In Jim Bob's open letter, titled "A Message to Fathers," the father from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting, explains the familiar story about how the couple began their large family — by embracing God's will and rejecting the birth control pill. Jim Bob concludes the letter with a meaty postscript aimed at dads everywhere:
"A great way to start being the spiritual leader and coach of your home is to ask Jesus to forgive you for the things you have done wrong (1 John 1:9) and ask Him to take over the steering wheel of your life… Start protecting your family by removing books, magazines, television, or internet that have worldly or sensual content. Replace them with good things like wholesome music, biographies of great Christians, good old-fashioned family fun and games."
Because of the media whirlwind that surrounded the Duggars after their show was pulled from TLC following Josh Duggar's scandal a few months ago (more on that later), picking on the Duggars is like picking the low-hanging fruit. It's too easy. So, we're not going to throw mud on the Duggars today — they've gotten dirty enough in the last few months of full-on Internet hate. We are going to look a little deeper at Jim Bob's parenting advice and how it could possibly apply to the modern American family.
Spoiler alert: It can't.
For everything that has gone on in this family at the public level, Jim Bob still appears to be a loving dad who means well. But we all know by now, in the wake of hundreds of political and celebrity scandals, that you can still be sincere while being sincerely wrong. Jim Bob's protective parenting advice for dads focuses on creating a bubble around young and impressionable children. And (here's the only mud we are going to sling) after oldest son Josh Duggar's allegations of molestation, cheating and pornography addiction, it's clear how well Jim Bob's ideas are working. Not well at all.
Again, it's too easy to pick on Jim Bob because he's the latest Duggar face in the spotlight. But when you look at the greater context of these parenting communities, often fundamental, who believe that the best way to raise a child is to shelter them from evil — it's evident that Jim Bob's personal parenting philosophy is a symptom of a bigger problem.
There's no easy way to say this, but raising kids in a bubble just does not work at all. Whether a parent is religious or not, and whether or not they have the best intentions, you can't set a child up for success in adulthood by pretending that bad things don't exist.
Here are a few concrete facts about this type of "taboo" parenting that are hard to refute: There's zero evidence that abstinence-only sex education works, by affecting the age of sexual activity and teen pregnancy rates. While the latest study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs suggests that letting kids sip alcohol could promote early drinking, there is no indication that ignoring these "evils" helps kids fare any better. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 34 percent of eighth graders are still drinking, and talking to kids about these adult topics may be the most effective way to address the danger head-on.
In the last year, we've seen how this overprotective parenting has played out. While "helicopter" parenting is not necessarily a religious concept, many of the same principles apply — don't ever let your child experience anything negative or uncomfortable so they won't get hurt. Add a fundamentalist twist, and you can see Jim Bob's advice shining through — don't ever let your child experience the "bad" things in the world so they don't become corrupted. But the outlook isn't good for parents who have taken this all-or-nothing approach. Even the most loving parents with the best intentions are still potentially screwing up their kids by not letting them interact with the world at a developmentally appropriate level.
All Duggar hate aside, there's nothing about Jim Bob's advice that can be helpful to the modern parent. It may be tempting to drive your parenting philosophy in one direction or the other, especially when motivated by religion, but we now know that "extreme" parenting like this doesn't work. Fortunately, the solution to this parenting problem is so simple that it's easy to overlook: Talk to your kids about the tough topics and teach them how to make their own healthy, adult decisions.
Training our kids to face the world is a much better gift than protecting them from it.
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