Why? Because it is the most important thing we will ever do. Generativity, or the need to nurture and contribute to future generations, should be our first calling as Christian parents, teachers, and leaders—especially in the world we are living in. Our children can no longer afford for us to be neutral or unintentional about making significant changes in our lives—and theirs.

Nelson Mandela, the great South African president and human rights advocate, once said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” Reading this quote for the first time, I was literally arrested by its implications. It was a revelation I could not shake. It’s often we hear the old guard spouting off, “Kids these days!” to signal their misgivings and superiority. But President Mandela says something else. Essentially, he declares, “Adults these days!” The world our children are suffering in is a world they have inherited.

President Mandela’s words drove me to ask hard questions about our culture and my own priorities as a mother, teacher, and leader: How are we treating our children? What examples are we setting? What value systems are we directly or indirectly teaching them? What corrupting influences are we allowing into their innocent lives? To what extent should media play a role in our children’s lives? Does God have a say in some things or in everything? Over the years, these questions have driven my master’s research and life’s calling. What am I doing today, as a mother and teacher, to save our children? To startle them awake? To move them toward the Gospel? To ignite their counter-cultural response to the spiritual deadness and social division we are witnessing? Of course, it will take me an entire book and a year’s worth of research to unpack these epiphanies, and no doubt there are plenty of books out there that already give outstanding responses, but for the sake of brevity, I’d like to share several things I’ve learned so far.

 Part Two: The Solution

Identify Your Family’s Core Values

 “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” —Proverbs 22:6

Children need biblical truths and high moral standards to strive toward. If we set our expectations too low, our children will suffer. And worse, if we never set and keep a certain moral standard in our homes and schools, then we will inadvertently allow the world to set those standards. This is not the love I know we all wish to give our children. It takes diligence to create and communicate a core set of values.

So, what does this idea of “core values” look like? In truth, it can take many forms. In my English classroom, I have core values that point all my students toward biblically aligned standards as we set our classroom culture. This looks like colorful “culture cards” mounted above my board, which remind my students and myself what we are about: “Empathy above Apathy,” “Kindness above Coolness,” “Ownership above Excuses,” “Truth above Trends,” “Faith above Feelings,” “Unification above Division,” and yes, “God above Everything.”

At home, we have “Family Rules.” Granted my daughter is still young, but we wanted to start early. According to Growing Kids God’s Way: Biblical Ethics for Parenting, by Anne Marie and Gary Ezzo, biblical rules and values come before a child’s true understanding, allowing children to conform early and then understand when they are developmentally ready. In other words, we don’t wait for understanding before we teach what we know is good because obedience precedes understanding and understanding preserves obedience.

Here are just several of our “Family Rules”:

  1. We put God above all else, even when it’s not easy.
  2. We make time for family every day, even when life seems too busy.
  3. We choose kind and calm, even in stressful situations.
  4. We always forgive, even if we don’t feel like it.
  5. We leave things better than how we found them, even if it’s not our responsibility.
  6. We take care of what we have, even if it’s not what we want.
  7. We are biblically countercultural, even when it’s difficult.

Right now, our daughter can’t understand the finer points of these values, but they are values we talk about and operate from, nonetheless. Essentially, it’s in the air we breathe. But, if you asked our daughter right now, “What’s life all about?” she’d say, without pause, “Loving God, loving others, and making good choices.” Now, that’s a value system that is short, sweet, and to the point—and one even a child can understand! All this to say, you can start now and keep it as simple as you’d like.

Creating, communicating, and living a core set of biblical family values help to protect your children from the pervasive and often destructive messages of the world, and now research shows what the Bible has instructed all along: people who understand and practice a moral ethic have more positive mental health outcomes than those who do not. As Christians, we believe sin is a real thing, and avoiding it is good for the body, mind, and spirit. We need to be intentional about gifting our children with a visible and viable target of values to aspire toward—because if we don’t, the world will gladly step in and do our jobs for us.

For more on family values and free lessons on teaching kids godly character, check out “Instilling Moral Values in Children” and “Kids of Integrity” from Focus on the Family: and

So, the next question is, how do we manifest these values? Read on to find out.

 Instill Your Family’s Core Disciplines

“The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” –Denis Waitley

Once you know what your values are, you need discipline to walk them out. Discipline is the precursor to success. It turns dreams into realities and ideals into character. That is why cultivating discipline in our families and schools is essential—especially if we plan to counteract the dangerous lies our culture seeks to feed our children. In The Coddling of the American Mind, psychologist and professor Johnathan Haidt defines and dissects the three “Great Untruths” that plague the young American mind today:

The Three Great Untruths

  • Our feelings are always right.
  • We should avoid pain and discomfort.
  • We should look for faults in others and not in ourselves.

Haidt argues, and successfully so, that media, culture, schools, and universities today are subversively teaching and operating from these untruths. What is unsettling is these untruths aren’t just wrong; they are unbiblical, and research proves that they are working to increase the rates of depression and anxiety among teens and college-aged students because they undercut the important realities of objective truth, hard-work, and personal accountability.

These untruths come from a belief that our children are emotionally fragile and cannot handle hard things; thus, they need adults to coddle them all the way through adolescence. However, the truth is, children are actually “un-fragile” according to science, and they can and should take on responsibilities that are challenging at as early an age as possible. Children don’t need us to snowplow the path before them; they need us to teach them how to snowplow. In fact, Haidt concludes with this enduring mantra: We should prepare the child for the road—not the road for the child. These untruths also—and ironically—believe that though young people today are too fragile to function on their own, they are, in fact, prescient and wise enough to choose their own realities, truths, and identities all based on their feelings. These postmodern subjectivist philosophies aren’t just untruthful; they are incongruous. As Christian parents, teachers, and leaders, we need to love our children enough to teach them the truth about these untruths and impart within them discipline and discernment at an early age, so that they are equipped to thrive in this difficult world for the rest of their adult lives.

So, what are some biblical disciplines you can cultivate as a family? Well, first, your disciplines should be an outgrowth of your family values. Some family disciplines pour into our children to help shape them, while other disciplines can only be taught by allowing our children life experiences that will challenge and grow them. Here are several ideas to consider:

Pouring a spiritual discipline into our children…

  • Enjoy family dinners at the table with no devices or interruptions as often as you can. Be sure to use this time to truly connect with your children about their day and instill your family values through real-life application. See the family dinner table as basecamp for your child: it is the place they return each night after a day full of adventure, where they can rest, recover, and prepare for their next great adventure. Family dinners are an important ritual and a special place for connection. For more on family dinners, check out “The Benefits of Family Mealtimes and How to Make Them Happen” from Focus on the Family: And for research on how family meal time benefits the whole family, check out this comprehensive post from North Dakota State University:
  • Be sure to read your Bible and pray each day, together and/or as individuals. You’ve heard it before: “The family that prays together stays together.” It’s essential we stay in the Word in these post-truth times. If we want our children to know truth, they need to see truth in the Word and in the lives of the ones who love and lead them. Treating the Bible like literal daily bread allows your child to view their problems and experiences through a biblical worldview and teaches them this essential discipline early so that they continue to do it as they grow. What is interesting is that a number of studies have now found that Christian teens, and those who are devout, have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than non-religious teens. It is also proven that religious practices, such as prayer, Bible reading, and attending corporate services change the brain’s wiring and firing toward improved mental health. That’s really quite amazing. So, think of this: We teach our children to make their beds every day. Granted, it is an important task in teaching discipline, but it is also a trivial task in light of eternity. So, why wouldn’t we be equally as concerned that they are reading their Bibles and praying every day?
  • Bring back daily discussions about Christian virtues and let your child “catch” you practicing them for yourselves. The seven Christian virtues are chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. The Fruits of the Spirit are similar and equally as important: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Sadly, these virtues have lost their footing in today’s postmodern society because their opposites are celebrated, and this is very confusing for young people as they are beginning to make sense of the world. Our children need to be equipped with truth so they can learn to be discerning. When you see a celebrity behaving badly or something unsettling in a movie or book, stop to discuss the character traits or problems with your child and contrast them against biblical principles and virtues. Make the time to have these conversations early and often, as they help shape our children’s worldview more than we can conceive. Like the invisible and compounding language acquisition of the toddler years, our children’s spiritual lives are complex, unseen systems that multiply when fed. The question is, what are we feeding them? A great book for parents who want to raise God-fearing, discerning children is Mama Bear Apologetics by Hillary Morgan Ferrer and company.
  • Dare to be biblically countercultural. Do the research. Look around. Read your Bible. Start to ask hard questions about the current cultural messaging and “norms” that we are swimming in. Do they align with the Bible? Are they good for us, as a society? What are they doing to our children? It is so very easy to allow our daily routines and stresses to lull us to sleep on larger more existential issues, but it isn’t good for anyone, especially future generations, if we allow the “status quo” to beat on without question or resistance. In fact, I would be remiss if I didn’t reference, at least one time, one of the largest influences in my life, and that is the work of pastor and writer Dr. Timothy Keller. If you are looking to be biblically countercultural, his body of work is a great place to start. One slim read that is distinctively countercultural in a society caught up in the “cult of self” is his sermonette, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. In it, Keller posits that there is an unrivaled peace and freedom when we forget about the world’s shallow trappings, when we forget about our own brittle egos, and we start living out our identities in Christ. This is a book I now gift to my seniors in AP Literature each year with a personal note, hoping to ignite a countercultural revolution in their hearts. Granted, I may not be able to change the world on a large scale, but we can all be heroes in our homes and schools—and by changing ourselves and leading our children, we can change the world. We may not always get to reap the harvest, but we can always plant the seeds.

Shaping our children through spiritual discipline…

  • First, lead and listen with authenticity. The worddiscipline” comes from Latin, meaning “instruction and training,” and as Christians, discipline can be quickly related to discipleship. Thus, true discipline implies a relationship at its center. Christ could not lead without authentic and loving relationships with his disciplines, and like Christ, we cannot truly lead and discipline without authentic and loving relationships with our children. Quite simply, our children need to see us live out an authentic Christian life before they will follow us—in fact, research shows they are desperate for it. Generation Z, which experts roughly define as the young people born between 1997 and 2015, are described as the first post-truth generation, according to the Barna Group. Sadly, Gen Z is also a generation that is “sold to” nearly every waking moment of their lives—be it through social media, television, or other mediums. Incidentally, these social fractures have created a young people who are often suspicious and even jaded about their leaders and traditional institutions, such as church, school, and government. The combination of hearing “there is no truth” and witnessing political or church scandal at astoundingly young ages sews seeds of doubt few young people can overcome. As a result, Gen Z sees little that they can know is real, and as such, they are starving for truth and authenticity. That’s why it is essential our children see us leading out and listening with authenticity—just as Christ did. This idea of authenticity is one that should overflow into all other facets of our lives. Authenticity is the prerequisite Gen Z requires before they trust us. In fact, nearly 70% of Gen Z’s surveyed by a CNBC poll said authenticity was very important to them and made someone more relevant and trustworthy. So, if we can cultivate this singular trait within ourselves, it enables us—as parents, teachers, and leaders—to make headway with our children and teens. And when they trust us, they will talk to us. And when we listen, we can step into their lives in meaningful ways. Authenticity allows us into their complex inner-worlds to talk about the things they are struggling with, like depression, anxiety, faith, politics, sexuality, race relations, etc. As difficult as some of these topics can be to navigate, we need to lean in and have those hard conversations. Aristotle once postulated, “Nature abhors a vacuum,” which means, in this case, that if we don’t fill the gap between us and our growing children with that which is admirable, noble, and pure, then the world will rush in to fill that gap with whatever it pleases. For more on Generation Z and how to reach them, check out Dr. Sean McDowell’s book So the Next Generation Will Know.
  • Create and maintain high expectations. Have you heard of the saying “Shoot for the moon—because if you miss, you’ll land among the stars?” Beyond the fact that it sounds like a lovely sentiment, I believe it is also a true one. Often, there seems to be a false dichotomy among well-meaning teachers and parents that we can only be one thing for our children 1) tough, which is unloving or 2) lenient, which is loving. The truth is actually in the middle, and there is a great deal of scripture and research to prove that “tough and loving,” also known as authoritative parenting, yields the most healthy and successful adults. Why? Because it teaches them discipline and accountability in a loving and dependable environment. Setting high expectations and then pushing our children toward them is a very loving thing to do. Setting and enforcing healthy boundaries is a very loving thing to do. Then, when our children succeed, the celebration is ever so sweet. And if they fall short, we can sit in the disappointment and come up with a new plan of action together. In fact, research shows that setting high expectations that are both realistic and supportive improves self-worth, self-efficacy, academic outcomes, and mental health in the lives of our children. For more on cultivating healthy relationships, positive mental health practices, and biblical boundaries, check out Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. You can also check out my current read: The Entitlement Cure: Finding Success in Doing Hard Things the Right Way by Dr. John Townsend.
  • Allow your child to take risks and to fail early and often. This may sound counterintuitive, but failure is the greatest teacher. It teaches us what to do and what not to do. It teaches us that there are consequences in life, regardless of our feelings. But most importantly, failure teaches us how to get up again. If we create a bubble where our children can never have enough autonomy to fail, or worse, take personal responsibility for their failures, then our children will not know how to face difficult things without us. Perseverance in the face of failure or difficulty allows us to build strength, stamina, confidence, and character. According to many prominent educators and psychologist, this idea of “grit” is an antidote for depression and anxiety. The more experiences our children have—standing on their own two feet—the more equipped and mentally healthy they will be as adults. When these life lessons are given through a biblical worldview, we can cultivate strong Christian leaders who will be willing to lead out in their communities and fight the good fight, as the Apostle Paul writes about in 1 Timothy 6:11-12. For more on developing grit and mental toughness, check out educator and researcher Dr. Angela Duckworth’s book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance or Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential by Dr. Carol Dweck.

 Inspire a Sense of Wonder and Safeguard Against Screens

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” –Albert Einstein

How we, as parents, teachers, and leaders, frame the reality of the world for our children will vastly impact the way our children perceive it and then move out into it. No doubt, they are watching us. So, we must intentionally choose to be biblically hopeful and countercultural. If young people receive constant messaging that their history is shameful, their reality is unmanageable, and the future is bleak, then we, as a society, are setting up our children for failure. Why? Because there is no wonder, purpose, hope, or reconciliation in a world like that. And if our children can’t tell the difference between a Christian lifestyle and a worldly lifestyle or see the spiritual fruit of the former and lack thereof in the latter, then we all must be willing to roll up our sleeves and get to work on ourselves so we can be better for them.

So, where does this pervasive negative messaging come from? It comes from the ubiquitous screen. Social media, endless news cycles, popular culture, and bingeable shows all conspire to teach specific worldviews—many of which are not in line with biblical teaching, objective truth, and positive mental health outcomes. In fact, research now shows there is such a thing as a secondary post-traumatic stress disorder called “vicarious PTSD” or “screen trauma.” Essentially, scientist and psychologists are finding that violent and graphic movies, television, news, and social media have a negative impact on the brain in a similar way that experiencing these events in person would. In some cases, individuals experience lasting effects, such as negative stress reactions, anxiety, and depression. Make no mistake, what we consume consumes us. And if the content we consume is full of immorality and philosophies that are in opposition to the Bible then what becomes of the human soul?

Here’s a big question we must ask ourselves: Are our children consuming enough wholesome experiences in their physical world that those experiences can counteract the negative messaging that pours into their hearts and minds through their screens in the digital world? That is a heavy query to ponder, and one that we may find it hard to say “yes” to. So, if we don’t like the answer, then what can we do? Together, we must create a culture where our children have more to live for in the physical world than in the digital world. And we must work together to make their physical world one that is good for them, for “what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”

Inspiring a sense of wonder…

  • Read more books. The gift of a good book is one of the most precious gifts you can give your child. Reading is one of the most powerful and positive pastimes one can cultivate over their lifetime because it promotes empathy, creativity, and critical thinking. It is truly wondrous. In her cutting-edge book, Reader Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, Harvard brain scientist and retired English teacher Maryanne Wolf addresses the vital importance of literacy and the dangers of media consumption. She outlines myriad reasons why reading is important. Two of the most essential reasons have to do with protecting our democracy and mental health. Reading has become a lost art, and as a result, roughly half of all eighth graders today are functionally illiterate. These losses are all tied to the rise of unfettered media consumption. When a culture’s literacy rates drop, crime and destabilization rise, while positive mental health outcomes plummet. So, it makes sense to see the research as two sides of one coin: on one side, reading cultivates wonder and wellness, but on the flip side, a life without literacy is fractured and dark. Which side of the coin do you dream for your child? For more on the power of a good book, please check out my blog post “A Brave New World: You, Your Child, and Literacy”:
  • Pick up a screen-free hobby or pastime. And when you do, please be sure the option allows for your child to use their body, get outdoors, and/or be part of a team. These conditions ensure your child is improving their mental and physical health, as well as their social skills. There is a great deal of research that shows the positive correlation between activities like these and positive mental health outcomes. Children who spend excessive time being sedentary and isolated on screens pay a steep opportunity cost—think microeconomic theory. Not only are they potentially pumping their systems full of content that doesn’t benefit their hearts and minds, but they are also missing out on developing other skills and experiencing everything life has to offer. They are many great alternatives to screen time that teach life skills or provide experiences that help create a sense of wonder: gardening, painting, woodwork, science experiments, team sports, dance, travel, collections, charity, walking, running, exercising, photography, learning musical instruments, etc. Check out the website Screen-Free Parenting for amazing resources on breaking free of screens and getting back to wonder:
  • Make space for unstructured downtime. For small children and teens (as well as adults), planned downtime is essential for wellbeing. Research shows that it allows for contemplation, boredom, imagination, relaxation, and the consolidation of skills, to name just a few benefits. For this sort of downtime to count, it must be unstructured with little to no stimulation. It also should be screen-free. Granted, many people cite “watching television” or “scrolling their feeds” as a way they unwind, but researchers now cite that these pastimes are not the same and do not offer the same benefits. In fact, screen time as a pastime can be too arousing and provide negative effects. For more on unstructured downtime and creating wonder, check out this awesome resource:

Safeguard against screens…

  • Realize the threat. Knowledge is power. And when we know better, we do better. There is no doubt: a chorus of loud voices are vying for your child’s attention through their screens. We must be louder and willing to fight for our children. With these sources below, you can equip yourself with the realities of what screens are doing to our children, as well as our society. Depression, anxiety, suicide, and other dangerous behaviors are all tied to the ubiquitous screen and excessive media consumption:
  • Set healthy boundaries. Our children need our protection. They need boundaries, and they need downtime. When we English teachers ask our teens about their phones, they openly tell us they hate they are “on them all the time,” they wish they could stop, but they can’t. They even tell us they hate social media, but they can’t stop that either. Coming to this understanding years ago, I realized that if I loved my students, and I know they can’t stop something they hate, I will make them stop. And if they want, they can be mad at me. So, on the first day of school, I take a hard line and tell my students that my classroom is a cellphone “Zap Zone.” I never ever want to see your phones. We will be present in this class together. At first, some students find this hard to accept, but within the week, I have won them over. Everyday when the bell rings, I make that announcement until I no longer need to. The key is clear expectations and consistency. The vast majority respect it. They even breathe a sigh of relief and help each other stay accountable. Without their phones, they are completely present. They learn, love, and laugh. Their grades and test scores are higher, and they are healthier and happier in those treasured 47 minutes. Please understand that children want boundaries. So, listen to your heart, and say “no” when you need to. Permissiveness seems like the “nice” thing to do, but it is not a healthy dynamic and includes parenting philosophies that do not align with biblical teaching. And more, many research studies now prove that children from permissive homes are more depressed, anxious, aggressive, and have lower levels of self-confidence and healthy independence. As parents, we can create healthy boundaries for cellphone and media use. Your child’s stage and age of life will determine your boundaries, so here are some great resources you can use to help you make the right choices for your child and family:
  • Teach discernment. As our children get older, we can’t shelter them from everything that is “out there.” But we can and should teach them discernment. Technology and media consumption can be a positive thing when used appropriately. As mentioned earlier, Mama Bear Apologetics is a great resource for Christian parents who want to be savvy about preparing their children for the world and how to live out and defend their Christian faith. In this book, author Hillary Morgan Ferrer teaches about the “chew and spit” method. It doesn’t sound appealing, but it is your best defense against the unbiblical messaging of the world. There are many things we will take in and “eat,” but we must know how to use biblical discernment in order to keep the good in and “spit” the bad out. In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul instructs us to practice discernment: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” I encourage all of us to begin thinking about what matters most and cultivate a homelife that reflects those values and decides how, when, and where we consume media and screens. For more on this real-life application of biblical discernment, check out “Episode 57: Teaching Your Kids the Chew and Spit Method” from the Mama Bear Apologetics Podcast: (Please beware they talk about sensitive topics that may not be appropriate for little ears.)

Part Three: A Call to Action

Hope for the Future

“You will teach them to fly, but they will not fly your flight. You will teach them to dream, but they will not dream your dream. You will teach them to live, but they will not live your life. Nevertheless, in every flight, in every life, in every dream, the print of the way you taught them will remain.” – Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

I am an avid reader, and since having my daughter, I now have double the reason to read as much as I can on parenting, teaching, and leading. Of the many books I’ve read on parenting, one of the most influential passages comes from researcher, professor, and social worker Dr. Brene Brown in her masterwork Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Her revelation seems so simple, and yet, it is profound. She writes, “I think the single most important thing that I learned from my research is this: We can NOT give our children what we don’t have. If we want our children to have courage, compassion, and connection, we must practice these things in our daily lives…” Let’s allow that to sink in for a minute. No matter what we buy, accomplish, know, or earn, it will never be a substitute for who we are. We can NOT give our children what we don’t have. Could it be that our children do not have peace because we do not have peace? Could it be that our children can not connect because we can not connect? Could it be that our children are desperate for security and belonging because we, as a society, aren’t loving and kind?

If I want my daughter or students to be strong, brave, kind, honest, and faithful, it starts with me. If I want my daughter or students to love God, know the truth, and serve others, it starts with me. As loving parents, teachers, and leaders, we must point our children toward the truth every single day—and that truth is God’s truth. We need bold voices and strong shoulders to confront culture and carry the burdens. If we want our children to inherit a world that is worthy of goodness, hope, and reconciliation, it starts with us—not them. Not yet.

It is my earnest prayer and hope that this information might inspire us, myself included, toward a kinder and brighter future with the children we lead and love. President John F. Kennedy once said, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” Let’s think very hard about what we want to say to the future. And let us pray to God that we have the strength and courage to say it through the lives of our precious children. We only get one chance here on Earth to please God, spread the Gospel, and make a difference. May we all take it—wholeheartedly.