Parental Duties in a Post-Mayberry Life

I found this old file on my computer from something I wrote in exasperation a few years ago. I updated it a bit and think it’s still relevant. In the next issue of Soul Gardening Journal, I have an article that deals with some of the specifics on how to raise children in our fallen world… hopefully that’ll be out in the next few weeks!
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mayberryDo your boys swim naked with their friends? Do you offer to give pedestrians rides to the other end of town? Does your town shut down and all the neighbors put on their Sunday best and walk to church together on the Sabbath? No. Our world is much more loose, suspicious and fast than the good ol’ days of 60 years ago. Without romanticizing the past, I think we all know that, as a culture, we’ve lost some of our innocence and our universally recognized standard of what is “good” and “right”.

Interestingly, so many conservative thinkers are unwilling to adapt their thinking. We shouldn’t become jaded or paranoid about our current world nor is it going to do any good mourning the loss of American values. But we do need to change the way we raise our children. From the beginning of time, parents have had the challenge of teaching what is good, noble and true to their offspring. This duty has not changed. But our methods must. Here are some examples:

Decades ago, it wasn’t essential to discuss pornography with children. They typically weren’t allowed in the “adult” section at video stores and bikini baristas didn’t exist. Today, if we ignore the issue of pornography in a misguided attempt to “protect their innocence”, our children will more likely fall victim to it. Exposure to pornography is not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when. They don’t have to go looking for it. The most innocuous search phrases will bring it right up online. I even came across it on one unfortunate pro-life ministry site—they had been hacked! It’s on cable television and practically on network TV as well. There is no need to give explicit information to young children about what they’ll see but there is a need to teach them custody of the eyes and solutions for what to do when they find it. In my own family, my husband uses the book: Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-Proofing Today’s Young Kids with our 9, 11 and 13 year old children. He doesn’t want to spend time doing this; but we live in a culture where it would be a dereliction of our duty if we didn’t.

Mayberry is gone. We also don’t usually want to discuss child predators or appropriate touching either. These are uncomfortable discussions. Yet good parents recognize that they need to happen.

I think that we need to start rethinking the discomfort we feel about children seeing graphic pro-life imagery as well. Now, I would never suggest that all children of all ages and all sensitivities need to be exposed to these signs as soon as possible. Indeed I don’t want my own children to see them! There is horror and concern about damaging the innocence of children. And these are valid concerns. Our world is fallen and it’s not natural to introduce children to the horror of killing, be it abroad or domestic. Yet we have to stop idolizing this idea that its possible  to give our children a natural childhood anyway. It’s tragic. But the world we live in has made it essential to adapt our techniques and to do the best we can.

A friend of mine was very concerned when I mentioned off-handedly some of the content of my son’s Confirmation prep program… how it talked about dating. She was ruffled that the Church would mention teenage dating at all!  That our children should be “safe” from such discussions in our faith communities. I responded to her that not only was I tolerating this discussion in the class, but I was grateful for it! No my son hasn’t ever had a girlfriend… but I am thankful that the reality of teens dating is being discussed in the context of the faith. I mean, he can go across the street to park and watch a couple of 12 year olds make out and know that hormones, peer pressure and stupidity coexist… but he will draw his own conclusions on these things if they are not proactively discussed by faithful people. We can’t get away from the fallen world. This is where we live and we have to help kids make sense of it in a healthy way.

Christians wake up! Pay attention!  We can’t bury our heads in the sand and go about our little, sheltered homeschooled lives! We have to be savvy. We have to be aware. We have to be prepared. Offering children a safe glimpse of the fallen world from the context of a loving home will do far more good to them than simply ignoring depravity and hoping you can keep your kids out of the mud for the rest of their lives. Because you can’t. And I’ve seen too many families suffer the consequences of what can happen when they were raised with a very rigid, limited view of the real world.

Give them the truth. Give it to them in all its horror and pain. Of course with sensitivity and proper timing. Of course with proactive love and not reactive punishment. But give the truth all the same knowing that your love will soften the blow. And trust in the mercy of God and the care of the holy angels to be the safe bridge for our children over the muck and mire that is inevitable on the path to Heaven…

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