Most of our children are average

August 24, 2015

I’ll never forget the way it hit me — news about our children, delivered from the pulpit of a crowded chapel service. The preacher, Randy Stinson, said, “Can I say something to you about your children? I don’t even know half of them, but they’re average. They’re average.” I suspect I wasn’t the only one in his hearing who took slight offense, making a mental list of all the reasons he must be wrong.

Many American parents believe their children are gifted. The surge in after-school activities, private tutors and a willingness to tolerate impossible amounts of homework points to parents who are convinced that their kids can be “… tutored and coached, pushed and tested, hothoused and advance-placed until success is assured.” That’s according to Time magazine’s recent article, “In Praise of the Ordinary Child.”

It’s not just the parents. Kids, too, think they’re pretty special. Time cited one survey that found 70 percent of the students asked — well over half — consider themselves above average — the halfway point — in, get this, academic ability. That’s statistically impossible. Clearly they’re below average in at least one school subject.

Why do parents long to have above average children? And why are children willing to go along with their Herculean efforts to achieve such status? According to Time, and a similar story from aeon.com, “You Can Do it Baby!”, it has everything to do with our drive for success. We want kids who can beat the odds to attend the best schools, which will lead to the most rewarding jobs. We don’t want them just to be financially set (though that’s part of parents’ motivation), we want them to be fulfilled. And by extension, the kids are good with the prospect of being rich and happy.

Leslie Garrett describes the trend in “You Can Do it Baby!”:

When your child is four or five, barring intellectual disabilities or severe behavioural diagnoses, anything does seem possible. A child shows an interest in art and we imagine his work eventually hanging in galleries. A talented runner, we think, might make the Olympics. Kids who love science are given microscopes and we begin to wonder if we should start saving up for college fees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Backing our hopes and theirs are the culture’s cheerleaders, led by viral convocation speeches and a steady stream of ‘overnight’ successes unveiled on reality shows and YouTube, all urging us to dream big and never give up.

Both she and Time’s Jeffrey Kluger argue that kids who hear nothing but praise are in trouble. Garrett’s concerns lie primarily in dashed career expectations among young adults who grow up hearing they can be anything they want to be, only to discover it isn't true. Kluger shows that kids can’t help but disappoint parents and themselves in the face of sky-high expectations.

According to Garret, “A 2012 LinkedIn survey showed that roughly one in three adults are working at their ‘dream job,’ which means that two in three are not.” She cites Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, who says, “When you tell somebody: You can be anything, that ‘anything’ they’re thinking of is rarely a plumber or an accountant.”

“The dangers are legion,” says Garrett.

Unrealistic plans lead to a waste of time and money. When a C‑student spins her wheels planning on medical school, other, more lucrative and realistic careers — say in business or education — fall by the wayside. And the ambition gap has led to increased dissatisfaction across working life. Deloitte’s 2010 Shift Index revealed that 80 percent of workers were dissatisfied in their jobs. By 2013, the figure had jumped to 89 percent.

Certainly, growing up to find your options limited by reality can be a downer. But that’s not the worst of it. Christian parents should be alarmed by these articles but not in an “I-can’t-believe-how-ridiculous-those-parents-are” way. We should be alarmed for the times we’ve done the same thing, for the times we’ve hoped we had a prodigy on our hands or daydreamed about the soccer scholarship, the recording contract, or the signing bonus.

We are all tempted to want our kids to soar above the masses, to encourage them to dream big and reach for the stars. But we must think biblically about this temptation, lest we make Icaruses of them all. (Of course in our helicopter-parenting age, we tell ourselves we’ll simply catch our kids if, like the mythological Icarus, they fly too close to the sun and melt the wax from their wings.)

Stinson is right when he informs parents, “You don’t have a phenom on your hands . . . average is the biggest category. Most people are in it.” I know it’s undeniably, statistically true. Still, it can be hard to accept. “Everybody thinks they’re above average. But it can’t possibly be that way because it defies the category of average.” Just because our kids are average, he says, “doesn’t mean they’re mediocre, or that they need to live a life of mediocrity. It just means we don’t need to bloat their ego or increase their narcissism.”

How then should we parent? How do we encourage our children to be good stewards, to work hard and to do their best in a way that’s not ego-centric? Paul tells us in Colossians 3:17, 23-24,

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. . . . Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

We must shift their focus from themselves to God and shift their motivation from self-glory to God’s glory. If your children have an interest or talent that sets them apart from their peers, thank God for it. And teach your children to do the same. Then encourage them to develop that skill to serve others. Everything they have is from the Lord. Nothing is theirs by their own doing. They (and you) have no reason to boast (1 Cor. 4:7). In fact, the expectation is higher, not for greater success, but for more faithful stewardship. To whom much is given, much will be required (Luke 12:48).

You know your children are special, they each have gifts and talents from God that make them unique. But we’re not Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” They aren’t better than others. This is the cultural lie that we must reject. Philippians 2:3 says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (NLT). This is the way of Christ.

When our firstborn was about three, he announced that someday he was going to be a “trash truck driver.” Overhearing him talk bright-eyed about this future, my close friend countered, “Or you could be a doctor, that could be fun, too!” I appreciated her humorous attempts to aim his sights higher. But he needed to look higher still.

When your children dream about the future, point them to the One who made them. When they ask you what they should be when they grow up, resist the urge to make career suggestions that you find appealing. Instead, say something like, “I don’t know what you should be, but we can ask God. He made you and he knows best what you should be.” It is only in seeking God and serving him, for his glory and the good of others, that they will find fulfillment that truly satisfies, whether a doctor or a trash-truck driver.

Candice Watters

Candice Watters is the Fighter Verses blog editor. She is a wife and mom, and author of Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen, and co-author with her husband Steve of Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies. The Watterses have four children and are passionate about … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24