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As dads, we all want our children to be safe. But what do we do when the “safe” thing for our child to do isn’t necessarily the right thing?
This is a question my wife and I are wrestling through as our oldest son has entered the teen years. One area that we specifically have to work through is the struggle between helping him be IN the world, but not OF the world.
Here’s an example. When our son was first heading into middle school, we were presented with some youth group options that were very centered on helping him grow his faith – highly discipleship focused. Other options had that component, but were also very intentional about equipping teens to invite others who don’t know Christ into the group and to share their faith – more evangelism centered.
The discipleship-centered options are great options. Especially for kids who aren’t getting strong Christian teaching elsewhere, they may be ideal. But in some instances, they seemed to be the options some parents turned to because of concerns about what might happen at a youth group where non-believers were also actively encouraged to attend.
If I’m being honest, I know that the first option likely provides the most security for my teen – and is most comfortable for me as a parent. But, is the safe option – which considerably minimizes the likelihood my teen will be stretched to engage those who don’t know Christ – really the right one?
Keeping Our Kid’s Eyes ‘Up and Out’
Our friends at Boundless recently published a thoughtful piece responding to a college student who was making the difficult choice to cool a friendship with a non-believer. This student came to realize that her friend had become a more negative influence on her than the student was a positive, Christian influence on her friend.
The piece goes on to rightfully note that Scripture is full of warnings to avoid foolish and wicked friends precisely because of their ability to lead us astray (Proverbs 12:26), and writer Candice Watters reminds us that we should "not be deceived: 'Bad company ruins good morals'" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
But equally true is the other point she makes, which is that we are called as Christians not to keep our faith in Christ to ourselves, but to share His Good News with others … a reality I want each of my kids to fully embrace and live out. Hence the tension.
My wife and I want our kids to have their eyes “up and out” for people who need a friend, but more than that, need Christ in their lives. If we insulate them from those experiences while they still live under our roof – and while we still enjoy the influence we have in their lives – are we really equipping them to be adults who will be prepared to navigate those challenging scenarios when we aren’t immediately around to help? How do you, as a dad, help your kids navigate between doing the safe thing – and knowing when to step out in faith and take a more risky option?
Rich Bennett (@coloradorich) is a contributor for Dad Matters and the Vice President of Ministry & Marketing Strategy for Focus on the Family.
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--Very good question! I'm not a parent yet, but I was definitely raised as a "bubble child" for the most part. Although I did not always agree with my parents, I have no doubt that they did it because they thought it was the best way. That being said, I believe that parents should try to teach children how to participate in both discipleship and evangelization. IMO, I would suggest more discipleship early on, and a gradual build-up of more evangelization (that way they get a strong base/foundation). In general, I definitely do not think that kids/teens should spend too much time with non-Christian friends. One example I've always heard is that it's easier to pull someone down when they're standing on a chair then to pull someone up onto the chair...
-- Well said, Anna-Raven. It's a careful balance allowing your kids to have certain experiences while they are still under your roof, but doing that wisely. As Christians, we need to remember -- and model for our kids -- that the light we have is meant to be shared. We should also act out of the confidence light overcomes darkness, not the other way around. If you open a closet door, darkness doesn't pour out into the room. Light enters the closet.
--I didn't even know youth group "shopping" or the avoidance of youth groups entirely was even a thing until a few weeks ago. An acquaintance who attends another church was telling me how his (very sheltered, homeschooled) son has been giving him a hard time because the son wants to attend youth group his 10th-12th grade years. The father has been taking him to adult Bible study and prayer meeting with him up until this point, and says he doesn't want him around other teenagers and what he calls "secular youth culture". I can't imagine.
I always figured if your teen is even interested in church and religion, that was something to be grateful for since so many are not. Also, this begs another question, what sort of input does the OP's son have? When does a teen decide for themselves what sort of youth group to attend, or even if they want to be involved with religion at all?