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Yesterday, I featured excerpts from an article by a pastor, homeschool advocate and father of six — Reb Bradley.  Bradley’s article ‘Solving the Crisis in Homeschooling: Exposing the 7 Major Blindspots of Homeschoolers’ makes several excellent observations about the potentially isolating and outwardly pious distinctions of some homeschooling families.

He sees a crisis looming which has the potential for overly-controlled children to turn away from their parents, the Church and God.

Today’s post provides Bradley’s advice. Bradley would want you read his article in its entirety, as he requested on another website, to get the full import of what he is saying. I agree and would recommend it to every Christian adult — parent or not — as they examine their own family relationships.

Emphases below are mine, except for title headings and italicised words.

6. Over-reliance upon sheltering

…  

I took nothing for granted and evaluated the effects of everything that had contact with my family. I got rid of the TV antennae when my older children were little and allowed them to watch only approved videos, ie: ones with no boy/girl relationships or occult powers — Popeye and Mary Poppins were therefore out. They would attend birthday parties for children from church, but I would instruct them that if the birthday boy or girl’s mother tried to show a video on my “no-watch” list, they were to go to a back bedroom and entertain themselves until the video was over. We carefully screened the music they heard and watched them cautiously when they were with friends.

My children could not play with most children in the neighborhood and were even kept away from some children in “like-minded” families. They were sheltered from secular publications, let alone any Christian books or magazines that promoted values that didn’t match our own. Youth groups or Scouting were unheard of. Santa Claus, Halloween, and Harvest parties, as well as Superheroes and Barbies, were anathema. I hardly wanted them to go into Wal-Mart or grocery stores lest they be exposed to images of immodestly dressed women …

Protecting from temptations and corrupting influences is part of raising children. Every parent shelters to one degree or another. We all set standards for diet, for relationships, for reading and entertainment. One permits the children to watch network television, but prohibits cable movie stations; another forbids network TV, but allows parent-approved videos; still another tolerates only parent-approved Christian videos; and another permits only books. All parents shelter – they just draw their lines in different places.

Protecting our children is not only a natural response of paternal love, but fulfills the commands of God. The Scriptures are clear that we are to make no provision for our flesh (Rom 13:14) and are to avoid all corrupting influences (2 Cor 6:17-7:1). It warns us that bad company corrupts good morals (1 Cor 15:33) and that those who spend too much time with bad people may learn their ways (Prov 22:24-25) and suffer for it (Prov 13:20). Just as our Father in heaven will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13), we rightly keep our children out of situations they will lack the moral strength to handle. Young children are weak and we are to protect the weak (1 Thes 5:12) …

Sheltering our families from bad influences is critical for their safety, but it is possible to become imbalanced and rely too heavily upon sheltering. We do this in a couple of ways.

1. We are imbalanced when sheltering from harm is the predominant expression of our parenting. Are we more concerned with protecting our kids from that which is bad or with putting into them that which is good?  I want to ask that again: Are we more concerned with protecting our kids from that which is bad or with putting into them that which is good? …  We must certainly protect them from harmful influences, but more than that, we must give them that which strengthens them spiritually and morally.

In my case I protected my oldest children from harm more than I invested into them health. I certainly taught my children a great deal about God and Kingdom living – we saturated them with the Word and Kingdom stories. Their lives were full of outreach and ministry, but comparatively, I was most intense about sheltering. I was continually analyzing the effects of every aspect of life, and my children never knew what thing Dad would declare off-limits next. Those parents who aren’t analyzers like me just wait for their favorite teacher to expose for them the next unseen danger to their family. In imbalanced homes parents are most passionate about protecting children from harmful influences, and the children see that passion, then come to view Christianity as mostly about “avoiding bad stuff” …

Please note that the operative word in my assessment is passion. Our children learn what’s important to us not by what we verbally emphasize, but by what they see us passionate about. It is the intensity of our reaction to potential corruption that elevates to our children our priorities. If they see a greater intensity in us for their sheltering than they do for their equipping, we shouldn’t be surprised if they come to view Christianity negatively as a “religion of avoidance.” (In fact, our intensity may actually create a mystique and raise curiosity toward that which is forbidden.) …

Yes, it is right to value and protect our children’s moral innocence, and it is natural for us to react with intensity or anger to anyone or anything that might rob them of that innocence. However, when we treat every minor issue as a threat deserving of our outrage, it is possible we are defining Christianity for our children in a negative way.

After watching multitudes of highly sheltered children grow up and chase after the very things from which their parents sought to keep them, and seeing less-sheltered children grow up and walk strong, I am more selective about which hill I want to die on. I now pick my battles more carefully. I have concluded that fruitful parenting is more about what we put into our children than what we protect them from.

2. Sheltering is a critical part of parenting, but if parents keep it their primary focus, the children will grow up ill equipped to handle the temptations in the world.

When we enter the world as infants we arrive with immune systems still in development. Because we have had no contact with germs or disease while in the womb, our bodies need to come in contact with them, so that we can develop immunities. Babies who are isolated and kept in germfree environments fail to develop sufficient resistance, so succumb more easily to diseases when they grow older and encounter them. Medical inoculations only succeed because God has designed the body with the capacity to develop antibodies against disease. A child isolated from disease may appear to be of the greatest health to his parents, but the health of the human body is only proven by how it withstands an attack. A weak constitution succumbs to every germ and virus – a strong one fights them off. Our spiritual and moral health is developed and proved in the same way

If we isolate our kids from the world until they are adults they may appear to us to be spiritually minded and strong in character. However, it is how they ultimately engage the world that proves their spiritual resilience. This is because sheltering does not transform the human heart – it merely preserves it, temporarily. Sheltering is nothing more than keeping something flammable away from a fire ...

If we want to prepare them to thrive in the world we must take them into it and teach them how to engage it. As part of that preparation I have several recommendations:

a. Take time to teach them about God and living in His kingdom. I emphasize this particularly for dads who are careful to shelter, but rarely get around to actually instructing their children in the faith. Too many fathers are quick to forbid all TV and youth groups, but never take the time to sit down and acquaint their children with the Word and how it points us to God. Preparing children to face the world requires more than keeping them away from its corruptions – parents must put into them Truth that will draw them to God. It is those children who have found God irresistible who will be faithful to Him.

It is important at this point to emphasize that true Christianity is not merely a system of religious beliefs that can be embraced or forsaken – it is a relationship between individuals and God. Therefore, Christians are not strengthened simply by massive doses of indoctrination. Our faith is strengthened as we discover God in the Word, and as we walk with Him we find Him to be trustworthy. If we want our children to remain faithful to God we must do all we can to lead them to Him, not just to a “system of faith.”

Keep in mind that Bible instruction by itself is not some magic ingredient in a “parenting formula.” Many homeschool prodigals were heavily groomed in the Scriptures. We do best when we faithfully use the Scriptures to reveal to children the Lord himself. Remember Jesus’ words in John 5:39, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”  It is faith in Christ that carries us – not faith in Christianity.

b. Pass on a pure faith. It has been said that faith is caught and not taught, and I would agree. As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, I have seen young married people who grew up in the public schools, but who walked in purity and close to Christ through their teen years, and are still close to their parents. What their parents gave them was not the gift of extreme sheltering, but the gift of a sincere faith in Christ. Homeschool parents must give the same gift to their children (1 Tim 1:5; 2 Tim 1:5). The problem is that we cannot give what we do not have. If we want to give our children a lasting and sincere faith in Christ, then we must first have it ourselves.

What is the faith in us that our children see? As I have sought to show in the first six points of this series of articles, the purity of our faith is degraded by our missteps in parenting:

1. If the dreams we have for our children are really about us, might not they feel undue pressure to make us a success? In other words, is the faith they see in us a self-centered one?

2. If we have regarded them as a trophy, do they feel our intensity about not making the family look bad in public? In other words, is the simplicity of our faith polluted by our pride?

3. If we have emphasized outward form to our children, might not they equate holiness with external appearances? In other words, has the grace of our relationship with Christ been slowly traded for a phariseeistic concern for externals?

4. If they hear us pronounce judgments of others, might they not learn from us self-righteousness or fear of judgment? In other words, is it possible they see in us a faith that is both shallow and proud? 

5. If our homes are controlled chiefly by intimidation and fear, might not our children feel like they are inconsequential, non-persons? In other words, are we losing the very relationship with our teens we need to attract them to our Lord?

6. If we over-elevate sheltering as an ingredient in our parenting formula, is it possible our children might come to believe that Christianity is mostly about avoiding bad stuff? In other words, although our Lord never told people to shelter themselves from anything except self-righteous religious leaders, do we present an inaccurate (and unattractive) picture of him? …

c. Expose them to the world a little at a time, so that they will not be overwhelmed by its attraction when they finally face it. Just as babies raised in germfree environments more easily contract diseases, so also do Christians who have not encountered the world

The root of lust is self-centeredness, so the more selfless and loving our children are, the less they will be impacted by lust. I therefore encourage parents to concentrate on raising children who selflessly love others. I have found that praying for those who tempt us accomplishes two things – the recipient receives prayer and we see them through the eyes of God. Those who see others from God’s perspective will tend to have compassion on them as lost souls …

d. Take them into the world on the offense, not defense. A major reason many parents choose to homeschool their children is that they are concerned about negative socialization in the classroom setting. They want control over when and how their children are faced with outside influences. When the children are confronted by the world the parents want to be there as guides. I understand this perspective, but such a view is inadequate. I want to be with my children when they encounter the world, but not merely so that they will survive it. Survival has to do with self-preservation, and is concerned with self, not others …

My 12-year-old son has been playing little league baseball every spring for the last 4 years, and I help out as an assistant coach. On occasion, when word of my son’s involvement leaks out, I will be approached by a concerned homeschool parent and questioned about the risks of such contact with unbelievers. They remind me that my son may hear bad words, vulgar jokes, and bad attitudes. Boys may even swear at him. I tell them that that is exactly what I was anticipating.

I want my son to know how to respond when unkind people express themselves (Luke 6:27-28), and I want to be with him when it happens. I want him to know he can survive quite well when others verbally abuse him, but more importantly, I want to witness it so I can coach him through it. I especially want to be there so I can help him see the world through eyes of compassion – not fear. I believe that those homeschoolers, who don’t just survive but thrive in the world, do so because they have a “kingdom” view of it. They see it as the place inhabited by the blind (2 Cor 4:4) who are potential members of God’s kingdom. 

e. Cultivate a loving relationship with them, which will allow you to speak into their lives and influence their values. I will deal with this issue at length later in this series of articles, so suffice it to say that it is the key area of need I have discovered among my own and many other homeschool families. It has been my observation that in “control-oriented” homes, relationships between parents and teens are often weakest. For us to have influence over our teen’s hearts, especially when they are engaging the world, our love relationships with them must be strong …

If our children grow up motivated only by fear of consequence, they will eventually get away with what they can whenever we are not around (Eph 6:6). If we have their hearts they will seek to honor us whether we are present or not, and their hearts will remain open to our influence. I refer you to the apostle Paul who modeled this approach to leadership perfectly, “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I appeal to you on the basis of love” (Phile 1:8-9a). Paul’s pattern with the churches suggests he understood that appeals to love were more powerful than commands and threats. As an apostle, he could have issued personal commands many times, yet in his letters to the churches he plead with them 25 different times to do what was right, while he personally commanded them only twice (2 Th 3:6,12).

Many intense parents mistakenly think they have their children’s hearts, and therefore do not seek to cultivate better relationships. Beverly and I were such parents. We were certain that because we shared so much affection with our children that we had their hearts. However, when we gave them instructions, it was never our children’s love for us that we appealed to, it was their fear of our authority. This meant that our first three children were far more vulnerable to outside influences than they needed to be ...

f. Help them find security in their relationship with you. When my oldest son was almost 16 we let him get his first job washing dishes at a restaurant managed by a Christian friend of ours. As diehard shelterers we wrestled with whether or not our son was ready to enter the world’s workforce. We knew we couldn’t shelter him forever, and so finally concluded that he should be old enough to send into the world two nights a week. What we didn’t realize was that he would be working with drug-using, tattooed, partiers, and our Christian friend was never scheduled to work our son’s shift …

Of course, my wife and I immediately began to evaluate whether we had made a mistake by letting him take the job. After an intense discussion we decided to coach him more carefully and let him keep his job … 

I would never have guessed that his values could change so quickly or so severely. What took me over the edge was not just that he suddenly had outrageous values, but that he thought I might go along with him! It immediately became obvious that he was not ready to handle the world. To our relief, he volunteered to quit the job.

One day, several years later, I was looking back and evaluating our approach to sheltering. Something my son said shortly after he started his job kept coming back to me. When I picked him up the second night of work, he got in the car with a big smile on his face and said “They like me!”  As I dwelt on that comment, it suddenly came clear to me – my son had finally met someone who liked him for who he was. Few others in his entire life had shown him much acceptance, especially not his mother and I. It is no exaggeration – in our efforts to shape and improve him, all we did was find fault with everything he did. We loved him dearly, but he constantly heard from us that what he did (who he was) wasn’t good enough. He craved our approval, but we couldn’t be pleased. Years later, I realized he had given up trying to please us when he was 14, and from then on he was just patronizing us.

The reason our son wanted to adorn himself like his work associates, was because they accepted him for who he was. He wanted to fit in with those who made him feel significant. He wanted to be like those who gave him a sense of identity. The problem wasn’t one that could be solved by extended sheltering – he could have been sheltered until he was 30 and he still would have been vulnerable. The problem was that we had sent our son into the world insecure in who he was. He went into the world with a hole in his heart that God had wanted to fill through his parents

I have since observed that what best equips children to handle the pressures of the world is security in who they are. Whether believer or unbeliever, those young people who are least tempted to follow the crowd are those who are secure in themselves and don’t need the approval of others. The Bible calls insecurity the fear of man – it is allowing other’s opinions of us to affect our values and choices. At the very least, if we want to prepare our children to stand tall in the world we need to help them find security in their relationship with us, and more importantly, with God …

I believe that a primary reason we can over-rely on sheltering is because it is the easiest part of parenting to do. It requires no planning, little preparation, or expenditure of energy. It takes minimal immediate brainpower. We simply assess something might be harmful and say to our children, “NO.”  It’s an aspect of parenting that is effortless to do, yet seems to promise an extreme impact. I don’t know if I would go so far as to call it lazy parenting, but I will say that investing into our children does take a lot more work and much more time.

Before we leave this topic, we must consider the possibility that we are drawn to an over-dependence on sheltering because it appeals to the Pharisee in us. Maintaining a righteous appearance and avoiding uncleanness characterized the most religious people of Christ’s day, and he didn’t tolerate it (Luke 7:39-47; 15:2; Mark 7:15; Mat 15:17-20). Avoiding anything that seemed to defile made them feel “holy” and it does the same for us. The more we fixate on keeping our families away from corruption the prouder we can become of our higher standards. It may even get to the place that we can’t wait for opportunities to boast or “share” with others the standards we hold, ie: an invitation for our children to watch a movie, attend a Bible club, or accept a questionable gift, etc.). Pride is a dangerous sin because it blinds us to itself – it is the filter through which we see. Spiritual pride is even more dangerous because it involves what we think is righteousness (Luke 18:11-12). May God open our eyes that we might see why we are so prone to imbalance in this area.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.  Col 2:20-23 

Lest this article be taken wrong, and some readers misinterpret my intentions, I want to emphasize that I am still a strong proponent of sheltering our children. My goal has been to alert parents to the problem of over‑reliance on sheltering. If you have finished this lengthy article, and are under the impression that I no longer believe in it, I would encourage you to go back and reread it.

I do wonder if this over-sheltering and outward piety has some bearing on the growing numbers of militant atheists in the United States. I know of some scoffers who were raised in small, harsh, controlling church and home environments who broke away from it as soon as they left home in their late teens. This is a natural outcome for some in an effort to break free from rules and rigidity associated with today’s extreme fundamentalism.

Although these people are somehow able to marry well and sustain healthy relationships, often they have no children. It is as if they lack enough positive experiences, parental trust and personal confidence to enable them to have a family.

This is a matter which the more conservative — not necessarily orthodox — churches should want to address.  Worryingly, the issues of control over children are now progressing to wives, objectifying and diminishing them in a similar way. It’s a sure recipe for disaster. More on that tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Conclusion — Bradley on formulaic parenting and relationship

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