World-Proof the Child

World-Proof the ChildProtecting our children is one of the primary jobs of parenthood, and the list of dangers seems to be growing exponentially.

  • There is BPA in your bottled water and hormones in your meat.
  • There are predators on the Internet and cyber-bullies on social media.
  • There are addictive drugs and addictive video games.
  • There are terrorists hijacking our planes and the TSA hijacking our dignity.

It makes you long for the days when seesaws and merry-go-rounds were still allowed on playgrounds.

The fact is that new dangers are popping up every day, and it is impossible for even the most vigilant parents to keep up with them all.

That doesn’t mean you can’t protect your children. It just means that doing so will become increasingly complex and require some added intentionality.

There are three general principles that can help guide the process:

  1. SET THE EXAMPLE.
  2. A culture of safety — whether at work or at home — starts at the top. If you want your kids to wear helmets when they ride bicycles, then you probably should, too. Same rule goes for seatbelts, overeating, cigarettes, alcohol, or anything else. Most values are “caught” not “taught.”

    “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity,and sound speech that cannot be condemned…”
    - Titus 2:7-8 (ESV)

  3. SET THE STANDARD.
  4. Talk with your kids. Point out the dangers as you become aware of them. Let them know what your expectations are. Set a curfew. Curfews aren’t tyranny; they are parents showing that they care! Then enforce the standards you have established. A rule that isn’t enforced is no rule at all.

    “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”Proverbs 22:6 (NASB)

  5. SET THEM FREE.
  6. The ultimate goal of parenting isn’t to have large children, but to have fully functioning adults. The only way to achieve that goal is to gradually shift responsibility from your shoulders to theirs. This is probably the hardest, but most important, part of the whole process. You will never be able to make enough rules to protect your children. They must internalize safety consciousness themselves. They must make it their own. Making it their own often means making mistakes. It can be hard to watch as our children attend the school of hard-knocks, but sometimes “experience is the best teacher.”

    “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”1 Corinthians 13:11 (NASB)

The temptation is to simply be “helicopter parents” — ones that are always hovering, always micro-managing, always trying to smooth the way and make the decisions and manipulate the circumstances — but that is a fool’s game. No parent can child-proof the world. A parent’s job is to world-proof the child.

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The Most Important Parenting Book of the Decade

Battle Hymn of the Tiger MotherAmy Chua’s little memoire on parenting, BATTLE HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER, is both fascinating and controversial. I read the Time magazine article and immediately downloaded the book to the Kindle app on my iPhone. I then read the entire book in two evenings with rapt enthusiasm.

The fact that it is so well written, interesting, and easy to digest means it will be widely read. Most parenting books have a limited appeal, which stunts their impact. This book, however, will undoubtedly have a much bigger audience and a correspondingly larger influence.

The fact that it is so provocatively written ensures it will incite debate. The sides of the debate as defined by Ms. Chua are “Western” vs. “Chinese” ways of raising children. As in every dialectic of thesis vs. antithesis, the truth or synthesis is somewhere in the middle, as Ms. Chua partially and reluctantly concedes by the end of the book.

What may be overlooked amidst all the hype are the many important concepts about raising successful children in a modern context that Ms. Chua highlights, sometimes inadvertently.

First, is that affluence can be a handicap when it comes to raising kids. This might seem counterintuitive while reading about all luxuries that Ms. Chua and her family enjoy. However, Ms. Chua knows how intoxicating and ambition-dulling the effects of wealth can be on the children of the very successful. This book is as much an antidote to second and third generation complacency as anything else. It’s an important concept even for those without an Ivy League pedigree.

Second, is that hard work and discipline are essential to success. This is true regardless of the venue. With books like OUTLIERS and GAME ON touting the magic of ten thousand hours as the key to success, who can doubt the age-old adage that “practice makes perfect.”

Finally, is that children eventually have to take command of their own success. The goal of parenting is not to raise large children, but independent adults. This requires the gradual granting of autonomy. If autonomy isn’t carefully measured out, it will eventually be wrested away, or — even worse — never gained at all.

The biggest mistake anyone could make after reading this book is to get too fixated on the details of Ms. Chua’s child-rearing techniques. Every parent makes mistakes. It was brave of her to document her own for the world to read. In most cases, the opposite of parental love is not hate, but apathy. No one can accuse Ms. Chua of being apathetic.

A Birthday Letter to My Oldest

Dear Jon,

Many people think that going off to college or getting married is the big leap to independence, but I think that getting a car of your own is when the transformation from child to adult really begins. In two days, you turn sixteen, and you will get your driver’s license shortly thereafter. In the years that follow, my responsibility for you will shrink, as yours for yourself grows. Many parents face this time with fear, but I face it with joy and absolute confidence that you will fulfill and exceed all my expectations for you. God has blessed you with a sharp mind, strong body, and sweet spirit, but has given you a “thorn in the flesh” (diabetes) to keep you humble, just as he did me (adoption).

I know you are well-equipped to face the three major choices life presents: choosing Christ, choosing a spouse, and choosing a career. The first you have already done, although in reality it is Christ who chose you and called you to Himself. The second is merely a matter of finding someone who loves God, is committed to marriage in general and to you in particular, and is compatible in temperament and ability with you. The key is to be the sort of person you want to marry (friendly, hardworking, etc.), look in the right places (church, not bars), and not waste time on relationships destined for failure (non-Christians, etc.). The third is an issue of finding something you enjoy doing, that is inherently good, but allows you to provide for your family. For me it was medicine, and I suspect for you it will be the same, but I leave that to you and the Lord.

Beyond that, life is merely a matter of finding a balance between the many things God has given us to do to serve Him, while keeping in mind His command to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love others as ourselves. There is really only one priority – serving God, but many manifestations of that goal. Taking care of ourselves physically by eating right, exercising, etc. is a part of serving God, just as taking care of ourselves spiritually by prayer, Bible study, and serving others is part of serving God. In fact, treating others the way we want to be treated is merely another way to honor and serve God. After all, people are eternal; everything else is temporary. I remind myself of this by never having anything I’m not willing to let go of and entrust to God, including my life, including my children, and including you.

I love you,

Dad

In Over Our Heads

At least two or three times a week someone says to me, “How do you manage with six children? I can barely handle one!” My answer to this question has evolved over time. My initial and somewhat prideful response was, “With firm but loving discipline.” Then with a shrug of my shoulders, the answer became a sheepish “I don’t know.”  Finally, I’ve had to admit with a spirit of dejection, “I can’t do it at all.”

The fact of the matter is, I never could “handle it” — not back when I had one child, not now that I have six. You see, no matter how many children God gives me, I am utterly dependent upon Him to raise them. Parenting requires a love, patience, discipline, endurance and selflessness that I cannot find within, no matter how deeply I search my own soul. I am forced to constantly look to God for grace and strength to meet the challenge. It has simply taken six children for me to realize this in more than a superficial, intellectual way. Now I feel it with every fiber of my being, every moment of my day.

This is precisely where God wants me: dependent on Him, not just for a little help with problem areas, but for the whole nine yards. God is not interested in making me a better parent, but rather in parenting through me. He wants to love my children through me. He seeks to lead them through me. This extends to every facet of my life. He wants to work through me, play through me, minister through me, live through me. He doesn’t just want me to be a better person. He wants to make me a new person. That is, in fact, his desire for each of us, including all six of my children.

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