This past week, Dante emailed me asking if his recent post I Am Free To Be Me came off as too harsh or judgmental. The post talked about a familiar topic here at Legacy Dad - parenting in the world but not of it and raising kids who are compassionate versus judgmental and hypocritical. Here are my comments from an email to Dante. Dante thought I should share these comments with our entire Legacy Dad community.
My wife and I walk a fine line between in the world and of the world with our kids. I guarantee some of our friends and other parents in our church do not agree with this parenting choice. Many Christian parents cloister their children from the world out of fear that the world will influence or somehow infect their Christian children. To some extent, I agree with them. At younger ages (under 12) I say protect them as much as possible and to use these years to build a solid Christian foundation in our children. However, at some point, they are going to be faced with the culture and living in the world. Our goal has always been to build a solid Biblical foundation within our children so when they do come face to face with the fallen world, they will make the right choices and default to their Christian morals and values.
Unless we raise our kids in a hermetically sealed Christian environment (which I don’t recommend) sadly these days, they will often be the anomalies among their peers. Most of my children’s peers for the past 5 years have had no relationship with Christ or a superficial relationship at best. But rather than only allowing our kids to associate with other Christian kids, we've encouraged them to build bridges and relationships with their non-Christian friends.
My wife and I’s approach is to raise kids who are in the world everyday and who are a light to their peers. As a result, our kids are accepted by both the Christian crowd and the non-Christian crowd, which both have their positives and negatives. To date, my kids have been exposed to drug and alcohol use, sexual activity, explicit media, etc. all via their peers both Christian and non-Christian. However, rather than choosing to take part in these activities, they abstain from them and do what is morally right. In many cases, they have won the respect of others because of their faith and morals. Almost daily, we talk as a family about their struggles and their peers making destructive choices.
I'll be the first one to admit, many Christian parents are not comfortable with this environment, yet we are taking this approach to show our kids that they can live in the world but not be of the world. Even though our kids are exposed to the world, they continue to choose not to succumb to the sins of it. In our opinion, this is preparing them for life. When they leave our home, they will be exposed to all the evils of the world and they will be able to make whatever choices they want. My wife and I are trying to give them a track record of dealing with these issues and choosing not to sin over a several years rather than throwing them to the wolves in college or when they leave our home.
I think a great metaphor is modern video games. Many researchers think first person shooter games teach and influence kids to kill. Just as many researchers say it does not. My opinion is that it is not the games but the child's moral foundation that predicts whether someone would be influenced by this form of media or not. When my son turned 13, he wanted to start playing these games because most other boys were playing them. When I questioned my son about this, his answer was that "a game was fantasy not reality". He said, "in reality, killing is wrong and a sin but killing is also a reality in our fallen world." Both our kids understand that all forms of media – games, television, and music is not a reflection of reality but fantasy or someones lens of a particular situation, often with an underlying message that may be biased or have an influential agenda.
When it comes to media, my kids have repeatedly illustrated to my wife and I that they understand that many of these people are not role models but lost people without Christ living in a fallen world. My kids moral compass tells them that this is crude entertainment and not a reflection of God nor reality. One might argue, why not just filter all their content and not expose them to any of this in the first place? In my opinion, it's because we are teaching and allowing our children to make their own choices and reinforcing the idea that when you are confronted with this type of media, they have a choice to make and they have to decide whether this is glorifying God or not. We could filter and control their lives but they are already seeing and dealing with these choices by living everyday in our fallen world.
I honestly believe that if you build the foundation of morals and values strong, it does not matter what the world throws at them as they will default to Christ and their faith. They may struggle or have setbacks, even strong Christian adults do this, but they are learning at an early age to think for themselves and make educated choices that are consistent with their faith and beliefs. The reality is that we are all tempted, this does not go away when we give our hearts to Christ, but how we positively deal with this temptation and influential messages, is evidence of our faith, character and submission to Christ.
However, if a child's (or adults) moral foundation is weak, superficial and shallow or the child has not been allowed to make independent decisions often in the past, they may be influenced by these forms of media and that can be dangerous, in these cases greater parental oversight may be needed. This is a question each parent has to ask themselves and decide based on each child and their current walk with Christ. My wife and I have chosen to teach independent, faith-based decision making since our kids were toddlers. The older they get, the more freedom we give them to make these decisions as they prove they are mature and capable enough of making these choices.
I am a lot more lenient on media content as the kids grow older because I know it’s more of a “fitting in” thing among their peers than our kids being influenced by these media outlets. When we see or hear questionable media, I often let it slide but also explain why it’s not appropriate. Some parents would not agree with me on this and I would support them. Again, we are walking a fine line between in the world and of the world and not everyone is comfortable with that nor are their children prepared for that. Our aim in parenting is always moderation while adhering to strong morals and values. We are not overly restrictive or fear-based parents (which studies show leads to rebellion and kids leaving their faith) but we are also not liberal, permissive parents that have no boundaries. Many parents we know do not allow their children to make the choices we allow our children to make but, to each their own.
We’re at the point now where we only minimally filter their media content but we remind them and expect them to choose appropriate material. We place the responsibility on them and hold them accountability or make comments if they choose questionable material.
Bottom Line: We could spend all our time filtering and keeping our kids from the evil and influences of the world or we can spend all our time modeling to them what right looks like, what authentic faith is, what Godly choices are and not worry about what the world throws at them. If our faith is strong and our God is mighty and on our side, why should we fear the world and it’s corruption? We are trying to show our kids that temptation and sin is real and a fact of life, how we react and the decisions we choose makes all the difference.
Recently, my son was around some friends who were smoking marijuana and I asked him if he had thought about doing it too. He became very upset with me over the fact that I would question his character or even think that he would do this. He was hurt that I did not trust him to make the right choice, especially given his previous track record. I had to change my tone with him, tell him I'm sorry and ensure him that I did trust him and I know he would make the right choice.
Again, this is a scary path for most parents, you are basically testing your children’s faith and character on a daily basis. However, I honestly believe this is how spiritual growth and discipleship happens. Our kids will face all these challenges and choices as adults, so why not teach them now? My wife and I give our kids a lot of freedom and then check, almost daily, how they are dealing with this freedom and the choices they are making. We are constantly reinforcing what Godly morals and values look like without having to restrict or censor their lives and they have yet to stumble badly with this approach.
The other side to this approach is that although our kids are living in the world and being put in situations where they are facing and dealing with sin, temptation and non-Christians on a daily basis, our kids have also had the opportunity to befriend many lost and hurting kids, give them hope, bring them to Christ or showed them what God looks like. The only way this happened was by being in the world alongside these lost and hurting kids and earning their trust.
My kids have led more of their friends and on some occasions their friends entire families to Christ in their few short years on this earth, than I have in all mine. In my mind, this is my evidence that what we are doing (raising kids in the world but not of the world) really works and really builds authentic faith that can be outwardly expressed in compassion and empathy for the lost.
Not sure if this helps or just opens up more questions?