There is no easy answer to the question. Moreover, there is no guarantee. You may do everything right, and your kids may still walk away in the end. Nonetheless, here’s some things you can do to increase the odds of success:
1. Teach biblical literacy. Kids can only separate good from evil when they first know what God says is good. This means reading and studying the Bible—not what somebody says about the Bible. Bible story retellings and books which talk about Christian morals are useful and have their places, but there can be no replacing the original Word of God. And while kids may not understand everything Scripture says—who does?—most are smater than we give them credit for and they will understand more than you expect.
2. Don’t over-insulate. Discernment is learned through practice. This can only occur if the kids have something to practice on—that is, they are exposed to a mix of good and bad. Otherwise they have nothing to separate and no need for discernment.
3. Don’t overexpose. More exposure doesn’t mean more discernment. Rather, too much exposure too soon may lead to a lack of discernment as well, this time due to desensitization. Your job as the parent is to control the exposure your child receives, as much as possible. (And it’s not always possible, so don’t berate yourself for that unexpected element they encounter at youth group, for example. The idea is to control that which is within your control—e.g. media intake—without turning yourselves into hermits.) This way you can monitor and increase in measured increments what your kids encounter as they mature physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
4. Talk. Shut down the electronics and hold a conversation. And when I say a conversation, I mean a conversation—not a lecture, not a lesson. This means there will be give and take. You need to talk. You need to listen. The same goes for your child. And talk about everything—the weather, politics, the environment, the news, social trends, books, movies, memories of the past, plans for the future, your interests, your children’s interests. Learning to converse and listen is an important part of learning to think. These conversations can occur at any time or place, but unhurried settings, free from distractions, are often best. Consider the opportunities presented by meal times, bedtimes, long drives, and errand running.
5. Don’t supply all the answers. Kids will often learn better if they can come to the conclusions on the own, because they must integrate the truth as their own rather than mimicking what they hear for you. So ask many questions—and leave a few unanswered. In fact, ask questions to which you have no answers. As humans we tend to not like unanswered questions, so this will challenge your kids to think and come to their own conclusions.
6. Leave room for failure—and its consequences. None of us like to see our kids hurt, but that doesn’t negate the fact that pain is an excellent teacher. Again, you will have to choose carefully the when and how, but allowing kids to make bad choices forces them to see that actions have consequences and teaches them how to deal with those consequences.
7. Finally, lead by example. After you watch a movie, let your kids hear you dissect what was good or bad about it. Be open about problems and how you are trying to handle them. Take the time to explain why you will or won’t do something. As your kids see you exercising discernment in your life, they will know better how to apply it to theirs.
How are you/how will you teach your kids biblical literacy?
How can you leave room for failure and its consequences?
How can you start modeling discernment today?