No More Fishbowl Parenting: Prepare Your Kids for the Ocean!

Oct 20, 2004Family Uncaged, Find joy today


It seems it’s become the job of parents to protect children from the world, insulating them from its negative influence. But does over-protection serve our children?

Granted, it is our job to provide haven-like homes—the kind a child is wildly enthusiastic about returning to. We should be wary of strangers. We should preserve our children’s innocence by limiting media exposure. But in our zeal to protect, we shift to an extreme, parenting solely out of fear. Worried, we keep our children away from negative influences their entire lives, including their teenage years, because we’re afraid

We know the statistics. Over two-thirds of 18 to 22 year olds leave church (at least for one year), according to a report by LifeWay Research[1]. Why? Because (in part) we’ve raised our kids in a fishbowl.

Our kids move from Sunday school (a good thing, of course) to youth group where they’re surrounded by positive Christian friends. They learn to navigate an artificial environment—where the temperature is regulated, oxygen is added at the right time, and food comes daily. When our children are flung into the ocean of college, they tend to have very little skill to deal with the rough waters of relativism, pessimism, and any other sort of isms. They’ve not encountered others whose opinions differ, whose lifestyles are diametrically different.

Raising them completely in a fishbowl doesn’t prepare kids for the big, bad world. So, what’s a parent to do? Give up? Let our children run wild? Or order their lives so that no negative influences come their way?

Though I wish there were easy answers how to craft perfectly adapted children, I’ve learned it’s best to stay ever-close to Jesus, looking to Him for guidance and wisdom. What does Jesus have to teach us about being over-protective? About preparing our kids for the future, where they genuinely own their faith?

Understand Jesus’ Mission

Jesus fulfilled His holy mission: to engage the unlovely, to be “in the world.” And yet, Jesus didn’t let the behavior of those around Him influence His choices. “That’s the nuance we need to grasp as parents—to engage as a family in people’s lives in such a way that beckons them to Jesus Christ without sacrificing our family to the world system.”[2] If we understand Jesus’ mission, we’ll help our children engage people, and yet be available if we see our children following after their worldview.

As a former missionary mom, I worried a lot when we sent our children to French schools. I knew my children would be in the “ocean” right away, swimming with kids whose orientation was mostly atheistic.

And yet, they thrived. My eldest daughter had the privilege of leading her friend to Jesus. My youngest shared Christ with her friends. My son walked out of a room where his peers were watching a horror flick and told the boy’s parents in French that he didn’t want to watch it.

I learned, through that ordeal, that it was possible to parent my children through difficulties. That it was not so much what they’ve been exposed to as much as it was our availability as parents in the midst of our children’s interaction with the world. And through all that, I learned the power of prayer. I echoed Jesus’ prayer: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one” (John 17:15).

Engaged, yet pure

We are called to engage our world, yet remain pure, just as Jesus did. Our children are called to the same thing. The Apostle Paul underlines this when he writes, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:14-15). That’s our mandate as parents, to help our kids engage, yet stay pure.

I love the way Oswald Chambers illustrates this. He speaks about Abram pitching his tent between Bethel and Ai. (See Genesis 12:8). “Bethel is the symbol of communion with God; Ai is the symbol of the world. Abraham pitched his tent between the two.”[3] As parents, preparing our kids to face the world, we help our kids pitch their tents between the world and communion with God. To engage, yet stay pure. In doing this, we give them strategic forays into the ocean of this world, so that when the world comes at them, they are prepared.

It’s safer in that fishbowl, but is it serving our children? We long to see our children have the safety net of a Christian home, but we need not aim too shortsightedly. Think of the long journey they face and teach them to swim in this crazy world.

[1] Staff, “LifeWay Research Uncovers Reasons 18 to 22 Year Olds Drop Out of Church.” Permalink:

[2] DeMuth, Mary, Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2007), p. 29.

[3] Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest. (Westwood, NJ: Barbour and Company, Inc., 1935), p. 11.