“I just don’t want my kid exposed to all of that stuff,” the one mother said with concern in her voice.
“Kids talk about drugs and sex at school these days,” another mother replied, “I don’t want to be one of those paranoid moms who home-schools their kid and screens all of their friends and playmates, but…”
I am party to these kinds of conversations from time to time, and I’m often the odd one out.
“Well, exposure is inevitable,” I will say. “Even if you keep your kid from it until they move out, they WILL move out- and better that they know how to process everything they are exposed to than that they are naive and taken advantage of.”
When I went to college there was a girl living in my hall that had been raised in a somewhat closed community and sent to a private school. She’d never had a sip of alcohol, never known anyone who used drugs, never so much as kissed a boy.
Her life spiraled out of control so quickly that she didn’t know what she was doing. Here she was living in a world she had no idea how to deal with. She didn’t know when to say, “enough.” She didn’t know how to say no, how to control her desires, how to keep her spine stiff and her morals intact. And she is not the only Christian in the history of the written word to have her life fall to pieces as soon as she left her parents moral compass.
As a parent, your job isn’t to shield your child from the world- your job is to teach them how to live in it. While my parents did caution me to stay away from drugs and alcohol and never would have knowingly let me go somewhere that drugs and alcohol were being consumed- they also realized that these things can pop up under the most innocuous of situations (like during warm ups for marching band) and taught me how to refuse, how to make good choices, how to choose friends that wouldn’t pressure me into things I didn’t want.
They taught me not just the precepts of my faith but how to defend it against attack. They taught me critical thinking and rationalism. They never said, “that is true because I say it is.” If questioned, they would explain the rationale. If they couldn’t explain the rationale, we researched it. If it turned out that they were wrong they wouldn’t get defensive and angry, they’d accept the truth with humility and congratulate my thirst for knowledge.
I was taught never to accept the words of others as reality until I’d seen the facts defended. This was especially helpful when I would be mocked for not doing what “everyone” was doing, since “everyone” seemed to be four people with poor judgment who had accepted failure as inevitable and had no desire for excellence. If that was “everyone”, I didn’t want to be everyone.
Needless to say, as a young adult I wasn’t an extension of my parents will- I was my own person, I knew what I wanted and what I believed, and I wasn’t swayed by the mob mentality or desire for the acceptance of my peers. I knew where my worth lay, and it wasn’t in the approval of others, as so many kids my age felt. I didn’t need to be liked to feel secure, so I didn’t give into pressure.
Sin wasn’t a temptation- I knew what sin was and what it cost. Sex had consequences which had been described to me in gruesome detail by my mother- not just the physical consequences, but the emotional ones. The same was true of drugs and alcohol. As a fourteen year old I knew what being drunk could do, as well as getting high. I liked my liver, being able to stand up straight and having my inhibitions and social filters in tact. So when I was older and my friends started drinking regularly I already knew that I didn’t want to go there. Experimenting seemed unnecessary. And when I was in college and I was visiting friends and they got out-of-their-minds drunk, I stayed sober so that I could give them a humiliating account of their actions the next morning.
By the time that I was living on my own in the world, I knew how to cope with it. The gradual letting go process that my parents underwent was final. It wasn’t a sudden cut like some of my friends underwent. I didn’t feel out in the world terrified, unmoored and unsure of my direction.
As a parent one of the most important jobs you have is informing your child and preparing them for the moment they are on their own, without you as their compass, needing to be ready to live a full and healthy life. Part of that means showing them the world- both the bad and the good- and giving them the tools to know the difference.