The stream of tough topics for parents to explain can feel unending: social unrest, hate crimes, natural disasters … the pandemic. Many children and teens have struggled to process what they see at school, in their neighborhoods and on the news.
The Williams family, of Harlem, have found this to be true of their neighborhood. Parents Michael and Sharene include racism, crime and violence among their concerns. Due to these worries, they sometimes need to be careful about deciding whether or not it is safe to leave their home.
“It’s part of day-to-day living,” Sharene said. “You don’t want to be outside too late,” added their oldest son, 18.
Their youngest son, 13, added that the simple sight of someone running could be enough to trigger a spark of concern. “It turns out he was just trying to catch the bus,” he said regarding one such incident. But for him, seeing someone run is a possible indication of panic. “I hate the idea of panic,” he said. “He’s only across the street from me. What am I going to do if something’s going on?”
In an ever-changing and challenging world, experts recommend regular family discussions to help young ones build resilience.
“Good communication is essential for a child’s survival in this world,” said James Wright, a family counselor and conflict resolution mediator. “Why not have a family discussion once a week and talk about what’s going on in your lives?”
For the Williams family, disturbing news, although a daily reality, is not to be ignored. When serious topics come up, “they always spark conversation,” said Michael. “Those conversations alleviate some of the anxiety,” he added. They have, in fact, become a part of the Williams family routine.
The Williams are not alone in holding to a set time to have family discussions. For nearly two decades, families of Jehovah’s Witnesses like theirs around the world have been encouraged to make “family worship” an uninterrupted weekly routine.
“For many of our families, their weekly discussions are among the most important hours of the week,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “It has brought thousands of our families closer together and helped children feel safe and loved.”
For all four Williams, family worship is a priority.
“We’ve put together a schedule for what we’ll do on a weekly basis,” Michael said, adding that his family follows a monthlong family worship agenda, with a different activity taking place each week.
Sharene added that if their routine is ever disrupted, they make sure to push family worship up to an earlier date rather than back.
All four family members feel that this effort has yielded positive results.
Sharene commented that family worship time has helped her see her sons as “thinking individuals.” She feels blessed to see them learn to reason from the Bible on how to deal with their issues. “They are learning how to think through problems,” she said, adding that sometimes the boys even help her and Michael with their own concerns.
“We get to learn from their perspectives,” added Michael.
"I think 2021 has had some of the most difficult times for a family,” the oldest son said. He added that family worship has helped him in practical ways, such as in handling interpersonal conflicts.
“I find family worship refreshing,” the youngest son said. “It’s like a charger for my spiritual battery.”
In 2009 Jehovah’s Witnesses reduced their midweek meetings from two to one, freeing up an evening each week for families to enjoy such time together.
“Meeting in large groups for worship is a Bible command, but the Bible also tells parents to make time to talk with their kids,” said Hendriks. “The change to our weekly meetings helped families to prioritize unhurried Bible discussions tailored to their needs.”
All four Williams family members have found jw.org, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Bible-based website, to be a valuable resource in their family worship program. Sharene praised the site for its ease of use, commenting that it has been a helpful tool to help her sons research topics that are of interest to them. “I think it’s wonderful because we’re all living this New York City minute,” she said, “and you can really find information quickly.”
One of her favorite resources is a whiteboard animation video called “How to Beat a Bully Without Using Your Fists.”
All in all, Sharene feels that family worship is an excellent use of her family’s time. “Having children, we know that time moves very fast, and you have to put the time into them,” she said. “Family worship lets you sit down in this fast-paced world and talk to your children, let them express themselves and then get answers from the Bible to help them in their day-to-day life. There’s nothing more important than that.”