A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.
This verse is found twice in Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12. Sometimes it is not wise to engage our society; it’s wise to run and hide ourselves. If we assume that these situations will arise in our parenting, how do we respond? I think that’s what I’m grappling with, and what I’m trying to communicate. Here are the questions I’ve been asking, and how I’ve been responding. Keep in mind that as my children get older, I will gradually allow more opportunities to respond correctly.
How do I keep reasonable control over the influences of my preschool children?
My mom advises: keep them with you and keep them busy. That’s been helpful for me. Here’s what it looks like in our home.
- First, I monitor what they read and watch. At this age, it means we read all the library books together, play computer games together, and watch any new videos or television together. If there is problematic content, I know about it and can talk about it with them. If I don’t know about it, I cannot even know whether it is affecting them. We’ve never had a television since we’ve been married, and that’s been a good choice for our family. I know I don’t have the self discipline to use it wisely.
- I stay where I can observe and listen to conversations. We keep an open door policy at our house (they may not go to a bedroom and close the door). Yes, it’s inconvenient, but for the time being, when our children are still learning boundaries, when they still follow their friends in doing wrong, when they lead friends in doing wrong, having the door open keeps them more honest. Truthfully, I can do better with this. It is easier when I’m visiting a friend, to be happiest when the children are hidden and silent. But sometimes that’s not what is best. I’d like to be at least in a place where I can periodically listen or observe the children. When the friends are unsaved, I am more vigilant.
- I keep them busy. Sometimes when friends come over, it is helpful to have some planned activity. Maybe it’s a craft I’ve been saving in the closet. Maybe it’s a board game. One friend has spent a number of years collecting costumes and props to make her home a center for putting on plays. Often I’ll suggest fun things I know they’ll like to do.
- If I cannot be physically present, it is important for them to be where activities are planned and directed. Bored children and inadequate supervision is a recipe for disaster.
- We have a family policy of no sleepovers except with immediate cousins. If our siblings were not similar in family goals and policies, we wouldn’t allow sleepovers with them, even if they were family.
- Extended relationships with unsaved people need to be truly redemptive. I had an unsaved friend in high school. We talked some about salvation, but far more of our friendship wasn’t about Christ, and it ultimately hurt my walk with God. For me, it means I pray with my children before anyone unsaved comes over. It means I communicate up front my desire for them spiritually. It also means that I limit the friendship if the friend is hostile to talking about the Lord.
Can I protect my children from every bad influence?
I don’t think so, and although I believe it is wise to avoid evil, I think it is foolish to try to eliminate all problematic influence.
What can I do, then, when my children are exposed to something I’d rather them not see?
- Prepare them ahead of time. Sometimes we’ll play the “What should you do if” game. We frequently run through a few scenarios before friends come over.
- Teach them how to think. I don’t always draw attention to what is a problem, but if I see them noticing it, if they ask about it, I’ll tell them. “That’s not right.” I’ll explain in simple words why (one or two sentences– remember I have preschoolers). I am not afraid to express with confidence “We don’t like that; we like ________ better.” As they get older, my explanations will get more specific. I’ve been wrong sometimes. Once I was disturbed because my two year old son was looking at a particular movie advertisement that was in several places throughout a mall. I was brainstorming ways to respond when he finally spoke up “Look! A boat!” I had been looking at the scantily clad woman in the foreground. He had been looking at a tiny boat in the corner of the background. 🙂
- Teach them how to respond. Sometimes our preschool girls are immodest. When David approaches me about something like this, I tell him I’m glad he told me, and I tell him what to do (like, go do something else in a different room, or ask them to close the door). I always want to praise them for coming to mom or dad when they need wisdom or help. As they get older, I want to keep that open door, and if I don’t start them talking now, they won’t when they’re teenagers.
- Pray. Since all children are sinners, even children from good homes, and even (shock!) my own children, it’s important that our children don’t become critical and self righteous when they see someone else misbehave. Often, after they leave, we’ll talk about it, and I’ll remind them that they are learning these things, too. So first we pray for ourselves, and then we’ll pray for our friends. This follows the pattern of Galatians 6.
- I also sometimes pray for the families we interact with, that God would give the parents wisdom and the children a heart to seek after Him. I pray for their salvation. I’d like to do this more systematically, and I’d like to do this more. But I think it’s a good idea.
How do I evaluate when a bad influence is outweighing the good influence?
- Look for a change in behavior. We know our children (because we are with them enough to know them), and we recognize when there is a change in speech, behavior, desires, friends, habits, and heroes.
- If our instruction in how to respond is ineffective, it’s probably wise to limit the exposure to the problematic influence. I’ve noticed a few times that in spite of what I thought were good explanations, it is clear that my children didn’t understand. Sometimes the very things I’m afraid of, they’ve been expressing an interest in. In these cases, I’ve found it better to remove the temptation completely until they’re able to understand the reasons better, and when the Holy Spirit is giving them supernatural discernment (i.e., they’re saved).
- Pray. I know I don’t always have the right answers. Sometimes I might be too protective; sometimes I might be too permissive (particularly if my motives are for my own convenience or comfort). I need God’s help to be wise.
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