Inoculate, Don’t Indoctrinate (and then Trust God With the Results)

Young people need parents who will have the difficult but thoughtful and gracious conversations with them.


John Stonestreet

Heather Peterson

Like our families have, many parents opt to keep their children from the false and dangerous ideologies rampant in public schools, electing instead to homeschool their kids or enroll them in private Christian schools. This trend of choosing alternatives to public education went up during the pandemic lockdowns and has not since dropped to pre-pandemic levels 

However, neither homeschooling nor a private Christian school guarantees that our children will be protected from secular indoctrination. In fact, according to a recent research study of 57,000 undergraduates from 159 of the nation’s most elite postsecondary institutions, “Homeschooled and parochial schooled undergraduates are as or more likely to identify as LGBT or non-binary as those from public or private school backgrounds.” 

One outcome of that study is that we re-think where our kids go to college, but even more than that, wherever our kids are schooled, the best plan for parents is to inoculate our kids against bad ideas, rather than insulate them. Rather than hiding our kids from the flawed ideas of the world, carefully expose them to bad ideas while they are still at home and can seek out our counsel. An inoculation approach better equips students to handle the bad ideas, harmful practices, and sinful behaviors they will inevitably encounter in an increasingly secular culture.   

For parents, this first requires that we warn our kids that dangerously false ideas actually exist, that they will encounter them, and that they can respond to them thoughtfully and confidently. When we only repeat and reinforce our own beliefs and values, assuming them to be true without ever engaging counter ideas, we risk our kids feeling sheltered, unprepared, or worse, deceived. And though it can be overwhelming in a culture of information overload like ours, it is essential to encourage kids to ask discerning questions about what they see, hear, and encounter. In our book, A Practical Guide to Culture, Brett Kunkle and I include several questions we ask our kids and encourage our kids to ask, such as “What do you mean by that?” and “How do you know that’s true?”  

Because the most dangerous ideas in this cultural moment target our kids’ identities, parents must work toward kids’ identity formation as much as intellectual or behavioral formation. Years ago, Canadian behavioral psychologist James Marcia identified different states of identity formation for young people as well as the two essential activities necessary to establish a solid sense of identity: asking the big questions in life and making commitments to what is true. Sadly, our current culture seems to encourage only a state of constant questioning, trying on new identities with no commitments made, which leads to a perpetual state of insecurity for so many. 

But the very best state of identity, called “achievement,” according to Marcia, is a good place for young people to be when they leave our homes. At that state, they have honestly asked the big questions—they’ve explored the alternatives—but they’ve also made commitments to particular values and truths. Our role as parents is to walk with them through this exploration, to lead them in it, and to help them make commitments to what is good and true. 

Part of that is letting them ask hard questions, encouraging them to search for answers, and helping them to know what it takes to find those answers. Besides praying for our kids in this journey, parents have to be dedicated to making time for conversation. One friend recently told me that dinner time at his table was “Ted Talk time” with his high schooler to think through the arguments regarding current ideologies. Many families tell us that Breakpoint provides an opportunity every day around the table to have these important conversations about big questions. 

When I taught college, I remember a set of twins who particularly impressed me with their thoughts and questions. I assumed that they had gone to a private Christian school or were homeschooled. Upon talking to them, I learned that their parents simply had long discussions with each of them each evening about what they were learning at their public school. 

To prepare our kids even more for what they’re going to face, consider a worldview formation experience, like Summit Ministries, Worldview Academy, or Impact 360 Institute. These conference experiences demonstrate that the Holy Spirit doesn’t just work through minds but also through communities willing to ask the difficult questions, wrestle with the ideas of our culture, and, yes, come to the commitment to truth.  

And finally, how we go about discussions with our kids is very important. In our book, Brett and I wrote about modeling “truth and grace in every conversation.” Young people are surrounded by those claiming that anything less than full affirmation, especially for all things LGBTQ, is simply hatred. Instead, what they need to hear from parents is that it is an act of love to tell their friends who struggle with sexual identity the truth about who God has made them to be. They also need to learn how to avoid confusion when others mix up the truth from God’s Word with the bad ideas of the day. And, they need to understand that their neighbors are not their enemies—they’re fellow image bearers of God who themselves are the victims of the bad ideas of our age. 

And parents need to help their kids understand that because of the Fall, there will be those who struggle with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. Because of where our culture has gone in the last few decades, those struggles are becoming more acute and more common. Struggles with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria are a terrible way to establish identity, and they don’t mean that we have to veer from a life of faithfulness. There is hope for those who struggle with LGBTQ desires and attractions. There is hope for those who struggle with their bodies and who God has made them as men and women.  

Young people need parents who will have the difficult but thoughtful and gracious conversations with them. 


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