Genie Parenting Vs. Wise Parenting

In Canada, a group of parents have banded together to launch two class-action lawsuits against Epic Games, the developer of the popular battle royale game, Fortnite. My kids have played Fortnite, so I am aware of its appeal. I have one who loves playing it with friends. It combines social networking with strategic shoot outs, scavenger hunting, and world building. It’s creators constantly roll out new features and surprises to keep players hooked. It’s not hard to see the game’s addictive charm.

The plaintiffs allege that Epic Games intentionally designed the game to be addictive and want to hold the company liable for its negative impact on their children. One boy played the game for nearly 1000 hours over a two-year period and started suffering from migraines, back pain, and panic attacks. These parents blame Epic Games when their kids throw violent fits in response to their failed attempts to limit their children’s screen time.

I will let the Canadian courts settle the liability question. I want to focus on the task of parenting. I will state my thesis up front to avoid confusion: Parents are responsible for moderating the desires of their children until their children reach the point of maturity in which they can moderate their own desires. Stated negatively, God has tasked parents with the difficult job of preventing the desires of children from reigning over them until they have been trained to moderate themselves.

I’m noticing a trend in parenting today that seems to suggest my argument is not widely accepted. It seems that a growing number of parents believe they should honor the wishes of their children, no matter the consequences. Many parents exhaust themselves in a feverish effort to grant desires, slavishly running themselves to the point of fatigue chasing down the answer to every whim or urge. They refuse to speak authoritatively and level consequences for disrespect and disobedience. Instead, they plead, bargain, beg, and manipulate.

At the end of the day, this view of parenting—let’s call it Genie Parenting—turns the order of the home upside down. Instead of the mature adult running the operation, the entire home economy is organized around the immature fleeting desires of the toddler and later the unformed hormonal cravings of the teenager. Genie Parenting makes parents feel guilty when they have to say “No.” The priority of raising virtuous adults has been replaced by the selfish goal of ensuring our children like us. We justify it with talk of trying to give them the childhood we never had and other nonsense, but the reality is that a new generation of parents lack a clear God-centered vision for parenting and the moral courage required to carry it out.

Let’s revisit a few truths about our world. God created it good and placed human beings within it to image him. Upon creation, human desire was oriented toward its fulfillment—worship of God himself. However, once sin entered the world, our desires became corrupted. Instead of God, we seek substitutes and expect those substitutes to fulfill us. Instead of accepting good things as gifts from God, we elevate things like sex, food, and money above God. Because we are born sinners, we both desire wrong things and desire good things inordinately. The result is that we are prone to being enslaved by our desires. We pursue them, and they partially satisfy. However, because they never ultimately satisfy, we keep going back again and again hoping in vain that the next time will be the one.

The Bible tells us that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven, not in instant fiery incineration, but in giving us up to our desires (Romans 1:24-25). In other words, God responds to our sinful desires by simply saying, “Ok, pursue them.” Our desires, left unchecked, have the power to destroy and enslave us. Ultimately, only Christ can set us free (Romans 6:7). But I would argue parents play a vital role in helping children restrain those desires, mitigating their potential for harm.

We know this intuitively. I’m sure that my children at three-years-old would have eaten nothing but Halloween candy every meal if left unchecked. Of course, any responsible parent would not allow that to happen. What we are sometimes slow to realize, however, is that any desire has the power to destroy us if left unchecked. Your child’s fascination with the latest pop star needs to be wisely moderated. Gaming needs to be limited. Your child isn’t mature enough to control those powerful urges on his own. He needs you to protect him from himself.

Genie Parenting facilitates destructive enslavement to desire. It cultivates autonomy and rewards rebellion. Wise parenting, however, will seek to teach children that they can thrive under restraint. It seeks to prepare them for living under the rule of Christ, where we learn to pray, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”

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