Encouraging the Dominion Mandate (Part 1)

by Andrew French

dad and teenage son working in the garden together

Increasingly, high schools see the need to provide life skills instruction to their students. Housekeeping, home maintenance, personal finance, interpersonal skills. This is laudable and, in many cases, effective.

But why the increased need? Busy, working parents or single-parent households can contribute to a teen being less prepared for life. Ultimately, whatever the reason, it’s tied to a lack of parental involvement in that preparation.

For the Christian parent, the problem of a child not being prepared for life is more serious, because the problem is one fundamental to God’s intent for humanity.

God created man to reflect Him, and a significant part of that imaging of Him included subduing the earth and having dominion over it (Gen. 1:28). In the garden, he was to “work it and keep it” (2:15; cf. 2:5; 2:25). The “work” God asked of man reflected His own work in creation: that of filling and forming. Making something and bringing order to it.

This working and keeping is part of the essence of our reflection of God. It is this working and keeping that must be developed in teens for them to reflect God’s image in them more fully.

But it’s harder now for parents to encourage this development. How so? What exactly makes it harder now to develop in our children and teens our God-given dominion mandate?

Changing Times

The way in which children are growing up now is a marked departure from the rest of human history.

The Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 18th century spawned, among other things, factories. Factories to which dads would travel away from home to work during the day.

Mr. Studebaker and Mr. Ford increased the mobility of Americans. Dads can travel farther to work. There’s a much reduced need for the horse and buggy and all their accompanying work.

Add widespread electricity, indoor plumbing and a refrigerator, and all the work that used to be required by every family member to get food on the table evaporates.

When the majority of prior human history had each family member besides the toddlers working hard to sustain their existence, mothers and children begin having vastly greater amounts of discretionary time. That extra time increases the demand for amusement.

And today, at least compared to much of the rest of the world, modern America experiences increased discretionary spending. Let’s be honest—compared to previous eras and other parts of the world, we’ve got money coming out our ears.

Results of These Changing Times

So children are much less apt to see Dad working. Andy Crouch emphasizes this in his book, The Techwise Family.1 When work is no longer centralized at home and home is instead a “leisure zone,” “children never see their parents acting with wisdom and courage in the world of work. Even if the adults’ jobs still require skill and insight, even if those jobs are quite meaningful and rewarding, that work now takes place far from home.… In a technological age [where we can work from home], even those of us who have good work to do have to make an extra effort to show our children how our work requires real skill and produces something worthwhile.”2

Also, children now don’t need to do as many chores around the house, because there just aren’t as many chores around the house.

Financially, children and teens don’t need to work. “Dad can afford the stuff I want.” “Dad can afford the college I want.” If we as a family want something, we probably don’t have to save up for too long. We just go get it.

Malcom Gladwell’s “desirable difficulty” described in his book, David & Goliath, attests to this. Many of the financially plump in our society have gotten there by genuinely hard work, by taking risks, by having a really tough season. Difficulty that developed them.

But they have a challenge when trying to develop that same hard work ethic in their own children. There’s enough money sitting around that their children don’t need to work. And yet the difficulty of hard work—“desirable difficulty”—that got them where they are is not present in the lives of their children.

So a last result, then, is that adolescence lengthens. Because the onset of work is delayed, so is actual “adulting.”

What’s Lost or Lessened

What do our children and teens lose, or at least, have less of, as a result of not needing to work—either around the house or for an employer or for themselves?

Godly character—Working with a difficult coworker, working under a difficult boss, working under a fantastic boss. These all develop godly character in different ways. Your teen learns to appreciate delayed fulfillment by working one hour at a time, slowly adding up the savings.

Good work ethic—Similarly, not working lessens the opportunity to develop a good work ethic. If teens never experience a job that’s challenging and long and perhaps sweaty and unpleasant, they might “leave the nest” not having developed adequate endurance and problem-solving skills.

Shaping of vocational desires—If a teen never has various work opportunities or at least exposure to various kinds of work, opportunities for his/her desires to be ignited are lost.

A shoulder shrug and a mumbled “I don’t know.” is often the answer a teen gives when asked about his vocational aspirations.

Working in some sort of manual labor or trade, for example, can deepen a boy’s desire to keep it up. “Wow, I guess I’m kinda good with my hands.” Or perhaps, “I’m pretty sure I don’t want to do this the rest of my life.” Opportunities for strengths or weaknesses to manifest themselves are lost.

The taste of God-intended satisfaction for a job well done—God truly means for us as His image bearers to receive enjoyment and satisfaction when we’ve completed a job that is good. As dads, we shortchange our children and teens when we don’t give them opportunities to bring order to something and then taste that fulfilment.

So What?

The liability of an article like this is that it comes across like a potshot meme. “We just need to be like my childhood where we walked to school and all the boys had their own lawn business and had chores around the house and built forts out of scrap wood and kids now are dumb and lazy.”

The point is this: fundamental to our humanity is God-intended work. But there are admitted changes and consequent challenges to the development of the dominion mandate in our children. Recognizing those prepares us to attempt solutions.

Don’t give in and share that meme. Rather, think to yourself how you can constructively counteract the gravitational pull away from the development of God-intended work in your children. I’ll suggest some specific applications in the next article.

Note: Read Part 2 here.


  1. See Chris Pennington’s book review on Growing Fathers for The Techwise Family.

  2. Andy Crouch, The Techwise Family, 90-92. He references Albert Borgmann’s Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry, 136-37 (published in 1984!).

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