There’s a fascinating article on The Atlantic site that’s been making the rounds recently, and it’s well worth a read. Author Hanna Rosin, in her article “The Overprotected Kid”, examines how attitudes toward children and risk have changed in the past few decades. Where in the 70s parents would’ve just turned kids loose, kids are now more frequently monitored, reined in, and protected. She tells about a playground experiment in Britain where they’ve gone the other direction – removing the rubberized, “safe” equipment in favor of lots of raw material, limited adult intervention, and very few rules. Fascinating stuff.
Now, the article is well worth considering from the sociological and parenting angles, but this bit stuck out at me from a faith angle as well:
One common concern of parents these days is that children grow up too fast. But sometimes it seems as if children don’t get the space to grow up at all; they just become adept at mimicking the habits of adulthood. As Hart’s research shows, children used to gradually take on responsibilities, year by year. They crossed the road, went to the store; eventually some of them got small neighborhood jobs. Their pride was wrapped up in competence and independence, which grew as they tried and mastered activities they hadn’t known how to do the previous year. But these days, middle-class children, at least, skip these milestones. They spend a lot of time in the company of adults, so they can talk and think like them, but they never build up the confidence to be truly independent and self-reliant.
Now I’m shooting from the hip here, so feel free to jump in and set me straight in the comments if you want, but from my experience in the evangelical church it seems that we might be treating our children in the faith the same way. Let me tease that out a bit.
Are our children in the faith, whether new adult converts or children who have been raised in the church, really given the space to grow up in the faith? Or have we simply encouraged an environment that is the spiritualized equivalent of “let me walk you to school” and “stay away from that creek, you might get wet!”?
In our desire to protect young believers, are we unhealthily protecting them from the spiritual bumps and bruises that come from healthy exploration? Rather than wrapping protective material around any potentially difficult or painful spiritual point, should we instead be encouraging exploration, learning, and growth?
In a related vein, Peter Enns notes today that
If you ask me, one reason God might have for different denominations and traditions is they they reflect different stages of the spiritual journey.
Then, quoting psychologist David G. Benner, he reminds us that
…communities exist for the support of others, not their control. Like enmeshed familes or codependent marriages and partnerships, [unhealthy] communities fail to see the other as separate from themselves and to celebrate this fact and then help people achieve this differentiation in a healthy manner.
So, allowing room for exploration and real growth (as opposed to just learning imitation) allows us to celebrate individuals as they grow into their own identity. Certainly gives me things to think on as a parent; there may be a lesson there for pastors and church leaders, too.