The world is changing all the time. In just a few short decades, it can feel like a completely different place. How can you guide your children through it?
The first step in helping your children navigate the negative influences of their world is accepting that you don’t know their world.
It’s not possible.
Oh, sure, you might understand some of the individual parts of that world, and you might have a sense of how all those pieces fit together—but that doesn’t mean you understand what it’s like to be a young person in that world.
The only way to truly understand their world is to grow up in it—but you can’t do that. You grew up in a different world—one that doesn’t exist anymore.
The music is different. The books are different. The technologies are different. The slang is different. The means of communication are different. The political ideologies are different. The world events are different. The cultural and societal values are different. The fashions are different.
Even though you might recognize some elements from your own childhood, it doesn’t change the fact that your children are coming of age in their own unique sliver of human history—a cultural and sociopolitical stew that has never existed before and will never exist again in quite the same way.
In their world, you will always be an outsider and a visitor—and there’s nothing you can do to change it.
(It works the other way too. Your kids can read the books you read, listen to the music you loved, wear the clothes you wore—but they still won’t fully understand what it was like to grow up in your world.)
So, how on earth are you supposed to help them navigate their world?
The world isn’t as different as it seems
A dejected Solomon wrote, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, English Standard Version).
You’ve probably heard a more modern proverb that echoes those thoughts: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The world has seen quite a few new things—but the underlying principles of human nature haven’t changed at all.
That’s the key to this whole puzzle. Your children might live in a world you don’t fully understand, but that “new world” is really just a coat of new paint. The structure underneath the paint hasn’t changed in 6,000 years—so no matter how many times the world gets repainted, the Word of God will always have the answers you need for guiding your children through it.
Here are four steps you as a parent can follow to help your children navigate a world you don’t completely understand:
1. Set the standards
Proverbs tells us, “Correct your children, and they will be wise; children out of control disgrace their mothers” (Proverbs 29:15, Contemporary English Version).
God expects parents to set clear standards for their children—and to hold their children accountable to those standards. A rule that can be ignored or trampled on, repeatedly and without consequence, is no rule at all.
But we don’t need to wonder what standards to enforce in our families. God laid them out clearly for us in His law—especially the 10 Commandments. Not long after repeating those commandments to Israel, Moses reiterated, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
The rules are still the same. Those words are still the ones God expects us to teach diligently to our children, sharing and discussing them at every opportunity.
(Of course, that requires us to be familiar with those words. See “How to Study the Bible” for help in that area.)
2. Set the example
But having the right rules is only part of the equation. Solomon wrote, “The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him!” (Proverbs 20:7, ESV).
The emphasis is on the walking. This isn’t a proverb about “the righteous who has the right set of standards but doesn’t do anything with them.” When we model the right way of living, walking in our integrity, our children are blessed after us—because they see the standards in action. They see that our beliefs aren’t just words we say, but things we do.
You won’t do a perfect job—which is important, because neither will they. What do they see when you fail? Do they see you repenting, making amends and trying again? Or do they see you getting frustrated, giving up, making excuses or hand-waving the failure away?
Just as the life of Jesus gives us all a template to follow (1 Peter 2:21), your life as a parent will serve as a template for your children. Whether you’re dealing with failure or success, be certain that the values you want to see them live by are the same ones you live by.
3. Take time to understand
It’s true that your children are growing up in a world where you’ll always be a visitor—but that doesn’t mean you have to be an oblivious visitor. You can (and should!) be making the effort to understand the elements of that world and how they all fit together.
Remember, your children don’t have to be looking for the world’s rottenness in order to find it—more often than not, it will find them. In order to shield our families against that rottenness, we need to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, New International Version), remaining vigilant against Satan’s potential schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11).
What apps are your children using? What are those apps capable of—whether good or bad? What books, shows and games are they reading, watching and playing—and what messages are they hearing in the process?
More than that, what’s important to them? What do they enjoy? What kinds of things do they love? What kinds of things do they hate?
4. Take time to discuss
The goal here isn’t to become a surveillance state snooping on every word and thought your children have. The goal is to be aware of the influences they’re being exposed to and of the preferences they’re forming—and then to talk about them.
Paul cautioned fathers, “Do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
If your children feel heard and understood, they’re more likely to hear and understand.
It’s a difficult balance. They need to feel they can share things with you without being “provoked to wrath”—but at the same time, you’ll need to point them toward “the training and admonition of the Lord.” Keeping both of those lanes of dialogue open and flowing will take constant effort on your part—but the end result is a valuable line of communication with your children.
Your job is to provide the tools
You’ll never understand everything in your children’s world. And you won’t be there to help them make every decision in that world. More and more often as they mature, they’ll be flying solo—making their own decisions in their own world.
Those are the moments when the rubber meets the road. Solomon also said, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
If you’re setting the right standards and the right example, and if you’re taking the time to understand and discuss their world with them, then you are giving your children everything they need to one day navigate the world without you.
Your kids know their world better than you ever will, and you can’t force them to stay on a path they’re not interested in walking. Eventually, the choice will be theirs, and they’ll walk where they want to walk.
The focus here is on the heart. Dragging them down the road—even when it’s the right road—isn’t going to accomplish much of anything.
But by spending time training them in the way they should go—that is, training their hearts—you’ll be equipping them for success. With God’s help, they’ll begin to see not just how to live this way of life, but why it matters. The godly wisdom and principles you share with them will be exactly the tools they need to navigate their world—no matter what the latest coat of paint makes it look like.