I have a confession to make.
I've been a thief for most of my life.
Now before you start thinking I'm some kind of closet kleptomaniac, let me clarify. I've never shoplifted from a store or stolen money from my mom's purse. Nothing like that.
But I have stolen the opinions of others.
When I was a child, if my mom liked a certain color, I did too. If my teenage friends liked the Norwegian rock group a-ha, I did too. Even as an adult, if my husband didn't like Barbara Streisand or Meryl Streep, neither did I.
This bandwagon way of thinking, this compulsion to adopt the likes and dislikes of others, is common among both children and adults. People generally don't like to be different, to stand out from the crowd, so they adapt their behavior, beliefs, and opinions to fit in with the people around them. They want to feel accepted.
And that's where the problem can begin.
Picture a child who has been brought up in a Christian home, who has been taught from birth what the Bible says about Jesus Christ and about right and wrong. He adopts his parents' beliefs as a matter of course.
What happens the first time he talks to a friend who doesn't believe the same as he does, who rejects the very existence of God? Or maybe he reads a book by a highly-respected scientist who believes all human beings evolved by chance over millions of years from a single-celled organism that itself sprang from some pool of primordial ooze? Whatever the situation, at some point he will confront someone who disagrees with his beliefs.
And when that happens, there's a good chance that bandwagon mentality will kick in and he'll feel compelled to go with the crowd. Doubt will creep into his subconscious. He'll begin to second guess what he's been taught his entire life, choosing ultimately either to accept or to reject those beliefs.
What can you do to help your children face situations like this?
1. Teach your children about your faith and beliefs, but make sure they don't believe it just because you do. Don't just take them to Sunday School and let the church tell them about your faith – explain it to them yourself. And most importantly, live it out daily in your own life. Then as they grow older, discuss with them why they believe what they believe. If they tell you it's because you believe it, then you have some more work to do. A belief based on such a flimsy foundation is going to shift with the first opposition it encounters. So help your children form their own beliefs, and not adopt yours 'just because you said so.'
2. Give your children permission to disagree. Your children need to know that not everyone believes the same as they do, and that's okay. Each person is responsible for himself alone, and his own beliefs are what matters. He has no control over what others ultimately believe.
But make sure your children also know how to respond when confronted with challenges to their beliefs. It's normal to begin to second guess our own beliefs when someone else seems to know better, so prepare them for the internal struggle they may experience. But assure them that in the end, it's okay to agree to disagree.
3. Remind them that a disagreement does not affect the validity of a truth. Absolute truth exists, and that truth is not affected by what someone believes about it. A person can be completely convinced that gravity doesn't exist, but he'll still fall to his death if he jumps off a building. Truth is truth.
Assure your children that they can be confident in the truth of their beliefs, even if others don't agree with them. Truth isn't up for a vote where majority rules. Remind them that even if what they believe is popular, there will always be someone who doesn't agree. Help them realize that, and give your children permission to be different.