A lot of the wisest parents I know set rather firm boundaries around the time their kids spend with similar-aged peers.
These moms and dads aren’t playing helicopter. Their goal isn’t to isolate and infantilize their children; quite to the contrary, they ultimately desire for their kids to grow up into mature, productive, fully independent adulthood. And as a child demonstrates consistently positive character qualities and personal integrity, these parents incrementally increase the level of autonomy he’s given.
They set the boundaries to begin with – limiting the amount of time their younger kids spend with other children and closely supervising the interactions they do allow – because they understand the nature of children as described in Scripture:
Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. (Proverbs 22.15a)
He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools suffers harm.
Thus, they know that allowing their kids to become peer-dependent would reinforce bad habits of mind that naturally exist within children by virtue of their youth and immaturity. And, conversely, they understand that kids can develop a solid “inner moral code” if they spend the majority of their time for several years under the consistent instruction and continuous modeling of those who are more mature – ideally, the parents themselves, who are very intentional about their role and responsibility in this regard. These parents intentionally devote themselves to being their kids’ primary influence so that the good fruit of an immovable inner moral voice is ready for harvest beginning in the teen years.
This way of looking at things is quite countercultural, and I wasn’t consciously aware of it when my children were young. My kids had friends – quite a few, actually – but I was careful about the quantity and quality of those interactions. Not because another parent told me to be mindful or due to copious research. I did it simply because “something” in my “gut” – which I now understand as the wise prompting of the Holy Spirit – told me to do so.
But make no mistake; I took a lot of heat for it. The term “helicopter parent” hadn’t yet been coined, but I was accused of “extreme sheltering.” I was told I was “anxious” and “overprotective” and that my kids would “suffer.” I saw the pitying looks. And I had my moments of self-doubt.
But then I caught sight of my kids’ blossoming personalities and burgeoning self-assurance, and I saw evidence of their deep roots of conviction about right and wrong. Obviously, they’re not perfect – that goes without saying because they’re human and since Imperfect Me was among their main models! And they’re going to make mistakes as young (and – eventually – not so young) adults. But I’ve witnessed before my very eyes what these proponents of early limitations and incremental autonomy have been talking about.
Photo Credit: Christian Barrette