When pop culture movements around the world say “Don’t judge!” it can be hard for kids to learn objective moral standards in the face of immense social pressures. How can you teach good judgment to your kids?
If there is one core value that permeates culture today, it’s captured in these two words: “Don’t judge.” Or, if you’d like the three-word version, “You do you.” In other words, “I won’t judge your lifestyle, so don’t judge mine.” This can almost sound biblical. For example, Jesus Christ instructed His disciples, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). And, of course, there are decisions in life that can be harmlessly left to personal preference. But does Christ’s message really make room for the idea that we should reject any moral standard except our own?
No, not really. In fact, under the guise of wise-sounding slogans, popular culture has vilified one of the most important skills that a parent could teach a son or daughter—the ability to judge words, actions, ideas, and behaviors by comparing them to the inspired word of God.
When young King Solomon first sat on the throne of Israel, he had no illusions about his inexperience and inadequacy. When God appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask! What shall I give you?”, Solomon sought “an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may be able to discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:5, 9). He recognized that to be successful as king, he would need to draw wise conclusions. He’d also need discernment to understand his subjects, and he knew he would need God’s help to make judgments.
Much later, Solomon counseled his son to learn the same skills as a pathway to success. He prepared a book of wise sayings, with the goal that readers would “know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion” (Proverbs 1:2–4).
Discretion requires an awareness of what does and does not align with God’s character. Solomon wrote, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait to shed blood; let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause…’” (Proverbs 1:10–11). If young people don’t learn to judge, to recognize evil for what it is, they expose themselves to bad influences and potential danger.
A fundamental flaw of our modern age is the arrogant notion that morality is only a matter of human opinion. The “don’t judge me” or “you do you” attitude has at its core a fist-shaking defiance of God’s supreme authority to dictate what we should do and think.
Author Colson Whitehead captured this mindset well in his column titled, “How ‘You Do You’ Perfectly Captures Our Narcissistic Culture.”
Wherever you hail from, you’ll recognize “You do you” and “Do you” as contemporary versions of that life-affirming chestnut “Just be yourself.” … You’ve also come across that expression’s siblings, like the defensive, arms-crossed “Haters gonna hate” or the perpetually shrugging “It is what it is.” Like black holes, they are inviolable. All criticism is destroyed when it hits the horizon of their circular logic, and not even light can escape their immense gravity. In a world where the selfie has become our dominant art form, tautological phrases like “You do you” and its tribe provide a philosophical scaffolding for our ever-evolving, ever more complicated narcissism (New York Times, March 31, 2015).
By contrast, when we teach our children God’s rules for life—“you do God” instead of “you do you”—we give them the correct basis for making good judgments for what they see around them, and we also teach them that human opinion and peer pressure are not supreme.
John’s gospel tells us that many of Christ’s contemporaries thought He was a deceiver. Some even said He had a demon. They drew their mistaken conclusions because they did not understand how to apply God’s laws pertaining to the Sabbath. By healing a man on the Sabbath, Christ had become, in their eyes, a Sabbath-breaker. How did He respond? He told them, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Christ’s enemies did not understand who He was, nor that they were dealing with the One who could explain how to apply the Sabbath perfectly.
How many times do we jump to conclusions about situations or people when we don’t really know all the facts? Wise Solomon reminded his son, “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). Teaching our children the skill to recognize right from wrong—but also to acknowledge that they may not see the whole picture—prepares them to exercise caution in drawing conclusions.
Another key is found in Matthew 7. In this passage, Christ addressed the attitude of self-importance and vanity. He said, “Judge not that you be not judged” (v. 1). Elaborating on that command, He explained that “with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:2–4).
Jesus went on to say, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine” (v. 6). Of course, He was not talking about literal dogs or pigs; He was describing people who would not appreciate gems of wisdom and understanding given by God. But we cannot recognize such people unless we develop the skill to evaluate the difference between good and evil. Jesus was illustrating the difference between judgment and condemnation—while He commands us to evaluate behaviors “with righteous judgment” (John 7:24), He warns that we are not to take this too far by condemning others in our words or thoughts, lest we also be condemned.
Jesus was also teaching us the importance of humility. Paul addressed the same attitude in Galatians 6:
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another (vv. 1–4).
Part of our job as parents is to teach our children to discern right from wrong—sometimes in the lives of others, but mainly in themselves. Seeing others do and say wrong things should not make them feel superior, but neither should they blind themselves to the reality that there is right and wrong, good and evil. And that requires them to make a judgment about what they see and hear.
Every day, our children face intense, relentless pressure to conform to cultural norms at odds with the inspired word of God. But they also face a more subtle pressure. That pressure is “acceptance.” Accepted worldly wisdom says, “Don’t judge” and “You do you,” defining all forms of speech and behavior as morally equal. By osmosis, our children can absorb this mindset, as can we. But if we train them to be wise and discerning, looking to God for understanding, they will learn to see through this delusion. They will learn to judge well.