I want to “shelter” my son. But I don’t want him to become “that sheltered kid.”
There is no question that our culture contains corrupting influences. The threats are just as real and dangerous as hurricanes and tornadoes. To me sheltering is a no-brainer, but there also seems to be a distressing correlation between being sheltered and being timid, nervous, and socially awkward. Unfortunately, it has become quite the stereotype. I don’t want this stereotype for my son.
I want my son to able to connect with people, make them feel at ease and pick up on cues about how best to treat them. I want him to learn the value of social skills, and I want him to have confidence as he navigates through friends and peers and life experiences.
I’m not saying that I need my son to be “cool.” Though “being cool” and being confident often go together, they are not the same thing. Coolness in the form of mass acceptance varies according to environment. When goodness is not be accepted in a cultural environment, its form of coolness must be rejected.
But how do I develop my son’s social skills to their full potential? Social skills matter, even in a world that is dangerous, if not even more so. After all, while we are certainly supposed to be “as harmless as doves,” we are also supposed to be “as shrewd as serpents.” (Matthew 10:16.)
But how does one do that? How do I raise a son who is both innocent and socially confident?
For a lot of people it comes down to specifics— whether or not you homeschool, whether you live in the country or the city, whether you have lots of kids or just one or two. But I’ve seen the stereotypical “sheltered kid” in all sorts of settings, raised by all sorts of parents, irrespective of religion or socioeconomic background.
There is inevitably going to be a bias towards the Christian sheltered kid because there is a bias towards Christianity in general, but the truth is that the problem can be found anywhere. The problem can be found anywhere where there is fear.
All of us, at different points in our lives, are struck by how dangerous the world can be. For parents, that realization strikes harder and harder as their children grow older. Some parents choose to ignore it, often becoming irresponsible and delusional about the dangers. Some parents choose to obsess over it and let it rule them. These parents often become fearful, nervous, and withdrawn. They may be so afraid of living that they miss out on life entirely.
There is a third option: We can choose to respond reasonably to the dangers while maintaining faith and trust that God is both above and beyond the dangers; that He sees and blesses our efforts at avoiding them. It is that combination of honest foresight and genuine faith that creates a comfortable environment in which children can grow and thrive.
I think the lack of confidence and timidity that is often seen among traditional Christian homeschooling families has much less to do with Christianity and much more to do with fear. Fear leads to timidity, insecurity, and a lack of confidence. It is one thing to teach my child about how to deal with the dangers of snakes, motorcycles, and sexual impulses. It’s quite another thing to teach my child to be afraid of snakes, motorcycles, and sexual impulses.
Though it has become a cultural taboo, there is nothing wrong with saying that I don’t want my child around certain people or places. There is nothing wrong with saying that I don’t want my child playing violent video games or having unlimited internet access, just as there is nothing wrong with saying that I don’t want him swimming during a lighting storm. Neither of these things alone creates the stereotype. The stereotype comes when the parent’s focus is on inculcating fear in their children.
The problem does not arise with a recognition of sin but with an over-attention to it, causing a child to feel powerless against it. This can lead a child to resignation or rebellion. Why? The joy of family life has been quashed by the hyper-awareness of sin.
If a child’s home is filled with joy, then the issues I have raised will be largely resolved. Joy and fear cannot co-exist in equal measure. The writer Leo Tolstoy famously said, “Happy families are all alike.” And, indeed, all families where I met true joy, their children radiate confidence and empathy, despite how sheltered they may be.