Observation: Many parents operate from a protective mindset. Fearful of how the world might influence their child they seek to control everything the child does. They try to keep them from bad companions, bad movies, evil music, liberal families,…
Problem: Now seeking to protect your child is not an evil thing – in fact, it is part of the parental mandate – but the fact is this kind of parenting has several downsides.
First, by itself it is incomplete. Psalm 127:1 is instructive here. It says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”
From this verse we can see a dual role – both protection, guarding, watching over, and also building up. What’s true of a house and city is true of the parenting task. Protection from harmful influences is important but so is building into the life of the child. If parents spend all their energies protecting their children and not building into their lives, children will be ill equipped to face their world.
I remember when my oldest daughter was in 8th grade it dawned on me that I had four more years and that after that she’d be on her own. If I only kept protecting and didn’t build into her life, helping her make wise choices, she would not be ready. So I began to be more intentional about my instruction, asking lots of questions and allowing her to make a lot more choices whether I liked all of them or not.
This kind of parenting is also problematic because it is fear based, and you cannot parent well when driven by fear. When we parent out of fear we are likely to be high control as well.
Author Gary Thomas notes: “At that crossroads – whether high school or college – control becomes a myth. In fact, the more we try to control, the more likely we will push our children away from us. …If they witness a fear-driven religion based on control, they will likely run as fast and as far as they can in the other direction. Sadly I have seen this in too many families.”
The verses we read above remind us, “Unless the Lord builds…unless the Lord watches….they labor in vain.” That is to say we must trust the Lord. It is not we who change the human heart; only the Lord can do that, so we must walk by faith, not in fear. Children instinctively know that this is not right and will rebel from it.
This kind of parenting is also problematic because it sees the problem as external and not as internal. We can try to isolate our children from everything in the world, but the fact is we cannot isolate them from their own hearts. The core problem is not external, it is in the human heart that is drawn to those things contrary to God. When we focus on externals we because self-righteous and we pass that on to our children.
Finally, protectionist parenting is problematic because it typically leads to an isolationist mentality – we want to shelter our children from every one and every thing that might be harmful. This way of managing culture is not consistent with the lofty cultural mandate God has given his people. We are not to hide from culture or to create our own subculture – we are to seek to redeem culture – to bring to bear God’s kingdom wherever we see the effects of the fall. We have to give our children a grand vision – something beyond themselves – something great to live for. The mission to proclaim God’s kingdom in all we do and say, and to work for the extension of Christ’s reign in our world, is a vision grand enough to fuel the human heart for a lifetime…even for eternity.