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Letting Kids Make Their Own Choices — #2

For a short while I was a youth pastor. I used to play a game with the group called, “Spot the Lie.” The idea was that advertising, music and TV often contain subtle lies. It’s why Budweiser uses finely sculpted 2000_Budweiser_Girl.jpgwomen to sell beer, Barbies are never fat, and even old guys look cool with an iPod. I’d play a song or commercial for the kids and see who could spot the lie. Usually, there was more than one lie, but they were not always easy to recognize.

On a much bigger scale, parenting is teaching our kids how to spot the lie.

Of course, sometimes it’s much easier to tell our kids something is a lie than give them the tools to discern it themselves. I have a pastor friend who forbid his kids from watching The Wizard of Oz. Why? Because there was a Good Witch, and everyone knows witches are not good. Instead of walking his children through the issues or focusing on more healthy elements of the story, he posted a KEEP OUT sign. And the strictures only got tighter. Once his kids were teens, he banned them from listening to rap music and censured other activities.

Is it any wonder that his daughter ran away from home at 16?

There’s a big difference between forbidding little Jimmy from playing in the street and forbidding teenage Jimmy from listening to rap music. Nevertheless, many parents are tempted to do both. But if parenting is like a funnel, we should be empowering our children as they grow; giving them the tools of discernment and trusting them to use them, granting them more autonomy, and relinquishing control. And this is where many parents struggle — we have a hard time letting go.

Just as with religion, parenting is a balancing act between

Legalism and License

wizardofoz1.jpgSome churches forbid their women from wearing makeup, ban drinking and smoking, and believe TV, drums, electric guitars and tattoos are of the devil. Their list of rules is as long and as the road to membership is narrow. On the other hand, there’s churches who endorse gay weddings, wink at numerous vices, deny the existence of Hell, and hold Bible studies in the local pub. On one side is a religion of law, on the other, lawlessness; on one hand, rules and restrictions, on the other, permissiveness. One denies grace, the other abuses it.

Most parents teeter between these two extremes: Some over-emphasize LAW, others over-emphasize GRACE. Either we create an environment of rules and rigidity, where approval is earned and formula enforced, or we employ unconditional approval and simply let little Jimmy do his own thing.

In my experience, I’ve encountered far more parents who are legalistic than those who are not. Why? I have a theory. Really two.

  1. Rules are easier to manage, monitor and enforce than grace is to control.
  2. Grace requires letting go, and we fear letting go.

More. . .

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Ame July 26, 2007, 2:55 PM

    My parents had no rules … until we crossed some illusive, non-existant line, and then they beat me. My ex’s parents still have more rules than God would ever create, and I have never come close to meeting their standards (hummm … and my ex dove into porn?! … there’s a shocker.)

    Getting divorced with my kids so little, I’ve had to learn to let go of them long before I was supposed to. At their dad’s, the rules are rigid and long; and my girls know they don’t want to be alone with their daddy, so they will not go over there without each other. Whew.

    Am I perfect? No. But I think I’m teaching my girls to be “thinking” kids. Will that hold out as they are ambushed by adolesence and puberty? I don’t know; I hope so.

    I’ve kinda had two parenting philosophies that have developed. First is that there are so many things I have to say, “no” to that I try to say “yes” whenever I can. And the second is that I want them to always know they can talk to me about anything at anytime.

    Am I doing it right? Gosh, that’s a loaded question. But there’s one thing I do, and that is I earnestly pray that God would raise me up and enable me to be the mom to each child that He needs me to be to that child, and I believe it’s different for each of them. And then, I trust the Holy Spirit to convict me and guide me.

    And, I am quick to apologize to my girls when needed … uhhh … that’s often on some days 😉

    Legalism and permissiveness … God is neither. May I be more like God.

    These have been good – I’ll try to read all the comments on the first one … 17!

  • Jacob July 26, 2007, 3:24 PM


    You have a lot of wisdom on this subject. Thank you for putting it down for us to read.

    — Jacob

  • dayle July 26, 2007, 4:54 PM

    Well put Mike,

    Communicating is key. Not just telling. There must be an understanding of the principles.

    I think some parents just don’t know how to do this. It could be a self-perpetuating cycle.

    I know someone who raised his kids with very strict rules. There was no physical abuse that I am aware of. He was a kind man, but I don’t think he communicated with his kids the meaning behind his rules. Long story short: Both of his daughters turned from sweet little girls to teenagers who took to drugs and experimented “alot” at a very young age. One of them is in prison right now for murder.

    I also don’t think enough parents realize the harm of a do as I say not as I do attitude. Example is the best teacher. Kids can see beyond the words.

  • Melody July 27, 2007, 5:07 PM

    I agree but now I’m in for the challenge. It may be easier said then done.

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