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Balancing Parental Protection vs. Training

April 28, 2013

Loving Christian parents want the best for our children. We want them to grow up to love the Lord, their spouse and children. We want our young men confident, ready to lead their families, capable and ready for the world, but not corrupted by it. We want our young ladies poised, steadfast to Biblical femininity and committed to their husband and children. We want more than can be written in 1000 blogs for our children in their future lives. And we are responsible to “train them up in the way they should go” (Prov 22:6).

The responsibility can feel extremely heavy, until we realize that the Lord is sovereign over our children, and that especially once He becomes Lord of their lives, He will carry them into the future. If we’re following His Word, He will bless our efforts as their parents both in our Training and Protection of them. And we’re further helped in this if we realize this truth:

Training and Protection can be competing goals for parents

Training should include discipleship and academic instruction – preparing children for their future role as adults. This should include an awareness of flawed beliefs and worldviews they will be exposed to in the world – such as I propose in my Worldview Course Reading List. This is one category where training can compete with protection. Consider the risk though, if training is insufficient – e.g. that the first our children ever hear about Evolution is from a staunch atheist presenting their one-sided view!

A more subtle component of Training is around secular activities not conflicting against Christianity but which are “connectors to the world”. Should our kids play sports? Should they watch TV and movies? Should they have video games? Should they get cell-phones? Should they access the internet? How much “fun” is ok for its own sake? The urge to Protect can be very strong for parents on these questions, as many of these things can easily expose our kids to evil. On the other hand, if the evil is not suffused but only comes with the misuse of these activities, a complete block can feel arbitrary both to the parents and the children.

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.” — Colossians 3:21

This is an area where Christians come to different decisions (rightly in many cases, given the specific weaknesses/needs of their children). Generally though restrictions placed without a theological reason are an overstep of Protection and, sadly often have the reverse intended result: things can take on a shiny mystique to children to whom they are denied – a mystique which may actually lead to more mental attention being paid to it (in the form of wishing, fantasizing, curiosity) than would have been present after a controlled introduction and limited access.

Worse than that, true rebellion can occur once the child is grown and gains access to these things; their adult life may become a process of “making up for lost time” leading to abuse and resentment. This is a risk with evil things as well, of course – e.g. drugs, sexual promiscuity – but the conviction of the Holy Spirit will validate the parents in those cases. Escape from over-protections has no such “fencing” for young adults. I know of one tragic case where after breaking free of restrictions at age 18, a young man has not spoken to his Christian parents or siblings since; his feelings of being “robbed” of a proper childhood outweigh now all of the positive things his parents taught him. If a parent can’t explain a prohibition based on scripture without stretching out beyond it to what-if worst case possibilities, finding the right balance of Training and Protection bears careful consideration, study and prayer.

Controlled participation in “World Connectors” is a balance of Training and Protection

A controlled exposure to these “connectors to the world” insures that they do not develop an unhealthy mystique for the child, while enabling the parent to explain the parameters of acceptable use which can benefit them the rest of their lives. A few examples of this:

  • Sports offer a chance to learn diligence, courage, teamwork, coordination, etc. while enabling your children to put their natural energy to use building fun memories. Coach them Dad! Take control of the team’s culture, insure no bad behavior/language is tolerated and the experience is positive for all. Demonstrate leadership in the world to your children, and to the world for your other players/parents. In a recent sermon, John MacArthur made a point about the wonderful opportunity young people have as they play sports – and their families/friends as they watch – to be counter-cultural. After making a great play – instead of the expected self-focused celebration, a Christian athlete has a stage set to shine a light very publicly. Choosing to point to a teammate who made the great block, or who passed them the ball, etc. and take none of the limelight for their own glory. Parents in the stands who might be expected to clap themselves on the back and talk about their child’s abilities might instead point out other teammates’ and coaches’ contributions to the success achieved. Is there any doubt of the powerful message this would send?
  • Clearplay – a DVD player which filters out inappropriate violence/sexual scenes and mutes curse words. Without these components many PG, PG-13 and even some R-rated movies (e.g. Braveheart, Schindler’s List) are watchable with children. The caution above about being purposeful in % of time spent in fun/entertainment applies here and to all forms of media, but carefully selected movies supporting your worldview can combine entertainment with education and inspiration – and prevent that unhealthy mystique.
  • Parental controls on TV – it is a topic frequently debated in Christian circles whether to have a TV in your home at all. I believe having one enables you to watch inspiring shows supporting your worldview (e.g. some religious programming, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, 19 Kids and Counting) and selected sports – and not much else. To me there is wisdom in having a TV just to have the opportunity to demonstrate to our kids how little we need it and how not a big deal it is. The lockdown on parental controls is critical though to remove the temptation for sneaky access.
  • Choosing non-gory and intellectually stimulating video games – there are many video games on the market today that are no more evil than any board game or card game. Sports-based games, car racing and puzzle/stategy games all avoid the “shoot everything you see / take what you can get” mode of the hugely popular games selling millions of copies. Continuing with the theme of other media, making careful choices in this area and limiting time spent on “fun for its own sake” provide parents a great opportunity to give kids a mental model of how to think about these technologies when they are grown, with no evil or corruption let in.
  • Going to the library – this may be a surprising entry on the list, but monitoring what kids look at inside the library, and of course what they check out, is a necessary counter-balance to the benefit of getting them acclimated to how libraries are setup and how to find resources. One risk is that the hugely popular books (e.g. Twilight series, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, even Stephen King horror novels) are often actually advertised within the library. Many of these books push a postmodern/nihilistic worldview and include extreme violence and adult content that makes some parents blush – and yet they are targeted directly at teens and pre-teens. You cannot even trust them to wander in the children’s section, which may include “progressive” brainwashing books (Johnny’s two mommies, etc.) that undermine your values. The same concern should be doubled in a bookstore.
  • Cell-phones and internet – Parental controls are key just as with TV to remove strong temptations your children may otherwise feel. Cell-phone use should be monitored via carrier reports and also just looking periodically at their phones. Internet access should absolutely be filtered, and ideally personally monitored by the parent, and directed toward legitimate school purposes. Cell-phones have a practical benefit particularly when kids are old enough (we’ve chosen 13) to be apart from parents with their friends in certain social settings, but time to access them should be restricted to avoid distraction during school, family time and bedtime. For both of these technologies, the risk of shiny mystique is enormous if completely restricted, so finding the right approach is critical for parents.
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Examining children’s activities for situations needing Full Protection

For parents in any era, Protecting our children is an important responsibility equal in weight with our Training duty. In our contemporary era, it is even more critical with the growing number of worldly influences against which the protection is needed. Particularly for parents who were raised in the government school system, this is sometimes a challenge to step outside what has been considered “normal”.

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:5

Taking just one example to illustrate the point: Should teenagers of either gender ever go to water parks where everyone’s body is on display? Is a day of fun down the water slides worth planting a decade’s worth of bikini images in our teenage sons’ minds? – or placing our teenage daughters bodies under the microscope for every man walking by – making them self-conscious in exactly the way we never want them to feel, no matter how modest their swimsuits? This is just one example of activities that many parents grew up considering perfectly normal (my church youth group made trips to water parks multiple times per year!) We must step back and attempt to see everything in our life as God would have us see it.

But the risks don’t stop at polluting their minds. As a counter-point to parents who “don’t want their kids live in fear”, consider the real physical risks our children are exposed to in our lost world. Even since “Stranger Danger” awareness was raised in the 1980s the number of abductions and molestations has increased in the U.S. Our family has had a standing rule since the kids were out of diapers – no child ever goes to the restroom by themselves. Even after they are aware of sexual perversions, even our teenagers try always to have someone else go with them to the restroom.
Tragically standing in as a twisted replacement of the procreation they forego, molestation is a common childhood nightmare wellspring for a majority of homosexuals. Why run this risk?

Better than “living in fear” is “living protected and safe”. These precautions can be taken without introducing fear to young children – they are simply “family rules”.

“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” — Ephesians 6:4

The parental responsibility of Training and Protection compete at times, creating a spectrum of alternative approaches for raising children. As parents seeking to follow and honor God, we must navigate these choices in a challenging world. With the Word of God as our standard we can rise to this challenge, make our best efforts and trust in the Lord to redeem our mistakes.

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