Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Continual Development of an American Parent

Written by: on May 16, 2019

Ever since speaking with Garfield in Hong Kong, I have been doing my best to read each of our assigned books through the lens of “how does this impact my dissertation research” and then have tried to write a weekly essay on how the reading impacts my work.  Some weeks I have done that well . . . others, not so much. But this week’s reading The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt didn’t merely impact the way I am collecting data for my research, but impacted the way I want to parent.

Not since reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods, have I reconsidered the style and intentionality of my parenting.  Sure I want to love my children in as healthy, wholesome, and full a fashion as possible.  And by the grace of God I am continually learning more and more about how best to do that.

Louv posits that time spent out of doors and immersed in nature is not only good for all people, but is especially imperative for the healthy formation of children.  As an example, Louv writes of how formative experiences out of doors can build someone’s creative thinking and self-confidence.  Adults reminiscing on camp experiences from their youth, that took place in nature, were able to “describe transcendent moments – and the importance of building self-confidence in situations of controlled risk.”[1]  I immediately thought of this section of Louv every time Lukianoff and Haidt remind the reader of “the books most important single piece of advice: Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”[2] The list they provide on how to go about doing this was not only fascinating to read, but also included this gem, “let your kids take more small risks” which, especially given the example of the authors children playing in an outdoor junkyard playground on an island in the middle of New York Harbor, echoes Louv’s focus on risk taking out of doors.[3]

This “out of doors play and risk taking” concept certainly isn’t a concept that only these two books encourage.  There is an entire school of French Painting called En Plein Air and the premise is that painting out doors in natural lighting allows a painter to best capture the natural essence of the object they are painting, and ultimately, improves the overall quality of their painting.[4]  This idea has been adopted by educational theorists and outdoor learning has become a central focus in the world of “Play Based Curriculum” schools, including the nursery school at the church I currently serve.[5]  Yes, this nature focus leads me to imagine what a church can look like that worships out of doors, that regularly meets and shares a meal outside.  Or a church that perhaps spends an afternoon cheerfully picking up trash and litter along the shore of their local river, the river they are of course advocating municipal government to maintain and protect, or even (the scandal!) holds church meetings in a more natural out of door setting.  But upon finishing Lukianoff and Haidt this week, I wasn’t thinking all that much about my research.  Al I wanted to do was place my children and dogs in the car, pick up my wife at the train, and drive to the local park, so we could go on a nice hike in the great, risky, and sacred, out of doors.


[1] Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder (New York: Algonquin Books, 2008), 228.

[2] Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure (New York: Penguin Press, 2018), 237.

[3] Lukianoff and Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind, 238.

[4]“En Plein Air,” Wikipedia, accessed, 5/16/19, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/En_plein_air.

[5] “Let’s Play! Using Play-Based Curriculum to Support Children’s Learning throughout the Domains,” Early Childhood News, accessed, 5/16/19, http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=453%20.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

7 responses to “The Continual Development of an American Parent”

  1. I’ve always told my wife that if I’m not a better husband and parent as a result of my studies then all of it would have been done in vain.

    The book was challenging to read, to be reminded of all the incivility that’s being tolerated in the West at the moment. The explicit lesson in our reading this week was the reminder that if we expect society to get better, positive change must first start in the family.

  2. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Great post, Jacob. Intentional parenting is the key. Take as many moments outside as you can! We are all responsible for the future by how we shape our children.

  3. Jenn Burnett says:

    Cultivating resilience in children is a complicated process. At best, we want to give them enough freedom to help them learn to grow resilience and make good choices, but how that is nurtured in each child carries. What builds resilience in one, scars another. (I’m raising 4 very different kids) I like what Angela Duckworth recommends in Grit about wise parenting requiring being highly demanding but also highly supportive. When I think about my best coaches they demanded more than I was capable of but then convinced me I could achieve it. How do you think this might translate into how we minister to kids (and adults) in our churches? Do we spend to much time coddling them or entertaining them rather than putting them in challenging situations where they need to actually but the gospel into practice? have we become to focussed on being ‘nice’ and missed building character? What does Jesus’ model of how he turned his ragamuffin disciples into world changers teach us about parenting? I’ve been at this parenting thing just a little longer than you Jacob and I fully agree this book kicked my butt.

  4. Karen Rouggly says:

    This post is great, and had me thinking much of the same things. I felt so torn as both a parent and a University educator! SO MUCH COMPLEXITY! I felt led to allow my kiddos more free play outside in the backyard this week, and I even had a moment where I let the oldest cross the street to school by himself (with a crossing guard) and I nearly had a heart attack. That list of what a first grader could do in 1979 was very convicting in so many ways!

  5. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thank you so much for sharing with us the connection of your research with your passion to love and parent your children well! You remind me also of what I have heard is the greatest value of camping as a family – risking and figuring things out together and then laughing and reminiscing about the joint experiences! Having said this, I have always regretted not being much of a camper. But I do connect with being outside in creation. Fortunately, both of my children have grown up to find partners that love to hike, be outside, and enjoy the adventure of travel. In fact, they continue to challenge Glo and I to share adventures outside and risk new things. To your point, my children are now leading their parents to keep risking and keep growing through our connection with creation. Thanks so much for your passion and your post!

  6. Mary Mims says:

    Jacob, I love this post and can visualize you and your family hiking in the woods. I also like the idea of Play as a way of teaching since after taking the Myers-Briggs test, I found out I have a “Play ethic”. I think I will try to do a lesson outside with the children, although it may be difficult to do. I know there are legitimate safety concerns, but we have to let children have fun and negotiate with each other before it is too late, since they grow up so fast.

  7. Sean Dean says:

    Now all I want to do is take my kids for a hike. Why must you challenge me as a parent? In all seriousness, thanks for this it’s a great application of this week’s reading.

Leave a Reply