When did you outgrow your parents?
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
– Joni Mitchell
I saw a television news program the other evening about families who have children that decide to adopt a different religious faith. This seemed strange to me. I know this to be a very rare experience. I wonder why the news thought it was something that we needed to hear about? Because it was abnormal? Television has become our version of the circus freak show, right?
Children don’t decide on their own about things like religious belief. Young adults sometimes do when they leave the family and strike out on their own. Children make decisions about religious belief in the context of their social environment, with family, teachers, ministers and friends.
A recent Pew study found that 44% of adults have switched their religious faith from the one they grew up in – but they made this decision once they became adults. The largest group were Protestants (the largest segment of the population).
- Most of these reported that they made their switch to a different Protestant denomination, like from Baptist to Methodist.
- They did so for two main reasons, because they had moved to a different community or had married someone of a different denomination.
- We continue to live in a rapidly mobile society AND Protestantism continues to reinvent itself with all sorts of new “brands” emerging each year.
- Switching from one distinctive religious group, like Judaism to Mormonism remains rare.
What struck me about the story on the news was this trend we keep experiencing in America of treating children as if they were completely self-aware adults who are ready to make all sorts of decisions for themselves like religious belief, sexual preference, gender roles, or even dress codes.
Children are supposed to be in a special kind of relationship called childhood. They need to relate in healthy ways with adults called parents who are chiefly responsible for socializing them, preparing them for successful entry into the world of adulthood. Parents aren’t supposed to surrender this role and suffer the angst of trying to be the BFF of each one of their children. Parents aren’t supposed to be disconnected (too connected to their work!) from the day to day lives of their children in such a way that they can’t engage in healthy, practical and successful socialization. It’s difficult, but someone has to do it!
I keep seeing cues from the media urging parents to let their children become self-regulating autonomous decision makers. This isn’t healthy for anyone. What do we need from parents?
- Parents are the adults, and act like it
- Parents model good decision making
- Parents provide structure, rules and consequences – a safe and consistent environment in which to learn and grow
- Parents help their children take appropriate steps that move forward
This article from a young adult blogger recently appeared in Relevant Magazine. She writes about five lessons she learned about life while being a part of her church youth group. As she reflects on the experience she’s discovered that these lessons have turned out to be true. It’s a great post and I thought about how she got involved in her youth group in the first place. Her parents took her to church, drove her to meetings, modeled their own religious lives and invested themselves in her spiritual growth.
Children, teenagers even young adults starting their lives need parents. They need parents to teach them how to survive in this world. They need parents to help them find their way to God. Remember, less than 20% of American households are two parents and children. A little more than a third of our children live in single parent or in cohabiting family arrangements. So many of our children are being raised in a variety of living situations. Ones that are probably less secure, less certain. The job of parenting is as essential today as it ever has been.
“Listen, there is no way any true man is going to let children live around him in his home and not discipline and teach, fight and mold them until they know all he knows. His goal is to make them better than he is. Being their friend is a distant second to this.” – Victor Devlin