How Much Should You Protect Kids from Negative Influences? 5 Key Questions to Ask Yourself

How Much Should You Protect Your Kids From Negative Influences? | Christian Mom ThoughtsI work two days per week from home, and have a nanny on those two days to watch the kids while I’m not available. Every week when I emerge from the office at 6 p.m. to let our nanny go, I ask for the download on how the kids behaved. Usually they are quite good, but once in a while a big issue comes up that we need to discuss. Last week, one such “big issue” arose.

Our nanny had asked my son to pick something up that afternoon, to which he replied, “No! You’re STUPID!”

Gasp! Gasp.

I was absolutely blown away that he would call her a bad name, and immediately asked him where he had even heard such a thing.

“Jacob calls people stupid at school.”

I wanted to scream. My twins have attended pre-Kindergarten two half days per week since September. The rap sheet of their social “learnings” since that time has been less than awesome:

  • A boy held Kenna to the ground and wouldn’t let her go even when she was yelling for him to stop. He told her he “wanted her in jail.”
  • A kid in the class taught the rest of the kids (ages 4 and 5) to sing a song he made up called “Sexy Lady.”
  • Nathan has picked up on the aggressive behavior of some boys in his class and comes home trying to scare his little sister with forceful “ninja” moves like the other boys in class do to each other. This has been a daily issue in our house since he started school.
  • Both Nathan and Kenna always have something to report about how mean the “bad boys” on the playground are – taunting the kids in the pre-K class for being “babies,” telling them to hit other kids, suggesting they throw sand at smaller children, and so on. As much as they don’t like it, they are fascinated by it, and sometimes pretend at home they are the “bad boys.”

If I had read this list from another parent before my kids started school, my honest reaction would have been this: Buck up! That’s life. Kids are like that. They have years of it ahead. Teach them how to deal with it. Make a lesson out of it. Make them stronger people.

But now that I’ve experienced the impact of negative influences for several months, I’m starting to feel differently. I’m starting to wonder how much of this is necessary and appropriate for making them “stronger people” when it’s clearly opposed to our family’s values. After thinking a lot about it, there are 5 key questions I’ve come to consider when determining how to handle negative influences.

 

1.    Is this truly a negative influence, or is my child simply reacting negatively?

A few months ago, Nathan held up a stuffed animal and told his little sister, “I’m going to kill you with this!” I immediately assumed this language came from school. When I asked where he had heard those words, he said, “The Bible. Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him.”

Gulp. Hmmm. Good point.

It’s really easy to become a parental Pharisee, abolishing anything from your kids’ lives that doesn’t meet your law of perfection. But it’s important to remember that everything has the potential to be a negative influence and that most attempted classifications of “negative” and “positive” influences are shallow at best. There are times that I, as the parent, am the worst influence they had in a given day.

Before you’re too quick to pluck things or people out of your kids’ lives, consider if the influence itself is the primary problem or if it’s your child’s reaction. A reaction can (usually) be worked with more easily.

 

2.    Is my child mature enough to learn from being exposed to the negative influence?

Last Halloween, we took the kids to a costume store. The store had several large, scary things at the front that I failed to see quickly enough to avoid. Kenna started laughing when she saw them. Nathan, at the same age, has never shaken it from his memory and still has bad dreams about it. I’m very cautious about any scary imagery around Nathan now that I see how impacted he is by it.

If we keep our children in a closet their whole lives, they won’t be exposed to any potentially negative external influences. Most of us would agree that wouldn’t be prudent, as it would set them on a course for unprepared disaster when they experience the unfiltered world for the first time as an adult. That said, a child can only learn from exposure to negative influences if they’re mature enough to handle them. As in the costume store example, that maturity has to be determined on an individual basis, not an age basis.

 

3.    How does this influence my children as a group?

While Nathan comes home wanting to fight like a ninja after being surrounded by aggressive little boys all morning, Kenna is barely aware that this is even going on; it’s been a negative influence on one child, and no influence at all on the other. If the ninja behavior by itself was simply annoying but not hurting anyone, it might not be something worth dealing with. But when Nathan is influenced by this and then hurts my 2-year-old, the results of the influence are farther reaching and far more negative, warranting immediate attention.

 

4.    Does the opportunity for positive influence outweigh the opportunity for negative influence?

I love Charlie Brown, and was excited when my kids were old enough to watch the various Peanuts holiday specials. I had never realized it as a child myself, but the kids in the show call each other names. For weeks after watching their first Charlie Brown special, my kids were calling each other “blockhead” like they did on the show. I seriously considered not letting them watch it again, but concluded that the other positive values of the programs far outweighed the negative. I was willing to address this one particular problem in order for them to continue watching. When they showed me that they were able to understand that part of the show was wrong, and stopped using those names against each other, they were allowed to watch more.

 

5.    Is there a reasonable alternative to this negative influence?

School is part of “everyday life” for kids of a certain age. From that perspective, there will always be a number of difficulties parents have to address whether they want to or not. We don’t always have the luxury of running through a list of questions and tossing certain things or people out of our kids’ lives at our discretion. Sometimes we are quite simply forced to deal with it. It’s important, however, to ask yourself if there is a reasonable alternative. In the case of my experiences with preschool, I came to the conclusion that I want to try homeschooling next year – something I never thought I would say. Admittedly, this is for many reasons other than the negative social influences, but they were an important consideration.

What are the key things you consider when deciding what to protect your kids from? What questions would you add? What are some of the bad things your kids have picked up from school?

16 Comments

  1. Sherry on April 23, 2013 at 7:29 AM

    This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I have a boy in kindergarten, one in preschool, and one still home with me. It has hit me hard this year that their “world” is starting to really influence and affect their thoughts and behavior. They attend a Christian school, but of course that isn’t a buffer against the language and behavior they observe. I realize that these years in their lives are the most formative, so another question I would ask is, “will this negative influence play a role in shaping how they feel about themselves or will it alter their view of God?” I realize that at such a young age, they don’t have complete discernment to say “oh, that boy is treating others this way, because he is insecure/has low self esteem.” A lot of times, without proper supervision from a teacher who is unaware of what’s going on, or too tired to care, kids can start to have a negative and false view of themselves. Also, obviously teachers aren’t perfect, but I find some to be less graceful than others. They can discipline children in a way that may change the behavior, and not shepherd the heart. Teachers, just like parents, influence the way that children view God. Is He mean? Does He expect perfection? We have been very blessed with wonderful, loving teachers for our boys, but I know that won’t last forever. I definitely believe that in the early years, we should be extra cautious of what they are exposed to, because their little minds and hearts are being formed at this time. Thanks for all of your encouraging posts!!



    • Natasha Crain on April 23, 2013 at 11:12 AM

      Thank you Sherry! What great questions to add to the list, and I love your insights. We are considering a Christian school for when they get into elementary, but as you said, that’s not a buffer against the world. I’ve been told by friends with kids in Christian school that a lot of parents just send their kids there to improve their behavior – and don’t adhere to the beliefs at all. There is no “perfect” solution in this world, unfortunately. The teacher really makes a huge difference, as you said. Teaching discernment is the heart of it all. Thanks for the great comment!



  2. Jennifer on April 23, 2013 at 8:56 AM

    Excellent post! Here’s a sermon you might enjoy listening to : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-L4dR-A5nj8&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    I guess I don’t tend to think so much about protecting them from negative influences (maybe that’s because they’ve never been in ‘real’ school anyway though), but about remaining the principle influence in their lives and having greater control of the influences they come in contact with.

    My nephews are in K and 1st, and their dad has already had to have “the talk” with them because they were hearing about it from school. I have other friends whose children are learning about drugs and sex education in K.



    • Natasha Crain on April 23, 2013 at 11:14 AM

      Thanks Jenn, I will check out the link! What you said about remaining the most important influence in their lives is precisely why homeschooling has become so appealing to me. It’s not so much about removing the negative influences (though that’s part of it), but about increasing my own amount of positive influence. Of course, as I said, there are days I’m not the most positive influence, but I am in more control of that. 🙂



  3. Lisa on April 23, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    I enjoyed reading your post, but I have to ask why, after all of the negative comments you have made about your twins’ pre-k that you choose to keep them enrolled there? How did the teachers respond when Kenna was held to the ground by another child? That is assault, and he should be removed from the school, IMO. Where are the teachers when an older child is teaching the younger kids “Sexy Lady?” It sounds to me that the children there are not being taught correct behaviour and that they lack supervision. I think it’s a fine line between sheltering your children and protecting them from negativity. At such a young age they should be protected from most negative influences because they can’t process them the same way.

    But seriously, you should be concerned about the potential violent atmosphere that pre-K seems to fostering (at least from what you wrote) and ask them to address the bullying issues. “…taunting the kids in the pre-K class for being “babies,” telling them to hit other kids, suggesting they throw sand at smaller children, and so on…” These are NOT situations to be taken lightly. If I were you I would find another school! Good luck – it’s hard when they get to be school aged 🙂



    • Natasha Crain on April 23, 2013 at 11:21 AM

      Hi Lisa – Agreed, these are absolutely not situations to take lightly! As for why they are still there, this has all developed slowly over time. It wasn’t until January that I started learning about the meanness issues on the playground. The kids hadn’t offered the info before, and I wasn’t experienced enough with parenting school-aged kids to know the questions to probe with yet. When I did start asking pointed questions about their experiences, the information started to trickle in. Initially, it sounded relatively harmless – the kids wouldn’t let my daughter into the little playhouse and told her to “go away.” Average playground stuff I thought. But then I started asking more regular questions when I picked them up, and more and more came out. I talked to their teacher and thought it would solve the bigger problems with her watching more closely. I wasn’t going to take them out of school over what seemed to be one or two problem kids. But over time, I learned that it was beyond a couple of problem kids, that even with the teacher watching more closely, these things were happening, and that the problems went beyond basic playground issues. In other words, the cumulative picture didn’t emerge until the last month or so when I realized it was more systematic. Until then, I thought I was dealing with individual issues.

      At this point, they only have a month left, so I’m letting them finish with their class. And then, I said, I AM pulling them out – to homeschool next year. 🙂

      To all the parents reading this comment – please do take the time to ask your kids pointedly about their social experiences. I flat out ask my kids now, “Was anyone mean to you today?” You get answers you will never hear if you just ask, “How did your day go?”



      • Lisa on April 23, 2013 at 12:10 PM

        I think it’s wonderful that you are choosing to homeschool them next year! I wish I had that option 🙂 You make a great point that as parents we should ask “Was anyone mean to you?” because it will help identify any potential problems early on. I am fortunate that my son is in pre-K with only 12 kids and 3 teachers, so they are able to really integrate the children and watch for any issues early on. When he gets to K next year – that’s a whole new ball game!

        I also want to add that when problems due arise between kids, I try to encourage my son to pray for the child who was mean to him or hurt him. I use it as an opportunity to explain that not everyone is taught that same morals or values that we are trying to teach, and maybe that child has issues of his own that he is dealing with. It’s hard to teach empathy at such a young age, but I am hopeful that if I start early on, then maybe someday it will sink in. Cheers!



        • Natasha Crain on April 23, 2013 at 12:56 PM

          My kids are 2 out of 10 in their class (with one teacher)! They get into these problems during playground time when they mix in with all the other classes. 🙁 LOVE your point about praying for the other kids! I’m going to do that in our prayer time tonight with the kids! Great idea.



  4. Sharon Nichols Young on April 23, 2013 at 2:33 PM

    The process you describe is about teaching discernment. Excellent article – and the principles apply no matter what age children you’re talking about 🙂



    • Natasha Crain on April 23, 2013 at 2:44 PM

      Thanks Sharon! Yes, I think these things do apply at any age – I can just imagine how much tougher those influences get as they grow older. I will just put them in the closet at that point. 🙂



  5. Nancy on April 23, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    Natasha,
    I really enjoyed reading this and thought that these same issues are applicable to both preschoolers and teenagers. When my son was preschool age, he was very sensitive and full of fears. I too tried to talk him out of those fears but a logical argument was not going to budge his opinions. Those fears caused us to avoid some normal activities such as movies – he preferred documentaries because there was no possibility of a scary event on the horizon. Now that he is 14, he of course goes to movies but fear of the unknown still creeps into his judgment.

    Over the past several years we have instituted a rule, “Do not allow fear to determine the outcome”. He had to mature to accept that rule. We now force him to step out and try new things just to see what will happen. He has courageously stepped up and achieved many milestones due to following that rule. God is good!

    When he was in preschool he used to come home with words and attitudes that would just astound us. His actions in class would be uncharacteristic and would get him in trouble. One day he said something to my husband with a disrespectful tone – mind you a preschooler. My husband in reply said, “I know where you are getting that tone and I don’t like it. That tone does not belong in this house. Get that tone out of our home”. My son understood and didn’t continue to mimic that kid.

    So, for my point. I do not believe in sheltering children. I do believe that we are not of this world. I do believe that our children are smart enough to learn the difference between what God wants for them and what the world says is important for them. When the world’s influences start to invade our home we need to tell our child that it doesn’t belong in our home and to get it out. If they are sheltered and cannot understand what is out there, then when they are thrust into the world they are unprepared and fearful – they cannot make good decisions when fear is in the picture. Trusting in God’s plan for our children; letting go in piece meal; knowing that we cannot control their environment every moment of their day but it is still ok because God is watching over them with His angels guarding their every move.

    Allowing them to know this world for both it’s beauty and ugliness is our gift to our children. It is up to us to show them God’s will and it will be up to them to decide to follow.



  6. Heather K on April 23, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    Wow, it sounds like there are lots of differing opinions out there. Always keeps it interesting. For me, I love what I read once by a homeschooling mom that was accused of sheltering her kids, of escaping from the world by keeping them at home. She said something like, “You bet I’m escaping and sheltering them. But not to keep them from the world so much as to release them back into the world when they are older and have a more solid foundation and sense of self.” I love that. I too am a homeschooler, and a big part of that is so that I can give them time to be innocent and young and naive. They will have enough time and opportunities to learn what the “real world” is like later. I want to shield them as much as possible from all the negative things I can and give them the most time possible to build that strong foundation. One that is strong enough to withstand the world, not crumble under it or be molded to it. I’m not saying that this is the right way for everyone, but it’s what’s best for our family. (But even though we homeschool, we still have lots of “teachable moments” throughout our day when they misbehave. And there can be a lot of chaos with four boys. And they also have had plenty of opportunities to pick up on less-than-desirable things from church friends and family. And to be picked on by them. So there are always plenty of ways to experience the “real world” even though we homeschool.) And, yes, I am very cautious about what they watch and see, especially with such a sensitive older child who was scared of Veggie Tale’s “Are You Afraid of the Dark” until he was 10 or so. I roll my eyes sometimes about it and wish that he would just get over his extreme sensitivity to anything even remotely scary, but I use this as an opportunity to teach my boys that you do need to be very cautious about what you put in your head, because you can’t erase it. And I would much rather have a child that protects his mind too much than not enough. Anyway, these are just my two cents! It’s been fun to read everyone else’s.



  7. Amy Watkins on April 23, 2013 at 9:25 PM

    I read today’s blog earlier this evening with my 11 year old son in my heart. Next year is middle school….”gulp” and honestly mama ain’t ready!! I thought those years were some of the hardest in my life and that was many years ago…this world has gotten so much scarier. However after some tears and prayers…God reminded me that yes there will be some negative influences out there. But He is in control……and who knows who my son will influence…hopefully in a positive way..



  8. Kellie Gordon Titchnell on April 24, 2013 at 5:23 AM

    I read this last night, but needed to re-read it again because there was just so much wisdom to it. I have really been wrestling with the thought of homeschooling my daughter. She has had a pretty difficult school year, however, I couldn’t decide if any of it rose to the level of pulling her out of public education. Now after asking myself these 5 key questions, I am not so sure homeschooling is the fix. It is quite possible that she may have a completely different experience with 2nd grade and that all she has gone through this year is character building. It is possible that I am attempting to overprotect her. She’s an only child and we live in an apartment so one of my motivators for leaving her in school is the socialization with kids her own age. My husband on the other hand has been wanting me to homeschool her since Kindergarten! We still have some time before we need to make a definite decision. We are really seeking the Lord about this.
    I think I am going to share this post with my husband and see if it changes his perspective at all.
    Thanks, Natasha!! Your blogs are always so timely!!!



  9. Rosann on April 24, 2013 at 7:44 AM

    I love your questions and thought process in this post. My oldest has been in a public “school” atmosphere since she was 3 months old. (We always called daycare school because it helped us to feel better about dropping her off when we had to work.) I didn’t have the luxury of protecting her from the other kids, but have always been very sensitive to what it’s like for her to be exposed to so many different “upbringings” in her peers. While my mama heart has always wanted to be home and have her home with me, even if that meant homeschooling, my husband is not in agreement (at this time) with the option of homeschooling. Despite the negative behaviors she’s been exposed to in the public settings, she has developed into a very kind, loving, compassionate, do-the-right-thing, kind of girl. She is a friend to all and is quick to back away when one of her peers begins to behave in a way she knows to be wrong. As much as I’ve worried about her being a follower and behaving like all the others, just this past week her teacher expressed to my husband and I during a parent teacher conference that she is like a mentor to her classmates both inside the classroom and outside on the playground. So, it’s been my experience that allowing her to be exposed to a wide variety of personalities and behaviors while teaching her our values of right vs. wrong in our home has been the healthy balance she’s thrived on to help her become this amazing daughter, student and friend that she is. That’s not to say I don’t agree with homeschooling. I strongly believe we all need to do what we feel works best for our unique family dynamics. Now, I have had to protect her from a bully situation a year or so ago and I’m still not sure I handled it the way I probably should have. But, none of us has all the answers in parenting. One thing is for sure, we can’t do motherhood without God guiding us with His wisdom and whispers from the Holy Spirit.



  10. elissa on April 26, 2013 at 6:11 PM

    I really struggle with this, I have three “normal” kids who have been with me since day one, I do keep an eye out for what they’re influenced by, but I don’t really micromanage what they’re exposed to. My youngest on the other hand was adopted at age 7. Because he has a traumatic social history we have to be considerably more careful with what he can be exposed to because he’s soo vulnerable to negative attitudes in our lives and in the media.
    Good food for thought, thanks for sharing…