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How to Raise a Little Pharisee

1. In the area of entertainment choices and parenting styles.

Every family has their own set of entertainment guidelines. It could be as loose as “whatever you want to watch/download/listen to” (I hope not!) to as strict as total separation from anything cultural (I also hope not!). Most families fall somewhere in the vast gray in between.

This can be a challenge for us. There are certain television shows we don’t allow our kids to watch for a variety of reasons. It could be sexual content, it could be language, it could be the level of violence (meaning we don’t want to deal with 3 a.m. nightmares), it could be disrespect, etc.

But what happens when the family down the street allows their children to watch this? And what happens if that family is Christian too? Or vice versa. Maybe we’re the more permissive family.

Growing up in church, I know this can be a cause of contention between families. Kids don’t always understand nuance and shades of gray.

So, for instance, if we’ve told my daughter Grace that a certain show is not good and then she finds out her friends watch it, she’s liable to look at them differently and even point out their “sin.” If we’re not careful, we’ll raise her to be a little Pharisee and the self-appointed guardian of other families’ choices.

So here is what we have done in our family. We not only enforce our values, but we also make sure we teach our kids the importance of demonstrating forbearance and mercy. So, for instance, when Grace comes home with an attitude of, “So and so watches that show. They are bad. Are they even Christians?” (this conversation has really happened quite a few times), we jump in and say, “No, Grace, this family feels it’s OK to watch it. We respect their choices. They are good people, etc. It’s sinful to judge people this way.”

We also try to have conversations about first being concerned about sin in our own hearts before we look for it in others. We also talk about certain choices that are not as clear in Scripture about which every family has to make choices.

It’s a difficult tension, because we want her to have the courage to resist peer pressure and make wise choices and yet we don’t want to raise her as a do-gooder Pharisee willing to rat out those who don’t follow her legalistic list. We also have to be careful to distinguish between the gospel that saves and the wisdom of wise choices. We never want our kids to think that not watching Spongebob, for instance, equals the gospel. (If you think Spongebob is wholesome, I won’t judge you, I promise!)

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Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). For five years, Dan served as Senior Pastor of Gages Lake Bible Church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and is the author of several books, including Teen People of the Bible, Crash Course, iFaith, Real, and his latest, Activist Faith. He and his wife Angela have four children and reside in the Nashville area.