Deprive Your Children

The simple wisdom in not giving them everything their little hearts desire
 

One of the great things about children is that they naturally stay away from things that are not good for them.

Uh … actually, that isn’t true at all.

Sadly, however, many parents act as though it is true—letting them choose their own friends indiscriminately, giving them open access to television, the Internet, movies and music of their own choosing, and so on. Many apparently believe that demarking boundaries to young people impairs them—that they are naturally entitled to all the privileges and freedoms of adulthood.

Did you realize that, in order to give your children all the good things you want to as a parent, you must deprive them?

That’s right. Young people need a firm sense of living under the protective umbrella of parental supervision and—dare I say it?—control.

Rather than receiving everything they desire, they need a comfortable appreciation for the word no.

Consider the parenting wisdom contained in Moses’s speech to ancient Israel, where he explained that God had orchestrated their difficult conditions in the desert for a reason: “Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint; Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna, which thy fathers knew not, that he might humble thee, and that he might prove thee, to do thee good at thy latter end” (Deuteronomy 8:15-16). God actually useddeprivation as an important teaching tool.

Obviously, God is a great giver—the source of all good gifts (James 1:17). We ought to reflect His example in our generosity as parents. However, while God blesses us and encourages us to pursue everything that is good for us, He also outlaws everything that would harm us. And at times, for our benefit, He denies us certain comforts—even allows us to suffer trials—in order to steel our character, to humble us and prove us.

The Israelites desired many wrong things. To educate them as a people, God simply could not give them all they wanted.

To give our children the right amount of the good things, helping them to see the blessings of the right way of life, and yet deprive them of everything that is not good for them, requires true leadership in a modern parent.

As our children travel a world filled with harmful things, they will be naturally attracted to certain of those things. It takes leadership to tell them they are forbidden to have them. Yet that is exactly what God does with us.

To illustrate this principle, consider one vivid example: technology.

Technology is a strong drug. Young people can be particularly susceptible to its evil effects. They have no built-in sense of right and wrong—no natural means of distinguishing something acceptable from something wrong. That is why it is crucial that we as parents authoritatively regulate their media usage, depriving them of wrong influences.

Giving our children unsupervised access to technology is—put bluntly—turning our children over to some very evil influences. Even an afternoon of children’s programming on public television is a minefield of shady material—bad attitudes, disrespect for authority, unbridled materialism. Kids’ shows often contain scatological, “gross-out” humor; feminist or other politically correct messages—even demonism, witchcraft or other pagan spiritual content. If our children watch this when we are not there, we cannot counteract or stop those messages from shaping our children’s thinking.

Even what positive lessons can be learned from certain shows won’t have an impact unless we are there to reinforce the lesson. I have found that if I don’t pause a show at several points in order to talk about what is happening, my 6-year-old daughter’s understanding is too superficial to matter. What I may intend as a teaching tool is actually mere diversion.

God is frank about this: A child left to himself brings his mother to shame (Proverbs 29:15). When this proverb was recorded, the author couldn’t have even dreamed of the horrors available to “a child left to himself” on the Internet or other of our modern media.

We as parents must be the gatekeepers of our children’s minds, as we train them how to be responsible for their own minds. It takes time to teach right from wrong, and to help them develop the character to hit the off switch or walk away from bad influences. So, in the meantime, we need to control the off switch.

Young people may know how to use a certain technology but be unaware of the risks it poses. Particularly on the Internet, certain activities can unwittingly expose our children to attack from predators. If your child has a personal web page, demand to see it. Know what pictures and music he or she is sharing, what personal information he or she is divulging. Demand that your children share their passwords with you so you can check up on them.

In our ultra-permissive, anti-authority world, a cautious, authoritative parent is viewed as a dictator. People feel their children and teens are entitled to their privacy.

Wrong! They do not need privacy—they desperately need the opposite. We as parents are duty-bound to invade their privacy. We must do our best to know what our children are watching, listening to and clicking on.

However, realize that our job is ultimately not to filter out every bad thing, or to ensure nothing objectionable enters their minds. Not only is that impossible, but gawking over their shoulder becomes awkward after they turn 38 years old. Our job is to be as protective as possible when they are young, and gradually teach them how to make these decisions on their own. Give them the tools they need in order to walk away from something even when we’re not there.

That is character.

As it says in Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Getting back to the overarching principle, we want to facilitate any use of technology and media that is genuinely good for our children—that builds right knowledge, cognitive development and character. Also, it is not wrong to enjoy wholesome entertainment in moderation. Knowing where to draw the lines—both in quantity of use and in content—requires educating ourselves and asking God for wisdom and discernment.

In an age of affluence and indulgence, we must be sensitive to not stoking our children’s sense of entitlement. Depriving them of luxuries will not hurt them. And any sense of unfairness or deprivation will be easily coaxed out of them if you never deprive them of the things that truly matter: time, teaching, attention, affection, love.