Beyond Nice: Raising Virtuous Kids
- Thursday, March 27, 2008
In my previous article, I discussed how misunderstanding and ignorance have too often led Christian parents to raise fearful, unassertive children. Now we reflect on how we came to that point.
Marital disintegration often creates fragile, timid, and wary children. If they ever had it at all, the parental strength they once relied upon to help them face their inner insecurities and outer-world concerns becomes disrupted and usually dismantled. Sometimes their fragility is concealed behind a fake toughness; what’s not hidden is a closed spirit that requires special healing to reopen.
Pop star Kelly Clarkson, who experienced this kind of home-life distress, wrote a dark and accusatory song that resonates in the hearts of many young adults who find themselves in a similar place. Her “Because of You” video shows a husband and wife at each other’s throats while a little girl watches. After verbal brawls, depression, breakage, and tears, the father moves out.
Clarkson is that brokenhearted little girl. The song’s poignant and painful chorus says that because of her parents’ choices, she stays on the safe side of life, has a hard time trusting herself and others, and lives in constant fear. In an online interview she admitted it was hard for her family to watch the video, but she says “Because of You” is more than a protest. “The song is about breaking that cycle [of domestic violence and divorce] and not carrying it on to the next generation. Kids are like sponges, and they imitate what they see. And sometimes that’s not fair because what we see is not good for us.”
It’s a phenomenal tragedy that divorce rates in the church aren’t markedly different from those in the general culture. At the same time, in recognizing the damaging effects of divorce and in seeking to stem its prevalence, the Christian community is among the few brave entities to confront the nefarious effects of divorce upon individuals and societies.
We need to learn how to start showing courage in other ways as well. Christian culture is prone toward “bubble living,” isolating (or thinking we’re isolating) ourselves from danger when sometimes what we’re really doing is trying to immunize against living real life.
We’re good at focusing on the negative: Jesus did say we’re not to be of the world. Yet we somehow manage to forget the positive: we also are to be in it (see John 17). Failure to recognize and apply this—indeed, many Christians seek to live out the opposite—contributes to the crisis of fragile and ill-prepared children. If they’re sealed in a biosphere for eighteen years, sure, they may stay “uninfected”…until they’re let out. Then, far from being immunized or inoculated, they’re prone to catch almost anything.
I’m still amazed by what I saw kids from Christian homes do when they got to college, away from their highly sheltered lives. They had professed to follow the Lord and receive His whole council, and they had lived such highly prescribed lives, but if their parents only knew half their exploits, they might, like Job, tear their clothing and sit in ashes. “Every fall,” observes John Portmann, professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, “parents drop off their well-groomed freshmen, and within two or three days many have consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol and placed themselves in harm’s way. These kids have been controlled for so long, they just go crazy.”
By and large, we’re not debilitating our kids on purpose. Over the years I’ve slogged through a ton of negativity, and I’m insistent that guilt is not an acceptable synonym for parenthood. Nonetheless, often with the best of intentions, Christian and non-Christian parents alike are raising children who are passive, pleasant, and malleable rather than innovative, proactive, and bold. These “nice” children prevalently struggle with fear, anxiety, loneliness, and, later in life, relational instability and divorce. Our goal should be to create confident and truly virtuous kids who are capable of doing more than their part in obtaining an abundant life. These children become adults who lend their strength to others and help them obtain happiness as well.
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