My oldest son is getting closer and closer to Jr. High. OH MY! Does this ever give me heart palpitations. Jr. High was a rough time for me. I felt lost through quite a lot of it. I didn't have a lot of confidence and found myself seeking whatever friends would take me.
I have learned throughout my life that friends can have a profound impact on our lives. The people we choose to spend our time with contribute to molding our character. L. Tom Perry, in the February 1993 New Era said,
"The friends we choose to associate with are main contributing factors in the formation of our character. We form social habits by association with our friends. These habits can be useful when directed towards the formation of a wholesome personality.
I have found that the right friends have a powerful influence on your life. Choose your friends wisely. Make certain they will help build within you the right standards with which to govern your life."
I wanted to impress upon my kids minds how vital choosing good friends would be in their lives. This was the object lesson we came up with.....
(I have to apologize for the picture quality. My camera was out of town with my hubby and the cell phone was all we had. Not great, but better than nothing! :) )
These 4 bowls of water represent different interests people may have. I had the kids name a few interests that different people may have. We had a group that liked video games and movies, a group that liked driving and race cars, a group that like sports and a group that liked games.
We filled each bowl with pre-cooked pasta. The noodles were representations of people, or friends. We talked about how usually we make friends based on having similar interests as they do. We talked about how it was good to be kind and friendly to everyone, not just those that we spent the most time with, because of our similar interests.
Then we started talking about what happens when a person or two in our group of friends start to make bad choices. As I dropped a few drops of blue food coloring in one bowl we talked about how one of the friends in this group started using cuss words to express himself. Little by little, others started making this same choice.
Before long these choices started to affect, or change the character of each of the friends in the group. There was a little guy that didn't like the cussing, but liked spending time with his friends. We talked about how he decided he was going to stick with the group, but he wasn't going to get caught up in the same bad habits his friends were involved in. Before long, he too was starting to get stained from the bad choices being made in this group.
We talked about how perhaps because the boy was surrounded by these words all of the time, they were the words that came to mind when he got upset and before he knew it a few of them had made their way into his vocabulary.
This group was our video game & movie group. These guys got caught up in playing video games that were violent and movies that were filled with inappropriate language, violence, etc.
Our red guys were getting caught up in drugs, smoking & alcohol. (You can, of course, adjust each groups "sins" based on your feelings and your kids age. Remember, kids are exposed to things MUCH younger. Go bold with this. Bold, but appropriate. If your kids don't hear this from you first, where would you like them to hear it from? Their peers?)
This group is our group of friends that have committed to each other to not allow these sort of bad choices to define them. They lovingly encourage each other to stay clean. They have found that life is MUCH more fun without the cussing, drugs & inappropriate games and movies.
I took one of the noodles from the "good" bowl. He decided he wanted to hang out with the blue group. They had similar interests and he was certain he could spend time with them without getting trapped in the same bad habits. In fact, he thought that he could actually become good friends with them, hang out with them all of the time and maybe they would choose to follow his example and stop making the choices they were making.
Little by little their choices started to define his character. As he was in the center of it, the things they were doing didn't seem so bad and little by little he started making similar choices.
Before long, those choices became a central part of the definition of his character. He was blue.
This was a great opportunity to talk about helping others and setting a good example. It is SO important to do these things. So how do we do it without getting caught in it ourselves. I asked the kids if they thought it would be easier to help a friend out of a deep pit from down in the pit with them, or from the ground above. They chose the ground above. We talked about throwing them a rope, a ladder, etc. The were so many options, but from inside the pit, our only option was being stuck and needing to be rescued ourselves.
I told them that I once had a very good friend that I loved so much. We had been good friends for most of our lives. She was always a good example to me. One day I met a boy that I really liked. I started to date him. My friend knew that his friends weren't the kind of friends she wanted to spend time with. I knew it wasn't a good choice, but I liked the boy I was dating. I promised I wouldn't make any of the choices they were making and kept spending all of my time with them. A while later I could see that my life had changed. I wasn't making choices that were allowing me to stay close to the spirit. I wanted out.
I didn't see my friend much during that time of my life. She didn't want to get involved with the new friends I was spending my time with. When I did see her, I could feel how much she loved me. She helped me remember that these choices weren't the real me. I felt sad about the choices that I had made and I wanted help to get out of them. My good friend was getting married soon. She invited me to her bridal shower. I remember how happy she was to see me. She was about to get married in the temple. I could see the example that she was setting. She didn't know it, but that night was an answer to my prayers. I was in the pit. She was casting me a ladder through her love and example. She helped me out. I let my friends know that I had to change my life and that I couldn't spend time with them anymore. It was hard, because I enjoyed them personally, but the choices we were making all together couldn't be a part of my life anymore.
Although it was a hard thing to do, it was the best choice I had ever made! I was so thankful for such a good friend that set such a good example to me! If she had started coming with us and got down in the pit with me, we both would have been lost. But she didn't. She kept trying to send down help. That is the kind of friend WE need to be.
I gave the kid a noodle and told them that it represented them. They got to pick the group of friends they wanted to be with.
We also discussed how sometimes in our lives it will feel like we are alone. Maybe all of our friends are making bad choices and we feel like we don't have any friends. We talked about how no matter what, we always have our family and we always have the Lord. Those are the important relationships that last forever. They said that they would rather be on their own than getting stained in the other groups.
And then my son Jake took this whole lesson to the next level. That is what he tends to do.
We talked about how we can always repent and have these sins washed clean from us. We read,
"Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."
Jake asked if we could spray bleach on the red noodle to represent the Atonement cleaning our sins. I didn't know that it would work, but I thought it would be worth a try.
It totally worked! It wouldn't work on the green or blue, but totally worked on the red! Great! It goes with the scripture perfectly! :)
The Atonement is the most important part of all of this lesson. We all make choices that we wish we wouldn't have, at one time or another. Some more severe than others. The important thing for our kids to understand is that there is ALWAYS a way out and a way to be washed clean and it is only through the power of our Saviors Atonement.
I am so glad we did this lesson! Mallory talked about it for days after! It will be something we repeat often. Perhaps each year just before school starts!
Let me know how it goes for you, or if you come up with any variations. I always love hearing other ideas!