“She’s so sheltered!” my young friend exclaimed, a look of utter disbelief on her face over relaying a story of a friend’s first experience with a stadium event. And it got me thinking over this word, “sheltered” that is tossed around so much in the area we currently call home, and I’m sure, in many other places, especially with regard to homeschooling families.
What does this even mean? Different things to different folks, no doubt. As a parent, I see two meanings. One is positive, and describes my duty and privilege to protect and nurture my children, teaching them about the world at a rate that is healthy for them, allowing them to enjoy the innocence of childhood, while simultaneously preparing them for the world they must face as an adult. This will look a myriad of ways, depending on one’s family values, personality and needs of the individual child, the corner of the world in which they live, and access a family has to outside experiences.
As I looked at my young friend and sought to understand the true meaning behind what she said, it was apparent that this was not the meaning of “sheltered” she was referring to. It meant something quite different to her. It represented a single meaning, a negative concept–a hiding away of a child, denying them the right to taste and experience the world. I understand this meaning as well, and I agree that is a negative concept.
My point of disagreement with my friend is on what sorts of things constitute this negative definition of sheltering. Is it not having the experience of a stadium concert until you are a teenager? Not being allowed an iphone and unlimited access to it? Is it “sheltering” to not allow explicit content: to be denied access to intricate details of evil practices which people participate in–exactly how people engage in sexual sin or details of how one might murder another? Is it not being allowed to go to whatever function they choose and whenever they like?
And here lies the rub. The ironic thing is that this mindset is what “sheltered” truly is. Granted, the mindset can also be due to just plain old immaturity. But this line of thinking is often prevalent in small towns and pocket communities, and spans the breadth of many ages. So for the purpose of this post, let’s stick with that. This sheltered mindset is believing that a person is “sheltered” if they don’t have a nearly identical experience to everyone else. But who is “everyone else”? The people in the small town or pocket community around them. In short, “everyone else” is whomever this person sees around them in the pocket of culture immediately surrounding them.
The problem with this is there’s a wide, wide world out there. There are many walks of life. Many different types of communities. Different family values. Different likes and dislikes. So much to see and learn and experience. A certain teenager may not understand what a stadium concert is until the ripe old age of seventeen. But she may have an understanding of the very wide world around her and the mission she has to reach people, most of whom are so very different than herself. She may have climbed rugged mountain peaks in the wilderness, and learned how to survive if things turn bad. She may have kicked beer cans off the porch to make way for bringing a plate of cookies to a junkie neighbor. She may have engaged with a bus-full of Asian tourists…or visited a Native village. She may have traveled to many states and a couple of different countries, talked with the locals, shared a holiday with them, and learned why it’s meaningful to them. She may have given out food to the homeless. Learned her country’s history by standing on ground soaked with the blood of her forefathers. Oh but she’s not allowed to watch Game of Thrones. She’s so sheltered.
I’m not concerned if my child doesn’t have a stadium concert experience until the age of seventeen. I’m not concerned if my child never has that experience. But I am very, very concerned if my child would not have an understanding that there are ideas and preferences and experiences that are unlike her own. I’m concerned if he thinks he’s sheltered because he isn’t allowed a cell phone in his bedroom all night long, or because we believe certain movies aren’t edifying and therefore we won’t allow him to watch them. I’m concerned if he doesn’t understand there’s a wide world full of people who need hope….and I’m concerned if he wouldn’t realize he has that Hope to give them.
So if this is the prominent definition of “sheltered”–to have different and varied experiential learning and boundaries–then I will shelter my children. When they are young, I will protect them from the heinous details while teaching them the overall concepts and practice of good and evil and how to recognize each. We will visit different places, meet and engage with many different people, and experience the world as widely as we can handle, monetarily and logistically. We will look for opportunities to serve people. To pray for a struggling mom in a parking lot, to take time to listen to a veteran’s story, to hand a granola bar and word of hope to someone who’s hungry. We might even kick beer cans out of the way to take cookies to a junkie neighbor. My kids will be allowed a cell phone at a certain point. But there will be limits that they’ll probably hate. They’ll enjoy going with friends and to lots of events and camps and activities…but they won’t get to go to everything, every time. I will prevent my six-year-old from watching certain things, and I’ll have uncomfortable and embarrassing talks with my middle and high schoolers.
Gradually our children will make more and more of these decisions on their own. While they’re with us, we will do our best to learn together about the world and the people in it in real time, for the purpose of learning more about Him and our place and and purpose and duty. We might even go to a stadium concert.
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