In case there has been any doubt, I was a nerdy teenager. One summer when I went to camp, I brought a few books and a cross stitch project along, and happily sewed and read while the other girls in my cabin played volleyball all week. Thankfully my parents recognized that my interests were atypical and didn’t worry that I had little in common with teenagers around me. Still, I was not allowed to be isolated. My parents were keenly aware of our interests and the influences surrounding us. Anytime a missionary family or visiting pastor’s family came through our church, they were invited to our house. Mom drove us to spend time with godly friends who lived in other towns. Even though sports was never a dominating part of our lives, they encouraged us in a variety of sports. We took swimming, tennis, and bowling lessons. My brother played soccer. When a friend needed a horse exercised, my mom went out of her way to let me take advantage of the opportunity. When an opportunity arose for me to work at a tutoring clinic in high school, my mom encouraged it, even though it was a half hour away. That meant she drove a half hour each way to drop me off every weekday (my dad picked me up on the way home from work). To my mom and dad, the good environment with generally moral people and a Christian boss were worth the sacrifice (high school and college nerds are generally a little cleaner cut than the typical McDonald’s crew).
Helping a child develop social skills and a variety of interests is a good and wise thing. It is good to encourage wholesome activities and friendships whenever I can; but that exposure should not be careless and indiscriminate. I must have a way of weighing the good against the bad.
Children are exposed to the world and its culture in a variety of ways. Many can be wholesome and good, but it would be unwise to simply make a list of good things and bad things and be done thinking. Some ages might be more susceptible to their influence; for example, a teenager’s desires will not be as influenced by a Happy Meal as a three year old will be. A five year old girl will be affected differently at a community pool than a fourteen-year-old boy. Different personalities will be affected differently, too, which might pose a challenge to parents of multiple children. Because of the vast array of variables, parents need much wisdom as they consider the influences surrounding their children. Here are a few of the influences I’ve been thinking about:
- Movies and TV
- Music (Ipods and access to Itunes)
- Other Marketing: Happy Meals, Food packaging in the grocery store, Trademarked characters (books, costumes, dinner plates, etc.)
- Community sports
- School (preschool, Christian or public school, homeschool groups, etc.)
- “Experiences” (ballet, prom, hunting, debate, chess club, scouting)
- Time with unsaved acquaintances and friends (neighbors, school friends, playgroups)
How do we know if and when these are good things or bad influences? It will help to look at several biblical principles as we evaluate the choices we make as we guide our children.
Even good things can be problematic when they become too important. One way to evaluate whether an activity is too important is by examining whether it interferes with what our family should be doing. Do the interests of our family cause us or our children to be too busy to have a personal walk with God? God commands believer to assemble regularly; believers should love God’s church and His people. When other interests prevent a family from being an active part of a local body of believers, it is likely those interests are too important. Occasionally, the interests of our children can interfere with the time we parents need to spend together building a marriage. This principle will affect which sports we might encourage our children to participate in. (When are practices and games?) It might make a difference in the level of skill we encourage our children to develop: a summer at a ski camp? Or a summer at Brevard or Interlochen? Olympic training? Club ball? Scholarships?
Likewise, something as simple as Dora merchandise can be problematic for a preschooler if it becomes an idol. Maybe a preschooler is unwilling to share or is covetous. Maybe it’s a television show that is so important we become irritable if we miss.
Our desire for our children to be exposed to unsaved children might be too great when they spend too much time with them. God tells us that those who walk with wise people will be wise, and a companion of fools will be destroyed. Clearly, God is not telling us to avoid all contact with unsaved people, but it is reasonable to suggest that unsaved people should be acquaintances, and not best friends. This is why I wouldn’t encourage my children to be active in a club environment where they spend a great deal of time with unsaved children, even if the activities they are doing are wholesome.
Sometimes, cultural exposure limits positive exposure (time away from Christian friends, parents, church, youth group activities, godly grandparents). I want my children to spend as much time as possible with godly influences. For this reason, if I were deciding between two churches, two schools, or two activities, I would consider the other children. I’m going to look at the high school graduates, even if my own children are in grade school. Even my preschoolers interact with the older children. The junior-high students in my church are my children’s heroes, so I am interested in them. I’m going to spend a lot of my energy helping my children develop good influences, and frankly, that won’t leave much time for some ?other interests. My values are going to dictate where I spend my time, energy, and even money.
Tomorrow we’ll consider a few more principles to consider.
I sense a bit of “shielding” your children from those who are different/unsaved and wonder if that is how you see it too? What if those who are different/unsaved were “shielded” from your children? We wouldn’t make too much progress in our Godly duties of reaching out to others and showing them God’s way, if this were the case. I was raised in a Christian home, with strong beliefs, values, and morals as to how we (the children) should believe/behave. I respected my parents and never questioned why I thought the things I thought, until I went to college (state school). Looking back I wouldn’t have wanted my parents to raise me differently, but thankfully I was the type to want to find out my own answers as to my beliefs and turned toward church and other Christians. However, this could have backfired and I could have fallen into the “wrong” crowd with completely different answers/beliefs. I think my parents gave me a strong enough foundation and truth about Christianity that I wasn’t looking for proof of God/Jesus but just a deeper understanding than always being told what I “understood” (hope that makes sense). From reading your blog, I wonder if you worry about this for your own children?
Your blog always gives me something to think about, thanks for sharing!
Hi Heather! Thanks for your encouraging and thoughtful comments. I do see it as shielding our children, to a certain extent, although our children do interact with different/ unsaved families. Helping my children evangelize others is not a big priority right now, since I’m still evangelizing them. I was blessed to grow up in a home where parents were passionate about teaching us reasons from the Bible for why we did and believed as we did. They also modeled a love for and confidence in the Bible, so when I was confronted with questions about my faith, I knew where the answers were to be found (even if I didn’t always know the answers). My experiences give me hope, although I’m trying very much to place my confidence in God and not my own feeble ideas about child rearing. Does that answer your questions? I don’t always think well after ten o’clock, so I might be a little dense tonight!
Hi Michelle. The last few posts were very interesting. My sister-in-law Karen home schools her 5 children from age 3 to 11. They are very sheltered from worldly things (TV, music) and are raised in a pretty strict Catholic home. They are so different than most children. They are well behaved, affectionate and appreciative. I babysat them the other night and they were a delight. My other nieces and nephews, who are in public high-schools, constantly make fun of how sheltered Karen’s kids are and how much they miss out from being home schooled. I completely disagree with them and think they don’t see the big picture. They are caught up in worldly things that don’t matter, such as being cool, being popular, having a lot of clothes, etc. They also aren’t concerned about the things of God and don’t have a relationship with Him.
Like you mentioned I think it’s important to shelter young kids and teach them more about the world as they get older and stronger in their faith. I plan to send Victoria to a Christian school, but I wonder if a Christian school is that much different than a public school. It all depends on how the other parents raise their children. I know many non-Christians who send their kids to public school. Also, I worry my own bad habits. Aaron and I watch a lot of TV. I don’t want Victoria seeing the commercials or the programs. It’s hard to know how extreme to be in sheltering our kids.
Carrie, Thanks for your comments. I think you make some good observations. Sometimes we don’t see the big picture, and it hurts us. I think this is what Paul says when he tells us not to be deceived about how bad company corrupts. It might be helpful to note that sheltering our children does not make them spiritual, or more spiritual. That’s one other reason you get some Christian schools that are pretty much the same as public school (although not all are this way). It might be helpful to note that some unsaved people do shelter their children admirably, giving us more indication that sheltering isn’t equivalent to a personal walk with God.
Jay Younts says
Hi Michelle, I think the greenhouse concept works here as well. It is a challenge to balance between too much sheltering and too much, too soon of the world. The father in Proverbs 7 is a good example for this balance. Our children must be able to distinguish between good and evil. These topics are certainly worth our constant thought.
Jay, I’ve always thought you sounded like a fundamentalist in the greenhouse chapter in your book. 😀 You’re right– Proverbs 7 is a good chapter to think about in this context. Thanks for your feedback.