“Daddy, what is a *unt?”

Asked my 9 year old daughter Isabel. She was in fourth grade. It felt like blood was draining from my face. Oh, Lord, help us.

“Where did you hear that word?” I gently asked.

“At school. A boy whispered that word in my ear. He leaned in close and said to me, “You are a cun*.”

That turned out to be the last straw. About two months later, at the beginning of the next semester, Isabel was back in Christian school.

Moving her to public school had seemed like a good idea. We lived less than a half mile from one of the best public elementary schools in the state. (Well, by test scores anyway— it’s a shame that’s how schools are judged nowadays.) And a similar distance from a similarly excellent middle school and an extremely well-regarded high school. Families fight and claw to move into that school district, paying top dollar for old small houses. We were there by happenstance. After getting married and blending our families, we needed to rent a house that was big enough for my wife and I and our four kids (who could benefit from having their own separate rooms because they were just getting to know each other and because of the way the genders matched) and an au pair. There weren’t a lot of six bedroom houses on the rental market that would keep our commutes to no more than an hour each way. The first year we had all four kids in Christian school. But with such ostensibly great public schools right next door, and given the cost of private schooling…well, for the second year we decided to move some of our kids to public. We made the determination for each one based upon their age (and associated need for faith development), academic resource needs, extracurricular needs, personality matches with a large school, and a few other factors. So at the start of last year we had our youngest in Christian school, our two middle kids in public elementary school, and our oldest in public middle school. Since Isabel went back to Christian school, that’s made two and two.

Sadly, this particular incident with Isabel was not a shock. The behavior in the elementary school is deplorable. The language is filthy, even more so than at the middle school. The students’ motto is, “If you don’t cuss, you’re not one of us.” The bullying is bad as well. A classmate of my older son wrote a note saying all these deplorable, self-image destroying things about him, and the note was put on his desk. And there isn’t much the teachers or administrators can do, although some very modest steps were taken in the situation just mentioned with our son. Apparently, you can’t discipline kids nowadays. As I said, the middle school tends to be better, but even there, there are issues. Our older daughter loves theater, but had to drop out of the running for some good roles at the school play once she read the character descriptions. The play is about a gangster-frequented night club. Really?! For a middle school play?! Good for her for dropping out. But sad. She’s helping with set design instead. And oh- don’t get me started on the ‘health’ curriculum coming up next year in seventh grade. I think she’ll be staying home that day/week, or opting out somehow, if she is still in public school at that point.

Of course, we’re not alone in dealing with this issue. It plays out in every Christian family across the country. For many families, Christian school is just not a viable option, financially. And even if it is an option, it isn’t necessarily the right option. In some cases the Christian school tuition could be better used if saved for college. Or spent on family mission trips, or on Christian summer camps. Or on a new minivan that won’t break down in the middle of the highway. Or on a down payment or mortgage payment for a home in a safe neighborhood. And so forth. Often, home schooling is not an option because both (or the single) parent(s) have to work, and it may not be right for every child and parent anyway. Also, sometimes the local public school is just much better academically than the local Christian schools. Sometimes a child needs special educational or behavioral services that are not available at the local Christian schools. Sometimes it comes down to something as simple but as vital as transportation. Public schools have buses (and walking if you are close). Parent(s) may not be able to drop off or pick up their kids from private school, given their work hours or commutes.

So if you have children in public school, how do you counteract the negative influences that your child or children are being exposed to on a daily basis? The following are my own thoughts, and I’ve love to hear back from you guys on what your thoughts are, so I can learn from you.

I am certain that we need to start with prayer. Consistent, faithful prayer. Our children belong to the Lord, and Jesus loves them more than we do. He desires for us to pray to Him for them. We need to participate in God protecting our children, through asking the Father in Jesus’ name.

The second step is ongoing communicating with our children— asking them what they are experiencing, and actively listening to them. Then, we are on top of what they are being exposed to. Knowing what we are up against is imperative. The third step is setting up a regular time and place where we can, as a family, address what is going on at school and begin to counteract the influences. For many families this will be the dinner table. For our family, it is evening family prayer and Bible time. Fourth, attack each issue by placing it in a biblical context. Applying a biblical framework to, for example, the messages your children are getting on gender confusion from their teachers, or bullies’ attacks on their self-worth, or the vulgar language they are tempted or encouraged to participate in, will help our children place what they are experiencing in the proper context. This may simply involve parent-led discussion, but it can definitely include Scripture reading and videos (there are lots of good resources out there nowadays).

Once the home is a place of refuge, and as much of a fortress as possible, the next step is finding oases outside the home. Places where the message in the home will be reinforced. So, the fifth step could be finding a church mid-week group for our kids. Many large and even medium-sized churches have e.g. Wednesday night meetings for kids, segregated by age group. This is helpful in multiple respects. The messages our kids are getting at mid-week should be reinforcing what they are learning at home and at Sunday service. Also, our kids will see that there are other kids who are striving against the culture— they aren’t alone. A sixth step is trying to find other Christian families at our kids’ school, and encouraging your kids to be friends with the children of those families. Kids (and adults!) pick up the values and behaviors of those they spend time with. Finally, continue to pray.

As I said, the above template reflects my own thoughts. We’ve had some success in my family, but we’ve had struggles as well. It’s rough out there. I would appreciate hearing from others who have had success in steering their family through these rapids, so we can learn from them ourselves.

And an update, we are at this very moment deciding between Christian school and public school for all four of our kids for the coming year, so please pray for us, for guidance!

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