How should college students engage with their families during this season of staying at home?

May 18, 2020

College is supposed to be a time of freedom and discovery—finding new friends, developing a new lifestyle, exploring new interests. But now, most of us are back in our homes with our families. And while extended time with family may be one of the greatest blessings of this pandemic, it can also be one of the biggest challenges.

With a return to home has come a return to arguments with my siblings and miscommunication with my parents. Being part of a family brings challenges of aligning schedules, priorities, and expectations. It’s easy to revert back to old habits and frustrations in the midst of these changes, and the nature of family relationships often means that these frustrations are more readily expressed.

While relational conflict is common to all families, it can feel particularly poignant during this stage of life. In the transition to adulthood, young adults must reconcile their natural desire for independence with their parents’ authority within the family. 

How should college students navigate this unique time and stage of life within the home?

1. Strive for peace. 

With the added anxiety and fear surrounding the pandemic, many of my family’s conversations have quickly escalated into hurtful arguments. Anything from laundry to social distancing to politics can trigger deeper insecurities and discontent.

But I see the Lord doing the sanctifying work that can only come through the close relationships of the home, forcing me to face my own selfishness, self-righteousness, and impatience and consider the heart of Christ. “Keeping in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:35) means daily dying to ourselves—acknowledging our sin, repenting of it, and living instead “with all humility and gentleness with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). 

It can be especially hard to respond with gentleness when our main concern is to prove to our parents that we’re no longer children and to fight against being treated like one. But the gospel frees us from the pressure to prove ourselves and assert our voice. Rather, in Christ, we can “count others more significant than [ourselves]” (Phil. 2:3), knowing that our worth comes from the Lord, from his deeming us co-heirs of the Kingdom. The remarkable way of the cross is the way of self-sacrifice, for Jesus’ ultimate victory came not in asserting his authority at the expense of others, but in demonstrating his authority by laying down his life for the undeserving (Phil. 2:5-11).

I wonder how we would treat others if we truly believed that the Lord is near (Phil. 4:5)—that he’s here with us, and that he’s coming again soon. When conflict arises, we might be the first to apologize, to fight division with grace, and to humble ourselves before the Lord and before others. So let’s strive for peace, for it’s in this good fight that we will be conformed more into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).

2. Honor your parents.

I used to think of the biblical command to honor our parents as meaning simply to obey their commands, but as children mature into adults, relationships with parents are defined less and less by instruction and obedience. Interestingly, the Greek word used in the Ephesians 6:2 direction to “honor your father and mother” denotes a veneration and recognition of value. So while we may still honor our parents by submitting to their authority in obedience, we should seek first and foremost to honor them in our attitude and care.

“Clothing [ourselves] . . . with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5), we’re reminded that no matter our college course load, we still have much to learn. I’ve been humbled by the opportunity to witness my parents at work, and I’m finally able to grasp the significance of their care for me throughout my childhood. I see my dad diligently continuing to care for patients despite new challenges of telemedicine and organizational change. And I see my mom sacrificing her time and energy to care for her mother and mother-in-law, tirelessly buying and washing groceries and thinking of creative ways to embrace them in the family.

Interestingly, the Greek word used in the Ephesians 6:2 direction to “honor your father and mother” denotes a veneration and recognition of value. So while we may still honor our parents by submitting to their authority in obedience, we should seek first and foremost to honor them in our attitude and care.

Nevertheless, regardless of our parents’ contribution to the family, the Bible teaches us that human worth does not come from ability, competency, or knowledge, but from God’s creation of us in his image. We can honor our parents simply because they bear the image of God and have a unique role in bringing us into the world as fellow image-bearers. With this recognition, there is no place for contempt or disdain.

Instead, we might look to praise, encourage, and express gratitude. We might put their needs above our own, perhaps showing them how to use new technology, helping to prepare meals, or simply offering emotional support. After all, many parents bear the additional weight of navigating new work environments, dealing with financial stress, and caring for their own elderly parents, all while trying to protect and guide their families. If nothing else, we can honor our parents by praying with and for them, interceding to the Lord on their behalf and for their blessing and comfort during this time.

3. Love your younger siblings.

Coming home, I realized that I never treated my relationships with my younger siblings with the same intentionality that I did with mentoring relationships at school. But with my younger sister finishing her last year in high school and my brother finishing middle school, I’ve realized the unique opportunity the Lord has given me to share wisdom and encouragement in these pivotal stages of their lives.

One LifeWay Research study found that 66% of American young adults surveyed stopped attending church between the ages of 18 and 22, one of the leading causes being the move away from home. But college students who are followers of Christ have the unique ability to point their younger siblings toward the truth and help prepare them for the future, speaking into life and culture in a way that parents might not be able to.

This might mean simply offering to listen, not being afraid to ask the hard questions, or sharing lessons we’ve learned during our transition to college. Praying with and for our siblings can help resolve conflict and share truth when it may not be appreciated, and we can help our siblings honor our parents in our words and actions.

A word to parents 

While children should honor their parents, parents can love their children by extending grace, particularly toward college students facing unique challenges during this time.

The Lord has likely used your child’s college experience to grow and shape him or her more into his image, with new interests, skills, and knowledge. The child who left your house after high school is probably not the same person who’s returned, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than operating by expectations from their childhood, you might look for the ways they’ve grown, treating them as the adults that they are.

A loving Father

The pandemic has brought much loss and disappointment, but as we long for a better future, let’s not miss the Lord’s calling for our lives in the present. My prayer is that when we look back on this time 10 years from now, we’ll remember it as a time of great sanctification, when the love of Christ was reflected in our love for one another within our homes. And by this love, perhaps those who have yet to know Christ will meet him for the first time.

While not every college student’s experience is the same—some may be struggling with broken relationships, continued separation from family, and loss of family—regardless of our circumstances, followers of Christ can trust that we have an unchanging and loving Father who brings us into an eternal family. It’s this reality that can compel and empower us to love those whom God has placed closest to us.

Grace Liu

Grace Liu serves as communications assistant for the ERLC, with a special focus on editorial content and initiatives. Outside of the ERLC, Grace serves as Donor Relations and Communications Coordinator at The Field School in Chicago, Illinois. She received a B.S. in Community Leadership & Development and Violin Performance from … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24