Why is “Sheltering” a Bad Word?

“Clearly there is an appropriate kind of sheltering. When those who are opposed to homeschooling accuse me of sheltering my children, my reply is always, ‘What are you going to accuse me of next, feeding and clothing them?”
— R.C. Sproul Jr.

I was at my moms’-group yesterday, and heard a pair of women exclaiming incredulously over a young lady who realized much later than most that sex happens outside of marriage.

“I don’t know how in the world she missed it that long,” said one. “I mean, it’s even in the Bible.” The tone hovered somewhere between scorn and pity for this poor girl, and I (with my latest thoughts and feelings) couldn’t help saying, “Maybe it was a mercy.

I had no opportunity to expand on this, because at that point I accidentally knocked over a cup of juice and spent the next five minutes dealing with that.

But I have been frustrated hearing this sort of talk before.

Talking with my uncle late last year, I endured his monologue about how worried he’d been for us kids because we were homeschooled and sheltered from the real world. I didn’t think at the time to say I was grateful for my ignorance.


Via e-mail this week I got a little article by By Gena Suarez, one of the owner/publishers of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, that articulated perfectly the way I feel about this.

Do you “shelter” your children?

We’re finding that’s a bad word in some circles. Something is creeping into the church (and even the homeschooling community), and it isn’t biblical. It is an “anti-sheltering campaign” of sorts, and it’s full of holes. Think about it. What does it mean to shelter? Protect. Defend. Guard. Preserve. Watch over. Shield. Safeguard.

Hmmmm, so far so good, right? Sure, until “pop psychology” comes in and tells us we should allow our children to taste a little of the world in order to understand it or pray for it – that we should not “over-shelter” them. Nonsense.

What’s the opposite of shelter? Expose. Endanger.

I’ve observed the arguments against sheltering typically fall under one of two categories:

First, the warning that the poor child will suffer culture-shock upon entering the “real world,” and the second, that his/her uninitiated palette will irresistibly succumb to these new and tantalizing flavors.

Leaving aside that these two possibilities seem a little contradictory, lets look at them.

First, the second (I love writing that): never having seen an actual study, I can’t even stay whether this theory is statistically true, but I don’t think it is.

My educated opinion is that when children leave the faith or are “led into sin” there are more factors than just sheltering involved.

I would blame, for example, a controlling environment where independent thought is not taught or encouraged. This lack of preparation for making choices would leave anyone vulnerable.

As to “culture shock,” I think that the majority of Americans are more “sheltered” than all but the most sheltered of children.

If they ever got the culture shock of abject poverty, of the continual fear and violence common in other parts of the world, would they be more or less likely to be thankful for the security of the familiar?

This is how I felt upon my greater acquaintance with “the real world:”

Thankful it hadn’t been foisted on me sooner.

And why the implication that culture shock is inherently negitive? (But that’s another post. Moving on.)


Ultimately, I think we have to look at what our goals are. Sure, perfect children would be the ideal, but as they will make their own choices that we cannot control, we have to eventually accept that.

People who do not shelter their children will make the same discovery, and I wonder if they will have more questions about whether they left out something important.

My goal is to give my children enough of a “boost” toward Truth that their own leap toward faith may not have to be into the perilous unknown.

It’s a well-established fact that humans both fear the unknown and resist starting things they don’t know will succeed.

As a parent I want to remove what stumbling blocks are in my power to remove, and one of those stumbling blocks is the outside influences that can distract from Truth or skew a developing perspective towards a more hardened heart than God intended.

Sheltering is part of meeting this goal.

8 thoughts on “Why is “Sheltering” a Bad Word?

  1. Brilliant post! I could have written some of the same thoughts, only not nearly as well. :)

    I am so thankful to my parents for their sheltering of me whether by homeschooling or just being so involved in my life. It’s a gift that I hope to pass on to my own girls.

  2. This is something that my dh and I disagree on. I’d like to let my kids be safegaurded and he wants a little more of the world let in. And so we compromise. But it’s still an issue that I think about constantly.

  3. What a fantastic post.

    I was not very sheltered as a child (at least not by conservative Christian standards) and, looking back, I cannot think of any benefit that knowledge of “worldly” ways and values gave me. In this age of moral relativism, where modern society always tries to lure us down the path of thinking that evil things aren’t really evil, I think it’s quite healthy to react with shock at what we see in the world today.

    For some reason these thoughts bring to mind one of my favorite quotes from G.K. Chesterton: “Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.” I think that by “sheltering” our children we safeguard them against the siren song of all sorts of evils being “excusable.”

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  5. Here’s another problem I’ve had with criticizing “sheltering.” ….from WHAT??

    In college I knew a lot of MK’s from conservative parents who were supposedly “sheltered.” Ok. They haven’t watched a lot of TV, don’t know a ton about US teen vices. But…they have experienced SO MUCH of the world that your average kid doesn’t get to see.

    Obviously, MKs are an extreme example, but I think its true about us all. Each of us, without exception, have life experiences that are heavy in some areas and weak in others. To some degree we can control that. But that’s not sheltering. Its choosing one good thing over another (not as good) thing.

    If my kids learn about poverty and culture and diversity…but don’t watch TV, is that sheltering?

  6. Thanks for your responses everyone.

    Deedee– those disagreements in marriage are always hard! I prayed for you.

    Catherine, I love how you put things in a different light. In one sense I think Jen’s comment answers yours somewhat.

    At least for my purposes when I discuss sheltering.

    Like you I have less of an expectation I will prevent my children from experiencing various shaping life-experiences, but I want to do my best to let them know that evil is evil, and must be resisted.

    By avoiding certain things during their formative years I don’t have to try and answer for them the question, “How much poison won’t kill you?”

    We adults are constantly making that determination (and/or excuses) for ourselves (e.g. in our entertainment choices), and I don’t feel I am doing my children any favors by putting them on that road myself.

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