When good kids go bad

Over a year ago I first read a blog post written by a pastor who received a letter from a young  woman who grew up in a good Christian home and went to a Christian college. She describes how she ‘went off the rails’ at college despite being ‘a good Christian’ and that this is a common scenario.
Living in a university town and having worked on campus for many years I have seen plenty of students arrive here fresh-faced and reasonably tame, only to deteriorate into a drunken, debauched mess within months. Christian kids can find it especially hard at Otago as their peers party up and throw off parental restraints.

Very few Christians make it through their university years with faith intact. Some do, and they shine strikingly against the secular backdrop surrounding them. But unfortunately the attrition rate is huge. A shallow faith doesn’t last long in the pressure cooker of student life. Even those with deep, robust faith can find themselves stumbling.

There is no ‘easy-fix’ to this situation, it is an unavoidable trial of living in a secular nation and this is where we are called to live as salt and light. However, what has made this letter stick in my mind is what it highlights about the importance of a father’s faith and relationship with his kids:

Here are some excerpts from that letter:

… I found out when I went to college that I am not the only “good kid” who is or has struggled with or is still struggling with serious stuff. We struggle with issues like eating disorders, depression and suicide, cutting, pornography, gender identity, homosexuality, drugs, drinking, immorality, and the list could go on. We listen to “wild” music, we idolize pop culture’s heroes, we watch dirty sitcoms. We have no discrimination in our entertainment, dress, or any aspect of our lifestyle.

… the problems that are supposed to be bad kid’s problems belong to us too. Unfortunately, our parents and youth workers don’t know that we struggle with these things and they don’t know what to do with us when they find out. Quite frankly, I believe that if you grabbed the average Christian school teacher or youth worker and asked them, “What would you do if you found out that one of the kids you work with was a homosexual?” they wouldn’t know what to say.

… Our parents did not spend time teaching us to love God. Our parents put us in Sunday Schools since K4. Our parents took us to church every time the doors opened, and sent us to every youth activity. They made sure we went to good Christian colleges. They had us sing in the choir, help in the nursery, be ushers, go soulwinning. We did teen devotionals, and prayed over every meal. We did everything right. And they made sure that we did.

But they forgot about our hearts. …. Unfortunately, our fathers don’t have time for us. They put us where we are surrounded by the Bible. But they didn’t take time to show us that God was important enough to them to tell us personally about Him…

Many of us struggle with stuff that our parents have no idea about because they hardly know us.
Saddest Letter I’ve Ever Read by Cary Schmidt

My eldest child is not yet a teenager, so there remains time to deepen our relationship such that she can see for herself how my faith in Christ really works. Will I be brave enough to admit when I don’t have answers to her questions? Even tougher, will I allow her to see my struggles when I do not have answers to my own questions?

I’m not at all eager to face tough times, but maybe my children need to see me do so. They need to have seen me wrestle with hard decisions and choose to trust God. They need to see me weak and desperate yet clinging to Christ in all circumstances. As yet they are still a bit too young to understand the world of adults. What I don’t want is for them to be adults and still not understand it or have seen genuine Christian faith in action within the world they find themselves.

I would also like us to trust each other enough to be honest and share where we really are at. How will a child learn such honesty? Perhaps by seeing it in their parents’ relationship and by their father being brave enough to be open to them.

Pastor Schmidt has also posted a couple of responses to the letter, with a very good one addressed to parents here.

And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:6 ESV)

6 thoughts on “When good kids go bad

  1. I think about this stuff all the time, Mike. Not that my kids are anywhere near high-school or university age, but before I know it, they will be. And it starts now, anyway.
    I’m with you: I want them to see a genuine, passionate and honest living out of faith in their parents. If they don’t see the real deal in us, why would they choose it for themselves?
    They need us to pray for them constantly too. Without a work of grace in their hearts, they will never come to know God.
    And, to some degree, we need to let them wrestle with their own questions (about
    God and faith) too, without spoon feeding them, so the conclusions they come to are their own.
    The other thing I think is protective, is to build a trusting relationship with them from a very young age, so they know they can come to us with anything.
    And love. Love underpins everything.
    Thank you for this post, Mike. I love that you write about stuff like this.

    • Hi Chris,Good points. This post is perhaps just a time point early in the conversation for me. As our society has fragmented and the inheritance of how to be a good parent is warped or broken we are needing to discuss what we are doing and figure out a lot of stuff all over again. Maybe this has to happen because the world we are living in has changed so much but it is hard and scary – no trusted paths to follow, uncertainty regarding what the future holds for our kids.
      In the end being real, honest and loving while trusting in God and His word is about the best I know how to do.

  2. One has to look even deeper I think. No matter what your faith is, children may go off the rail as going to college/university may be the first time they are allowed to make their own decisions, spend time with their friends as they wish. No matter how hard, I think we as parents need to let go slowly when our kids are teens and not micro-manage every second of their life. And, as you say, build a strong relationship with them and show them the morals we live by.

    • Hi Colline,Good points, I’m as yet still only anticipating the realities of letting go of my children into the ‘big bad world’. Slowly increasing their freedoms and avoiding that micro-management seem like sensible approaches. I suppose the other factor is that even if a parent does their job perfectly each child is their own person, prone to sin and may simply choose to go against all they have been lovingly given. I’m still keen to try reducing the chances of that happening though!

      • I always think of my sister who never smoked or took drugs – or drank too much alcohol. We were in our 30s and chatting about our teens and life as young adults. She told us that she was offered drugs, etc, but always refused. And she attributes this to the fact that our parents raised us with the right morals. And I think she has a point as neither myself or my other sibling engaged in these activities.

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