Today’s post is provided by my son, Joey. He is married to Lauren and they have an adorable Disney-loving daughter, Amelia. Joey manages ProVisionIT, a technology solutions company started by his oldest brother, where his degree in Philosophy is completely irrelevant. But his love for truth comes in handy when he reads Mom’s blogs and offers to help nuance things for me. I’m grateful that my kids even read my posts, much less want to weigh in.
Yesterday my brother, Jake, tackled the issue of legalism, explaining how parental rule-making and standard enforcement is not necessarily legalism. Legalism is a heart motivation issue, not an issue or practice. He was writing given the understanding that those reading would have read Mom’s post regarding sexual temptation and sin in the home. I am going to do the same by following up Jake to argue that making rules and enforcing standards in regards to worldliness and sexuality is a very wise thing to do, on top of it not being legalistic.
Okay, the truth is I’m a new parent of one three-year-old who mostly needs to be protected from too many Disney movies. That’s why Mom is the one who does most of the writing here. But I was a kid living at home with my parents for over two decades, so I think that qualifies me as an expert at being the recipient of rules and standards, some I resented and a couple I rebelled against. And while my parents worked hard to adjust their parenting methods as my siblings and I became young adults to give us opportunities to either learn through our mistakes or become our own gatekeepers, I didn’t see anything in scripture that permitted me to dis their wisdom under the guise of “independence.” So I’m writing as one who benefitted from the kind of gatekeeping parenting that I hope to practice with my own kids.
I am briefly going to mention some common objections to the gatekeeper method of parenting when it comes to worldliness, then suggest three reasons why those objections are insufficient and consistently applied rules and standards are wise, especially as it relates to our sex-saturated culture.
A brief definition of the gatekeeper parental mentality was given by Mom in her article. On a very basic level gatekeeping says a parent needs to do their best to guard the gates of the hearts of their children, endeavoring to minimize bad input and maximize good input. This idea receives a fair share of criticism, stemming from a few fundamental objections.
(1) It’s impossible – This objection points out that gatekeeping is impossible because (a) no matter how absurdly isolationist you are, you can’t keep everything bad out and, (b) children’s hearts are not blank slates that will remain clean if parents keep out the dirtiness of the world – after all, Calvin calls our hearts “idol factories” capable of all manner of sin, no matter how closely guarded. This objection is a good one for the most part, in that it’s based in truth. It’s an effective response to those who take the gatekeeping mentality too far, and it’s a good reminder to all parents that God changes hearts, not parents. Mom’s article did a good job explaining why relying on just a gatekeeping mentality is not effective and also naive.
(2) It’s legalistic – See Jake’s article yesterday. As one commenter said, “I’m not legalistic; I don’t have rules. And God is more pleased with me because I don’t” is just as wrong as “I’m not legalistic; I just have rules. And God is more pleased with me because I do.”
(3) It stunts growth and sets kids up for failure – This objection points out that parents aren’t going to be around forever, and then argues too much gatekeeping can train a child to rely too heavily on his parents. Then when he is on his own he doesn’t have the ability to protect his own heart. Kids need to learn to develop their own convictions, which is part of what growing up is all about, and gatekeeping delays that process. This is why you have so many kids who abandon the faith when they reach college. They simply aren’t prepared for the onslaught of the culture when they leave their [overly] protective parents, and don’t have the convictions they should have been developing for themselves at home so they would be prepared for the world. Now that their parents aren’t there to protect them, they easily capitulate to temptation and buy into worldly ways of thinking.
Those are the main categories that objections fall into when it comes to protective parenting. Here are the three reasons I think the objections, while all containing helpful guards against relying on gatekeeping alone, fail to see the wisdom of parental gatekeeping.
(1) The Bible teaches it. – “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” Ezekiel 33:6 is not about parenting. However, it’s pretty clear about what God thinks of people who see danger and fail to protect those around them through warnings. You see this same type of thought with the temple gatekeepers who were responsible for both making sure nothing unclean got into and nothing of value was taken out of the temple. God expects those responsible for protection to protect. Parents are entrusted by God to protect their children, not just physically but spiritually (Duet 4:9-10, 6:6-9). Almost every reference to parenting in Proverbs includes the idea of correction, which is taught as one of the ways you protect your child. In fact, failing in this regard is equated to being an accessory to their spiritual death (Proverbs 19:18). It is impossible to find any indication in Scripture that not actively protecting your children from worldly influence and temptation is a good idea.
(2) It Works – Not perfectly, of course. Mom’s article is exactly right that rules, standards and strategies to limit your children’s exposure to our sex-saturated culture are only part of the parenting equation. But it is a helpful part — and a large part of the reason why is that kids are imitators. (So are adults for that matter. But it’s obvious in kids.)
As I mentioned, Amelia loves Disney and she went through a stretch of watching a lot of the Disney classics. Just about every one of them ends with a kiss. It wasn’t long before playing with her Disney prince and princess dolls meant, well, a lot of kissing and not much else. Lauren and I stopped showing Beauty and Beast and Cinderella and a few of the others, stuck with Disney Junior for a while, and now her dolls are having bad attitudes at each other for not opening the castle door quickly enough. Much better.
The point is, whether it’s a two-year-old watching a G rated movie or a 13-year-old starting to mimic the speech of his best friend, kids imitate. As Christians we are called to imitate Christ, and Deuteronomy/Proverbs indicate a wise parent trains their child in that regard from the very beginning. This necessarily means minimizing their exposure to worldly things to imitate, along with maximizing their exposure to godly things to imitate. By the way, in my opinion the most important way to do this with older kids is through monitoring their friendships.
(3) It’s Not Just for Kids – I think where the objection that gatekeeping sets kids up for failure when they get to the real world misses the mark is in its ignoring of the fact that it shouldn’t stop once they are outside the home. Guarding the heart, minimizing worldly input, setting up rules of accountability…none of these things should end at any point. As kids get older they should be taking responsibility for being the primary gatekeepers of their own hearts, but gatekeeping is still required, and for all the same reasons. Gatekeeping is a necessary and wise part of parenting because it is how kids learn to be the gatekeepers of their own heart. That’s the idea behind the oft misunderstood “train up a child in the way he should go” verse. Parenting is nothing other than teaching and demonstrating the Christian life to your children. If you are a gatekeeper of your own heart, if you have rules and standards in place in your own life as to the type of input the world has into your heart because you know your heart needs that type of vigilance, than it would be a grievous dereliction of your God-given responsibility as a parent not to teach your child to do the same.