Sheltering Kids: How We Do It, and How We Don’t

by | Sep 11, 2014 | Catholic Living, From the Trenches, Parenting | 37 comments

It often seems like we, as parents in a modern world, have two choices. We can . . .

a. shelter our children from the world, safeguarding their innocence, and protecting them from knowledge and experiences that might be confusing or damaging to them

or . . .

b. expose our children to the world, giving them a lens through which to view challenging situations, and the tools they will need to cope with the world in which they live.

Of course, either method has its detractors. The anti-a folks love to tell you about their cousin’s niece’s kids who were homeschooled and didn’t watch TV and how they all went off to college and got pregnant and tattoos. And the anti-b folks want you to know that kids who watch PG-13 movies and listen to pop music are quite likely to end up in jail and on drugs.

So . . . what’s a parent to do?

Well, for this parent at least, the answer has been both-and to a. and b. and thanks-but-no-thanks to the doomsday prophesy-types on either side.

I want to BOTH safeguard the innocence of my children AND prepare them for the real world. Both.

The way we do it is twofold. First, we respect the age-appropriateness of certain influences and activities. Second, as our kids mature, we help them to process and understand a more grown-up world by sharing influences and activities with them.

It’s often hard to put a particular age on anything, but a wise man once advised me to shelter my kids as much as possible until age ten, and that by that point, they will have internalized OUR family culture to an extent that they are able to hold on to our values in a world that champions a very different way of life. It’s been working so far.

So when questions come up about particular books or video games or
movies, we make age-appropriate, family-culture-based
decisions. In our family, we are comfortable exposing our kids to some
scariness and violence, when the story has a clear message and we agree
with that message. So, even our toddler has seen some of the Star Wars and Harry
Potter movies. But we’re more careful about
language and (even jokey, maybe ESPECIALLY jokey) sexual content, and “bad boy” heroes. So only
our twelve year old has seen Guardians of the Galaxy, because even
though I (and he) really liked it, I think it sends a confusing message
about right and wrong that is best interpreted by older kids with help
from their parents. Also I really don’t want my six year old cranking “the bird” up at people.

We use the same system to judge real life issues as well. So, when my four year old asks me a question about where babies come from, she’s going to get a different answer than my twelve year old would if he asked the same question. But they’re both going to get a real, truthful answer.

I found it very helpful to read The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality by the Pontifical Council for the Family, here’s paragraph 4. of section VI. Learning Stages:

4. Parents should provide this information with great delicacy, but clearly and at the appropriate time. Parents are well aware that their children must be treated in a personalized way, according to the personal conditions of their physiological and psychological development, and taking into due consideration the cultural environment of life and the adolescent’s daily experience. In order to evaluate properly what they should say to each child, it is very important that parents first of all seek light from the Lord in prayer and that they discuss this together so that their words will be neither too explicit nor too vague. Giving too many details to children is counterproductive. But delaying the first information for too long is imprudent, because every human person has natural curiosity in this regard and, sooner or later, everyone begins to ask themselves questions, especially in cultures where too much can be seen, even in public.

The whole thing is worth reading.

So, do we shelter our kids? You bet we do. Do we guide their interpretation of pop-culture and give them the tools they need to rightly judge the world around them? Also yes.

And that brings me to the related topic I wanted to tell you about today . . .

I am really honored to be the very first guest on the This Inspired Life Podcast, hosted by Kristin Sanders of the blog Healthy, Happy Home. Kristen is a great interviewer and asked some really thought provoking questions. I just listened to it all the way through, and despite being weirded out by listening to my own voice, I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

We discuss what I was like as a kid, my personal faith journey, and how traveling in Europe and one big leap of faith I took with my husband have slowly pulled me along in the general direction of Heaven. THEN we get to the good stuff. Kristin and I talk about everything you’ve been too scared to ask about sex and kids. You get to hear how my method of naming body parts is inspired by Harry Potter. Yep. You read that right. And how we handle kids touching themselves. And when and how we have The Talk, and that we mostly try to make that not all that necessary.

Anyway, I do hope you’ll check out my episode, and subscribe to the This Inspired Life Podcast. I mean, you can’t listen to that Taylor Swift song ALL the time, right?


  1. Haley @ Carrots for Michaelmas

    Love this, Kendra! Remind me to tell you a hilarious story about Benjamin's questions about sex. (Not inappropriate, just not sure if he wants it circulating the internet for all eternity.) Can't wait to listen to your cute voice in the podcast!

  2. Amelia Bentrup

    This is very similiar to what we do, although my kids are probably exposed to less pop culture than yours..not that we are necessarily trying to shelter than from it, but because my husband and I just aren't interestesd in it (and neither are my kids for the most part) so we just never got around to looking into it/watching it/etc. We finally got around to watching Frozen last week (got it from the library) and the kids liked it well enough they weren't that "into" it.

    I think another big factor is the "influence-ability" or your individual kids/family. For the most part, my kids are not easily influenced by others/characters/TV/etc. This is probably genetic because my husband and I are the same way. We just never cared about pop culture, we never had any crushes on any singers or actors. We never (and my kids never have) really gotten "into" any characters or anything. My 2nd daughters loves princesses but in a general sense, she was never really "into" any specific one. My son loved trains, but in a "general" sense, not in that he was super "into" Thomas. For this reason, we've probably exposed them to both less and more than other kids. Less in the sense in that they aren't interested in pop culture so they don't care and more in that what they do watch/see/read we aren't as worried about them "picking" up stuff from it.

    So, I think the invidividual personality of the child plays a role. I think kids that are more "chameleons" you need to be more careful with (my sister was like that. My parents used to say that after she spend time with a particular friend she woudl talk like them. Not that there were anything wrong with the way the friend talked, but just that she would pick up this friend's mannerisms in an almost subconscious manner). So, I really do think it is an individual thing.

    • Kendra

      My husband is more like you, he's not easily captivated by pop culture and isn't attached at all to entertainment. The kids and I do like it though, so I'm trying to steer us all, myself included, towards only responsible and temperate love of fictional characters. 🙂

  3. Charlotte (WaltzingM)

    We have always done this for our children although it seems that we let that innocent stage linger longer than you because I still think 10-12 is a young age. No, we are not locking our children in the closet and not letting them experience the world, we are just doing it on a natural schedule, not the rushed one the world tries to push on them. I have always said that if my oldest son goes off to college, sees his first "nudie" picture and goes running screaming from the room, then I haven't done my job. I do expect him to try to have a discussion with the owner of the picture on why that's disrespectful and inappropriate and tell him that he doesn't want to see it again. But I wont be preparing him for that by showing him nudie pictures now. Childhood is so fleeting. Innocence doesn't last forever. Why rush it?

    • Kendra

      I think we're probably pretty close on this. We are okay with exposing our kids to a little bit of language and more mature themes in entertainment around ten or twelve, but not nudity or celebration of bad behavior. I agree with you that there's no rush, I just want my kids to learn to process this stuff with my help. Not on their own later.

  4. Karyn

    I struggle with this one, particularly as a homeschool mom. When it comes to pop culture, we're generally "out of the loop" (still haven't seen Frozen). So far, my oldest child has decided to homeschool through middle school. I'm not sure about high school. But I worry how they will do when confronted with the "real world". Even now, their interactions with peers are either in controlled settings (faith formation classes, soccer teams, etc) or they're with other homeschooled kids whose mothers I'm friends with. What about when they're faced with jerks, or kids from rough homes that don't know better, or kids offering cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. Or promiscuity. Yes, we talk about these things with them. But they have no practice in dealing with them; however, I'm not going to send them to school just so they get practice??? Surprisingly, this has been my father's only beef with homeschooling (or at least the only one he has expressed) – "they need to go to school at some point to learn how to deal with jerks".

    • Kendra

      I don't know, I think mostly people grow out of being jerks, right? The grownups I know are really nice. It seems to me that the phenomenon of being forced to associate with jerks is mostly specific TO school. I guess it's not completely true of people (like my husband) who have to work outside the home, but I find I have a lot of discretion to choose with whom I spend my time. My kids have encountered jerk kids on sports teams and in the neighborhood, and we deal with that as it comes up, but I've never felt the need to seek out the jerks! :0)

    • Karyn

      Really? The other day I had someone find out that I had six kids and she oh-so-politely quipped – Isn't 7 billion in the world enough? So, no, I don't think people grow out of being jerks. I don't know what work you did before kids, but don't you remember having the co-worker that didn't carry their load or the one with the snarky comments or the passive-aggressive one, whatever. You're right, though, my kids encounter difficulties on sports teams (we're not in a neighborhood) but that's still a situation that's fairly controlled in that grown-ups are in charge. But, no, I'm certainly not going to seek out the jerks, lol.

  5. Amanda

    My husband and I both like TV, movies, culture stuff, and he is more flexible than me about what they see. (His is mostly reality survival stuff, maybe some Star Trek). What I find impossible to deal with, though, is the littler kids doing what the older ones do. (Now, the oldest is 6, so….) My oldest babies didn't watch any kids' TV, but the current baby sure joins in Movie Night. We take her to the theater! So I guess we're never moving past Sesame Street ha.

    I like listening to you talk. It's fun to see how faces match voices. Have you tried setting your phone reminders to pray? It only gets 2 minute prayers from me, but that's something. St Joan of Arc is my patron saint and I love that quote.

    Also, I am devoted to Dr Pepper. Possibly addicted. I like to be all whole foods, except this can't ever go.

    • Kendra

      Oh Dr. Pepper, how do I love thee? I'm the same way. Whole except for Dr. Pepper. And reeces. And twizzlers. So, um, that probably doesn't count.

      I used to have a reminder in my phone, I need to do it again, at least for the Angelus.

      Having a range of ages has changed our viewing habits, but we've been able to find a happy medium. Everyone seems to like Word Girl, and the Lego cartoon shows.

  6. Rebecca

    Awesome podcast, Kendra! Thanks so much for sharing what you guys do. I don't know why, but it was really weird for me to hear your "real" voice. Now I just want to hang out with your and your kids and your chickens.

  7. Tori

    Great interview! As usual, I find your approach very practical and it makes the eventual conversations seem much less intimidating.

    And I love hearing that you read Cake Wrecks and Epbot. Cake Wrecks is what got me started reading blogs, and I still read both of Jen's blogs today.

  8. Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    Coming back after I listened to the podcast. It was AWESOME! Most podcasts don't keep my attention but this one was great. And once again, your middle of the road approach perfectly articulates my thoughts on this subject. I'm just not ok with explaining the nitty gritty to a young child, but it's not because I'm ashamed or think it's "dirty". It's because they just don't need that information yet. Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. Son Mom

    This is something that my husband and I have had many, many discussions about 🙂 I love your blog, Kendra, because I grew up very sheltered, and we have chosen to raise our kids with much more exposure to popular culture than I had. So I like all your discussions of movies that you've shared with your kids. My kids aren't grown yet – my oldest two are 14 and 11 — but so far, the biggest thing I've realized is that they parents' behavior is a far bigger influence on the kids than what they see on TV.

    My family didn't watch any TV at all growing up, and we were only allowed to watch movies according to the Catholic rating (so no A-II movies until you were 13, no A-III until you were 18, no exceptions! – my big rebellious moment came when I didn't tell my parents we were watching "Glory" in AP US
    history when I was still 17!). Now I am married to an animation writer – so TV pays our bills! God certainly has a sense of humor. We just try and make our TV and movie time a family event where possible (obviously depending on age appropriateness) and watch things with our kids. My husband really thinks it's just as important to encourage them to be active, critical viewers as it is to expect them to read critically. So he will talk with them after we watch something together, asking why they liked or didn't like it and why, what their favorite characters were, and what themes they noticed.

    I've also noticed that as children of a writer, my kids are much less sensitive to scary stuff than I was – to me, I was always so immersed when watching TV or a movie, since it was so rare, that it was real to me. Whereas my kids are very aware of the fact that somebody writes these stories – that someone has thought about what will happen and planned out how the characters should react and how the story will end, and whether it will be sad or happy. They seem much more aware that what they see on TV is a story, not real. Not that they are big horror movie fans or anything, they just have more of an awareness that suspenseful moments were designed to be that way by the people that created them!

  10. Renee

    Yeah, we shelter from media by default. No cable.

    There are no filters on our Internet, but all screens are in public rooms and can be seen. If my 12 year old wanted to read this, then she could.

    Unless it is a private email, where the info itself isn't bad, but none if their business (potential gossip) either is the only time I may ask them to give me screen privacy.

    Because we have no screen privacy, I do give my 12 year old phone call privacy when talking. She will probably get her own phone w/ text in a year. We won't read texts (just because), but if there is a reason we will. She can't sign a phone contract until 18, anyways.

    There are differing forms of shelter,

  11. Renee

    On the issue of differing forms of 'sheltering', simply your choice of zip-code is a form of sheltering. Some parents brag about what kids watch, but won't let them cross the street without holding their hand (even with a crossing guard).

    My children don't watch certain types of TV, because we don't watch that type of TV as adults by choice. Parents will let their kids watch Big Brother or the Bachelor, but do not trust them to be home alone for 30 minutes. Yes, there are young adults in college who went through high school and never once were alone!

  12. Sylvia Bass

    I love this so much! I have been looking for Catholic mommy bloggers so that I don't feel like such a kook (I have three girls all under the age of three.) I look forward to following your blog!

  13. Christina Gignoux

    This is a great post! We also try to balance the sheltering of our children with the reality of living in the real world. Our oldest daughter has been a great example to her younger sibs, and I can see now that she is 14 how much they look up to her. I think some of her good example is innate to her personality, but we have also tried to cultivate a deep respect in our children for one another. This means that my older children help to try and preserve the innocence of their younger sibs, i.e., things like Santa. We also take time to watch and enjoy what the older girls are interested in so that they are not always having watch, say Peppa Pig 🙂 I always worry that we are not passing on the faith well enough to our children, but my fears were put to rest a few days ago when our 12 year old made a video montage for my husband's birthday. The central theme of her video was my husband's strong faith in God! Thanks for sharing how you parent, you guys are a great example!

  14. Britt Fisk

    I love this Kendra! We're really wanting to homeschool, and it isn't very common around here. Plus, I feel that I'm that mom who wants to protect my "babies" forever. I know I can't, but I struggle with what that balance may be. My oldest is only four, but I constantly question if I'm making the correct decisions with any parenting decision I make, but particularly the one to homeschool. Thanks for writing this!

  15. Lisa

    My husband and I completely agree with this! I'm pretty sure you have become my life coach in all aspects of life! 😀

  16. Gina Fensterer

    Kendra, this is really great. I am looking forward to having time for reading the linked material and listening to your podcast!

  17. Annie L

    Thank you so much for this! I love the advice from your "wise man"! Although my baby is only 7 months, I feel like these are topics that I need to start thinking about. Thanks for sharing!

    The Mama Gazette

  18. Hannah

    Listening to your podcast..
    really like what you say about shame vs respect, and having respect for something keeps you from being too um, public about it etc.
    And 'no fiddling' THANKS. I really like your solution. Thanks 🙂

    For the record, though, the puritans were not, in fact, 'puritanical' about sex (much the way the Catholic Church never actually told Christopher Columbus the world was flat. This is one of those myths, probably more anchored in novels like The Scarlet Letter than history)

    In fact, the Puritans were a little um, too unpuritanical, about it, they took "conjugal rights" very seriously, and when one woman complained her husband wasn't giving her her biblically-mandated conjugal rights, they publicly fined him. (which I think it going a bit far…..)

    So. Just had to set that straight 😀

  19. catlanz

    Your podcast was a breath of fresh air, thank you for all you shared!

  20. Silvia Imberti

    Hi, I have been looking for your take on teaching the facts of life to kids, I tried the podcast you mention in this post but it doesn’t seem to be available anymore (or it isn’t from here). Any other place where I could read/listen about your take on this topic. You reflections really help me. Thanks.

    • Emilia

      Silvia, did you ever manage to find the podcast anywhere? It seems to have been taken down from Stitcher as well (the episode is there but it will not play). I guess this is what we get for coming 5-6 years late to a blog post 🙂


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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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