View

Weed Free

John Thompson on Tending a Child’s Garden of Influences

It is good to want someone to control the violence, irreverence, and sex that appear in the media, so that children aren’t exposed to stories and images that corrupt their desires and dull their consciences. That would be a good thing for society as a whole. But for the sake of my wife and our three children, I have to draw the line at a different place.

The Four Rules

And so my wife and I follow four rules of disengagement. The first one is: If it is addictive, don’t offer it to children. In our family, that means alcohol, smoking, and drugs. It also means video games, television, Gameboys, and iPods.

We play games, but we do it as a family and we promote the games that encourage thought and interaction, not the acuity of the thumbs and fingers. We watch videos, but not television, and we certainly don’t watch television “serially.”

But the real struggle, the real area where the discipline is needed, is in how we—the parents—live and in the way we spend our money and time. Here is where the most effective teaching takes place, for good or ill, because, as everyone knows, our children pay much more attention to what we do than to what we say.

Hence, the second rule of disengagement: You should want your children to imitate you. This is one of the hardest rules to follow. It is annoying beyond words, at times, to see my children copying me. But then I remember that if I want them to remain disengaged from what will harm them, they must be able to attach themselves to a positive influence. Me.

This leads to the third rule of disengagement: Don’t give your children things that will isolate, spoil, or corrupt them. My childhood preceded the Sony Walkman phenomenon, which is now the iPod phenomenon. The music you can get on them is truly amazing, both in variety and in quality of reproduction. I don’t object to persons who use them, unless that person is one of my children.

I am perhaps irrationally afraid that my children will use their iPod or CD player or whatever to escape something unpleasant, whether it is boredom, a sibling, or my discipline. Instead, they should be learning to deal constructively with their boredom, siblings, and parental discipline.

Withdrawing into his own world is an ever-present temptation for a child, as tempting as candy. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that following rule No. 2, I don’t use these devices myself.

Our fourth rule of disengagement is: Even when giving the children gifts, teach them about the rewards that they should be working for. When we give them gifts, we are giving them some clues about what we think will make people happy. That is why I object, in principle, to expensive toys that have no functional use. They imply that happiness comes from being able to afford expensive toys. This is an unfortunate concept for children to have but it is disastrous for adults.

Engaging Maturity

These are not rules for rejecting society or for withdrawing from it. They are rules for equipping my children to selectively engage the world when they are mature enough to assess its merits and dangers. One of the most compelling arguments for disengagement is that the attitudes and values that society encourages effectively preclude the values that I want to cultivate.

You can only grow so many plants in your garden. Some of the plants I want to see flourish in my garden—gratitude, reverence, simplicity, and the love of beauty—are relatively fragile and require special attention, and so I must go to what others regard as extreme lengths—a radical weeding policy—to protect them.

John Thompson is a librarian and professor at Waynesburg University, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone


more on family from the online archives

23.1—January/February 2010

The Audacity of the State

It’s Bent on Bringing Down the House on the Family & the Church by Douglas Farrow

30.1—Jan/Feb 2017

Family Matters

Domestic Altars & Godly Offspring by Allan C. Carlson

33.2—March/April 2020

Christian Pro-Family Governments?

Old & New Lessons from Europe—from the 2019 Touchstone Conference by Allan C. Carlson

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

33.1—January/February 2020

Surprised by Gentleness

on a Saint's Charism That Cures Toxic Perfectionism by Colleen Carroll Campbell

34.1—January/February 2021

Whose Wife Shall She Be?

Jesus' Astonishing Other Teaching on Marriage by James Ware

22.8—November/December 2009

The Origin of Aesthetics

Looking for Beauty & Justice 150 Years After Darwin’s Classic by Charles Taliaferro