Permissive Parenting

Citing two separate studies, Christianity Today magazine reported recently that 60-70% of young adults who were active in church as teenagers are spiritually “disengaged” by age 23 (Ja ‘10, p24).

I attribute these alarming statistics, in part, to extremes in Christian parenting, both strict and permissive (see my post of last week on strict parenting).

Some of you have protested that I oversimplify the picture, that there are spiritual and cultural forces, not to mention genetic dispositions, at work in our children that even excellent parenting will not overcome. And that the reverse is true: failed parenting surely does not guarantee failed kids.

I would agree. But I hope this will not drive us to fatalism or prevent us from learning all we can, and doing all we can, to raise godly children—whether our own or the children of friends for whom we act as unofficial, occasional, moms and dads.

With these qualifiers, then, I believe the best of more permissive parenting looks something like this:
•    Maximizing kids’ decision-making, as is age-appropriate.
•    Emphasizing values more than rules.
•    Providing incremental exposure to nonChristian viewpoints.

This overall direction of parenting has a good chance of producing kids who feel empowered and respected, who think for themselves and make wise decisions, and take responsibility for their own actions. They will tend to view God as loving and gracious.

But permissive parenting gone overboard gives too much freedom too early, fails to teach and guide properly, and especially, is lax on discipline. Parental responsibility is abdicated. Thus, “tail wags dog,” kids run wild, and their faith is given up either through apathy or the pursuit of gratifications that were rarely curbed by parents.

So whether you are an actual parent, “surrogate” parent of sorts in your neighborhood or church, or simply imagining yourself a parent, do you lean left or right? Permissive or strict? Tell us your story. Next week I’ll tell mine.

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Strict Parenting, and two fine resources

“Strict,” of course, is a relative term. Strict parenting could range from being simply conservative and attentive to highly rigid, even oppressive.

Following are some benefits and dangers, in my opinion, of strict Christian parenting.

First the good news:
•    Parents establish a moral/spiritual foundation in the home.
•    They instill a sense of confidence and well-grounded identity in their children.
•    They mix discipline with tenderness and grace.

Results in kids’ lives. . .
•    They learn to respect authority, traditional values.
•    They’re able to stand for truth, knowing right and wrong.
•    They grow up to be hard workers, dependable friends, and are able to succeed in life.

But strict parents should watch out for these extremes:
•    Failing to give appropriate freedom as kids grow older.
•    Too much “telling,” not enough give and take.
•    Anger at liberal society spilling over into parenting.
•    Anti-intellectual, “blind faith” approach to spirituality.
•    Insecurity over parental authority causing arbitrary decisions, lack of clear rationale for words/actions.

Results in kids’ lives. . .
•    Feeling stifled, smothered. Can’t wait to “get out from under.”
•    Adopting performance-based spirituality to please parents, God.
•    Viewing God as disciplinarian, parole-officer.
•    Going off to college and losing their faith—that is, their parents’ faith.

These ideas are a slice from my church seminar,  “Preparing your kids for college.”

Two fine resources on the topic: The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens after High School, by Tim Clydesdale;  and Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, by Christian Smith. I highly recommend both.

Your comments are again welcome. Next time I’ll focus on permissive parenting. And then I have some stories to tell.

Preparing kids for college

Depending on which statistics you believe, the rate of Christian students losing their faith in college ranges from 40-80%. Whatever the exact figure, I can tell you what I’ve seen in my 28 years of campus ministry: it happens “a lot.”

Going AWOL from God in college often happens in two ways:

Kids from strict backgrounds start partying. They’ve been waiting a long time for their moment of freedom, and now they’re off to the races! They may also experiment with nonChristian belief systems in college, due (at times) to lack of intellectual engagement during their high school years.

Secondly, kids from more permissive homes. . . start partying. Never well-grounded in a biblical faith, they just drift away with the postmodern tide. You never see them at campus ministry meetings or in church. They just vanish.

Within evangelical circles, I find a spectrum of parenting styles, ranging from permissive to strict, and everything in between. What do you think are some of the benefits/dangers of permissive parenting and strict parenting for getting kids ready for college?