The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

How to NOT shelter your kids from ideas: Teaching our kids to think well


(Note: this is part 1 in a 3 part series. Part 2, Part 3)

It’s well known that between 60-80% of kids are leave the church when they hit a college campus. It seems to me a driving reason for this is that many Christian kids have not been exposed to certain ideas and experiences and then, suddenly, they are. In a word, we shelter our kids in all the wrong ways. We keep them from a variety of things for their protection. And unless they never move out or they never move out of the Christian bubble (i.e., grow up in a Christian home, go to Christian school, go to Christian college, work in a ministry, and so on), then they will someday be exposed to these things. If we don’t prepare them for this moment, then it can drop like a bomb.

Here’s how it often goes:

Mom, Dad, youth pastor, and pastor tell little hypothetical Suzy that Darwinian evolution is a foolish idea for which there is no evidence. They are sure to mock the notion that we descended from apes and disparage the people that hold it. She is told only people who are angry at and hostile towards God believe in Darwin’s theories because they will do anything to avoid God. She grows up believing only idiots and angry atheists believe in Darwinian evolution. Suzy head’s off to college very confident in her Christian faith only to find that the smartest people on campus believe in Darwinian evolution and they don’t seem particularly concerned with God. There is a wide variety of evidence presented for Darwinian evolution in a variety of classes and there’s nothing from her upbringing that’s helpful in answering these challenges. The student feels betrayed and lied to. Before you know it, Suzy is in a crisis of faith.

I’d like to suggest that this disparage-other-worldviews-and-hope-for-the-best strategy is not the best strategy. I want to suggest that we instead homeschool. Now I don’t necessarily mean that we have to pull them out of public school to teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic at home (but maybe!). What I mean is that, no matter what schooling option is right for your family, there is a biblical mandate to teach our kids at home. Part of this is exposing our kids to ideas.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against sheltering our kids. This is a large part of just what it is to parent. We literally shelter our kids from the outside elements (i.e., provide a home), we keep them fed and clothed, and we protect them against things we think will likely harm them. Towards this end, my wife and I shelter our kids from many TV shows and movies given the nature of the particular show or film. We think that allowing our kids to be watch certain things will likely cause (or at least support) a harmful moral effect out of step with our values. At this particular time and much to their dismay, we don’t even allow our kids to sleepover their friend’s houses. We want to protect them. It is our responsibility to shelter them in appropriate ways.

But ideas are different. I want my kids to be aware of the important ideas that are out there even if the ideas run contrary to my Christian commitments. This is not to say I hit them up with technical philosophy when they are still in diapers (at least, not too much)! There is of course an age appropriate process. The goal is that by the time they encounter an alternative idea outside of my home, the idea at least sounds somewhat familiar and they have a framework for processing the idea.

How do we do this? In the coming days, I will present three strategies. The first strategy is to teach your children how to think well and for themselves.

Strategy #1

As Christians, we don’t often see our role as parents in teaching our kids how to think, and we certainly don’t always value our kids thinking for themselves. We are pretty quick to tell them what to think and what not to think. But the problem with this is that when all we do is teach them what to think, then we’ve taught them a methodology. We’ve taught them to accept whatever the authority figure in their live tells them. But here’s the news flash: we won’t always be the sole authority figure in kid’s lives. Send them to college and they will have brand new authority figures. You have literally trained them to simply believe whatever the new authority figure tells them. Rather they need to be used to having to weigh the evidence for their beliefs.

Now we all want true beliefs. But I want to suggest that more fundamentally we should want true beliefs that are formed in intellectually virtuous ways. Even if an authority figure is teaching something that is true, it is not being intellectually virtuous to simply believe it in virtue of it coming from an authority figure. We have to get our kids to ask why. They need to value logic and reason. They need to see that even if something is true, we have no reason to think that it is true until we, well, have evidence to think something is true.

Try it sometime. Ask your kids if they believe in God. If they have grown up in a Christian home, they will very likely say yes. Then ask why they believe that. If your child can’t answer, then he or she likely has not formed that belief in an intellectual virtuous way…yet. Help them see that there are reasons, but they have to see the reasons for themselves. It is the only way that they will make their faith their own.

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