One of the benefits I experienced during my days on the lecture circuit was the opportunity to meet wise and learned senior colleagues who shared pearls of knowledge that helped me see clinical situations in a new light. One such colleague is Dennis Rosen, a developmental pediatrician in Western Massachusetts well-known for treating kids with a variety of emotional or behavioral problems. He shared the anecdote below after an evening lecture:
Before he finishes a consultation, Dr. Rosen regularly asks parents “Deep down inside, is there anything you were afraid you’d find out as a result of our meeting today?” By far and away, the most common answer he receives is “I was afraid that I did something to cause my child’s problems.”
I suspect the fear of being told that their parenting strategies, family values or choices are the cause of their child’s emotional or behavioral problems poses a major obstacle to families becoming actively involved with a local church.
Getting to the root cause when kids experience the behaviors listed above can be pretty challenging. That’s why I had to do four years of med school, three years of general psychiatry residency and a two year child psychiatry fellowship in preparation for my job. There are all kinds of developmental, environmental, biological, genetic, psychosocial and spiritual issues at play in kids with issues. Is it possible that “scripturally unsound parenting” could contribute to the behaviors listed above? Absolutely. How might a parent of a child being treated for ADHD, depression, Bipolar Disorder or Reactive Attachment Disorder hear the message described in the post? If that parent is exploring Christianity, would they experience grace in the teaching they experienced?
There are topics that are very difficult to discuss outside the context of a relationship. After I’ve gotten to know parents for a while, I can talk about “scripturally unsound parenting” because I’ve taken the time to understand all facets of their child’s situation. There may be parents who are trying their best visiting the church with kids who have bad genes, kids who experienced trauma or abuse, or kids who haven’t yet developed the skills to effectively self-regulate their emotions and behavior. How do we welcome them and share with them the unconditional love Christ has for them? How do we as the church best communicate so we build the relationships necessary to cast influence in their family?
There’s a lot to say about how churches handle this issue.
Originally published 7/25/10. Most recently revised 1/23/16.