Thrown into the Deep End

Finding the sweet spot between guidance and overprotection


Westminster Christian Academy

A key verse relating to Westminster’s approach to education and student growth/development.

Have you ever seen someone struggling to keep their head above the waves in the ocean or desperately pumping their legs to stay afloat in the deep end of a pool? Maybe you have experienced this battle yourself — the physical and mental game of keeping yourself from being dragged into the undertow or drowning. It’s a crisis most of us never want to experience again and want to avoid at all costs.

Therefore, it’s startling to think that there are many swim lesson programs across the country today that focus on teaching their young students the skills necessary to survive in water through realistic experiences, not just how to make their strokes look pretty. Babies as young as a few months old are given the opportunity to master the ability of flipping over onto their backs, orienting themselves, catching their breath, and staying afloat. How do they learn to do this?
Through being, in a sense, tossed (gently) into the deep end — in full clothes, sometimes even including a heavy winter coat and snow boots.

Of course, there are several experienced swim instructors close by, and the babies are never unsupervised or left completely alone in their efforts. Their skills develop over several months until they are able to be placed in this shockingly lifelike simulation which aids them in knowing the proper steps and technique to avoid drowning and to stay alive if they were to somehow, god forbid, fall into a pool or lake with no help nearby.

To some parents, this might seem a bit extreme or difficult to witness\; after all, throwing your child into the pool does seem counter-intuitive. But other parents are beginning to recognize the rationale behind it. While most parents undoubtedly want the best for their children and hope to help them in avoiding adverse circumstances like this altogether, many understand that unfortunately, hard times and dangerous situations do happen, and the only way they can combat this is by preparing their child — and allowing him or her to experience some freedom and independence even at a young age.

And believe it or not, this philosophy does not apply just to swim lessons for toddlers. As students at a Christian school, there are times when all of us have undoubtedly felt sheltered or as if we have not had the appropriate exposure to the world outside our “bubble.” Westminster’s vision is to “prepare and equip” students for the world through direct biblical teaching as well as integration of biblical principles into the classroom, the field, and the wider community. Achieving this ambition requires a perfect balance, a sweet spot, between productive and practical guidance and overprotective, helicopter parenting (or teaching).

Westminster uses Proverbs 22:6 as a foundation and principle for the belief of equipping students to be servants of Jesus Christ: “Train up a child in the way he should go\; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Training a child “in the way he should go” will clearly require direction, teaching, discipline, and guidelines. But, preparing a child and truly “equipping” him or her for the toil and strife the real world throws at us also means allowing the student to experience freedom and independence — and to engage with ideas and beliefs beyond those connected to our Christian worldview. Every Christian school must decide how to best accomplish this (and to what degree), and Westminster has certainly made its choices. Students are given the opportunity to wrestle with difficult concepts and conflicting, controversial topics in many of their classes, and they are encouraged to go out into the world and apply the biblical principles they have been taught through programs like senior service and Faith In Action.

That being said, many students still feel they have not been given enough freedom to truly be prepared for what college and adult life will provide them and that they have not been exposed to enough situations in high school to give them the skills necessary to know what to do when they encounter such things later in life — when they no longer have the close supervision and guidance of their parents, teachers, and the Westminster community to help and advise them along the way.

Because this is such a complex and lasting topic, Westminster will continue to discover the best methods in which to prepare their students in the future, and parents should also consider how to do implement the careful balance of freedom and guidance in their own homes. It’s so easy to tip the scale to one side or the other. In one sense, it can be beneficial for students to be thrown into the “deep end” of the real world because authentic experience can often be the greatest teacher, but they also need their parents, teachers, and friends waiting at the edge to jump in when necessary and keep them afloat.