Building Resilient Kids In A World Obsessed With Safety

Building Resilient Kids In A World Obsessed With Safety December 18, 2023

We are a world obsessed with safety. We neglect to build the resilience our kids need to grow a strong world-changing faith and live Jesus-centered lives. We simply want strong, adaptable kids. 

That’s a loaded statement. I know. But, parents, I want you to take a second and consider what you believe is most important: Preparing your kids for the road ahead or doing whatever it takes to manipulate the circumstances and clear a path on the road ahead for your kids. 

When The Backyard Is Not Longer Safe

A couple of years ago, my neighbor’s two young girls played outside on their epic play structure. Forget a slide and swings; this thing took up nearly half of their backyard and rivaled our local park playground. As big as it was, I always found it odd that the girls didn’t play on it much. But on this particular day, you could hear the laughter, joyous screams, and playful arguments of two kids having the time of their lives. 

That was until we saw flashing lights headed down our street and stopped in front of our house. 

The paramedics jumped out of the truck, darting through our yard to our neighbor’s play structure. The rest of the neighbors slowly emerged, curious and concerned. The oldest of their girls, who was six, was carefully placed on the stretcher and carried to the back of the ambulance, where she was briefly evaluated. 

In our attempts to prevent ourselves from being nosey and overstepping our place, we looked on, prayed, and waited. A few minutes later, she was loaded into the back and taken to the local hospital. 

Now, don’t worry, she would be just fine. She was more than fine. Turns out, it was just a minor scare. The oldest had landed awkwardly coming down the slide, knocking the wind out of her. If that’s ever happened to you, then you know what an odd and even scary feeling that can be.

The girls would never be allowed to play on their state-of-the-art, epic backyard playground in their final two years at that address. It was now considered too dangerous. 

From The Backyard to the Rest of the World and The Path to Resilent Kids

It might seem minor, but it provides us a window into a world obsessed with safety. We would rather bubblewrap our kids and protect them from every potential physical, social, and psychological harm they might encounter. Yet, as we watch GenZ grow up, go to college, and begin their careers and families, we are seeing a rapid rise in depression, anxiety, and suicide and a simultaneous decline in the next generation’s belief in Jesus. 

But let’s be clear. There is nothing inherently wrong with safety or trying to be safe. As a kid, I didn’t wear a bike helmet, went all over the neighborhood until the street lights came on, and my parents used to let us take off our seatbelts once we got on the freeway. It never occurred to us how much sense that didn’t make. Car seats, safety belts, appropriate boundaries for how much freedom we give our kids, and even bike helmets are all great additions to developing a safer community and giving our kids the best possible chances for success later in life. 

When Safety Goes Too Far

But what happens when we go too far? What happens to our kid’s resilience, determination, and perseverance? What happens when bad things happen to them—when they experience evil? And more importantly, what happens to their faith? God uses the pain in this world to build us into the people he designed us to be. The pain our kids experience can create the perseverance needed to develop faith. Escaping the pain in the name of safety has resulted in delayed adulthood, increased focus on emotional safety—meaning more trigger warnings, less free speech, and healthy debate—and increased loneliness. 

In their groundbreaking book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up A Generation For Failure, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt note, “If we protect children from various classes of potentially upsetting experiences, we make it far more likely that those children will be unable to cope with such events when they leave our protective umbrella. The modern obsession with protecting young people from ‘feeling unsafe’ is, we believe, one of the (several) causes of the rapid rise in rates of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide.”

When too much safety creates mental health issues

I know this might be hard to wrap your head around, but this obsession with safety goes far beyond the slide in your backyard or a bicycle helmet. As a former teacher, I’ve witnessed a generation enter the adult world filled more fear and hesitancy than any generation before them. It might start with a dangerous slide, but it certainly does end there. 

Parents, on a regular basis, would attempt to circumvent the structures put in place for their children to give them the best possible chance to succeed. What they almost always seem to miss was the incredible and invaluable lesson their kids would learn through failure.

  • Financial bribes for grades
  • I have graded papers written by parents instead of the student in hopes of a better grade (spoiler alert: the parent received a D on the paper)
  • A parent refusing to let me discipline a student for defacing private property
  • When two of my best football players broke team rules, their parents (who were church leaders) begged me to extend grace and make an exception to the rules. 

The list goes on. 

What Safety Is Doing to Their Faith

Seeing your child suddenly lose their breath while playing is scary. My neighbor also missed an incredible opportunity to get back on the slide and build resilience. 

Too much focus on safety denies our kids some critical life lessons that will help them grow their faith. Peter reminds us that our faith (and ultimately our life) is primarily built on how we take on the troubles of life—what we do and how we react when obstacles come our way (1 Peter 4:12-14). This is precisely how we are recognized as people who are set apart and chasing after something far greater than what this world can offer. 

James echoes the same sentiment in his letter (James 1:2-8). God allows us to navigate through the trials because doing so develops perseverance. When we do, we gain faith, wisdom, maturity, and, in James’ words, “not lacking anything.

What safety is doing to the faith of our kids

Parents, you may feel the compulsion to keep your kids safe in every aspect of their lives so much that you work tirelessly to clear the path and make their lives as easy as possible. A noble effort? Perhaps. But please understand that your efforts are not only futile, they are harmful. Kids require stressors and challenges to learn, adapt, and grow.

Instead, just as Jesus does with us, walk with them in the trials, encourage them, lift them, let them lean on you for strength, dust them off, and send them back out in the world. Because it’s in the trials that their character and effectiveness for Christ are formed, and after all, our job as parents is not to keep them safe but to prepare them for an unsafe world. Your kids are going to fall down. But God gave them you to pick them back up.

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