The Problem With Sheltering

It’s the natural inclination for parents to be protective – sometimes overprotective. Homeschooling parents especially often have this tendency. I think this overprotectiveness is usually a reaction to the extreme situations of messed up kids that sometimes come out of the school systems. Some parents take one extreme and head as far in the opposite direction as they can go. They’re terrified of letting their kids be exposed to the “filth” of the world, as if anything but Adventures in Odyssey tapes (ok, you probably just download them from iTunes now) will turn their kid into a pot smoking, tattooed atheist – the three worst things any Christian homeschooling parent could imagine.

I know I’m a nineteen year old college student with no kids, so maybe I have no business talking about this. But I was homeschooled, and grew up around homeschoolers, and this is simply what I have observed.

Anyway, so some parents don’t let their kids watch, listen to, or hang out with anyone remotely unchaste. But when parents do this, consciously or unconsciously, they’re painting their kids as having pure souls, not to be tainted by anything from the outside world.

But we don’t need the outside world to have a problem. Our own sinful hearts are the problem.

So much of real life is theoretical when it comes to homeschooling, evangelical Christians. It’s drilled into us from an early age that the world is a sinful place, and that we have to constantly be on the lookout for sin. We’re taught how to deal with people who challenge our faith, and in general taught how to deal with the world. But none of that compares to actual, invaluable, practice. Hanging out all the time with your siblings is great, but it’s not enough. It’s just not.

If you’ve ever homeschooled or been homeschooled, you have heard the question, “don’t you worry about socialization?” Most of us scoff at this question. Of course we’re socialized. We have friends from church, or sports, or co-ops. But when we really think about it, do we really know that many people who aren’t like us? Do we really know how to relate to people who are different?

When it comes to other people, I think keeping kids from becoming friends with other kids – whoever it may be – can be damaging. It keeps kids from learning how to understand and love people who are different. To keep your child from being friends with another kid because he or she doesn’t believe the same things is to deny the precious, God-given value of that person. It is to paint your child as the victim. It is to say, “your kid’s a worse sinner than mine.”

To be honest, I really didn’t spend a whole lot of time with people who weren’t exactly like me until I got a job in high school. And while it didn’t really change my personality or beliefs, learning to have relationships with different people was a big adjustment. It kind of threw me off. I remember being so afraid that I would become a “bad kid” by being friends with people who held different beliefs, and didn’t have the same moral code as me.  But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to shift my thinking from fearing the influence of others, to realizing that my own heart is the problem, not anyone else.

This isn’t a knock on homeschooling. Homeschooling can be great. Looking back, I realize now that I had a mostly awesome homeschooling experience, and I’m really grateful for that. It’s not just about being socially awkward. I’ve met awkward people from all walks of life. Awkward is okay.

The real, underlying problem is that over-sheltering is based on fear, and it produces fear. I think Christian parents feel responsible for their childrens’ souls – and in a way, they are.

But the hard truth is, you can’t save your kid. You can’t be Christ for them. Only Christ can be Christ for them. They’re going to have to make their own choices at some point, so you may as well let them get some practice now.


4 thoughts on “The Problem With Sheltering

  1. Excellent Virginia…and a subject close to my heart. Allen, Falesha and I have discussed homschooling Jaxson because of all the shooting, etc in the schools. Allen’s feeling was that Jaxson needed to be a part of the school, a part of the sports, and etc. Falesha was dead against it and commented that “except for the Groover Kids”, all the homeschoolers seemed to have missed out on life. Glad to hear how you feel from a “homeschooler”.

  2. I have often found the idea of too much sheltering and protection to be inconsistent with other views many overprotective parents claim to have, such as predestination, infant baptism and “covenant children”. Don’t these all suggest that God has already decided who will and will not be saved? And if God has, then not even the most powerful forces of public schools, television, boys, or even–gasp–Satan, can snatch them out of God’s hands. (Not to say we should just throw them out into the world to fend for themselves, but the great thing about having 18 years to grow up at home is that they should be able to go out and make mistakes but have correction, discipline and safety of the home environment and parental advice to fall back on.) When your first mistakes out in the real world are when you are a grown adult out on your own, it can be pretty rough, I imagine. I also find this idea that if you shelter your child enough he will be “perfect” to be inconsistent with the idea of total depravity and original sin.

    Some other parents claim they are overprotective and shelter their children so that their child will be happy or have an easier life. Unfortunately, I have more often met incredibly broken people who are miserable and lonely as a product of their sheltering. It often makes their lives even harder once they venture out into the real world because of a grueling period of adjustment and disillusionment.

    I find it hard to believe that the best way to raise missionaries and evangelists is by sheltering them and hiding them from the world, teaching them fear. I have not heard of many people who were so sheltered from the world turn out to be bold and confident proclaimers of the Gospel and lovers of all types of people, at least not without some serious adjustments and soul searching because of the sheltered lifestyle they began with. We should not be afraid of the world, because Jesus has overcome the world.

    John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

    (Lest there be any confusion, my post is not about homeschooling–I am a big fan of homeschooling–but a couple common inconsistencies I have observed of overprotective parents’ beliefs versus actions. Sorry for the insanely long comment.)


  3. Always enjoying reading your blog. It gives me incite into your thinking and I am also impressed with your good writing. I am so proud of you and love you so much!

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