Is it Right to Shelter Our Children? (A Litmus Test)

A friend of mine and I were discussing how to teach our children about the sins and dangers of the world we live in without harming them in the process. We disagreed some about the way to go about it. She talked about being glad her children, who are at public school, are seeing the “real world”, even though some of the tough questions they ask concern her. (She has to define adult terms just to be able to have conversations about what her children learn.)

This argument bolsters many parents’ opinion that homeschooling is bad for children, believing they should learn to deal with the negative influences now because they will face them later.

I refer to the alternative in the title as “sheltering” simply because that’s the catch phrase for it.

One misconception I’ve learned about this debate: none of our children are isolated from “the world” or its ways. There really isn’t a “sheltering.” They are simply exposed from different angles. And that makes all the difference.

One effective way I have found to approach an ethical/moral dilemma is to think of it with an exaggerated hypothesis. In this scenario, I thought of how I want my kids to learn to deal with pornography.

Pornography is packaged beautifully. It is marketed to be full of pleasure and fun and excitement. We’re never shown the broken homes and hearts that lie in the wake of its path. It’s typical of sin: it lies.

For that reason, I want them to learn about it differently than the producers would teach them. And at the appropriate time. It would be foolish to try to have a conversation with my 4 year-old about words and images he doesn’t need to know. But it’s not wise to try to pretend, indefinitely, that pornography doesn’t exist.

Based on my friend’s opinion, taking this exaggerated example (though I’m not sure “exaggerated” is the right term since it is a reality), we might leave a stack of pornographic magazines in his bedroom to peruse at his leisure. We might even tell him “they’re bad”, but still give him access to process it on his own. To do that would be to let the lying marketers teach my children about this poison.

Not many parents would agree with this approach.

Because the truth is, I can teach my children about the sin and damage of pornography without willingly exposing them. Does that mean they won’t be exposed at some later time? No. Does my unwillingness to expose them now make them ill-prepared to deal with it later? I don’t think so.

What our job as parents should be is teaching what is right to our children, securing their moorings to God’s Word as they grow up, giving them the moral compass they need to evaluate any number of situations in the future.

Will a child be “shocked” as an adult to see pornography for the first time? I hope so. Does that make him less suited to deal with it? I can’t imagine how. This idea that if our children aren’t submerged in all the darkness of the culture they will somehow be unequipped to handle darkness is not a concept I find to be Scriptural.

The wise father in Proverbs pleaded with his son to “enter not into the path of the wicked.” Does that reconcile with the idea that parents who prefer to not immerse their children in depravity are too guarded and sheltering?

By the way, depravity resides in us all. There is certainly no such thing as shielding our kids from sin when we live in sin-wrapped flesh. There is a difference, though, in being redeemed by His blood, and seeking to “eschew evil” and do what is right. Our job isn’t to pretend the world around us isn’t depraved, but to examine it through a filter of truth.

I think we are responsible for teaching our children about sin, the same way Jesus taught his (adult) disciples about sin. It’s not a hiding away and shielding their eyes, neither is it a releasing them into territory before they are fully discipled. But as we walk with them, giving them a right lens through which to see, cultivating a right heart with which to discern.

 

14 Responses to “Is it Right to Shelter Our Children? (A Litmus Test)”

  1. Kim M says:

    I completely agree! Seriously, we do not need to worry one bit that we are sheltering our kids too much in this day and age. Unless one locks their kids up 24/7, they are going to see and hear things naturally. A mother can’t even take her boys grocery shopping without a barrage of unwelcome images. Sheltering is a GOOD thing. Our kids need every bit of it we can give them, and the bit that they do see when out and about, we can be right there teaching them how to handle it instead of leaving them on their own drowning in confusion, or even worse- having another immature child teaching them the wrong way to deal with it.

  2. […] friend of mine and I were discussing how to teach our children about the sins and dangers of the …read more       Know Your God: He Is In Love With YouBurn-Out Messes With […]

  3. Verna says:

    Excellent! I couldn’t agree more!

  4. Smitti says:

    I agree. When faced with this dilemma, I always think of Corrie Ten Boom and her father, and the suitcase she wasn’t ready to lift… yet. She trusted that her father knew there was a ‘problem’, and that he would help her deal with it at the right time.
    Also, I always think of how I was taught about ‘issues’ by my own mother. She was quick to point out other family members/friends of the family who were 1) killed b/c they were drinking and were in an accident, 2) no longer mentally stable or intelligent b/c they were smoking ‘weed’ – which (unfortunately) happened to be laced with something else, and 3) extremely unhappy with life b/c they were ‘fooling around’ before they were married – and had kids at sixteen years old.
    All you have to do is See the consequences sometimes… We don’t teach them about burns by burning them!

  5. 6 arrows says:

    Reading your post reminded me of hearing once several years ago about how bank employees learn to spot counterfeit money: instead of spending lots of time looking at examples of bad money, most of their training time is spent examining what real money looks like, so they can recognize a fake when one comes along.

    A good analogy, in my opinion, which we parents can apply — immersing our children so deeply in the Word, that they are better equipped to discern whether a thing they get exposed to is Truth or a counterfeit, something that might seem good but is not.

    Of course there is a place for discussing the application of Biblical principles, utilizing examples in our culture of falsehood masquerading as truth. But like you said, there are age-appropriate ways and times to have these discussions.

    I believe it’s important to invest lots of time simply reading the Word as a family, but there are times, also, to engage in some extra one-on-one discussion, as appropriate, with our individual children (“when you sit in your house…walk by the way…lie down…rise…” etc.) — discussions on deviancy and distortion of the truth that they are reasonably likely to encounter. Examples like Kim M. and Smitti gave are good places to start.

    Encouraging our children to ask us questions about things they encounter are important, too. As much as we’d like to always be proactive, we can’t anticipate every situation, but if they know we’re available to listen to them and help them through something they’re not 100% sure is the right thing, and that we won’t condemn them for possibly having found themselves in a less-than-savory situation, then good can come of it.

  6. Carolina G.C. says:

    Of course we have to shelter our children!
    Nobody would ever hand her/his children over to the sex offender hoping they would learn something good from an encounter with such a person.
    This is an extreme and silly example, but if we protect them from that, we have to protect them from many other smaller things including bullying, because being hurt is not the same as going through a trial. The first one stops our emotional growth, at least for a long time; the second one spurs it.

  7. when I was 9 y.o. our family went to my grandparents house, on the other side of the country, to spend 30 days vacationing there. I remember the house walls were covered with naked women in all sizes and shapes. Later my cousins and I found my Grandfather’s p*rn mags and leafed through them a few times, copying poses and wondering about the images we saw. No adult explained anything to us or apologized for my Grandfather’s “hobby”. It was just normal. What we saw could have been considered decoration or art by the way everybody pretended it was not there. To say that those images caused me a lot of damage is an understatement. (I asked my Mom about them a couple of years ago. She remembered them. My Dad? He said he doesn’t remember them at all. Go figure.)
    Today, praise the Lord, I am a Christian and I shelter my children from what I was exposed to when I was a child. When my children see on TV, or a billboard, or a computer ad, a person baring their midriff they ask me why is that person naked, and they turn away. My 12 y.o. daughter lets me know that she can’t wear a t-shirt or a blouse any longer because if she raises her arms a sliver of her belly shows. Now, I never told them that showing their midriff is a sin. I never told them it’s wrong, but I guess the principle of modesty is so ingrained in them from living around people who are modest, reading the Bible, going to church that they see it as normal NOT to show off body parts. I know there will be a time to talk about p*rn*gr*aphy but I know it won’t sound strange or enticing to look at it. When one is used to the perverse it takes the washing of the Word and God’s grace to make it detestable. So yeah, I prefer to keep sheltering my children and pointing out the perversion and explaining (people don’t know better, they don’t know the Truth) as it presents itself. I have taught my kids to close their eyes when they see “ugly” images on TV or other places. I think a clean mind and heart is better than seeing the “real world”. Just my $0.02.

  8. Heather says:

    As a mom of teens to babes, I find that sheltering is a season. The early years– yes, by all means! It’s our duty to hold those little hearts under the safe umbrella of our guidance! But as our children grow and mature, it’s also our job to give them God’s eyes to see sin, injustice, and His desire for the world. That time has come at different ages for my older children, depending on many factors. But when it does come, we should walk forward not in fear but in faith that this, too, is part of God’s plan for raising His people to be set apart for His glory.

  9. Alexandra says:

    I appreciate your insights into this. My oldest is 4.5 and my husband and I are led to homeschool. I too recently had a conversation with a Christian friend who chose to send her daughter to kindergarten this year. She feels that she doesn’t want to keep her child in an all Christian enviroment, but to be in the world but not of it. She had mentioned how it is difficult to no longer control her child’s environment. I agree with the fact of wanting out children to be in the world but not of it, but am not sure if kindergarten is the time for that or even if school is the place for that. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t have a wise answer; I just want to stay true to the convictions that God has placed on my and my husband’s heart.

    • Alexandra says:

      our*

    • 6 arrows says:

      Alexandra,

      I agree with your hesitation on whether kindergarten is the time, or school is the place, for children to “be in the world but not of it.” It’s been documented, for example, that some children of that age have already been introduced at school to the concept that “family” can mean anything — two mommies, say, or two daddies, who live together, maybe even are married to each other.

      How do you explain that to a five-year-old? And why should you have to at that age?

      Parents are in the best position to determine when is the proper time and what is the most appropriate context in which to have that discussion, as I can clearly see you recognize. (Excuse my preaching to the choir.) 😉

      As far as what to say to those who feel their children should be exposed to the world’s philosophies at a young age (and frequently outside of the parents’ presence and even knowledge of what the children are being taught), I think the Bible says it best of all.

      First Corinthians 13:11 comes to mind: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”

      Children are not little adults. The way they speak, think and reason is not how mature adults do. They can’t process things in our world as we can, and it is foolish for us to expect them to do that without firm grounding in the Word, which doesn’t happen in a few short years.

      The Old Testament frequently mentions, in the context of men going into battle, the age of “twenty and up.” My understanding is that Jewish children were considered one year of age at birth at that time, so twenty years old would mean approximately age nineteen in present-day thinking.

      Five years old is a long way from nineteen, from adulthood.

      I find it interesting to note, as well, that in Luke 2, at the end of the chapter, where we find the boy Jesus, age 12, at the temple, the last verse of the chapter says of Him, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

      Jesus increased in wisdom! Try to wrap your brain around that, that our Lord, the sinless Son of God (as true man in this context) had room for growth in wisdom at age 12!

      How much more, then, do our children need time to grow and mature, gaining in wisdom as we carefully instruct them in God’s Word and shelter them as best we can in their early years, and prepare them for the onslaught of challenges to their faith at age-appropriate times!

      Anyway, sorry for the book! Bottom line, I think those examples show us that the Bible does illustrate that growth in wisdom is a process, and that we can’t throw our children out into the world at a culturally-accepted age and expect that they can respond in wisdom and not be damaged by experiences they can’t process in their immaturity.

      /Stepping off my soapbox now. 😉

  10. Kelly L says:

    LOVE this. We homeschool and yet our daughter isn’t all that sheltered. BUT. when she comes to us with things she heard from teammates or things we have seen together, she has a Godly filter to understanding those things, not the filter of the other 14 year old girls.

    The worldview makes such a difference when encountering exposure to sinful activities.

  11. Terri says:

    I am a product of the public school system, and I certainly received an “education”… an education that years of therapy and anti-depressants couldn’t heal. Prayer and concentrated Bible study have healed the wounds, but the scars are still there. My parents did all they could, but there is only so much one can do when dealing with a public school, and I learned very quickly that turning to authority figures for help only made things worse for me. Sometimes I wonder what my life could have been like if I had the opportunity to grow and develop in a sheltered environment. I have come to the conclusion that the Lord is using a bad situation to prevent the same thing from happening to my own daughter; and more importantly, to change the culture.

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