It is an interesting question to what extent we should shield our children from life. Homeschoolers, especially conservative Christian ones, often boast of how they shelter their children. On the other hand, one argument for homeschooling is that it allows children to interact not just with their immediate peers, thereby giving them a better experience of “real life.”
As is often the case, we need to begin by defining what we are talking about. Those who proudly shelter their children ate often thinking of the influence of pop culture — the early sexualization of kids, the violence of video games, the inanity of most TV shows, and, yes, sometimes also belief systems that their parents don’t subscribe to. To a certain extent, I can support all of this. I do think kids need to know that not everyone believes as they do and that there can be good logical arguments on the other side of the evolution/creation debate (to name just one), but there is much in our popular media which is not wholesome. Charlotte Mason spoke of choosing our materials wisely, dismissing those books of a lighter character as twaddle. The Bible also tells us that we should think of those things that are ” . . . true . . . honorable . . . just . . . pure . . . lovely . . . ” (Phil. 4:8). So I think there is good reason to avoid a lot of what is out there. And hopefully, the child will then develop good taste (and if there are things which are true and things which are not, we must acknowledge that there are things which are in good taste and things which are just bad taste). There may be times, if perhaps they have a college roommate with different preferences, that they cannot completely avoid exposure to the worst of pop culture, but for the most part, these are not things they ever need in their lives.
But there is another way in which we seek to shelter our children. We try to keep from them the knowledge of what life is really like with all its warts and pains and griefs. This, I think, we do to their detriment and ultimately in vain. All the hurts of life are part of our human experience (since the Fall) and they have a purpose in our lives.There was a time only a hundred years ago or so when we could not have spared children many of these griefs. But thanks to advances in technology and medicine, we are now able to shelter them to a much greater extent than ever before. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am happy for those advances. I am happy that in this country at least most moms and babies survive childbirth. I am very grateful for the discovery of insulin without which my daughter would have quickly died at age 1. But to the degree that we are insulated from all the roughness of human existence, we are also poorer in many ways. We are able to avoid the thought of our own mortality until well into our 20s. All those awful things are designed to drive us to our Creator and to sanctify us and mold us into what He wants us to be. Without them, we become numb and stunted in our growth.
Charlotte Mason speaks of this:
“I am not sure that we let life and its circumstances have free play about children. We temper the wind too much to the lambs; pain and sin, want and suffering, disease and death––we shield them from the knowledge of these at all hazards. I do not say that we should wantonly expose the tender souls to distress, but that we should recognise that life has a ministry for them also; and that Nature provides them with a subtle screen, like that of its odour to a violet, from damaging shocks.” (“We are Educated by Our Intimacies,” from School Education, pp. 183-184)
There are a couple of points we may take from this short quote. The first is that life, with all its hazards (as Charlotte calls them), is shaping our children. We deprive them of something when we try to isolate them from that.
I have an example from real life. I want to preface it by saying that I know it is far easier to see someone else’s parenting mistakes than our own. I probably have a log in my own eye that others can see just as well. At one of our homeschool park days in the fall a little boy bit a number of other children. Now he does have some developmental issues and I don’t think he did it at all maliciously, but these were hard bites that left marks that lasted a week. Though the mother later addressed the issue and apologized, the ultimate result was that a few families left park day never to return. Their concern was that their children were just not safe at our park day. And I have to concede that they are probably not. This same child could bite again. There could be another child who does something similar, or worse. But the saddest part to me is that these moms who left lost the opportunity to teach their kids to forgive. By making a decision to remove their kids from a potentially painful situation, they didn’t allow them to grow by learning how to consider their own pain less than the needs of another, even someone who has hurt them.
The scone point I want to make from the above quote is that Nature (as Charlotte says; we might say God) protects kids from what they are not yet ready to bear. I have seen this with my own kids when a close relative died. Though they prayed for this person and his salvation for months, when they death came, without any evidence of repentance, they took it much more in stride than any grown-up. Kids often get past these things much more quickly than we expect.
So how do we expose our children to life in the right way? I think stories play a big role in that. They allow kids to experience things they would not otherwise and to work through issues in a safe way in their heads before they encounter them in real life. So we must not spare them from stories which contain hard situations and issues. (This is not to say that every book is good to read at every age, and some are never worth reading; but that’s a whole nother post.) One of the best things I think we can do is to allow them to pray with us. In our church, the pastor asks before service for prayer requests and it can take 10 minutes some weeks for everyone to say what they want to say. These may be trivial things, but there are often a lot that are really serious concerns for health and family and jobs. (We actually have a lot of African refugees in our church and they have a lot of quite real and serious needs.) And then as a church and later during the week as a family we pray for these things. This shows our children not only all the struggles other people have, which helps put our own in context, but also that we do have a Recourse when trouble hits. It is not actually a dynamic we created in purpose, but I am very happy that our kids have this in their lives.
My last tip for not sheltering your kids too much would be to just step back for a minute when they have struggles and to ask yourself what God is doing in their lives. All too often I think we suppose that it is all about us, but God is working in their hearts and lives as much as He is on ours. And sometimes we just need to let Him do that.