Below is a review of 'The Danger of Raising Nice Kids' by Timothy Smith that I've just finished for the Journal of Youth and Theology. I've given it a mixed review, some good bits some average bits.
Part of caring for young people is encouraging their parents. Are there any good Christian parenting books you would recommend?
And as an added bonus, I'll post a free copy of 'The Danger of Raising Nice Kids' to the first person who asks for it (email to youthatnowrabaptistdotasndotau)
The Danger of Raising Nice Kids
By Smith, Timothy, IVP Books (Downers Grove, Illinois: 2006), 202p. ISBN 0830833757 (pbk).
Timothy Smith, author of The Danger of Raising Nice Kids, has written numerous books to equip parents to raise their children and teenagers. In this book, his underlying assumption is that most parents are not raising their children well, not out of neglect, but simply because ‘they don’t know how’ (p13). Smith takes the role of a parenting expert, promising that his advice will take readers to ‘the next level of parenting’ (p12).
Smith outlines his thesis in the first two chapters, which he summarises as ‘nice is not enough’ (p12). That is, socialising children to have nice exterior behaviour is not an adequate parenting goal. Rather, parenting should be seen as discipling a child (p28). Moreover, parents should aim at moulding the heart and mind of their children. Smith proposes nine virtues, or traits, that ought to be fostered by parents. These nine virtues are vision, authenticity, listening, empathy, compassion, discernment, boundaries, contentment, and passionate love. The majority of the book comprises discussion about these nine virtues, with a chapter devoted to each. In each chapter, Smith shares a number of anecdotal stories about teenagers, interspersed with his own observations and practical tips about how parents might nurture the particular virtue under discussion.
The Danger of Raising Nice Kids displays several strengths. Smith’s central thesis is helpful. I am sure all youth ministry practitioners would agree that ‘nice is not enough’ and also with the goal of fostering virtuous young people. Moreover, Smith’s writing is often warm and easy-going. The range of practical tips he provides is both helpful and empowering to parents. He even includes three appendices with a range of worksheets and activities for families to do together. Personally, I believe that one of the most effective ways youth ministry practitioners can care for young people is to care for their parents. Therefore, resources such as Smith’s book can have a helpful role in building up parents, and consequently strengthening young people also.
Despite the outlined strengths, the Danger of Raising Nice Kids has a significant overarching weakness. Smith has aimed to write a Christian book, and refers God and the Bible at numerous points. However I felt like the central truths that ought to orientate all of the Christian life were missing. Smith has no discussion about how Christ’s death and resurrection, the certain hope of his return, or any other significant Christian truth, should be shaping parental goals for their children. Having proposed that ‘nice is not enough’ Smith moves immediately to a list of virtues. Whilst each of these virtues may be noble, I was left wondering why he chose those virtues in particular, and not others such as humility, patience, or hope. Moreover, I wonder why obvious biblical material such as Paul’s virtue lists go unmentioned. Smith’s list appears to be the nine virtues that came to mind when he was writing the book, rather than a list of virtues self consciously driven by a Christian worldview. Indeed, some of the traits Smith promotes, such as vision and boundaries, appear to be drawn more from fashionable pop-psychology than biblical Christianity.
To be fair, Smith may have done a significant amount of groundwork in deriving his virtue list from Christian doctrine, but if so, left his working out of the book. In its current form, I fear that all The Danger of Raising Nice Kids has succeeded in doing is presenting parents with a better way of achieving nicety in their children. That is, by focusing on virtue rather than external behaviour, parents may encourage children to be nice all the way through, rather than only nice on the exterior. However I don’t think that even ‘nice all the way through’ is enough. In my opinion, if young people are going to become culturally radical disciples of Christ, then they must know why virtue is important, and how virtue is grounded in Christian truth.
Smith’s book may be helpful to the youth ministry practitioner. The practical parenting tips and activities in the appendices are resources that encourage healthy families, and healthy young people. However, Smith leaves too much unsaid for The Danger of Raising Nice Kids to be a solid stand-alone resource.