By Wendy Anne Clark
“We think so because other people all think so; or because – or because – after all we do think so; or because we were told so, and think we must think so; or because we once thought so, and think we still think so; or because, having thought so, we think we will think so…”
How do we know when to protect our kids and when to give them the tools to protect themselves? Obviously we need to do both, but when and how and where and at what age? Certainly we should protect our children from danger, from being mistreated or bullied; just as certainly, our children need to learn how to handle difficult and uncomfortable situations.
One mom has extended-family members who don’t share her religious beliefs and make that clear to this mom’s children. Should she protect them from these people? maybe and sometimes. On the other hand, her children will have to face people such as these their entire lives, and they will need skills that they should be learning now.
So stop and think: What do I want my children to do when faced with a situation like this one? Do I want them to avoid the situation completely (sometimes the answer is yes), or do I want them to manage the situation with strength and graciousness?
One way for us to teach our children how to handle difficult or uncomfortable situations is to talk to our children in advance about what to do. I come from a family that talked about most everything. There was seldom a time when I didn’t know my parents’ opinions or perspectives about how to handle a given situation.
For example, my mom is strongly opposed to séances, Ouija Boards, Tarot cards, and anything related to the Occult or contacting the dead. I know she is because when I was young, and an episode of “I Love Lucy” featured a pretend séance, my mom clearly communicated her disapproval and warned me to never play around with such things—not out of curiosity or just for fun or for any other reason. “There are some things,” she said, “that just aren’t worth trying.” That lesson carried over into many things for me, including smoking, drugs, drinking—all through my teen years, I reminded myself that there are some things that just aren’t worth trying.
Ironically, it was a Christian girl from a Christian school who went to church every Sunday and whose parents were leaders of our church and didn’t allow her to watch any TV shows about magic or witchcraft or related ideas, who tried to get a group of us girls to conduct a séance at an overnighter. Her mom might have had a similar perspective as my mom, but if so, she hadn’t communicated it clearly to her daughter, who seemed surprised that some of us thought it might not be a good idea. My mom had told me that if I were ever in that situation, I should suggest some other things to do and move things in a different direction, which is exactly what I did at the time.
My husband and I taught a high-school Sunday school class some years ago, and we were surprised by the number of church kids from church schools whose parents had never talked to them about problems and decisions that these kids were facing in their daily lives. Many of these kids saw their parents as unrealistic, uninvolved, and uninformed. They couldn’t imagine asking Mom or Dad what to do about the classmate’s parent who offered them alcohol or how to handle the student at school (yes, even a “Christian” school) who was making sexually-explicit remark or what to do when another student began spreading rumors about hem. They desperately needed guidance, but because their parents hadn’t cultivated open communication when their children were young, these kids now were detached from their parents when they needed them most.
Talk to your kids. Make sure that what you are passing on what you believe and value. Teach them how to think and use good judgment in making decisions. Teach them where to go for help and how to ask for help when they need it. Teach them when to stay and reason, and when to get out and get away. And start when they are young and are still looking up and listening to you.
Yes, they will still have to make their own decisions, and sometimes they will make poor choices, but don’t let those choices be because they didn’t have a time to think in advance about the right and wise thing to do. Don’t let those poor choices be because you never taught your children to stop and think and consider and choose. Protect your children when appropriate, and at the same time, work to give them the skills they will need to handle the difficult situations that they will most certainly face as they move into adulthood.