shelter : to protect (someone) from danger, bad weather, etc.
The dictionary definition of the word “shelter” sounds like a very positive, loving action. Then why do we sometimes hear accusations about sheltering our children, as if it is child abuse?
The nature metaphors are endless here. Would you send your children out into the numbing cold without gloves to build up their pain tolerance? Would you let them play in puddles when lighting is flashing just because they need to learn to take risks? Of course not. Why then in our culture is there shame in keeping a child from potentially painful, scary, risky, or otherwise devastating situations? Why not shelter?
Christian children are leaving their communities of faith in droves. Christian parents, particularly those who choose to educate their kids at home or in a parochial setting, have been accused of opening the floodgates from the church after “sheltering” their kids during their formative years. We hear (rare) horror stories of abused children and poorly-adjusted adults from Christian homes who never had a glimpse into the “real” world before graduating from high school.
The truth is, research clearly states that millennials have not abandoned the church because they have been sheltered from society. Studies show huge factors in the exodus are a lack of consistency between what they were taught at church and what they experienced at home, as well as the church’s failure to address social issues such as poverty and homosexuality. One recent study simply pointed to a generation that has been bored out of church. Overprotective parenting is not the reason the church rolls continue to shrink.
So what does a healthy protective stance look like? We can pull verse after verse from our hats to justify our own theories of child rearing, but here is a short topical list that might help crystallize your strategy. We should shelter our children from:
- Physical, emotional, and spiritual harm. These intuitive categories are easy to name, but protection from these things is sometimes difficult to accomplish once they leave the womb and we incrementally begin to relinquish control.
- Lack of natural consequences for their behavior. This could also be categorized under lack of discipline. The Bible has a lot to say about discipline so it is obviously something near to God’s heart.
- Sin, temptation, and evil. The warning here is a dire one: “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” Matthew 18:6.
- Misinformation and foolishness. Influence flows downhill. Just take a peek at Proverbs and let the wisest man who ever lived give you advice about who to let your kids hang out with.
- Impurity. This is perhaps one area we neglect to confront in ourselves. Are your children exposed to impure lyrics, television content, or photos on your Instagram feed? Consider the wisdom of the psalmist when he made this commitment: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes” Psalm 101:3a.
- Blasphemy. This is defined as “great disrespect shown to God or to something holy” (m-w.com). If your child is consistently being exposed to people or situations where God or Christianity are being mocked, he or she will take that as a cue from you that the behavior is A-OK.
- Anger. We really don’t need the Bible to tell us we have the power to provoke our children to anger, but it does so in Ephesians 6:4, along with an admonition not to do the provoking.
This list is far from complete, but it is a starting point. As Christian parents we must ask ourselves, “What am I protecting my child from? Are my protective habits stifling healthy growth, or on the other hand, are they encouraging imprudent recklessness?”
There are a couple other key points to keep in mind. First, we must steer clear of the temptation to measure whether those around us are overprotective or too permissive, avoiding at all costs gossip or accusations leveled against others. Second, no amount of purposeful sheltering—good or bad—will protect a child from everything. Bad things happen and we all make mistakes, but God’s ways are far above our ways. Pray for wisdom and love to fill your mind and heart as you purposefully draw the boundaries which work best for your family.
Connect With Traci Matt
I blog at tracimatt.com (easy to remember, right?). Please connect on Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/tracimattjournalist, Twitterhttps://twitter.com/thetracimatt, G+https://plus.google.com/u/0/+TraciMatt/posts, and Instagramhttps://instagram.com/thetracimatt/. My books are available at Amazon.http://www.amazon.com/Traci-Matt/e/B00HRY72HG/