The Parenting Tension of Protecting Versus Preparing

Jody Livingston   -  

When our kids are small, parenting feels pretty straightforward. Make sure they’re fed, changed, clothed, and cared for. Each stage of growth and development brings new challenges with it. None of which we feel prepared for.

Even when we think we have parenting figured out, a new child can come along and challenge us. We’d never admit it, but we’re all just making it up as we go, hoping we’re not screwing our kids up.

We long for them to start eating solid foods, crawling, walking, and talking. And then we wonder why we ever did, since they now eat everything, get into everything, and never ever stop talking. As we watch our kids continue to grow older, we mourn the days of simpler parenting and conversations and long for them to gain some independence.

I couldn’t wait for my kids to start driving so we wouldn’t have to take them all over the place. Then I found myself missing the car conversations on the way to and from places. I didn’t realize how much time we seemed to have in those moments that I lost when they began to drive themselves.

Parenting is always navigating and managing tensions. And no tension is probably more constantly on our radar than protecting our kids from the world versus preparing our kids for the world.

The truth is, as I’ve already said, every kid is different. Every family is unique. And every situation is different.

So how do we navigate this well so our kids are both protected and prepared? Here are four questions each of us should consider:

What am I doing to appropriately protect my kids from things they’re not ready for?

There is an age appropriateness to what we allow our kids to be exposed to. There is a need to protect them from things they shouldn’t be aware of yet or exposed to.

This takes intentionality on our part to navigate with our kids. I often hear from parents who limit the things their kids can watch or listen to, but pay little attention to what video games their kids play or what they can do and access on their smartphone. Awareness is the key and as parents, we must be consistent learners of what things are current that our kids might find themselves vulnerable to.

With the average age of exposure to pornography now at 11 years of age, the need for parents to be diligent is stronger than ever.

We have several resources listed on our parent resource page to help you stay up to date on the culture and protect your kids online.

What am I doing to intentionally prepare my kids for the things they need to be ready for?

The temptation for us too often is to stay in protect mode for too long. We naively assume that if we don’t allow our kids to be subjected to things we deem inappropriate, they won’t know of them.

The reality couldn’t be further from this. The world and the things of the world are coming for your kids. As important as it is to appropriately protect your kids from things they’re not ready for, it is maybe even more important to prepare them for the things you and I know are coming.

Someone will teach your kids about these things. This is an unavoidable fact. It should be you.

The hope would be that your kids would never hear about something they’ve never heard about from you, from someone else that would spark curiosity or confusion. It means that as parents, we’re doing the work to stay ahead of things as our kids move further and further toward independence. It means we’re giving the wise and biblical perspective on the things they’ll see and experience before they get there so they’re ready when the time comes.

These conversations are scary and if there is ever a space where we feel ill-equipped, it’s most often felt here. But these are important.

I want to encourage you not to run from these conversations because they’re scary or uncomfortable. Don’t buy the lie that your kids “won’t listen to you anyway, so why bother?”

We have been given a tremendous blessing to be the parents of our children. This also comes with a tremendous responsibility to prepare them to be adults in their own right.

What am I doing to live out my faith and values consistently in front of my family?

Nothing will undermine your influence in your kid’s life more than not walking what you talk. I’ve said this a ton over the years, but your kids are listening more than you think they are and they are watching more than you wish they were.

At the core of our parenting, we parent our values. The things we value are the things that rise to the surface in our families. They are the things that shape and drive the decisions we make.

If you’re telling your kids something isn’t right and they’re watching you continue to do it, you may not value what you think you do. If you’re telling your kids that church is important, but you’re not making it a priority, then your kids aren’t buying it. If you’re telling your kids that reading the Bible and praying is important, but they’re never seeing you do it personally, they won’t believe you. If you’re telling your kids that, “God has it,” and He can be trusted with everything, but they’re watching you stress and worry, not seeing you model giving and tithing, they’ll not trust him when they need to.

The greatest gift you can give your kids as a parent is a faithful walk with Jesus. What you live out and model will be more impactful than anything you’ll ever say.

The old adage proves true here. More is caught than taught. This is especially true with parenting.

Am I parenting from a place of fear?

It’s easy to be afraid as a parent. We worry about the world our kids are growing up in recognizing it is different than the world we grew up in. We know the struggles we had and would do anything for our kids to avoid those in their own lives.

Let me encourage you with this final thought here.

You are the parent God has so ordained for this kid in this moment, in this age, in this culture, in this place, for this time. God has and is giving you all you need to parent well.

And you’re not alone. As a student ministry and church, we hope to come alongside you however we can to help you navigate parenting during these crazy adolescent years.

We pray for you consistently. We love you, your family, and your teenager. We believe in you and we know God is able.

Stay the course. Put in the work for your kids. Love them well. Point them to Jesus. Protect them where you must and prepare them where you can. We’re in this together. You’re doing better than you think you are. We’re honored to be a small part of what God is doing in your teenager and your family.