Our well-meaning youth pastor took our college-bound son out to lunch. While it was thoughtful of him to reach out to my senior, towards the end, he made a comment that said, in effect, “You will cross the line and do terrible things in college you never thought you would.” At least that’s what my son heard. It alarmed him. Understandable—statistics show that Christian young adults often “wipe out” once they are beyond their parents’ jurisdiction. But pronouncing failure may unintentionally promote self-fulfilling prophecy. We can guarantee that temptations will come; it’s not a guarantee kids will give in.Therefore, in preparing Christian kids for college, I’d like to offer advice. It has to do with what we say, how we say it, and tools we can give them to prepare to meet temptation.
Here’s the truth: all four of my kids were tempted at college. Sometimes they saw it coming, occasionally they were blindsided. Many people, even well-meaning Christians, predicted they would fall. It made my kids feel out of control. So wording is key. Listen to the difference between the words the pastor said and this: “Temptations will hit hard in college. What do you have planned for when that happens?” Just the phrase, “you may find that . . .” works because it implies options. It implies free will. Otherwise, they feel defeated before they walk out the door. Almost like, “What’s the use? I’m going to fail anyway. My parents said I would or my youth pastor said I would.”
Additionally, we must provide tools for our college-bound children to have ready when temptation strikes, because we know it will. Why? Because:
#1 their faith has to be tested
#2 the enemy's tactics are to divide and conquer, and what better opportunity to lure than when separated from home base
Tool #1: we must paint an honest picture of the nature of sin.
It’s pleasurable! But deceptive. It springs up from a desire, whether noble or perverse, which can lead any of us down a path of destruction. "Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." James 1:15
Sin is also subtle. It sneaks up, trying to convince us that we need whatever it is. What does Proverbs 5:3 say? “For the lips of the adulterous drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.” This is true for any vice.
I was upfront with my kids about potential pitfalls, but I also pointed out 1 Cor 10:13: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind,” meaning, it shouldn’t be a big surprise to be tempted; in fact, what any of us encounter has been faced by others. Underage drinking, drug use, premarital sex—these things have been around since the dawn of time. Other temptations—academic cheating, pornography, any self-destructive behavior, really—all are common attempts to fit in, relieve pressure, or numb pain. Perfectly human. Nothing new under the sun. Even modern enticements like obsession with social media or gaming are just the same Sirens in different clothing. We needn’t be horrified but rather on guard.
The verse continues: “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” (Now, when we are in the throes of a trial, we may be inclined to dispute this. But keep reading.) “But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” Look for it, I told my kids. Take advantage of his aid!
Tool #2: is an honest picture of a Christian.
The reality is Christians are not exempt from sinful behavior, much as we wish or even portray. But grace is a beautiful realization for us. God has made provisions for those times when we do sin. Hallelujah! Mercy is ours through Jesus’s sacrifice. 1 John 1:9 is our run-to passage. "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Forgiveness is ours! Use it! Thank God for it! My son later revealed that it was God’s forgiveness when he erred during his college years that brought about a truer commitment in his walk of faith.
Tool #3: to combat a drift into sin, they can use the tool of accountability.
Hopefully over the years at home they have developed internal self-regulation, but we should encourage them to set up external as well: weekly church, a campus parachurch group, a gospel choir, a small group Bible study. Remember, sin is subtle. A moral compass may flicker off true north when hard-pressed. Outside accountability can provide a tug back on course.
Tool #4: ultimately, the best and most essential tool to give them is vision.
A vision of Christ that is so magnificent, so humbling, and so true that they can’t help but swear allegiance to him and return to him even when they transgress. His work on the cross on their behalf must be a growing reality in our lives and theirs. We want our young adults to walk out with eyes wide open, with knowledge of a weak self and a mighty God.
P.S. Here’s a tool for parents watching from the wings: sanctification is a process, and whatever blunders our children make while in college cannot and will not define their ultimate destiny. Covenant children are secure in Christ—even when it doesn’t look like it. Our hand-wringing can stop as we replace the temptation to worry with trust in a sovereign, merciful God. Then, we use this wisdom to supply necessary tools for our young ones who eagerly await the next chapter in their lives.