From the debate around rape culture in the Philippines, to Brock Turner’s sentence and his family’s deluded perspective, I often wonder what I can impart on my own son (and future children, God willing) so they don’t contribute to these issues themselves (in word or deed). In Turner’s case, his father left no room for imagination how a “sweet, promising athlete” could become “the Stanford rapist.” As parents, we are blessed with the privilege of facilitating the growth of our children into positive contributors to society. After some reflection, I’ve come up with a list of things I hope to teach our children so they fulfill their positive potential.
Growing up, “permission” was about boundaries – about understanding how best to use (not abuse) the gift of freedom. Regardless of my age, my parents were good about discussing and negotiating, such that I learned a lot about good, bad, safe, fair through learning about permission. When I asked my parents for their “buy-in” on things, they, with their years of experience, could tell me, no because there will be drugs/drinking, which are wrong because…or yes, be home by 10. This has made it easier for me in my adulthood to set boundaries, and respect other people’s boundaries too.
My parents also taught that permission goes both ways. People needed to ask me for permission too. They lived this in practice – never taking my things or doing anything concerning me without asking (though I did sometimes have to label my Snickers bars in the pantry). I was taught this was a sign of respect. If I wanted to borrow a toy, I needed to ask and get an “ok” first; and if someone wanted to use my things, they needed my “yes” too. This taught me “consent.” Don’t touch what isn’t yours unless you’ve been given explicit permission.
Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you. (Proverbs 25:17)
There are two sides to “respect”. The first is in honoring boundaries. As mentioned, and as the verse from Proverbs states: don’t overstep boundaries or there will be consequences. And the second is for honoring individuals. This means holding every individual as equally deserving of respect. Christ was clear in his advise that we must love one another as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31), and Paul always reminds us to honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10). We are reminded that we are all created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26), and we cannot be partial for or against one another (James 2:1, 9). How we judge and respect others will determine how we are judged as well (Romans 12:13; Philippians 2:3; Luke 1:9-14). These verses remind us that we should treat one another as equals. When we do this, we never end up taking advantage of others.
#3: Intentionality & Responsibility
“But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12)
Intentionality is being deliberate in everything you do. That means discerning before acting, and striving to always be aware of your actions and their implications. Responsibility is being accountable to your actions. Growing up, I was always taught to “be conscious of your actions, and be ready to face the consequences of your choices.” These things together in practice remind us that, while everything is permissible, not everything is good, everything is permissible, but not all things edify (1 Corinthians 10:23), and that we need to act with these in mind and be ready to deal wtih the consequences of our actions: good or bad.
“He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:8)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Another way to protect our children is to teach them discernment. This is the ability to “judge well”, to ask the right questions to prevent future mistakes, or to reflect on something that’s happened and how to move forward. If our children learn to be discerning, they are less likely to fall prey to peer pressure, to the lies peddled by trashy TV, to the negative influences of social media, and so on. They will be able to ask themselves the question most key in #3: does this build up? Does this edify?
I learned a lot about discernment through authority figures in my life and people I respected. They always “slept on” big decisions, and asked me questions that got me thinking. “Are those people good friends or bad influences? Was that outburst necessary or is there a better way to get what you want? Do you want it enough to work for it or are you just saying that because it sounds cool?”
At my school, we also had a special class called Media Studies when I was 8th grade, in which we watched a lot of commercials and movies, and read a lot of books and magazines, and then spent the rest of the time decoding their messages, and intentions. This taught us to be responsible media consumers and has stuck with me since.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (Philippians 1:9-10)
Although Christ exercised all of the above, I want to zoom in on 3 specific things he uniquely embodied:
- Kindness: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
- Love: We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
- Faith: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
These things together all root out cultures of hate, vengeance, and pride; and teach our children to focus on whatever is true…noble…right…pure…lovely…admirable (Philippians 4:8). BUT! How can we impart these virtues? There are a many ways, but here’s a distilled list*:
- Teach discernment, intentionality, responsibility with deep questions, clear communication, and cause-and-effect: Growing up, my mother especially would always reflect with me over the consequences of my actions (like a shrink, “and why do you think that happened? How did that feel?” ha ha). I think I learned a lot about introspection and intentionality from that.
- Teach by doing:
- Live these virtues out everyday to everyone – including your children, and yourself.
- Act in service. If you’re in a position to participate in service activities, do them as a family to expose your kids to people from different walks of life and teach them to love and serve as friends and equals. A school that is socially aware in both word and deed is an important piece too.
- Teach by instructing & correcting: Lay out the “rules and boundaries” with your children. Be firm. Use scripture as a key authority.