Are We Harming our Children or Arming Them?

Posted on April 28, 2015

Kevin Swanson is a very conservative Christian teacher and preacher. In recent years, he has devoted himself and his ministry team (at Generations Radio) to engage and understand the Millennial Generation and their unique beliefs and needs.

In this sermon audio, he explains a disturbing trend among the children who grew up in Evangelical churches and are now exercising and practicing their faith as grown Millennials:

In this audio, he references two additional studies furnished by Time Magazine and the Public Religion Research Institute. I encourage you to read my summary below and then return to these links if you want to wrestle with the conclusions.

First, he mentions that 43% of the children of evangelicals now support Gay Marriage. This figure is more than double what it was in 2003. This should concern anyone who believes that Gay Marriage goes against the clear teaching of Scripture.

Second, all the studies come to the conclusion that the more a child is isolated from the primary culture the more likely they are in their 20s to support Gay Marriage, practice premarital sex and experiment with drugs and alcohol.  This isolation can happen through schooling options–such as Christian Schools and homeschooling–or through strict rules about what a child can read, watch or interact with outside of school.

Speaking as a parent that had strict guidelines about what my children could read, watch and play with, these studies are talking about me. I just wanted to make that clear. Also, all of my children attended Christian schools at one time or another and one of them was homeschooled for a period. I mention this lest anyone think I am against Christian schools or homeschooling.

In addition, I believe that all parents–Christian or otherwise–should be a filter for their children, warding off the worst of the dominant culture, especially in their early years. Let no one mistake that.

What is even more disturbing is that Christian parents who exercised less supervision over their children have the opposite results.  Swanson says that children from more lenient households do not show as much support for Gay marriage or drug and alcohol use..  Remember, these studies are only measuring the children of evangelicals. They do not canvas or study children of mainline church members, secular children or children of other faiths.

About seven years ago, another study was done to determine how effective the “True Love Waits” campaign was. This was a campaign to encourage students to devote themselves to sexual purity before marriage. The study concluded that teens who participated in “True Love Waits” had sex before marriage at a higher rate than church teens who didn’t take the pledge. (To be fair, the founders of this movement dispute the findings and challenge a larger study to be done. At the very least they admit though not enough students really did “wait” the movement was a success in that some percentage of teens abstained because of their pledge. I don’t think they are correct).

I have explained some of this in my upcoming book “The Spiritwalk”, but allow me to summarize what I believe is happening. Let’s start with the simplest explanation. All children rebel; this has been true since the beginning with Adam and Eve. Rebellion is simply a declaration of “no one tells me what to do…I make my own decisions.” Every child believes this at some point, regardless of how well we parent. In his book Parents in Pain, Dr. John White observed that God was the perfect parent and all his children have gone astray.

Rebellion gets more pronounced with more rules. Paul makes this point clearly in Romans 7:7-11.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death.

The more rules a society has, the more rebellious its people. Those who live in Singapore, one of the most rule-oriented societies in the history of the world, say that its people are constantly looking for ways to act out in rebellion; in sexual, emotional, financial and substance abuse activities.

So what is the answer to this: have no rules? That would simply foment chaos. For those of us who have raised our children, we often remember the biggest mistakes we made as teens. When we see our own teens marching down the road toward those same mistakes, we want to jump in and squash those problems before they start. This can be a mistake if we try and prevent some things from happening too soon. The more we mention how bad some mistakes are, the more curious their rebellion gets.

Or, when they do make mistakes, we often (out of love) jump in to rescue them too early. This gives our children the impression that they are not responsible for figuring these things out on their own. When they truly are “on their own” they have not had to exercise their own judgment. We may be setting them up for failing by rescuing them too early.

The other mistake is made when we rush in to create even more rules to control them.  Doing this virtually guarantees they will kick against it. Some will do this openly, but many will wait until after they leave home to do it.

The key to balancing the approach to potential mistakes is always boundaries and consequences. Let them know how you would like them to act while they live in your house. At the same time, give them options in life. As they get older, give them choices; even choices that you might disapprove of. The more choices a child has in their life, the better they will get in handling their own ability to choose. A parent should never take all choices away from their children. This is a recipe for disaster. you cannot make a child believe what  you believe, no matter how much you isolate them.

I think of the Father of the Prodigal Son. He didn’t force his child to stay home. He knew the child would destroy the peace of his life by going away with the inheritance, but he did not stop him.

The longer you hold onto all the choices in a child’s life, the more intensely they will rebel when they are no longer under your authority.

But, if  you live your life with integrity, if you bring in life options consistent with  your beliefs and explain why you believe what you do, and then give your child the options to agree or disagree, then though they will certainly rebel at some point, they will do so with much less intensity than if you tried to control their choices.

In the next article, I want to show what a good example and a bad example would look like in this discussion.