Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Overvaluing of "Leadership" in Parenting

American society has long placed a high premium on being a leader. Leadership skills are hot commodities on transcripts and resumes. Leaders of companies and organizations are revered. Even within the church, there is often a strict division between leaders and laity (aka, those of us in the pews).

So as parents, we are often led to believe that our aim is to produce
leaders. That the goal of parenting is to produce strong individuals. However, not every child is naturally a leader. Should we then, in an attempt to produce a future CEO or President of An Important Community Club, mold that child against his/her grain to have "leadership" skills? In considering this question, this is what I've come up with. (As always, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.)

Our aim ought not be to make a "leader", but rather to help our sons and daughters have discretion enough to know what things to follow. Our society has a bad connotation with the word "follow"- but really following is an EXCELLENT thing- if we're following the right thing.

If a daughter is falling prey to the materialism rampant in American society (even in children and teens), and following her friends in a desire for more and more toys, rather than training in leadership skills, we should begin training her in discretion. This can happen by watching the commercials on TV and asking questions- "what are they trying to get you to believe when they say '_________' about those dolls?" Or "what do you think about _______?" When we're watching a TV show, we ask questions like, "Why did Laura follow Nellie and end up doing that bad thing?" "What do you think you would have done?" "What's the right thing to do?" We can also find examples of someone following someone in a good way... and ask questions about that. Begin getting those kinds of questions to roll around in her heads... so that when she encounters something wrong (whether or not you've talked about it before), she will have a built-in system of evaluation about whatever it is that others are doing, playing with, or saying. Whether or not she is a leader, she will then be equipped to evaluate what others are saying, even those peers she would normally be swayed by. (Of course, just as most things in child rearing, this will need to be continually taught and reinforced.)

To me, teaching discretion is a more important parenting task than teaching leadership... and you can do that while walking down the aisle in Target, you can do it by looking through catalogs, you can do it by looking through Proverbs and finding applicable verses about lust for things, etc... you can do it by watching commercials, and you can do it by pre-game and post-game commentary before and after playing with friends.

Frankly, I think we ought to be all training our children to be better followers- but
we just need to make sure they know what to follow. Our society highly prizes "leaders"- but not many people actually get to be full-out leaders... whether at a job, or in government, or at home or whatever, there's always a chain of command and an authority placed over us. And some people may never get to be the 'leader'- but ALL of us get to be followers at one point or another.

And of course, as Christian parents, we want our children to willingly submit their lives to God's leadership. This all may just be semantics, but I'm just trying to raise a different way of looking at this situation.... In so many ways, if you have a son or daughter who is a "follower", it can be a GREAT thing... I would just spend time shaping his/her view of what is worth following, a la Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
In my mind, it should not be our aim to raise all of our children to be "leaders", without regard to who God made them to be. Instead, we should help our sons and daughters know how to discern what is worthy of following after. Thoughts or comments?

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