By Kris Wolfe

[En español]

I cringe thinking about “secular influences” on my children, not just because they can be bad, but also because I don’t want my children developing a “holier-than-thou” attitude. I want them to be firmly planted in Christ and derive their strength and identity from Him. I don’t want them thinking that they are better than other people because they are Christians and the others are not.

In other words, I don’t want to raise little Sadducees and Pharisees. I want to raise children who strive to be like Christ, looking for the best in people, and giving people a chance when others look down their noses at them.

It’s a difficult balance to find, especially for children, who work better with clear rules and boundaries. In order to find this balance we must teach our children to be thinkers and lead with love.

As a mom, there are millions of things that scare me. I told my son the other day that I can’t think of a scarier job than parenting: our hearts running around outside of out bodies, making decisions that could have lasting consequences. Yikes!

Little children need a list of dos and don’ts. Bigger children need a list accompanied with the “whys.” But pre-teens and teens need so much more. They need to begin developing discernment, or the ability to think critically and carefully. And this is a masterful skill to teach.

If I asked you what influences concern you, you might mention:

  • Electronics
  • Social media
  • Phone apps that your kids use but you don’t fully understand
  • Texting/“Sexting
  • Other kids with differing beliefs
  • Drugs/alcohol use in media and with their peers
  • Media’s portrayal of sex
  • Easy access to pornography
  • Peer pressure to take unwise risks of all kinds

But short of constantly spying on our children or following them everywhere, what can we actually do about it?

  • Set boundaries—You have the right to choose their data limits, their phone plans, the hours of phone usage, etc. You can take away their phone or other privileges when they have crossed boundaries or just because you are concerned. You are the parent.

  • Say no to things you aren’t comfortable with—If you don’t feel comfortable with Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, just say no. Let them know that they have to have permission to add new apps, or set the phone restrictions in a way that only you have the password to add apps.

  • Say no to friends that you aren’t comfortable with—If the kids that they are hanging around are disrespectful or cause your internal alarms to go off, tell your kids that their “friends” are no longer welcome in your home. Your kids may hate you now for this, but they may even thank you later.

  • Tell them why something could really hurt them—Sometimes we have to make it personal and tell them about a time that someone we know was hurt doing the very thing that they think is safe.

  • Lead with love instead of control—When explaining your rules, let the kids know that it comes from a place of love and concern for their safety and future. If they become argumentative, feel free to reiterate your rule and then walk away.

  • Keep the dialogue open and non-threatening—Let them know that they can always come to you with questions or problems and then back that up. Make sure that they know that a relationship with them is more important than them being perfect. Offer grace when they stumble, but be ready to offer boundaries that follow so that they know that you are serious about your beliefs and your love for them.

  • Listen for clues—Listen for what they bring up in conversation because they are looking for guidance and firm guidelines. My oldest brought up drugs a few times after he started high school. Upon further examination, we learned that he had personally been offered it several times in the first few weeks of school. He was looking to us to reaffirm what he already knew we believed.

  • Know when to share and when to remain quiet—A lot of what your kids are facing is new. But much of what they are tempted by, you may have been tempted by as well. In fact, you may have participated in some of the things you are trying desperately to keep them from. Before sharing some of your childhood/teenage choices with them, pray about it. And ask yourself, “Am I trying to relate to my kid or teach him? Am I being a friend or a disciple maker by sharing this?”

  • Be their parent, not their friend—It’s tempting to be cool or hip, to try to relate to them and always “understand” where they are coming from. They have dozens of friends to agree with them, but probably only two parents to hold them accountable. Do not sell yourself short as a parent by trading in respect for being liked.

  • Remember to empathize—It’s important for your kid’s feelings to be valued, but not worshipped. What I mean is, let them know that you can see that they are stressed, tired, overwhelmed, hurt or just trying to fit in. Show them that you genuinely care about their struggles, but remind them of your expectations too, so they know that you want the best for them, even when it’s hard.

  • Connect it to their future—Don’t make their problems about you. Rather make their decisions about their future: their joy, health, success, options and happiness. Paint a visual picture for them that helps them understand the long-term ramifications of the choices they are making.

  • Teach your children to ask themselves good questions—My preacher, Chad Rowland, said to ask these three questions:

    1. “Is it good?” In other words, is it a sin? If so, then STOP. If you are not sure, then go to the next question.
    2. “Is it wise?” This means, is this a decision that I will be proud of in a day, a week or a year?
    3. “Is it helpful?” I love this question because it really separates the should dos from the shouldn’t dos. When we ask ourselves if something is helpful, it’s not enough for it to just “not be a sin” but it requires us to decide if it makes our lives (and potentially the world around us) better.

  • Teach them how to say NO—“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:13) Go through scenarios and offer them logical escape plans for different issues they might face. While you cannot anticipate every possible scenario, you can help prepare them and fortify them through prayer, practicing how to say NO, and by being a safe haven when they flee from trouble.

One day our kids will be at a high school party, off to college, or at a concert 60 miles away, and we won’t be there to help them choose their influences or their path. Our job is to equip them with the proper skills to think through each decision that is presented to them. It’s been said that the average person makes upwards of 35,000 decisions a day.

Are your kids ready to make the right ones when no one is hovering? It’s not enough to be moral and righteous in front of our children, or to even be able to command it out of them. We must make it our mission to teach our children how to be adults that can eventually depend less and less on us to choose wisely.


Kris Wolfe
About Kris Wolfe
Tennessee | United States

Kris Wolfe is a Christian, wife and mother. She is a freelance writer who focuses on spiritual and practical encouragement, writes lessons for small group purposes for churches, and is also a small group coach. Kris has a master’s degree in Biblical Counseling from Luther Rice University and Seminary and is a listed TN Supreme Court Rule 31 Mediator.

Kris covers topics such as dating, marriage, parenting, divorce, post-divorce recovery, and the blended family. Read more from Kris at: Clarksville, TN Online and her website.

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