Trust the children?

By Cindy Koch

Just yesterday I did something a little out of character for me. Unlike most of my crazy days, I ended up with an hour or two with not a thing on the schedule. So I had a moment to cozy up on the couch with a cup of coffee, to get lost down a few little virtual rabbit holes on my phone. I eventually fell upon a webinar on Digital Dementia and a few sessions pertaining to children. I didn’t even know this was a thing, so I scrolled through the online videos trying to understand the concern that created a need for such a conference. Safe and healthy kids, they promised, just follow these tips for their success online. I clicked on the 30-minute video to learn more. There I was, listening to to the “experts” in parenting.

Now I do not think I am an expert in parenting. I have constantly learned over and over that I do not have all of the answers by any means. But being a parent for a while now, I’ve seen many things work and many things fail. Very often, it’s the same thing. One path that works for child #1 is obliterated when child #2 comes around. The guilt and shame and pressure to parent sufficiently to train up productive humans can be suffocating for both mother and father. Children are vastly unique, and there are many broad brush philosophies that just do not pan out. Therefore, I am usually pretty careful around those who claim to have this ascendant knowledge of what is the perfect answer for our children.

But yesterday I tuned out these pessimistic warning signs. I listened intently to the experts about teaching the right way for your child to enter the vast world of smartphones and online communities. I was imagining all the ways I had already failed my children according to these experts. I was convicted that the dangers my children had already encountered in this realm were brought on by my own inattention to what was best for their happiness and success. I almost made it to the end of the video thinking I have been a bad mom, ultimately because I didn’t trust my children.

Yet, underlying all of this talk about social media was a foundational belief about children, about all people in fact, that clarified this conversation. These “experts” believed that children are inclined to make the right choice. They began with the assumption that an individual choice designated what was true and right. They built off of the belief that the choices of a 9-year old were just as important and valid as the choices of an adult. The internet as a tool has truly leveled the playing field, allowing access to all ages and maturity levels, but the media has now directed the message about who we are to each other and what is true in this world.

Children are not born innocent and good. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Parents are given by God to make choices for their children. Especially because they are young and foolish. That is not to say that parents are free from mistake. “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3). Almighty God tells us that our starting point is sin. All of us. So, every parent should expect that in their own child, online, in school, and in their home. Just “trusting our children” will not make problems go away; it will continue to teach our children that their hearts and minds will figure out the right path on their own. This false teaching will direct our children away from repentance, away from the truth about themselves, and away from a Savior who has already covered their failures.

The greatest thing parents can do is NOT trust their children. Instead, give kids the Word of God and confess alongside them that we are poor miserable sinners. Be comforted that Jesus Christ loved us so much that he sacrificed his perfect life for our terrible choices. Learn to hear forgiveness and speak forgiveness, parent and child together. This is the advice that the “experts” should learn.