The Danger of Teaching Kids to Be True to Themselves

The Danger of Teaching Kids to Be True to Themselves

Our family went to a gathering Sunday where I ended up talking to a teenager for a while. He was wearing some kind of metal band shirt that looked pretty creepy, so I decided to ask him about it. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: “So what do you like about that band?”

Him: “The lyrics are really good.”

Me (laughing): “Do you realize that every teenager in the history of time, including myself, has told an adult at some point that the lyrics of the scary-looking band they listen to are actually ‘really good’? Now you have to prove it to me. What are the lyrics about?”

Him: “Well, it’s just kinda like about being who you are and being true to yourself. Not being who anyone else wants you to be. They’re really good. They’re really different.”

It wasn’t the right setting for me to continue the conversation with my next thought (“That’s not different at all…that’s the message being sold to young people everywhere today…and let me explain why you shouldn’t buy it…or that shirt…”). But I thought I’d continue the “conversation” here. Kids are constantly being fed the idea that they should be “true to themselves” and it’s important that Christian parents recognize the danger that lies in such a belief.

There are two problems your kids should understand: the logical problem, and the spiritual problem.


The Logical Problem with Being True to Yourself

From a Christian perspective, there is a fundamental spiritual problem with believing that you should be true to yourself. But before you engage with your kids on the spiritual problem, it’s important to walk them through the logical one. Even at the level of basic critical thinking, the ubiquitous call to “be true to yourself” shouldn’t pass their smell test.

So let’s start by simply getting our kids to think a bit. Ask your children this: “Is it a good or bad idea to be ‘true to yourself’? And why?”

I asked that question to my 6-year-old twins, and my daughter replied, “Well, it could be bad…like what if who you really want to be is bad? You shouldn’t just kill someone because that’s who you want to be.”


This isn’t a tough philosophical question. At a simple logical level, it doesn’t make sense that we should always aspire to be true to ourselves. What if being true to yourself hurts others (should a child molester be true to himself)? What if being true to yourself hurts yourself (should someone who enjoys being anorexic continue to be anorexic?) What if being true to yourself means having a character that is despicable?

Whether you’re a Christian or not, it’s clear that this advice begins to logically stink when you get just below the surface. But, for Christians, the spiritual problem runs even deeper.


The Spiritual Problem with Being True to Yourself

Here’s the kicker: As Christians, we should absolutely NOT be true to our natural selves…because the Bible says our natural selves have some serious problems:

  • We are sinners by nature (see Romans 7:14).
  • Our natural mind is hostile to God (see Romans 8:7-8).
  • We consider the things of God foolishness (see 1 Corinthians 2:14).
  • We all fall short of God’s glory (see Romans 3:23).
  • Without God, we are hopeless (see pretty much the whole Bible).

Our natural selves are so spiritually problematic that the Bible says we must be born again (that is, take on a new self) in order to see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). This new birth is possible only through the Holy Spirit that we are given when we accept Jesus as our Savior.

With our new spiritual self:

  • We have a new nature (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).
  • The sinful desires of our natural selves are lessened (see 1 John 3:9), though we will always have some struggles (see Romans 7:15-20).
  • We are a work in progress as God sanctifies us (see 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 John 3:2).

In other words, Christians thank God when we’re not being true to our natural selves. We deeply long to replace that self with our new spiritual self.


Getting the Message of Our True Identity Right

Let’s be honest: The Christian message of the human identity doesn’t quite have the same marketing appeal. It (at least initially) sounds a lot more exciting and adventurous to just be “true to who you are.”

In fact, if we’re not careful to help our kids grasp the full picture and context of what the Bible says about our identity, they can easily develop a very wrong understanding of who they are.

Case in point—here’s a meme that went viral in the last couple of weeks:



Setting aside for a moment 1) the absurd notion that “science” is telling her all those things and 2) the Bible never says we are dumb or “nothings,” let’s boil down what this little girl has been taught: Religion says there’s a problem with her, while the rest of the world says everything is peachy and the sky’s the limit! Score one sad face for religion being “damaging,” and one happy face for everything else.

What’s actually damaging is not knowing, understanding, or acknowledging the truth about yourself.

What if this little girl…and all of us…are broken, flawed, sinful, and weak? What if that is our true self? It may give us a pretty smile to think we’ve smartly eschewed all those “negative self-esteem” words, but if those are accurate descriptors, we need to know.

We also need to know that’s only half the story.

The other half is that God doesn’t leave us there. By His grace, He gave His son Jesus, allowing us to accept His gift of forgiveness and become a new creation. Our new identity in Christ assures us of an eternity with our perfect Creator. It’s a before-and-after picture that has to go together.

When we teach our kids this truth of who they are, they’ll understand why they should no longer want to be “true to themselves”…no one wants to look like the before picture once they have a vision of what’s to come.

Ask your kids today if they think it’s a good idea or bad idea to be “true to yourself.” I’d love to hear what they have to say! Please share about your conversation here if you have a moment.

…And is there anyone who wants to make a new meme to go viral? 🙂

34 thoughts on “The Danger of Teaching Kids to Be True to Themselves”

  1. Grrr that meme made me upset!

    Thanks for a great post. Lots of talk about “being true to yourself” went round after the Bruce/Caitlin Jenner thing happened before the Summer.

    God bless. Sam

  2. Excellent as always….

    Love the idea of creating some new memes. The atheist memes on Facebook are driving me NUTS!!!

  3. That comparison is ridiculous and it’s the main problem that keeps people from considering Christianity. It should have a third column that says “According to Jesus I am: loved by God, forgiven, wonderfully made, created for good works, eternal, a daughter of the King” and so much more!

    1. Actually Natasha’s comparison is the true gospel. What is ridiculous is to say you are loved and forgiven without accepting that you are first a sinner and wretched human being. What is ridiculous is to say you are created for good works without admitting that before you became saved you were destined for wrath. You can only be a daughter of the king after you once were a child of the darkness, as Jesus said. Why tell people they are loved and esteemed without telling them they are in need of a savior? Natasha’s comparison may “keep people from considering Christianity” but it is the true Gospel and it is exactly what Jesus did. If Christians read their Bibles you would see that Jesus’ messages of the cost of salvation and the nature of humanity drive people away.

      What benefit is it to tell people all these good things that make them think they are saved and get them to love Christianity only for them to perish eternally. I don’t refute all those things you are saying but they are contextual- not everyone is a child of God. Not everyone is going to heaven. Not everyone is saved. It’s a flowery message but it is GROSSLY incomplete without the gospel. The message of the cross is foolishness to this world.

  4. I understand what you’re saying, but you nearly picked a fight with a kid you didn’t even know because you thought the band on his T-shirt “looked creepy.”

    Take “be true to yourself” too far, and it CAN be harmful, yes. But done right, that argument is actually supported by Christian doctrine. God made each of us unique, for a unique reason. Rather than telling people to fit themselves into little boxes—for instance, boxes where we don’t wear “creepy T-shirts”?—we should be celebrating each person’s uniqueness and helping them find how they can use that individuality to change the world for God.

    1. Actually, he is someone I know, so he understood I was playfully teasing him about the shirt. I was in no way picking a “fight” with him!

      I think you misunderstood the point of the post. It certainly wasn’t about the “creepy” shirt which happened to start the conversation, and I wasn’t talking about outward appearances at all (my reference to how he shouldn’t buy the shirt was meant as a joke). Of course God made us unique and we all have unique gifts to use in His kingdom. Celebrating our uniqueness is fine, but that still has to be rooted in an understanding of the biblical truth of who ALL humans are, and how ALL believers are transformed. This is a more fundamental question than how our uniqueness can appropriately flow out of that.

      I hope that clarifies the point. 🙂

      1. I agree and I think at such a young age, you have a shallow perception of what it means to “be yourself” anyway. It goes about as deep as your hair color. Not to attack or criticize, but that’s how we are. As a teenager, my aim was to be different. I would wear a different earring in each ear, because wearing two matching ones was boring. The shallowness of trying to fit in fit out or just be comfortable in your own skin is all part of growing up. As a teenager you start exploring philosophy, et cetera, to try to define yourself. But at that young age, “being true to yourself” is pretty shallow – what music you listen to, what crowd you associate with, what color your hair is, how you dress, who you follow on facebook. Over time it develops into something deeper. All part of not-yet-being-a-grown-up. Myself, I’m 40 years old and can’t wait to be 90. Then I will finally feel comfortable telling off a bad parent in the grocery store. And handing that stranger’s kid a piece of candy.

    2. I agree in part with what you are saying. However what Natasha is pointing out is very important. In a nutshell it is this: There is a lot of emphasis by the world and sadly some churches that mankind is actually not-so-bad. The assumption in phrases such as be true to yourself is that humanity is basically good. Yet in the light of a holy God, that is just plain untrue. These will possibly be the people who will think they are entering heaven on account of their goodness only to discover that God is holy and sin must be atoned for. I am all for realizing our potential by the way. I am all for using our skills and gifts to the maximum. And I am glad that many scriptures support that. However what benefit is it for me to “realize my full potential” but spend eternity in hell? Salvation is the most crucial factor a human being should consider for themselves. If they are not saved, then it matters not even if they are true to themselves and achieve all the greatest dreams in earth. It will all be nothing when the King returns.

      Also the writer did say she didn’t pursue the conversation with the child. I doubt the writer was picking on the kid.

      1. Good to see you on here Ernest! I follow your blog, and Natasha’s too. both as insightful as it gets. Natasha’s blog challenges me in my parenting.

  5. Thanks for this, Natasha. May Jesus bless your ministry and always give you the desires of your heart. When I saw that meme the counter response I had was this: “What is more damaging is not the right question but rather ‘Is it true?'” something may sound flowery but that doesn’t mean it is true. Secondly, we all know that in light of eternity the falsehoods of the world such as being true to yourself will be eternally damaging. May we raise our kids in the light of Christlikeness. I thank God for this blog. Crowns await you in heaven.

  6. This was a great pist got me thinking. My kids are young vut it definitely a discussion ill have with them later. Thank you

  7. Actually according to science I am:
    – an animal
    – just flesh and bones
    – a product of nature
    – an accident

  8. Great point!! 🙂 I don’t typically use the phrase “be true to yourself,” although I’ve had people say it to me over the years. Usually when I’m talking to my girls about who they are or a decision that will impact their character, I ask them “how do you think Jesus would respond to _______ ? Doing so allows us to seek God’s truth and wisdom so they’re equipped to make choices that are aligned with His will. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be obedient in their choice (none of us are perfect), but we’ve opened the door for discussion and a learning opportunity.

  9. Another great post! Thank you Natasha! The core lesson about sin is so critical, but certainly doesn’t have to be damaging to self-worth. In fact, having insight to who you truly are is liberating and affirming. Self-doubt makes so much more sense when you remember you are fundamentally flawed. That doubt disappears when you seek to live God’s will.

    I recently had a friend challenge many of the thoughts on my blog – she said that I was “judging” my kids. My first reaction was defensive concern. Good people aren’t judgmental… But after some thought, I realized that good parents ARE judgmental (at least to a degree). We have to provide the foundations and structure for our kids to make the best available decisions. Parents teach their kids the framework for leaning on God, so they are equipped to make good decisions as adults.

    If interested, feel free to read my article on the “judging” topic, Fascist Fatherhood:

    In another post, I talk about the framework for making good decisions. One of the critical elements is “picking trusted sources” – i.e., God. I explain in more depth in this post, Giving Kids Structure to Succeed:

    Thank you again Natasha – really enjoying your thoughts!


  10. I’ve always taught my daughter to be true to who she is. Of course I don’t mean the not so nice things about herself but I guess I never expressed that to her. I think the positive things about her she should stay true and ask God to work on the negative things about herself. I feel God gave us both positive and negative attributes and we should stay true to ourselves. We all need work and that ‘s where God comes in.

  11. Science says we are cosmic accidents, should be disposed of if we have flaws (survival of the fittest), valuable based on accomplishments and contributions to society, ultimately alone in the universe and headed to nothingness. God says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, valuable simply because He made us and loves us, worth dying for, have great purpose and are irreplacable to Him (we all matter to Him, no one is disposable), are not alone because He is watching over us and cares for us, and we will live on after we die (which is comforting or terrifying, depending on where you are headed).

    1. Heather
      “Science” doesn’t say any of those things at all. Do you think it helps your ministry at all to so desperately misrepresent people?

      1. Paul, I think you know based on your previous interactions with Heather that she in no way is intentionally misrepresenting anyone. If you disagree with her evaluation of what science does and does not say, feel free to engage in discussion with the rationale behind your statement. But there’s no need to make personal accusations.

        1. Thank you, Natasha. You are right, I am not trying to misrepresent anyone. I am pointing out what a world without an Intelligent Designer is like. Science says we evolved over billions of years and if any one thing was different, there would have been drastically different outcomes. This makes us cosmic accidents whose existence is at the mercy of environmental conditions, not deliberately created beings. Survival of the fittest is scientific and it does indeed say that flawed beings should be weeded out for the survival of the species. And if we were not created but are just accidents and if our “fitness” is what counts then our value is based on what we can contribute to the overall good of the species as a whole. And if there is no Designer, just environmental forces, then we are alone and are simply a collection of molecules with no soul to live on after we die. I do value science for its many contributions and discoveries, but science without God is hopeless, incomplete, and discouraging. It fails at giving meaninful answers to the big questions, “Why are we here? Does our life matter? Where are we headed? Is there any real hope for us?” Etc.

        2. I don’t recall any particular discussions with Heather, Natasha. But it doesn’t really matter.

          Her comments are as gross a misrepresentation of science as I have seen. It is equally on par with my assertion that Jesus is the Norse God of Thunder.

          And if she (and you) are committed to that level of discussion, then there’s no reason for me to be here.

          The number one flaw that I consistently see in the conflict between believers and non-believers is the unwillingness to let people self-identify. Whether through raw ignorance or calculated malfeasance, people on both sides refuse to allow others to define themselves on their own terms.

          So, to continue to the analogy, it is as if I were convinced that Jesus is the Norse God of Thunder, and I am unwilling to have any discussion about Christianity based on on any other model.

          And frankly, you’ve become just as guilty. You didn’t use to be that way, though. It’s disappointing.

          Anyway, I’m done. There’s nothing for me here.

          1. Hi Paul,

            I was quite surprised to see your reaction to my simple request to avoid ad hominem attacks. Normally I would just delete comments that people leave of that nature (making personal accusations rather than addressing the argument). However, since you have a history on the site of engaging in a more reasonable way than that normally, I published your comment, asked you not to make personal accusations, and encouraged the two of you to discuss the claim itself. I didn’t even enter the discussion of how science should or should not be portrayed.

            Frankly, that leaves me scratching my head a bit.

            In any case, I have appreciated your perspectives here and I’m sorry to hear you won’t contribute to the conversation any more.

        3. Natasha, thank you for standing firmly and faithfully on God’s truth, even if it offends some. Your words have reached many who have ‘ears to hear’ and a desire to understand. God bless you. And I never mean to offend or rile people up with my comments. It is sincerely my hope and prayer that people may find hope and truth and Jesus in all I say. Yet I know there are many who do not want to see it. May God continue to pursue them, reach out to them, open their eyes to truth, and have mercy on them. And may God bless your book, Natasha.

          1. Thank you, Heather. And thank you for taking the time to comment on posts and engage with others here. I’ve many times felt like closing comments on the blog because I unfortunately just don’t have the necessary time to reply and discuss…and I feel guilty about that since people are taking the time to write in the first place. But I’ve left comments open because I know that it leaves an important opportunity for discussions to take place even if I’m not able to join in myself most of the time. Thank you so much for contributing your insights here when you can.

  12. Thx for the post – i’m a new subscriber and very interested in your take as a younger mom in this narcissistic Christian culture! fyi – we’re saints, not sinners, as new new men and women in Christ. the Rom 7 part is Paul’s past life. In 1 Co4 he proclaims he has nothing against himself. Rom 7 is sandwiched between 6 and 8 that declares and admonishes us to walk worthy…holy in all our behavior. I just lost a 20 year relationship with a believer who insisted we were all rampant sinners, and he works for a major Christian ministry! Practiced sin sends one to the lake of fire…sin should be a fluke, and never habitual. When we really really really believe this, we live up to the Lord’s expectation: to go and sin no more. He meant it. here’s a couple helpful posts on this: and — blessings on all you so here!

  13. Natasha, I love the way you encourage people to think deeply and have answers. As far as the girl in the picture holding the sign, I wonder what “religion” she is representing, because it is a gross misrepresentation of Christianity. To the point of being absurd. Of course, there are damaging religions out there, but none of what is in her list has any basis in Christianity except for the fact that we are broken and flawed. But can science dare to make the claim that we are whole and perfect, when looking at what humanity is capable of and how many people are looking for more than what this life offers? Some are so desperate to leave the hopelessness of this life that they commit suicide, even those who are rich and have everything they could want. Would science call that “whole and perfect”? At least, in Christianity, God offers a solution to our broken, flawed condition, and He loves us in spite of it. He values us so much, even in our brokenness, that He sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we could be healed and made whole. That gives us hope and an answer and a future. Science cannot do that, yet it still has to admit we are broken and flawed. I feel sad for the people who wrote the sign the girl is holding, sad that they have been so hurt by “religion” or that they just misunderstand it so badly. I hope and pray they can learn what Christianity really is and the hope Jesus offers.

  14. Oh, and of course, according to Christianity, we are also sinful. The little girl’s list got that right. I forgot to include that one in the above comments, but it goes without saying. It is part of the broken, flawed nature. And yet science cannot claim otherwise, unless it wants to just rename it something like ‘natural inclinations’ or ‘animal nature.’ They might not call it sin, but it looks the same in many cases: people hurting people, stealing, lying, cheating, etc. Science cannot say that people are naturally sin-less. Look at what humans do to each other. It is misleading to put that only on the ‘religion’ side. Broken, flawed, and sinful should be in both columns. Yet at least the God of the Bible paid the penalty of that sin nature by sending Jesus to the cross to die in our place. We don’t have to remain in that broken, flawed, and sinful state. And we don’t have to try to fix it ourselves because Jesus did it for us, if we will accept it. What answer or hope or help does science offer for our obviously broken, flawed, sinful condition?

  15. And regarding the ‘weak’ part of the list. . . Of course, she probably means to say that we are pathetically weak and helpless and incapable. As though we were lowly worms. She means it as a slam. Yet Christianity sees it this way: We are not pathetic, weak worms; we are dearly loved creations of God who find our strength in Him. Yes, we might be weak on our own, incapable of saving ourselves, of being the ‘god’ we try to be. But we don’t have to find our strength in ourselves or do it all on our own because He is our strength. And His strength is far better than anything we can muster up. And once again, can science really say that we humans are truly strong and capable? We cannot fix world hunger, natural disasters, national disputes, wars, homelessness, economic disasters, etc. Not in any lasting way, at least. I think this shows how ‘weak’ we are as a human race. Just things I wanted to clarify after reviewing the girl’s list again. It really does not reflect Christianity or science accurately at all.

  16. Natasha, I totally understand the feeling of wanting to close the comment section down on a blog because you cannot respond to it all. In fact, for the past three years, I did not have a comment section on my blogs because I felt like I would have to respond to them all or manage them all. And as a homeschooling mom of four, I do not have the time or energy. So I never allowed comments because it felt overwhelming. But as I was looking at someone’s blog, I noticed that the host never replied to comments, but the readers were interacting in the comment section and building each other up and answering other’s questions. It was neat to see how the body of Christ came together there, just because she gave them a place to do it. And what she could not do – respond to the comments – others did beautifully. So after three years, I decided to finally allow comments, as a place for others to interact and encourage each other, and the burden is off of me to ‘do it all.’ Of course, I will monitor for improper comments, but maybe not much more than that unless I have time. So, you are doing fine with whatever you can do, and you do not have to ‘do it all.’ Let the body of Christ help carry that burden. And it has been my honor to comment on your posts. You make me think and come up with answers for things I might not have thought of before. So thank you for that. God bless!

  17. I feel like there is some confusion between “being true to yourself” versus “being true to your sinful nature”. Being true to sinful nature can create chaos and pain for your self and others – agreed. But when I hear “be true to yourself” I immediately think of being true to whatever inborn talents or gifts or “core person” God has created you to be. For example, if God has given you a particular skill or gift and you are not using it, or are ignoring it, then you are not being true to yourself. We have all been created to do something on this earth, when somebody (usually well meaning parents) try to steer a child away from that inner bent or calling, then a child can end up not being true to themselves. Not being true to yourself (who God created you to be – assuming you have accepted His grace and are striving to live for His glory) can result in a person becoming lost in their direction of life and goals. Example: kid wants to be a missionary in an orphanage. Parent wants kid to be a lawyer. Kid falls in line and is no longer true to themselves. He may end up being a good lawyer, but will he feel fulfilled or will he always feel empty or lost? Example: kid loves music, has inborn talent for it. Parent wants kid to join hockey, etc. That to me is more the context of “being true to yourself”. How it is represented here takes it out of context and turns it into something sinister.

    1. Good point, Cheryl, and I agree with it. But I think what Natasha is talking about here is not letting your self be your guide or what defines you, but instead letting God be your guide and letting Him define you. Finding your identity in Him as opposed to in yourself. In our country, we hold up ‘follow your heart’ as the key to life and happiness. ‘Follow your heart, and you cannot go wrong.’ But this is scary because our natural selves do not have the things of God in mind. Our ‘hearts’ can be terrible guides, leading us to make destructive, selfish choices for temporary pleasure. Of course, God can create in us talents, desires, skills, etc., and we should glorify Him with them and follow where He leads. But we should not let our ‘hearts’ and ‘natural selves’ be our ultimate guide in life. These things – as well as all parts of ourselves – should fall in line with and be molded by God. I think this is where Natasha was going with this. If not, then I am finding this message in it because it is one I have thought about a lot – our ‘follow your heart’ mantra and how much damage it has caused in lives, families, our country, and our world.

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  19. The contrast in then meme perhaps ought to be between theism and atheism, or theism and materialism. Science doesn’t ‘say’ anything, it is a technique for enquiry (proposing hypotheses to answer evidence, setting up repeatable experiments to test the evidence, and modifying the hypotheses if there are significant anomalies in the data that is collected). Science by definition excludes that which is non-measurable, therefore whole chunks of human experience which we all acknowledge as valuable and real are somewhat outside its scope. One can be a religious scientist, or a non-religious scientist (historically most were) – neither is excluded. Sometimes we refer to science as though it were something more, something we can have faith in – whoops, science just stepped out of its role as describer of reality, and became a world-view. Besides, how that first rock/first atom appeared are beyond the realm of science, and not every event can be tested. Either material things are eternal….material things exist, right?). Or there is a maker at the back of the material things? Science gives us it’s best current thoughts on why things as they are, but it can only measure the measurable, and should refrain from dogma. Besides…theism tells us that we are intrinsically valuable, immortal, created by a perfect being in its image, given access to an impartial moral code and with assistance in following it.

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