Back to School Advice: Parents, Don’t be Scared Like Peter. Or Me
I was once a young parent, and I learned an important lesson too late. The world works really, really hard to scare you.
Why? Because you can manipulate scared people. You can get them to buy what you’re selling. It may be a thing. It may be an idea. Pretty much the whole world wants to sell you something, and that means pretty much the whole world works hard to scare you.
Imagine the Worst
Not every parent will be foolish enough to panic over getting their kids into the best colleges.
Most of us will still be scared of something. Drugs, bad drivers, child molesters, STDs, other weird diseases, pornography, bullies and mean girls, bad friends, advertising designed to make kids unhappy, corrupting movies and television, predatory atheists, secularist schools, bad acne, obesity, anorexia, the dark web, cutting, parents getting laid off or getting sick.
What do we do? Lots of us smother our children. We don’t let them grow up. I knew parents who didn’t let their kids go on short-term mission trips because they feared something bad would happen to them. What about this? they said. What about that?
They imagined the worst possible results. They kept their kids at home, when they should have sent out into the world to serve the Lord — and grow up.
That’s why the big glossy women’s magazines try to make women unhappy with themselves. To be scared to be who they are. They want women to fear being too fat, no matter how thin they are. They want women to fear being disliked or out of fashion. Scared women will buy a new diet or a new wardrobe or a new nose.
A Dangerous World for Our Kids
Take an example from typical middle-class American suburban life: High School. Not high school, you say. No one wants to scare you about school. Oh yes they do. Big time.
We had four high schoolers in an area full of driven parents who wanted their kids to win at everything. Which meant they feared their kid losing at anything.
I saw fear up close. I felt it, even though I knew I shouldn’t. It was in the air.
Everyone I knew felt: Your kid’s just got to go to the best college he can get into, no matter what it costs. If he doesn’t, he’ll get a bad job. He’ll have to take what he gets. His life will be ruined. And that’ll be your fault, dad and mom!
Why? A huge industry depends on parents investing in their kids. Hundreds of millions of dollars are to be made. Scared parents fork it out.
Companies charge $1,000 or $2,000 to help your kids prep for the SAT. Private tutors charge a lot to help students apply to colleges and even help them write their essays. A couple years ago, a guy in New York City became famous for charging $1,000 an hour to help kids get ready for the SAT.
The schools themselves push this idea, because they want kids to work hard and they want to brag about all the great schools their graduates go to. Newspapers and websites push the idea, because they want readers. Other parents push it too.
Trust in the Lord
I wish I’d really understood what trusting in the Lord means when our children were young. The world said, “You better get it right, or your kids will suffer” and I said, “Holy cow, you’re right!” I forgot that God loves my children even more than I do.
My wife and I got caught up in the academic anxiety, like almost all the other Christian parents we knew. It looks pretty silly and shallow now, but boy, it felt real then.
Parents like us can forget our children can get to Heaven with a degree from a poor school, or no degree at all. You don’t even think that the one thing that will make them truly happy is holiness. You stop trying to make them saints and start trying to make them star students. Parents like us forget about Heaven and Hell.
The world yells, “Your children will suffer! Horribly! For ever and ever!” When you’re good and scared, it says, “Unless you buy all this stuff.”
Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.” He says, “If you stay with me, things will work out. No matter what happens to you and your children, things will work out in the best possible way. Even your pain will turn into joy.” I wish I’d seen that better when our children were young.
At church a couple Sundays ago we heard the story of Peter walking across the water to meet Jesus. Till he got scared, when he started to sink. I was too much like the scared Peter. I shot into fatherhood the way Peter jumped out of the boat, confident as can be.
Till I saw the waves. Till I thought my children might drown. Almost every parent I knew was yelling “Look at the waves! Look at the waves!” The world says, “Those waves are huge! Drowning’s really horrible! Here, let me sell you a bigger boat.” I listened. I should have trusted Jesus more. I might have walked on water.