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How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World

How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World

by Dave Stone

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Dave Stone shares creative ideas, real-life stories, and scriptural guidance about how to be a family that puts others first. 

In this third book from the Faithful Families series, How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World, Dave Stone continues to share his practical, conversational, and humorous approach to the challenges of


Dave Stone shares creative ideas, real-life stories, and scriptural guidance about how to be a family that puts others first. 

In this third book from the Faithful Families series, How to Raise Selfless Kids in a Self-Centered World, Dave Stone continues to share his practical, conversational, and humorous approach to the challenges of building a strong spiritual foundation for the family. He equips parents with what they need to raise kids whose focus is not always on themselves. Some topics include: Becoming Others Focused, Service, Generosity, Forgiveness, and much more. 

Preaching is his gift, but Pastor Dave Stone’s family is his life’s blessing. And after raising three kids of his own, as well as shepherding the diverse families of his twenty-thousand-member congregation, his heart and passion for building strong families rings louder than ever. He knows that raising faithful families is a vital key to continued growth of the church.

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Faithful Families
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how to raise selfless kids in a self-centered world


Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2012 Dave Stone
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4003-2139-1

Chapter One

Taking Aim

Be devoted to one another in love.

Romans 12:10

Matt Emmons was one shot away from claiming victory in the 2004 Olympics.

It was the 50-meter three-position rifle event. He didn't even need a bull's-eye to win. He just needed to hit the target. A slam dunk. A piece of cake. An expert marksman like Emmons could do it blindfolded, with one hand tied behind his back.

His shot should have scored an 8.1, more than enough for a gold medal. But in what was described as "an extremely rare mistake in elite competition," Emmons fired at the wrong target. Standing in lane two, he fired at the target in lane three.

His score for a good shot at the wrong target? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Instead of a medal, Emmons ended up with an eighth-place finish and a permanent position on the list of "The Top 10 Most Embarrassing Olympic Moments."

It doesn't matter how accurate you are if you're aiming at the wrong goal.

Keeping Your Eye on the Target

No parent leaves the maternity wing with the stated goal of raising that little bundle of joy to become a self-absorbed, spoiled brat who is oblivious to the needs of others. But even well-intentioned parents can lose their focus, and when they do, it affects their aim.

It's easy to let our focus be drawn away, to get caught up in the details and stresses of life, to give up or give in. We don't mean to let this happen any more than Matt Emmons intentionally shot at the wrong target. It just happens when we get distracted, when we're not paying attention, when we run out of time and energy and intentionality. When too many demands clamor for our attention.

We lose sight of the mark. We hit the wrong target. And we lose a whole lot more than a gold medal and a place in sports history.

If you want to hit the right target, you have to know what you're aiming at.

That sounds pretty simple, doesn't it?

It is simple. But it's not popular. It's not the way of modern American society. It's not even the way most Christians live in the world. The target is not success or happiness or financial security or personal fulfillment. It's not adulation or appreciation or applause. It's nothing more—and nothing less—than living out the example that Jesus gave us.

The target is raising children who are others-oriented.

And I assure you that you won't hit this goal by accident.

Husband, dad, and pastor Craig Groeschel says, "If you don't want your family to turn out like every other family, then you will need to raise them differently than everyone else." In other words, don't expect this to be easy. If you always do what you've always done, then you'll always get what you've always got.

Being others-oriented is about as countercultural as it gets. Self-centeredness is so prevalent in our world that we don't even recognize it anymore. We are a society of the entitled; we think we deserve whatever we have—and then some. It was true in Jesus' day, and it's still true in our own time: what matters most in this world are money, power, and self-exaltation.

How did we become such a spoiled, self-absorbed, entitled people? Well, think about it. We want the best of everything—the best house, the best car, the best job. If we can't afford it, we charge it because, after all, we deserve it.

Even if we haven't lived that way ourselves, it's all too easy to fall into the trap once we become parents. We treat our children as if they are the center of the universe. We want to give them everything we had—and more.

Before Children (BC), we all subscribed to the belief that we wouldn't call attention to the amazing feats of our offspring. But that vow goes out the window as soon as Junior smiles, rolls over, passes gas, or takes his first step. The universe screeches to a halt while two-year-old Amy spells her last name; everyone waits with unbridled anticipation to hear Jimmy burp his way through the alphabet. All eyes and ears turn to the precious, precocious offspring; friends and family take note and feign amazement.

While it's doubtful that any of these earth-shattering skills will appear on future résumés or win anyone a slot on America's Got Talent, she's your child, and therefore she's nothing short of spectacular. And spectacular, of course, deserves spectators.

Pavlov's Puppies

Remember studying Pavlov's experiments in psychology class? Ring the bell, put out the food. Ring the bell, put out the food. Doesn't take long before the dog starts salivating at the first ring of the bell whether or not the food is there. It's called conditioning.

And we condition our children. We teach our sons and daughters what to expect by the way we treat them. If they're constantly surrounded by a gushing audience, constantly told how wonderful they are, how will they learn to put others first? If everything they want magically appears on a silver platter, how are they going to learn the value of work and sharing and generosity?

No wonder American children grow up with an ego-driven worldview where everything centers around their selfish desires. No wonder your four-year-old throws tantrums, and your fourteen-year-old thinks the universe revolves around him.

Maybe your puppies are salivating because you keep ringing the bell.

A Society of Selfishness

Consider for a moment the evolution of America's most popular magazines of the past sixty years:

Time Life People Us Self Me

Pretty revealing, isn't it?

If our kids are growing up selfish and self-centered, it's because they are merely the by-product of us—of you and me. They observe our priorities and adopt our values. They sense that we lack both the backbone to say no to them and the resolve to teach them to care about others. So they take advantage of our permissiveness, our indulgence. Their attitudes reflect the way they've been conditioned.

The Jesus Target

Maybe it's time we took a step back and reevaluated. Maybe it's time to look beyond the selfishness of our culture and turn our focus back to Jesus. Maybe it's time to aim at a different set of values, to take a shot at living the way Jesus lived and teaching our children the way He taught. Simply stated, to consider others' needs before our own wants and to teach our children how to be godly, generous, giving people.

What will it take to turn the tide of selfishness—both for us and for our families?

Well, it's a process. It will demand intentional teaching, frequent modeling, and a lot of time. The practice of selflessness isn't easy, and sometimes it's even painful. Certainly it's hard to change life patterns and attitudes and ways of seeing. Your children will likely bristle and protest at first, but in time you will succeed in helping them understand. And if you do, I promise you that you will reap rewards for many years to come.

It's time to let go of the poor choices and past behaviors that have gotten us into this mess and make some potentially life-changing adjustments. As parents we have difficult decisions and challenges ahead of us; we have some hard questions to answer:

• How do we enable our kids to become others-oriented instead of consumed with getting everything they want and all the attention?

• How can we motivate them to set aside their video games and actually get involved in the life of a lonely neighbor or an overlooked child?

• How do we raise children who naturally honor others above themselves?

• What are some activities we could incorporate into daily life and some traditions we could establish that would help us raise selfless kids in a self-centered world?

If being others-oriented doesn't sound quite "normal," that's because it isn't. Our carnal, sinful nature longs for praise, attention, and accolades from others. The only place people don't want the front row is—you guessed it—in church.

Focusing on others doesn't happen by accident. In Romans 12, Paul challenged all Christians to be distinctive in how we interact with others. We're expected to be different: to show hospitality, to honor one another, to extend radical grace, to be inclusive, to help and honor one another, to be devoted to one another, to let our light shine.

In other words, Romans 12 calls us to be transformed. It sounds countercultural—because it is. You'll be swimming against the tide. But the earlier you start that swim, the easier it becomes.

A Word of Warning

Parents, prepare yourself. You're about to embark on a radical new way of being. You're about to disrupt your parenting and break away from cultural norms. You're about to do something that goes totally against the grain of American culture. If your goal is to keep the kids happy, spoil them rotten, and teach them to look out for number one, then put this book back on the shelf and use your money to buy your kid another gadget that will quickly end up in the back of the closet.

You have to be serious about this. Dr. Richard Dobbins says, "As long as a person can tolerate being the way they are, they are not likely to change. They may admit they need to change. They may even say they want to change ... but until the pain of remaining the same hurts more than the pain of changing, people prefer to remain the same."

Dr. Dobbins is right. We don't change when we see the light; we change when we feel the heat.

Here's my question: Do you want your children to grow up to fit society's acceptable mold—into a sheltered, egocentric existence with the focus primarily on self? If so, you won't be alone. The majority of our culture is content to raise children in a manner that caters to their whims and keeps them happy.

It's the easier way, that's for sure. But there's a downside to this approach:

• An unhealthy focus on your child will make life more difficult for the future spouse.

• Habitually giving your children whatever they want is more likely to lead to selfishness rather than service.

• An upbringing filled with indulgences yet void of boundaries creates insecurity instead of contentment.

• A child-centered home weakens your marriage.

Matt Emmons wishes he could have his final shot over again. Knowing what he knows now, his focus and aim would be much better.

A lot of parents would tell you the same thing: after the fact, when the time has passed to shape their children's values, they insist that their focus and aim would be much better if they could take another shot. But why wait until it's too late? Let's do it now, while we still have a chance to create families that are Christ-focused and others-centered.

Teaching children to look beyond themselves is a great target to shoot for. And the earlier you begin, the better the odds you'll hit the mark.

The challenges before us are clear: to take a stand against the self-absorbed, me-generation attitudes that hinder us from following Jesus. To teach our children to live openly and generously with others. To replace selfishness with selflessness and entitlement with encouragement.

Come, join me on this road less traveled. Together let's learn to place the spotlight on others through serving, giving, encouraging, forgiving, and accepting.

It won't be easy. But it will have an ongoing effect in the lives of our children and grandchildren. It will leave a rich legacy for those who come after us.

It might even change the world.

Chapter Two

Playing Second Fiddle

Practice playing second fiddle.

Romans 12:10 MSG

There I sat in the midst of the crowded theater listening to the orchestra. Not my normal Saturday night routine, I'll admit. But some of my friends felt that I needed a little culture, so there I sat, getting a healthy dose of sophistication.

Occasionally throughout the performance, the conductor would motion to a man who played the violin and have him stand. The crowd applauded wildly. When I left that night, I took with me not only my newfound "culture," but a whole bunch of questions as to what made that guy so special.

And let me tell you, I got an education. Turns out that guy was Michael Davis, the first-chair violinist, or concertmaster. Next to the conductor, he was the Macdaddy.

Shows you how much I know.

In time, Michael and I became good friends. But that first night I just saw him as the guy who got all the applause.

It's fun to be number one.

Not so much if you're second. The great conductor Leonard Bernstein was once asked, "What is the hardest instrument to play?" To which he replied, "Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm ... now that's a problem."

I wondered if that was literally true, or just a figure of speech. So I posed the question to my talented musician friend Michael: Is it really harder to play second-chair violin in an orchestra as opposed to first-chair?

I loved his answer. "Playing the notes isn't tougher musically," Michael said, "but you're doing a lot of the work in the background while someone else is getting the glory. First violinists get the attention; that's what makes playing second violin tough."

This musical metaphor offers an apt characterization of our culture: we don't handle it well when we do the same work but someone else gets more of the glory.

Someone once said, "It's amazing what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit." These words have been attributed to both the iconic UCLA basketball coach John Wooden and to NASCAR owner Robert Yates. How wonderfully ironic that we don't quite know who to give the credit to!

Whichever man said it, you and I'd do well both to live by that truth and teach it to our children. Yet this is one of the biggest challenges for us as parents: to raise kids who accept that they don't deserve first-chair treatment.

Kids whose disposition and joy are not tied to their personal opportunities, possessions, or circumstances.

Kids who go to great lengths and derive genuine joy from elevating others.

Kids who realize that their sole purpose on earth is to glorify God and honor others.

People are more important Than Things

Make no mistake: this transformation starts with you. If you give your smartphone more attention than you give your loved ones, don't be surprised when video games and Facebook outrank you in your child's eyes.

And don't expect society to be in your corner. Our acquisition-hungry culture equates worth with possessions and responsibilities. The more you have, the more you spend, the more you own, the more value you have in the world's eyes.

Your children will never move toward honoring others until they genuinely believe that you value people over things. And without this solid foundation, all of the principles and ideas in this book are nothing more than wishful thinking.

So how do you teach your kids that people are more important than things?

By believing it yourself.

By living it.

When my kids started driving, I felt prompted to assure them that they were more important than the car itself. We hope our kids know that, but a little reinforcement never hurts, especially during that first year as your teen is strangling the steering wheel with sweaty fingers. Accidents happen, and sometimes the car goes faster than we intend. So I placed in the glove compartment, clipped to the car's registration and insurance card, the following note:

If you have found this document, it means either a police officer has pulled you over, or you have been in an accident. First, I hope you are okay and that no one was hurt. But I also hope you will hear my voice saying to you, "You are more important to me than any car."

Cars can be painted and fixed. Sometimes people can't. I love you and hope you are okay. Give me a call when the cop leaves so that I will know that you are.

Love, Dad

PS, If you were speeding, I hope you learned your lesson. Never forget the beating of your heart when you saw the flashing lights in your rearview mirror.

(At least I've heard people say the heart rate increases. I wouldn't know!)

Those words might sound hokey, but in that tense moment the message won't seem that way to your teenager. It will communicate that you value people above things, that you value him or her above a car.

Enough about You ... Let's Talk about me

Years ago a popular sitcom featured the character Stephanie Vanderkellen who was a self-consumed, spoiled rich girl raised to be the center of attention. On one show she was rambling on and on about herself and then suddenly stopped and quipped, "Well, enough about me! Let's talk about you ... What do you think about me?"

Pretty funny in a sitcom, but not when it plays out in your home.


Excerpted from how to raise selfless kids in a self-centered world by DAVE STONE Copyright © 2012 by Dave Stone. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dave Stone is senior pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, where he preaches Truth to more than 22,000 people each weekend. He and his wife, Beth, have three children: Savannah, Sadie, and Sam, and a son-in-law, Patrick. Dave believes the most practical way to spread the gospel is through moms and dads who model a genuine faith for their children.

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