The Gaslight is On, Can Your Children Smell It?
Updated: Mar 31, 2022
Have you ever had someone in authority, a boss, coach, teacher try to convince you of something that just wasn't true? Was that same person trying to influence your children? Were they so convincing that you started to question your own judgement? There's a term for that, gaslighting. Wikipedia more specifically defines the term:
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group covertly sows seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. Gaslighting - Wikipedia
There are many ways people in authority attempt to manipulate the truth to make you doubt what you already know to be true. I recently saw a show "Beneath the Curve" about the Flat Earth Society. Their leaders appeal to "science" as the authority that says the earth is actually flat. In the video this ultimately falls short because when they conduct experiments they believe will prove a flat earth, they prove just the opposite. For those following the leader there now comes a moment of decision. Do they continue to accept their leader's authority on the subject or do they reject that authority.
2020 saw a rash of claims of Fake News attempting to discredit the authority of the major new media. The term gaslighting was regularly used to describe reports on either side of the political spectrum. As Christians, we'd like to think this is something only for the realm of politics, but it happens in our communities and even our churches more often than we may realize. In my own life, I remember a supervisor that regularly used what he claimed was our "shared faith" as a means of manipulation by twisting things ever so slightly for selfish reasons to get what he wanted. It took a great deal of discernment to sniff out the gaslighting and deal with it appropriately.
Have you ever had someone use mis-information to make you doubt the truth?
Our children are growing up in a world rife with this kind of manipulation, at a scale we couldn't imagine when we were their age. More importantly, as our society has become more secularized the basic assumptions we have about the world are being eroded at an unprecedented rate. Even the very definition of words are being rewritten in real-time to fit political agendas.
So how can we help our children recognize gaslighting is occurring and continue to make good choices despite the misinformation? I believe we must help our children
Knowing Truth - The bible admonishes parents "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. Deuteronomy 1:6-9 - KJV
Our children can't spot mis-information if they haven't heard the truth. So we have a duty to expose our children to The Word. Whether that's daily devotions, youth groups, or scripture based classes, our children must be exposed to the truth on an ongoing basis and see us consuming the word right along with them. Seeing us seeking God's truth in the Bible is one of the best ways for our children to know where truth is found.
Have you scheduled regular time for sharing Biblical truth with your kids beyond just sunday school?
Seeking Truth - Matthew 6:33 tells us to "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness;" and that all of our earthly needs will be given to us. I have to wonder if Jesus had been spending time around people constantly asking him "how is this going to happen" or "why should we do that?" It kind of reminds me of parenting a four or five-year-old and the dreaded "why" There's a phase all children go through where they just keep asking "why." It can get frustrating and eventually "why" turns into either "I don't know" or "Because I said so." Which at 4 or 5 years old may work, but when a child reaches 10 or 11 that won't cut it.
They are at a stage in life where they are beginning to reason for themselves and a simple, "I don't know" or "I said so" will drive them to find the answers on their own. At this stage in life it is important to stop and ask, what does the bible say? Then spend time with your child researching the subject with them. Start with "Is that actually in the Bible?" For example, I've heard people say "God helps those who help themselves" is scripture. In this age, we have amazing capabilities to look that up across versions of the Bible and know that regardless of the version you'll not find that phrase.
This then begs the question, "Well is that true even though it isn't explicitly stated?" At that point, you might search for what the Bible says about "work". Find various passages with that word in it and see what it directly says. Then read the context to make sure the snippet you found represents the full story and not just a one-liner. Many times I've seen the negative half of a Proverb taken to say the Bible supports something that in the context of the whole Proverb it's admonishing us to avoid.
Are you spending time with your tween reasoning through answers to tough questions rather than providing them directly?
Speaking Truth - Proverbs 8:7 "For my mouth shall speak truth, and wickedness is an abomination.” In this day and age, it can be very hard to speak the truth. With Social Media being our primary form of communication it’s easy to be misunderstood, maligned, and even "canceled" for speaking the truth. I believe that's why over and over again the Proverbs tell us not to engage with fools, and even Jesus told us to not "cast our pearls at swine" (Matthew 7:6). So it's important to help our children discern where speaking truth is required vs. something better left alone.
As my children have grown through their teen years I've approached the subject on two levels. Is this something they "must" speak truth into, and how best to speak that truth. In the "must" category are slander and outright lies about them or their behavior. That is an unfortunate reality of teen life.
However, we've also seen challenges of what's right and wrong with a spiritual spin. The first thing we ask our children is, "Is that person a believer?" While it's natural to want to defend our faith against attacks from the outside, in many cases the attacker falls into the category of a fool, and engaging would be folly especially in an open forum like Twitter. In these cases, we encourage our children to pray and seek God's guidance for their response, and more often than not they choose to disengage from the fool.
On the other hand, if that person is a believer the Bible is clear about the approach we should take to resolving the issue. Matthew 15 provides the approach to be taken. "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." -KJV
This can be challenging in the day of instant messaging and group chats. On more than one occasion my children have had private messages shared via a screenshot leading to a new conflict. So I do encourage them to wait for an in-person meeting or possibly the dreaded phone call to have these conversations rather than leaving something that was meant to be private in a medium where it can be spread all over the world.
How have you encouraged your child to speak the truth at the right time, the right way?
Conclusion - Remember that supervisor I mentioned that used spiritual talk as a means to gaslight me? He often pushed me using a hint of truth from the Bible to then twist it ever so slightly to try to get what he wanted. I was writing Light of Mine at the time. The following excerpt was my attempt to teach my children how to smell when the gaslight was on, and that they should, know, seek and speak the truth to combat it.
Lauren approached the stove and scooped the ashes off the top of the spider pot, which she pulled out of the smoldering coals and set on the table. She took the lid off and set the pot on a hot pad on the kitchen counter. The boys got bowls and spoons while she grabbed a wooden spoon and stirred the oatmeal.
Ethan climbed into his chair. He saw Meow-Meow come into the room and try to rub up against Lauren’s ankles, but Lauren nudged him away as she carried cups of water to the table. Meow-Meow next approached Aiden, but he too was busy putting bowls on the table. The only person standing still was the acolyte. Meow-Meow approached warily, not sure if this new person was friend or foe.
Ethan was really wondering the same thing.
The acolyte kept staring at Lauren, then the boys, acting all huffy. Finally, he asked, “What are you doing?”
“Getting lunch.” Lauren struggled to keep exasperation out of her voice. “Isn’t that what you told us to do?”
“That’s definitely not lunch,” the acolyte retorted. “I saw the smokehouse out back, so you must have ham or some bacon.” He pointed toward the cupboard. “This is a farm, isn’t it? Don’t you have potatoes? Now get the fire going and make a proper meal.”
The children stood stock-still, their mouths open. In all his life, Ethan had never eaten a cooked meal on the Sabbath. Mama and Daddy always said it was the Lord’s day and that they were to spend it resting and thinking about Him.
They made sure the animals were taken care of, but Ethan’s parents didn’t even eat themselves until sundown on the Sabbath. Mama said that oatmeal or porridge for breakfast and lunch was a mercy for her little ones, but someday they should fast, too.
“What on earth is the matter with you?” the acolyte asked. “You look at me as though I’ve sprouted two heads. The youngest acolytes always make the meals on the Sabbath. You clearly made porridge. What I’m asking for is no harder. Hop to it.”
The children stood silently. Ethan wondered what Sissy would do. Was this stranger really the boss of them? How would she explain the rules to somebody who should already know them anyway?
Meanwhile, Meow-Meow worked up the courage to creep closer to the acolyte and was only inches away from his legs. The kitten’s head turned from side to side, matching the rhythm of the tassels swaying at the bottom of the acolyte’s robe.
Lauren stepped forward. “Since you’re not from here, I can understand you not knowing our song, but how can you not know about keeping the Sabbath?”
“Oh, that.” The acolyte shook his head dismissively. “Child, when you have studied the Good Book as I have, under the tutelage of the best scholars, you begin to understand what it really means.” He put his hand to his chest and sighed. “The strict rules of the Old Book do not apply to us believers of the New Book. We are unbound from the rules of the first followers of God.”
The acolyte pointed to the Good Book next to Father’s chair in the great room. “If you knew your Good Book well, you’d know that even the Savior ‘worked’ on the Sabbath by healing a man.” He made a shooing motion with his hands. “Go! Do what I asked so we can have a proper meal.”
“Daddy wouldn’t like this.” Ethan squared his shoulders and made fists. “I don’t know about all the things you’re talking about, but I’m not going to do something Daddy wouldn’t like.”
“Me, neither,” Aiden declared, stepping between Ethan and the acolyte. Ethan was proud of his big brother stepping up to defend him.
“I’m with my brothers,” Lauren said as she stepped next to Aiden and put a hand on his shoulder in support. “You didn’t get the point of the story about the Savior’s healing on the Sabbath. Father told us, when he read it to us, that the religious leaders were trying to trap the Savior. They wanted an excuse to hurt Him.”
Lauren walked over to the Good Book, picked it up, and handed it to the acolyte. “Healing the man had to be God’s will, or the Savior wouldn’t have done it on the Sabbath. Show me where it is God’s will that we break the Sabbath so you can have pork and potatoes.”
If you would like to find out about additional spiritual concepts illustrated by "Light of Mine" you can find them in the free Light of Mine Unit Study.