“Protecting” your kids

The over-protective mom or dad has become a stereotype in our culture.  It typically goes something like this…

Little Johnny is never allowed to do anything – really.  He might get hurt.  He might see something his little eyes can’t handle.  He might hear something that his little ears will not like or pick up some tone of voice that his mom and dad don’t want him to have.  He can’t play with other kids, cause they are a “bad influence.”  He can’t watch TV (with the exception of “Sesame Street”) – there’s too much bad stuff on there.  In fact, mom and dad may not even have a TV in the house, just to make sure.  There’s NO WAY he’ll be able to watch a movie at a friend’s house because mom and dad have to preview it first.  And if it’s rated anything more than “G” then he won’t see it – ever.  What happens to little Johnny?  He grows up knowing absolutely NOTHING about the world he lives in, except that it’s supposed to be perfectly comfortable and designed for HIM!  When he get out of the house, he’s in for a HUGE surprise, and often goes off the deep end or the cliff of morality for quite some time.

My characterization is extreme – I grant you that – though various parts of it are evident in the attitude of parents across the globe.  The desire is GOOD – REALLY GOOD!  Protect our kids, keep them safe, preserve the innocence and purity that is a wonderful part of childhood.  There’s nothing wrong with the desire to do that.  BUT…

I believe you can go overboard and not even know it.  You are doing your best to take care of and provide for your children and unknowingly are doing the very opposite – because you are not thinking it through from a perspective of wisdom.  Now please understand what I’m saying… when they are young (birth to 5) – they NEED to be sheltered from a lot of the ugly stuff of life (inappropriate movies/TV/music, foul language, adult-sized situations such as homosexuality, sex, etc.).  But as your kids begin to develop as a person and as an intellectually competent person (6 to 18) they NEED to begin learning about the REALITY of the world we live in, in age-apppropriate and progressively increasing ways.

I’m not saying they need to experience it personally in all situations or that you dump everything on them on their 6th birthday!  I am saying that they need to be taught (by YOU the parent) about the world, in a way that fits where they are in their development, and how to think about it and live in it in a Godly way. I don’t believe you should allow teenage Johnny to watch “R” rated movies with no supervision or parental approval.  I don’t think you should abandon all standards just because he’s “older.”  Neither do I condone the idea of “let him make is own way in the world.”  (How much more foolish could a parent be?)  But I do think that you have to figure out how to progressively teach him to adopt Godly standards as HIS OWN – and to apply them wisely.

A favorite parenting verse is “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  (Proverbs 22:6) The operative word is TRAIN.  It implies a plan.  It implies diligent thought and foresight (on the part of the parent).  It implies that you, the parent are intentional about guiding the child from the naive and innocent realm of childhood into the informed and mature realm of adulthood – and the greater assumption (since the verse is in the Bible) is that the maturity you are shooting for is a Godly perspective that flows from Godly wisdom.

I can give a few examples, right and wrong…

  • WRONG: 5 or 6 year old Janie’s parakeet “Tweety” died.  Mom and Dad found him stiff as a board one morning.  They flushed him – then told Janie that he got out of his cage and flew out the window  (after all, she’s too young to deal with a harsh reality like death, not to mention that those who are to be the example are perpetrating a lie for the sake of “sparing” their child.  That should tell us something right there!)
  • RIGHT: Mom and Dad take the opportunity to talk about the reality of death with little Janie through the opportunity affored by little Tweety’s demise.  They tell her what God says about death (and it’s NOT that parakeets go to heaven – don’t forget about the lying bit…).  They hold her as she cries.  They tell her what death is like for those who trust in Christ.  It’s much better for her to get a little experience under her belt saying “good-bye” to Tweety than it would be if the first time she had to face this reality was when Grandma, or Mom, or Dad died suddenly.  This way Mom and Dad are alongside, helping her know how to respond.  Helping her handle her emotions correctly.  Helping her humble herself under God’s sovereign choices about life and death.  She’s better off learning it early.  She’s better off learning it with loving and wise parents alongside to guide her.  That produces wise children.

 Here’s another…

  • WRONG: 8 year old Josh hears something from a friend about his 9th grade brother who was “making out” with his girlfriend.  When he asks Mom and Dad about it they tell him that the boy and his girlfriend were just talking, “making” some sense “out” of some issues.  (Afterall, he’s too young to learn about kissing, sex, etc. – once again, a lie…)
  • RIGHT: Mom and Dad feel that since Josh asked, and they try to be honest in all things, it’s time for him to know, in an approriate way for who he is and his development (Mom and Dad should be aware of what that level is better than anyone else).  So Mom and Dad give him a very basic idea of what “making out” is.  Kissing each other.  They tell him that it’s not appropriate for kids that age to be doing those kinds of things – because God tells us to flee from those kinds of things until we are married.  If Josh asks more questions (“Why would they do that?  Is it fun?, etc.) then Mom and Dad recognize that he’s ready to know a little bit more (and he’ll find it out a WRONG attitude and definition of it somewhere else if they don’t give him the PROPER understanding of it.)  So they tell him more.

Now for one with a kid a bit older…

  • WRONG: 12 year old Bobby is not allowed to watch a “PG” or “PG-13” movie that Mom and Dad saw solely because there is a guy in it who has a bad attitude and yells at God in frustration as he’s struggling through issues in his life.  They don’t want him to think that kind of behavior is “O.K.”  – and they surely don’t want him to pick up that kind of attitude or behavior himself, so they simply forbid him from watching it.
  • RIGHT:  Mom and Dad watch the movie with Bobby and pause at points to discuss what they are seeing.  They talk about how life is hard, even as a Christian.  They talk about the reality that all Christians have at least one time in their life where they feel just like the guy in the movie – a time where they don’t understand what God is doing in their lives, are disappointed, or are discouraged.  It’s not going to damage your kids to admit to them that Christianity is not a cure-all for the pains of the human condition!  IF they have you to walk them through a mature understanding of God’s faithful care IN SPITE of those hurts.  It won’t damage them if YOU are there to teach them how God uses the hard times and difficulties in life.  They need to learn from YOU that God’s ways are not our ways, they are higher.  YOU help Bobby understand that God works all things together for our GOOD, even the bad stuff.  YOU explain what a Godly response would be in a situation like the guy faced in the movie.  It’s better for YOU, the Mom or Dad to use a piece of fiction to help Bobby grapple with some life-long issues rather than avoiding it through overprotection as long as he’s under your roof – and then seeing him hit the ground in college and not know what to do when he feels angry at God for the first time.  That’s the fertile soil from which apostasy and prodigal-Bobbys grow.

What’s my point in all of this?  I’m addressing things I’ve seen happen in real parenting situations – things that I think are more than protecting the child – they are handicapping.  When we shelter our children too much, we don’t equip them, we don’t “train” them, we don’t come alongside them as we should and help them deal with life and the world that they are being raised in.  Instead, we shelter them inside a Christian bubble and refuse to let the harsh reality of this world touch them.  They grow up thinking they are confident and “ready” for life (and the parents think they are too) but they soon find out that when they hit the real world they are very ill-equipped.

Kids raised in an environment that is too sheltered respond in a variety of ways when they discover that they weren’t adequately prepared to live as Christians in a world that is corrupt.  Some get really angry and bitter toward Mom and Dad for sheltering them too much.  In their immaturity they lash out, saying that their parents were too “strict” when the reality is that they weren’t adequately prepared for life.  Others feel “cheated” and dive right into every experience they were denied the moment they are out on their own.  Still others struggle with panic attacks, stress problems, lack of self-confidence, timidity, etc.  The truth is that Mom and Dad, with the best of intentions, did them a terrible disservice.

We need to raise “wise” children – not sheltered ones.  We need to raise Godly, mature children, not ignorant, immature ones.  With God’s help, we can do so…

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10 thoughts on ““Protecting” your kids

  1. Hi Carey,

    I totally agree with your comments here. As you know, our 17 year old is planning on going away to college next year. I’ve heard many times of students, raised in strong Christian families, going totally against the principles they were taught once they are out from under their parent’s protection – even when they are attending a Christian college.

    Mike and I are trying to use every opportunity during this last year with our son to prepare him for being on his own. He recently started working in sales in a high end store where competition between the associates is encouraged. When he initially came home frustrated with the attitudes of his boss and co-workers, I admit I would have preferred for him to give up this particular job, but now I have come to realize that this environment is a God given training opportunity for him to learn to represent Christ in every situation.

    One comment regarding R, PG-13, and even some PG rated movies. I know you weren’t condoning allowing our teens to see every movie, but I did want to say that I believe this is an area where parents need to be especially diligent. Mike and I have been renting some older movies that we enjoyed when we were 1st married thinking that Matt would also enjoy them now that he is older. We are appalled that there is so much garbage in these movies and that we never noticed it before we watched them with Matt. I think many adults have become desensitized to evil content to the point where they don’t even see it and, therefore, think an inappropriate movie is ok for their children. I believe this is a huge parenting issue and would love to see you address it in a future blog :-).

    Even if we try our best, there is no way for us to protect our children from every bad thing in life. We attended a rodeo last Saturday night and a woman sitting behind us (with about 6 teenagers in tow) had a very loud, and long, cell phone conversation with her boyfriend in which she called him foul names and discussed the fact that he was married. There were many families sitting close to us. I doubt they were planning on having their small children overhear that particular discussion.

    Thank you so much for continuing to send your thoughts out to us. I know it must take up a good amount of time and wanted you to know that it is appreciated.

  2. Thanks for the comment Laurie. Yes, you are right. I was in NO WAY implying that we should allow our older children “carte blanche” with movie choices. We still have to be vigilant and mindful of teaching them the “why” behind the standard, not only the standard. I agree with you about the movie selections, we’ve had the same experience with older movies. I guess it shows how un-discerning we were in our youth, huh?

    Your example with your son is a perfect example of doing it RIGHT! Thanks for being a wise parent!

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with this post. My oldest son is 6 and he’s just beginning to ask questions about the world that exists outside our home. The days of Curious George and Winnie the Pooh are quickly coming to an end. When I tell him he can’t see something or that something is a “grown up show” he wants to know why. When I tell him he has to eat his broccoli, he wants to know why. It is a day to day challenge to decide what he is ready for and what he is not. But we are learning that the more informed he is, the more likely he is to understand and agree with our position.

  4. Thanks for the comment scrabblenut!

    Yes, you get it! But the main key is that we are informing them with “wisdom” – with a mature perspective from one who has been around the block a few times. When they know your heart of love is behind it all (they have to learn that from your example) then they tend not to rebel, even as teens (I’m seeing that right now). Keep up the good work!

  5. What an awesome post. Well written and very informative. My daughter is 2 and not yet at the asking phase – but I want to know how to handle these situations when she grows up.

    My parents always seemed to sweep stuff under the rug and I found out a lot of things from friends.

    I want nothing more than my daughter to grow up strong and intelligent. As her father, I feel a strong sense of mentoring her the right way. I hope I can remember tips like these over the coming years.

    Thanks for taking the time to put this together.

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