Our national anthem proclaims that America is “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” While it’s tempting to question the first part of that pronouncement, the last part has also fallen on hard times. Certainly, we still see many individual acts of bravery and courage every day, such as in the riveting story of Louis Zamperini in the last century, to the work of sniper Chris Kyle more recently. But what about our bravery as a culture and a nation overall? And, more importantly, what sort of legacy regarding courage are we passing on to our children? It seems to me that more and more adults are parenting by fear and leading their children to become more fearful than brave.
This point is made brilliantly in a recent article in The Economist entitled “Home of the Unbrave.” Written from the vantage point of “risk and litigation” in America, the author discusses how more and more towns and cities are outlawing sledding in the winter. Yes, you read that right: the childhood joy of sledding! There is just too much risk to allow children to barrel down snow-covered hills on pieces of plastic anymore. Here’s one of his great quotes about this trend:
This crackdown on unregulated sledding seems of a piece with the recent American tendency to curb marginally perilous childhood pleasures, such as tricycling without body armour or venturing alone into the back garden without a Mossad-trained security detail.
While this conjures up hilarious images, it really is quite embarrassing. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that more and more parents are driven by the need to protect their children from all possible harm, way past the point of wise responsibility. Just ask parents to send their children almost anywhere alone without a cell phone and fear will strike deep in their hearts. I saw it in myself last week, when I was told that my two boys (age 11 and 9) had biked alone to the library. “How could you let them do that,” I asked fearfully? Yet, at their age (and younger) I would ride my bike alone every single day of the week–sometimes miles and miles to a friend’s house in another state!
Then there’s this convicting quote from “Home of the Unbrave”:
It’s just that the risk, as small as it is, now looms larger in the imagination, becoming too great for the no-longer-bold American spirit to bear. Shutting down sledding hills is inspired by the same sort of simpering caution that keeps Americans shoeless in airport security and, closer to home, keeps parents from letting their kids walk a few blocks to school alone, despite the fact that America today is as safe as the longed-for “Leave It to Beaver” golden age.
Yes, America, we are just as safe–if not more safe–than the America of the 1950’s. So why do we act in so much fear when it comes to the safety of our children? Is sledding really going to dismember our kids? Are there really more child molesters and predators out there than ever before? Will our children be abducted if we aren’t in constant cell phone contact with them? Now, depending on where you live, you may be saying: YES, it’s very dangerous out there–and maybe we are wiser than our parents and grandparents were! But does that automatically mean we can and should parent out of fear, and end up producing fearful children?
More importantly, what does this all mean for Christian parents? According to II Timothy 1:7, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” Christians alone, because of the love and power of God, have no reason to live in fear and worry. That truth certainly must translate to parenting out of faith and trust in the LORD, rather than out of the fear of man, Satan, or this world. We are to raise brave and courageous children–not so they can go sledding without fear or ride their bike to the library–but so they can be a bold witness for Christ. How will they be the next generation of missionaries, ministers, and heralds for Christ if they grow up in a secure bubble, taught to be worried about everyone around them? It’s imperative that we resist the cultural (and sinful) impulse to fear for our children, and wisely call them to trust in the Lord Jesus and grow to be warriors in the army of God!