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Friday, June 23, 2006

Let's Give Our Children "Eden"

We are sometimes criticized for being over-protective of our children because we carefully monitor what they can or cannot watch, hear, or do. Over the years I have given this comment a lot of thought. Are we really being over-protective? Is being protective good or bad? Are we sheltering our children in a way that hinders their growth instead of promoting it?

Whenever we hear the word "over-protective" or "shelter," it conjures up a negative connotation instead of positive. What I'd like to argue for is a positive connotation. It is a good thing to protect and shelter our children from harm. We see it even in nature where mama bear will fight and protect her cub should her baby be in any harm. One would think intuitively being a protective parent is a good thing when the children are young. However, as children move toward adulthood, it is not healthy if the parents are still protecting and sheltering in the same fashion.

I often wonder why parents don't send their two year olds on their own to cross the street? Why do they need to hold their hands all the time? Why can't the children be exposed to the reality of the street? Questioning this seems absurd. Of course you want to keep your children from physical harm. How is this different from keeping them from emotional and spiritual harm?

Because we are a homeschooling family, we were occasionally asked how our children will learn to deal with the unfairness of the world when they are grown if they are not going to face the playground bully at school while young. Believe me, I didn't make this question up. From what I know, children who were bullied while young often carry this scar with them up to adulthood. There are even programs in public schools to reduce this kind of activity — which seems to contradict the idea that we should expose our children to it (see here and here)! This doesn't prepare them for the unfairness of the world. In fact, it can cripple them. My goal is to shelter and protect my children while they are still children so as to better equip them for the world when they are grown up. As another example, why is that we send people to boot camp before they are sent out to fight in a war? Why can't we just send out anyone who wants to fight without any boot camp? The reason is obvious: the soldiers need training first before they can be sent out to the actual war. Likewise, our children need proper training and upbringing before they can be effective in the world — especially as ambassadors and soldiers for Christ.

My goal at this stage in my children's lives is to "give them Eden," a phrase borrowed from John Mark Reynolds of Biola University. The Garden of Eden represents the most perfect and beautiful place where truth, beauty, and goodness reign. Instead of exposing my children to the ugliness of this world, I want to give them Eden. When they are ready, they will surely learn about the reality of this world. Children who are exposed to the ugliness of this world early on tend to be disillusioned and have a difficult time appreciating beauty when they are grown. In other words, their worldview has been tainted and they carry with them a distorted view of the world — which can hinder them from appreciating true beauty.

My main point is that we want to do as much protecting and sheltering by giving our children "Eden" while they are young. As they mature, we will carefully unfold the realities of this world to them and trust God to enable to live discerningly with the tools we've given them by then.